I’m a fan of Dr. Horrible and have attempted to make conversation analyzing the story, during which I’ve casually referenced the doctor as a creepy stalker and then been forced to argue my position. I think it’s obvious that Billy is intended to come off as a creepy stalker, which is done humorously at times but still is a personality flaw. I suspect the opposition to this idea to be based in the idea of feminists constantly misunderstanding innocent men to be wicked misogynists, at least in the case of the person to whom I was speaking, so let me make it clear that I’m saying Joss Whedon intentionally wrote this guy as a creepy stalker. Below, I’ve collected evidence of this portrayal:
Our first impression of Billy as a stalker is in the song “My Freeze Ray”, where he describes his crush on Penny. We see that she’s just a girl who frequents a Laundromat, who he doesn’t know at all, and he just admires her obsessively to the point that he rants on his blog about impressing her by showing her he is a true villain and will “show her the way”. His main attempt to make an audible connection is to tell her he loves her hair, completely out of the blue without making conversation first. He goes on to sing about making her feel “the feelings you don’t dare to feel”. How is that not creepy?
His stalkerness shows up again when he bumps into Penny while attempting to steal the Wonderflownium. He tries to play dumb about recognizing her, but slips as he recites her laundry schedule for the past two months. She then expresses her passion for trying to help the homeless, and instead of caring about her passion, he tries to bring her around to his villainous philosophy. Knowing everything else, I think it’s entirely reasonable to conclude from this information alone that Billy has a bit of an unhealthy obsession with this woman that has little to do with who she is as a person. That’s all in Act 1.
Act 2 starts off with Billy so jealous that Captain Hammer is dating Penny that he spies on their date. He looks in the window of the soup kitchen from outside and then masquerades as a volunteer, and later stalks Penny from behind a bush. This is kind of the definition of stalking, here. He also sings (as part of “My Eyes”) “Anyone with half a brain / Could spend their whole life howling in pain / ‘Cause the dark is everywhere / And Penny doesn’t seem to care / That soon the dark in me is all that will remain”, expressing a need for Penny to love him unconditionally or else he’ll go evil and maybe “throw poison in the water main”. Note that he hasn’t even expressed to Penny that he likes her, and he’s so offended that she could possibly date someone else and he’s driven to following her around—not that he might not have already been following her around, as we see evidence for later.
During the song “Brand New Day”, Billy examines a photo of Penny where she’s sitting on a step reading, and the photo was clearly taken through a bush or tree as out-of-focus leaves are visible around the frame. This means it was taken without her knowledge by a guy who obsesses about her from a Laundromat. How is that not the mark of a creep?
Now, the person I was talking to argued that if Penny was in public it would be entirely legal to photograph her. Well, maybe, but since when is the law an accurate guideline for moral behavior? Taking pictures of someone without their knowledge to obsess over is still wrong. More to the point, it’s stalking.
I think part of the issue here with recognizing Billy as a stalker is getting past the likability of the character. Billy is fun to watch. He’s a geek, which probably speaks to everyone who watches Dr. Horrible, and it’s easy to relate to the idea of having a huge crush and not knowing how to pursue a relationship. He’s cute, relatable, and fun to watch, so it’s easy to get defensive when the character is criticized. I like Billy, but he is a stalker, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.
Take Andrew from Buffy. He’s a cute, lovable geek. He makes all sorts of geeky references. He makes intricate Star Wars drawings. He has amusing daydreams. He likes being the subordinate of evil people, attempted to rape a woman, helped cover up her murder, and murdered his best friend. He’s still cute and lovable, but I think it’s bad to say there’s absolutely no problem with his personality. It’s not an insult to Joss Whedon to criticize Andrew’s personality and call him borderline amoral, because Joss Whedon designed Andrew to be flawed like that. Similarly, referring to Billy as a creepy stalker is not an attack on the writing or expressing that he shouldn’t have been conceived as he is because Joss Whedon wrote him as a creepy stalker.
Really, just pointing out that Billy is a stalker is just a first step to gaining greater insight to the character. I think Joss was spoofing the superhero stereotypes by making the superhero a fame-loving jerk and making the supervillain an aimless stalker dude. While Billy is a likable protagonist, both characters are fairly pathetic. This is deliberately done, primarily for humorous effect, though I have to wonder if there was any sort of message Joss intended past that. This is where the real debate is, though, not whether or not Billy’s a stalker. He is.