Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Harley Quinn And The Struggles Of Family

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Spoiler Warning for Harley Quinn S01E10, Trigger Warnings for gore, violence, and familial abuse

Well friends, here we are once again! This time we’re at something of a filler episode. There’s enough character stuff and depth to it to make it a better episode than the second, but at the same time, we’re in a bit of a holding pattern. Some of that was necessary of course, and we’ll discuss that at the end of the review. Speaking of which!


We open the episode with Harley watching some Instagram videos of King Shark, Clayface, and Dr. Psycho at an amusement park in Bludhaven, morose over being without her crew and without any friends at all. She tries to text Ivy, but gets no response, prompting her to hallucinate Harleen once more. This time her ‘sane’ past self points out that while she has ruined her relationships with many of the people closest to her, there is one person who’ll always love her and be there for her.

And so we cut to Harley returning to the neighborhood of Brooklyn where she grew up, returning to her mother. We’re then treated to a once again lovingly recreated low-quality video segment, this time a faux intro to a seventies or eighties era sitcom about the Quinzels, where we learn that Harley’s father went to prison, her brother is dead, and her grandparents hate each other. And shortly after we see a flashback to Harley’s youth, where we learn that Harleen was a championship gymnast about to win the national championship and most likely go to the Olympics. But then her father, who was deep in debt and had already lost one thumb to a bookie, begs her to take a fall for him. She does, but after thanking her he mocks her dreams and she begins to violently pound him into a pulp.

And this is a bit of a problem for me. The show really does not seem to want to engage with the personality difference between Harleen Quinzel and Harley Quinn except when the two are interacting via hallucination. They’re already used to writing for Harley, and so in flashbacks, they more or less stick to writing for Harley. But this scene raises a lot of questions that I can’t just handwave as ‘comedy show!’. First off, how did she manage to find the time to train to become a championship gymnast competing on the national level and get good enough grades to qualify for a scholarship to go off to college and med school? Secondly, how did she get into med school and then get a job at Arkham if she violently assaulted her father in front of cameras and a crowd? And finally, why is hallucination Harleen so calm and stable if the majority of her life she behaved like Harley?

Look, I don’t want to nitpick. But this is sloppy and lazy writing. Some of this can be chalked up to the impulsive and immature nature of youth to be sure. But there’s a drastic line between ‘immature teenager’ and ‘Harley Quinn’ and I feel like the show isn’t all that interested in minding that line. It’s jarring and while I try to turn my brain off, there’s only so much that I can do.

I just needed to get that gripe off my chest. Let’s get back to the plot.

We discover that Harley’s father has gotten out of jail, and he and her mother have gotten back together. Harley doesn’t trust him though, as he’d broken every promise he ever made to her and her mother, and makes that pretty clear, even though she still loves her mother and grandmother. The latter of the two states that she’s particularly happy to see Harley, as she recently learned that she has brain cancer and might not have long left to live right before getting shot in the back of the head, as an assassin fires into the house. The surviving members of the family use ketchup to fake their wounds, and when the assassin heads inside to check, Harley is able to get the drop on him, rather quickly subduing him. Before she can learn who hired him however, her father shoots him with his own gun. However, he says he knows who sent the guy.

As it turns out, while he’s not gambling anymore (well, he claims to not be and we never see any evidence of him doing so, but who knows for certain) he did take a rather sizable loan from the mob, and he can’t afford to pay them back yet. So, with some heavy guilt-tripping, he gets Harley to help him pay a visit to the restaurant where the three bosses of the neighborhood are. The two manage to take the three out (her father was her gymnastics coach and tells her where and how to jump to get in the best position to kill) as well as their bodyguard, though her father loses his other thumb in the process. Still, the pair return home, reconciled.

Shortly after, Harley’s grandfather shows up, happy to celebrate Harley’s return (and the death of her grandmother). He then adds that he recently learned that his blood pressure is too high and he might not have long to live before getting shot in the back by a second assassin. Harley kills this one as well, but immediately after she is shot in the side…by her father. It turns out that there’s a million-dollar bounty on her head, and both her parents wish to collect, her mother feeling ashamed of Harley and her actions. What follows is a long, brutal fight, though Harley emerges victorious, telling her parents that they’re not worth it before leaving them.

She is bruised, cut, and battered, passing out in front of the house, but fortunately, Ivy’s talking plant Frank is here to help her. You see, throughout the episode we’ve occasionally cut to Ivy’s plight, trapped as she is in a hidden lab. And while there’s been some good, pointed jabs at the gig economy and how poorly teachers are paid, the details haven’t been super important. Just that Ivy is alive, and that she manages to get a message to Frank, that she needs Harley to rescue her. And to her credit, Harley doesn’t hesitate for a second to decide to do so, telling Frank to step on it. However, things may be more dire than we thought, as the man behind Ivy’s kidnapping arrives. It’s Scarecrow, who’s thus far seemed entirely reasonable and polite in this show sadly, and he injects Ivy with a mysterious purple liquid.

But this is a comedy show, and so we end on a little more lighthearted moment. It turns out that the one who put the bounty out on Harley was Joshua, Penguin’s nephew who’s still upset that Harley ruined his Bar Mitzvah. Bane lectures him about this, both about the irresponsible nature of paying for a hit with a credit card instead of cash, and how he needs to think things through. Though he does reassure the young boy that things will get easier as he ages, and that the road to maturity is a long one. Then he immediately trips over a chair and becomes enraged, throwing it out the window and cursing it.

Final Thoughts

This episode was not bad overall! Not much was done to advance the plots of Ivy’s kidnapping or the crew splitting up, but that’s fine. For the latter, they can’t spend too much time separated but can’t get back together too quickly either, so this was a good middle ground, giving us an episode of Harley dealing with everything without interacting with any of them. For the former, the short lengths of the episodes means that Ivy can’t get a message out and get rescued in the same episode, that would be too rushed. This is good pacing, reminding us of the stakes and peril without advancing or dragging their feet.

As for the meat of it, despite my gripes about the flashback scene, this is a good view of Harley’s upbringing and life, and I am entirely here for it. It’s sad to see how few people Harley can rely on to care for her, but this gives a further glimpse at why she was susceptible to the Joker’s manipulations. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we hear of this, an explicit found family message would be appreciated, but we’ll see what happens.

Thank y’all for reading this, and I’ll see you next week!

Images courtesy of DC Universe

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