Act III is more operatic than the last two acts. It is mostly singing, and here is where the familiar faces start showing up. Marti Noxon and David Fury (known as the Parking Ticket Woman and Mustard Man in the BtVS musical; and, oh yeah, for being two of the show's producers) are the newscasters. Doug Petrie and Drew Goddard show up as part of the EoLE (both having been writers and story editors for BtVS & Angel). And it is more scathing, more angsty, and more philosophical. The first two acts were fluff and cotton candy, sweet and sugary and feel-good fun. But that isn't Joss; no, Joss is the death and destruction man, and anyone who expected differently this time (me) was horribly mistaken.
So, when we left off last time, Dr. Horrible had to kill someone or be killed. He decided on Captain Hammer, for obvious reasons, such as the guy was a tremendous tool and was sleeping with the Evil Dr.'s crush just to hurt him. And this episode is heartbreaking in that both Penny and Dr. Horrible don't get what they want. There are two perfectly heartbreaking scenes here; the first is Penny sitting by herself at the laundromat alone with two frozen yogurts. The second is Dr. Horrible's face at the end, when he is looking at the camera as Billy. Because Penny isn't happy in her relationship with Captain Hammer, and then dies. Which is kind of a downer, for both us and Dr. Horrible.
And here's where the Philosophy of Joss comes through loud and clear. Joss has demonstrated time and time again through his works that doing evil in order to perpetrate good -like Billy was with his decree that "the world is a mess and I just need to... ...rule it"- just doesn't work. Joss doesn't do bad guys. Bad guys are generally bad. Which is why it was surprising to me that he would do a musical where the villain of the piece was in fact that protagonist of it. That goes against most of his rules and regulations, but seemed cool. And it makes the final act that much more heartbreaking, because Joss does it. He makes us empathetic and sympathetic to Dr. Horrible. We love him; we embrace him; we want him to succeed. But he can't, not really. Because he's still doing it wrong. He's still following the wrong moral code. And even though Joss allows us to empathize with him and love him, that alone doesn't make Dr. Horrible right. He's just as wrong as if the story had been told from Captain Hammer's viewpoint.
From Willow's arc in the 6th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Angel's arc in the 2nd season of Angel to the Operative's actions in Serenity, Joss states quite clearly that there is a good way and a bad way to exact change. And the good guys can still lose; the good guys will still lose. Not always and not permanently, but people will die, battles will be lost, and the world will generally kick the crap out of them on their journey to doing good. But they have something that Dr. Horrible doesn't have once Penny is dead. They have a reason to continue on; they live for the individuals in their lives as well as the world at large. And Dr. Horrible doesn't. His tale is a nihilistic one, and if this is the only production of Joss Whedon's works anyone has seen, they may come away from it thinking Joss' overall message is a nihilistic one. But time and time again, he tells us what is worth fighting for, and how we should proceed.
Angel fails in his efforts to rid Los Angeles of evil in the second season of his eponymous show because he embraces a nihilistic principle that nothing matters; and he mistakenly believes since nothing matters, he can do what he wants to in order "for redemption, for a reward, finally just to beat the other guy". And he after he loses, he is left with an epiphany. It is one that his ex-girlfriend in Sunnydale seemed to already know implicitly, and one she demonstrated time and time again. But for Angel -and those in the viewing audience- Joss lays it out on the table; as an atheist, "in the grand scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win". So, what is the point then? The point is, "If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do, now, today... ...Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world".
Dr. Horrible -and Captain Hammer- were out for the reward, out to just beat the other guy. And sweet Penny, the only person in the thing that held Joss' own philosophy close to her heart, got caught in the middle and died because of it. And in that act, we see the destructive force of Captain Hammer's arrogance and Dr. Horrible's hatred and anger. And that is a tragedy, and a moving one.