– Or Billy and Dr. Horrible: The Dual Identity

And I won’t feel/A thing.

– Everything You Ever, Dr. Horrible/Billy

There is something about the duality of Billy and Dr. Horrible that has been bugging me for two years now, and I think I have finally come to a point at which I can articulate my ideas around it.

Dr. Horrible is a persona of power for Billy – you can see this very clearly in the ‘Blogs’ and in the situations where Dr. Horrible is dealing with the world of Heroes and Villains. But Billy is still a very important part of Dr. Horrible; for most of the film, Dr. Horrible and Billy are the same person. Once again, you can see this in how Dr. Horrible acts in terms of social, non-work situations.

He blinks more.

I know this is a weird, tiny thing for me to notice and latch on to, but Billy projects his anxiety so incredibly clearly through his eyes that it’s hard for me to ignore. When Dr. Horrible is talking to Moist about Penny, he blinks frequently and squeezes his eyes shut. He also exhibits the same behavior in regards to his anxiety about the Evil League of Evil. Billy exhibits the same behavior when talking to Penny in the alley, in the laundry mat, and in…basically any other social situation.

But Billy and Dr. Horrible split.

Dr. Horrible, I contend, Billy uses as a way to talk to the world (via blogs) about the issues he sees with society. Yes, he’s evil, but he just wants ‘social change!’ Dr. Horrible is the persona that gives Billy to confidence to act on things he thinks are wrong (such as the heroes of this city being total jerks), but in the end (at least in acts 1 and 2) he is still Billy.

Then, Penny dies. But Penny doesn’t just die. Penny, who has been ‘dating’ Captain Hammer for the entirety of the film, and then Captain Hammer accidentally kills Penny with the shrapnel of Dr. Horrible’s death ray and she dies. But before she dies, she sees Billy, (“Billy,” not Dr. Horrible, she said, even as we saw her realize that they were one and the same during Slipping) and says “Don’t worry. Captain Hammer will save us.”

This breaks Billy, and it’s truly a brilliant break, because you can see the transformation on his face. Dr. Horrible was a tool, but now he is Billy’s shield. Billy shrinks in on himself in grief over Penny (and anger, possibly, at her faith in false heroes), but Dr. Horrible tells the world “I am fine.”

The break is more clear with the last image of Dr. Horrible, during Everything You Ever. Not only does his costume change – from white, which is usually associated with innocence, to red, which is normally associated anger – but he pulls his goggles over his eyes. Again, this is possibly a case of over analysis, but Billy’s eyes are so expressive that putting that barrier down is important. Billy’s anxiety can no longer be shown in Dr. Horrible’s eyes. There is no room for Billy’s weaknesses anymore. This is further highlighted in the ending ‘blog’ – Blogs are Dr. Horrible’s domain, but suddenly we are faced with Billy, whose line in Everything You Ever is ‘a thing,’ following Dr. Horrible’s statement that he ‘won’t feel.’ Billy, though, is clearly feeling – he looks as if he has just finished crying.

This line is significant – Dr. Horrible will not feel, cannot feel, so Billy has to shoulder all of the guilt, grief, and sadness that stems from his continued Villainy. He has achieved his goal – The Evil League of Evil – but at the cost of the woman he loved and his faith that people could see past appearances to the truth (“Captain Hammer will save us”). Billy and Dr. Horrible, once the same person, are now dual identities, and the audience is left with the horrible feeling that Billy may never exist outside of his apartment again.

At the risk of this becoming too academic for this blog, I’ll end on this – Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long blog is rife with themes of identity. Some people are layered with a “third, even deeper layer, that’s the same as the first. Like with pie.” Others constitute a duality that is easily broken. My point, I suppose, is that this film is more than just a silly thing the Whedons made during the Writer’s Strike – it takes a serious look at different types of identity, and how sometimes our archetypes do not work.