DC’s Harley Quinn has seen a renaissance in the last couple years. Starting with Margot Robbie’s scene stealing turn in the otherwise maligned Suicide Squad and subsequent electric spin-off Birds of Prey and now her own animated show, the character has stepped out of the Joker’s shadow and can now be considered competition with the likes of Batman and Superman for being the face of DC comics. At the start of the eponymous titled series, however, Harley still has some unhealthy attachment issues with the clown prince of crime.
Since Harley’s debut as Joker’s love interest and sidekick in the 1990’s Batman: The Animated Series, their relationship has been depicted as both one-sided and toxic. The first season of the show explores both the psychological and physical toll it has taken on Harley’s psyche and her journey to become independent of his influences as she strikes out to become a major player in Gotham’s super villain scene. In order to do this, Harley Quinn gathers a crew consisting of a broad range of evildoers from A-listers like Poison Ivy to a wisecracking sentient plant to take down the Legion of Doom. The show also features a TV-MA rating which it utilizes to both darkly humorous and graphic effect. At the season one finale, Harley’s band of misfits manage to overthrow the Joker while Gotham gets destroyed in the process.
Season two has struck an even better balance finding the emotion beneath the jokes, which still continue to be doled out at a steady clip. Gotham finds itself in complete chaos with a power vacuum left by Joker’s absence. Former members of the Legion of Doom including Two-Face, the Riddler, and Mr.Freeze divide the city into different zones that they each control with their goons setting up what appears to be the seasons major story line, but instead each super villain gets quickly dispatched and by mid season, the focus has shifted to Poison Ivy and Harley’s relationship.
Poison Ivy has become engaged to Kite Man, a villain with no powers or tact but a deep affection for his fiancée. These plans have had a wrench thrown into the works due to Harley and Poison Ivy hooking up during the latter’s bachelorette party. Harley made a grand gesture, declaring her love for Poison Ivy, only to be rejected on the basis that she doesn’t trust her heart with Harley which brings us up to speed and into the current episode.
Harley, adopting a blasé attitude about the whole affair in front of her friends. is clearly reeling from the devastating rejection. Looking to drown her troubles in alcohol and sex, Harley finds herself at a bar at the top of Wayne Tower surrounded by wealthy socialites. Fate would have it that the bartender would be none other than her former beau Joker. His psychotic instincts have been neutered by being dropped in a “normalizing” acid meant for Harley and he can no longer remember his past self.
As Harley quickly tries to walk away, Wayne Tower gets overtaken by a group of gun toting goons looking for a ransom in a plot reminiscent of Die Hard. Now Harley is literally chained together with Joker, who is slowly piecing together parts of his old life as they try to escape. It was here I was worried that the writers would try and put the two together again despite the work they’ve done to show how terrible Joker is for Harley. I was relieved to see that Harley was well aware of how abusive her relationship with Joke was and only used him as a springboard to figure out her complicated feelings for her friend Ivy.
The invasion turns out to be planned by the Riddler who has escaped the gang’s subterranean mall lair and is now working with the dejected Dr. Psycho. Psycho had been feeling minimized by Harley which was only exasperated when she put the kibosh on his dreams of world domination. Now he has struck a partnership with Riddler to resume his plans of destruction.
Harley is joined by her friends Clayface, King Shark, and Sy Borgman as well as Jim Gordon who arrives in the Batplane. Dr. Psycho manages to mind control King Shark and Clayface as Harley battles the remnants of the parademons she brought with her in her aborted attempt at leading an army. Realizing the only way they can escape is by breaching a hole in the psychic wall around Wayne Tower, Sy offers to sacrifice himself in a surprisingly tearful goodbye to the character. Then again, with the way reality can warp in these comic book shows, who knows if this is the last we’ve seen of him.
Harley, Gordon, and Joker escape as Joker’s before memories remind him of the location of the Justice League. They arrive at the same Ace Chemicals factory that turned Joker and Harley herself. In order to rescue her friends and defeat Dr.Psycho, Harley realizes she needs the Justice League and must sacrifice this normalized Joker and pushes him into the chemicals below.
This episode was very plot heavy so there wasn’t as much room for jokes. I enjoyed the scene where Harley blindly uses what turns out to be a cancer ray on a homesick grunt, which gets some darkly comic mileage on just how serious it is played. Detective Gordon continues to be a pathetic voice for justice, this time not being allowed to use all of the Bat Planes weapons systems.
Heading into the final few episodes of the season, the show has set up some major conflicts. Will Dr. Psycho permanently cut ties with his former friends? Will Joker coming back push Harley back to her old ways? And will Ivy and Harley be able to move past their romantic feelings for each other?
Harley Quinn Review – True Romance (2×13)
In the season finale, Harley Quinn deals with the fallout from Dr. Psycho’s rampage on Gotham and Harley’s romantic indiscretions with Ivy now out in the open for all the world to see. Harley has isolated herself in Arkham Asylum to wallow in her misery. Ivy and Kite Man have agreed to continue with the wedding despite the revelations of Ivy’s dishonesty. To make things up with her beau, Ivy has secured Kite Man’s dream wedding venue at the Corn Factory. She does so by taking out the Condiment King who is somehow a very real villain in DC’s history and whose sauce-based puns will be sorely missed.
Commissioner Gordon is feeling unappreciated for his heroics and becomes tempted by Two-Face into running for mayor. They hatch a plan to boost his stock by busting up the wedding and capturing all the supervillains in attendance. True to his name, Two-Face informs Harley of this plan and she springs back to life to stop Gordon, putting the two on a collision course at the ceremony.
Gordon has also evolved since his first appearance in season one. He has gone from the alcoholic sad sack who relies on Batman for every little thing in to now wanting to be Batman. Gordon is finally taking charge and his team does a highly intricate infiltration into the wedding venue posing as the priest and caterers. This leads to a comedic moment where Harley punches out the wrong man thinking he’s Gordon and gets taken aside by Poison Ivy.
Harley and Ivy have a moment alone and Harley’s worst fears come true as her old friend informs her that she no longer can have Harley in her life. Nothing at this moment is played for laughs. Harley Quinn still has its comic moments but has quietly become more focused on the emotional stakes. These characters have very real feelings and motivations and this pivot into the more dramatic territory has been beneficial to keeping the show fresh and interesting.
Harley can’t help but try and interfere despite her friend’s harsh words. She is proven to be right when Gordon’s team gasses everyone in attendance. Harley expertly navigates around the Gotham PD officers and manages to explode a hole into the ceiling, destroying Kite Man’s perfect venue but saving everyone in the process. Harley lets the couple know that she can still wed them if they want, but Kite Man realizes that while he may love Ivy, it has become apparent that she doesn’t feel the same way and he calls off the wedding. After Harley was willing to put aside her feelings to see Ivy happy, Ivy realizes she wants to take a chance with her after all.
The episode ends with a parody of Thelma and Louise as Ivy and Harley finally declare their love for each other while being chased down by Gotham PD. There’s a title card that reads “The End?” that leaves open the possibility that the series ends here. Perhaps the writers weren’t sure if they would get another season and wanted to hedge their bets. If this is it for Harley Quinn, it’s ending on a high note and proves that DC can continue to reinvent itself. If it does come back, they’ve given themselves a ton of material to work with. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy is the relationship I never knew I wanted but it makes so much sense in hindsight. Hopefully, they can remain together despite whatever the future can throw at them.
Harley Quinn Review – Fighting With The Family (2×12)
The first season of Harley Quinn was all about Harley trying to break into the big leagues of villainy. Once she finally made it, however, she found it left her feeling hollow and set out to find her true self in season two. In the first half of the season, Harley found herself in the role of a hero, rectifying all the problems caused by the Joker and finding herself face to face with the Legion of Doom. This has been such an intriguing 180 to witness and honestly, Harley is a natural for the hero role. This week’s episode offered a lot in the way of personal growth for our main character with Harley acknowledging as much in how evil doesn’t suit her.
The newly freed Justice League has wasted no time taking care of the parademons infesting Gotham. There are still jokes scattered throughout the episode but this is all about the action. The fight scenes are extremely fluid and match some of the best the animated shows have to offer. Poison Ivy proves she is not to be messed with by single-handedly taking on Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman while being mind-controlled by Dr. Psycho. The Justice League knows Ivy isn’t in control but will stop at nothing to protect innocent lives which prompts Harley to come out bats blazing against the super-powered heroes.
Psycho sees the tide turning and unleashes Clayface and King Shark, who have unlocked their full metahuman potential to which Harley angrily points out that they could have turned up the heat to eleven at any time. The Justice League finally gets Harley and Ivy on the ropes but gets hypnotized by Ivy’s love concoction.
The fight makes its way back to Psycho’s lair where he has promised to hand over Harley to Darkseid and fulfill his world domination plans. Harley and Kiteman show up with devices to neutralize the mind-control waves but are unable to attach them to Ivy. Kite Man attempts to break her out of the spell by giving her true love’s kiss but fails and gets knocked away.
Harley seizes on the plan and gives her attempt at breaking her friend free by locking lips. This time it is successful and Ivy comes back to life to foil Psycho’s plans. Darkseid arrives and extends his offer once more to help Harley conquer the world but she rejects it. Darkseid gives an ominous threat to return, no doubt setting him up as the big bad for next season. Dr. Psycho has the last laugh at the end of the episode. He manages to broadcast Harley and Ivy’s romantic liaison for the entirety of Gotham, and more importantly Kite Man, to see and ending the episode on a cliffhanger.
We are entering the final episode of the season with some major changes to the dynamic. Harley has embraced fighting alongside the superheroes as a well meaning anti-hero. Harley and Ivy’s feelings for each other are now out in the open and now her impending marriage to Kite Man is in doubt. The main gang has been upended with the betrayal of Psycho and Joker has embraced suburban life and seemingly left his love life with Harley behind. I trust the writers to continue to blend these emotional stakes with a deft touch and plenty of humor into the season finale.
Harley Quinn Review – Home is Where the Hearts Live (2×11)
Harley Quinn has never been a show all that concerned with plot. Sure there are threads scattered throughout but the focus is much more on the dynamic between the protagonists and the very ripe for mocking world of comic book stories so you can be forgiven for forgetting about certain story lines that may have faded in the background. Luckily for the viewer, they get a very helpful recap of all the major relevant plot points up until now by the Frank the Plant, a sentient Venus flytrap played by J.B. Smoove. The Justice League is still trapped in the Queen of Fables’ fairy tale book and Harley has had to do the unthinkable by bringing back the loathsome Joker to find it.
Mistah J is back, but the power dynamic between them has shifted dramatically, with Harley holding a literal bomb over his head. Harley’s transformation from Joker obsessed sidekick to empowered supervillain is on full display here. She gives little hesitation in ordering Joker around, demanding he help her or face the consequences. This involves bringing Joker back to the only place that scares him, suburbia, in order to retrieve the book. Joker begins to recollect his six months as a dad with khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts first with revulsion then fondness. His girlfriend Bethany isn’t quite so keen on bringing him back as he is now and throws the book straight into the hands of a parademon.
The show has never shied away from the blood and guts; Dr. Psycho’s demon army is literally tearing apart the city’s citizens. Psycho and Riddler are back at their hidden base devising a plan to work with Darkseid and bring about world domination. If Psycho can bring Darkseid the head of Harley Quinn, he will make him a general in his army and he will bring the Earth to its knees. We finally get a glimpse into Psycho’s backstory. It turns out all he wanted in life was to ride the Ferris Wheel as a child, but he was never able to meet the height requirements. He was left to stare at all the children enjoying the ride until one day it came down, killing all on board and awakening a blood lust inside him. It’s the kind of typical bad guy background Harley Quinn thrives on parodying.
Meanwhile, the end of the world isn’t enough to stop Poison Ivy and Kite Man’s wedding plans from going full steam ahead. It was clear Harley was stifling her pain resulting from her unrequited love and now we see the flip side of the coin. Ivy refuses to answer Kite Man’s inquiries into the reasons behind her erratic behavior. She’s worried that if she reflects on her feelings for Harley it could open up a Pandora’s box of painful emotions.
The parademons have other plans, acting as the perfect metaphor for our protagonists. No matter how much you might try and ignore the problems circling around you, eventually, a monster is going to throw glass into your $13,000 Vera Wang dress and force you into action. Ivy makes her way into Psycho’s hideout, pleading with him to hold off on killing everyone in Gotham until after her nuptials. Psycho seizes this moment as an opportunity to take over Ivy’s mind in order to do his bidding.
Harley and Joker have tracked down the demon’s lair inside an oozing honeycomb. The Joker begins to reminisce fondly about his normal memories of cuddling, chatting about nothing for hours, and doing the requisite Sopranos re-watch everyone should do with a new partner. This begins to stir up memories in Harley and she can’t help thinking about all the good moments she and Ivy had.
This walk down memory lane is interrupted by Batman who has incorrectly identified the duo as the culprit behind the apocalyptic happenings. This leads to a humorous rehashing of events that leaves Batman slack-jawed in disbelief. They realize they have the wrong book and fly back to see Bethany which leads to a romantic rekindling between her and Joker. They release the Justice League who hurry back to their posts. Harley receives a pep talk from Joker who inspires her to try again with Ivy who just so happens to be at their door but is now controlled by Psycho.
This season so far has done a great job heightening the personal stakes for Harley that has kept the show from spiraling into being a repetition of referential humor and consequence-free mayhem. I was skeptical at first of the seemingly hard left turn into romance between Harley and Poison Ivy but the writers continue to handle it with a deft touch. The two have shared deep chemistry that seems to go beyond friendship and a coupling would create an exciting new dynamic heading into season three.
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