Friday, April 12, 2024

Harley Quinn Slows Down And Spins Its Wheels

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Spoiler Warnings for Harley Quinn S02E03, Trigger Warnings for blood, violence, and emotional manipulation

Wellp…it finally happened. After a rather quick first two episodes, in which Harley defeated two of the five villains directly opposing her, killing one and enslaving the other, we’ve finally hit the brakes a little. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this episode filler, as it does establish some important character beats and growth that will more likely than not carry over into future episodes, and gives Harley a tool in her war against her enemies, but it advances the plot of the season at a much slower pace than previous episodes had this season. Though like the previous episode, we are introduced to a new female character important to the mythos! So, let’s dive right in.


We open with Harley trying to break into the wall of ice that surrounds Mister Freeze’s territory. Normally this would drive me a bit nuts, since Freeze is arguably one of the most powerful villains in Gotham and she should be consolidating and taking out Two-Face and Bane first…but this is Harley, and putting her emotions before pragmatism and logic is entirely a Harley thing to do. As she points out, Freeze is the instrument behind her humiliation and the reason the Injustice League was able to take over Gotham. It’s much more personal when it comes to him than any of the other members.

However, her weapons are entirely ineffective against the thick wall of ice Freeze has put up around his territory, leaving the Crew complaining about staying out in the cold for this and Ivy realizing that she managed to fail to notice Ace Chemicals dumping toxin into the water two weeks prior. As Harley brushes Ivy’s confusion aside, they’re taunted by two guards, who due to their slow-wittedness wind up informing them that the only thing capable of getting through Freeze’s ice wall is Firefly’s plasma flamethrower, which is being held in the Gotham museum by…Doctor Trap of all characters. Jeez, and I thought Queen of Fables and Maxie Zeus were deep cuts. The dude’s not even a Batman villain, he exists to oppose Cameron Chase, and briefly the Martian Manhunter. He appeared in one Harley Quinn comic, sure, but still, weird.

Regardless, they need that flamethrower. Trap apparently broke into the lairs of all the major villains after the earthquake (and seemingly the Batcave, judging by the giant coin and t-rex in the museum, though maybe Bruce just hadn’t snagged them yet), and has the items all up on display. He’s also, it turns out, turned the museum into a rather excessive and over the top gauntlet full of death traps.  After seeing what they’re up against, Harley and Ivy retreat to go get help.

That help turns out to be in the form of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. At first, Harley is excited to be working with her and Ivy isn’t, but that turns around rather quickly. Ivy has a rather…unhealthy dynamic with Selina it seems. When they’re apart Ivy realizes that the thief is a selfish and callous person who’s abandoned her without a second thought, but when she’s around Selina she falls head over heels for her, craving her approval and opinions, wanting nothing more to please her. Which…uhm…okay, like with Clayface last week, time to stop and complain about things!

Firstly, as a lesbian who loves Harley and Ivy as a couple, it’s entirely possible that I’m reading too much into this. But it certainly felt like Ivy was dealing with a major crush on Selina. Which…honestly I’d like it if the first time one of the leads expresses the hints of bisexuality, even sub-textually, it isn’t in the form of a toxic relationship.

But that’s just complaining about potentially unintentional subtext. Let’s talk about the bigger problem. In this show, Selina is voiced by the very talented Sanaa Lathan and matches her voice actor by being of African descent herself. Now, this is the second time that the show has taken a character and made them a different race (that I’ve noticed at least, feel free to correct me if I’m missing someone) and like with the previous one, Queen of Fables, it’s to take a white woman villain and make her Black. Now, in principle, I am all for taking white characters and making them people of color. Not only on the grounds of more diversity being a good thing, but also…frankly Gotham is so big and densely populated it’s strange as hell that most of the heroes and villains within it are white. So that’s good.

That being said…optics need to be considered when doing so. With Queen of Fables, it was fine, cause they were taking an already purely villainous character and ramping her up a bit for comedic effect. In contrast…this version of Selina is callous, selfish, and more than willing to leave people who haven’t crossed her to die at the drop of a hat. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t versions of Catwoman who behave like this, or who are this villainous. But in terms of mainstream depictions of the character, Selina hasn’t been purely villainous since 1979. Forty years. There are very few people who are going to be watching this show who grew up with and are used to a version of the character who is purely a villain, with no positive traits that lean her towards anti-heroism. And to have that version be a Black woman? That is…it makes me uneasy.

Getting back to the plot, Harley’s somewhat less excited to work with Selina as the lunch meeting goes on (whether that’s because she feels the need to stick up for Ivy or is jealous of the attention Ivy gives the thief isn’t clear) but concedes the need for help getting into the museum anyway. So the pair get taken to the roof by Kite-Man, who tells Ivy that he’ll be hanging back due to his fear of traps, but holds Harley back to plead with her to help him get a special diamond ring designed to look like a flower so he can properly propose marriage to Ivy. This results in the four getting split up, with Ivy and Selina in one group and Harley and Kite-Man in another.

Things go alright for the pairs, though Selina gets Ivy doubting herself by asking why she’s not a solo act anymore, why she’s helping Harley, and why she’s putting equal amounts of effort into helping Harley as she is the environment. Kite Man blunders into more than a few traps, but survives. He tries to propose to Ivy, but Selina steals the ring and leaves them behind. And after she does so they quickly learn that while she opened the case with the flamethrower, she did not disable the trap protecting it. Which…leaves me with a bit of a question as to why she agreed to do this. She complains about having to work with a team throughout, and doesn’t use any of the others as shields for the traps (indeed, she does save Ivy from a trap at several points, but leaving this one cancels that out) and honestly they didn’t provide any help. I’m…not sure why she was here from a Watsonian perspective at all. The Doylist explanation is obvious, but in-universe I’ve got nothing frankly.

Fortunately Harley manages to free them from the trap, a reinforced glass cage with a crushing panel slowly descending, using the flamethrower. Before this though, Kite-Man tries to propose to Ivy despite the ring, and she tells him that she’s not sure she wants to ever get married. After they escape though, and after she and Harley have a frankly very well written and beautifully drawn moment together (seriously, the prettiest scene in the entire series thus far) she goes back to Kite-Man’s apartment, and the episode ends with her telling him she’s ready and him getting on one knee.

And, because this is how things work in Season Two I guess, let’s talk a bit about the side character-driven side-plot that doesn’t impact the main plot. In this case, we focus on Psycho as his fragile ego allows Riddler to taunt him into helping him escape without even realizing it, and the crew’s attempts to find him before Harley returns. They fail, but when Harley comes back Riddler reveals that he never left the mall. Without the protection of his university, Riddler feels he’s much safer and better off in Harley’s hideout than outside, and was simply proving a point. Like Gordon in the first episode, it was a good set of character beats, but as yet it doesn’t seem overly impactful.

Final Thoughts

This is the weakest episode of the season thus far. Fortunately, unlike the second episode of the first season, I don’t feel like it was completely pointless and unnecessary. But I have no attachment to Dr. Trap, their depiction of Selina made me uneasy, and I’m not really a fan of Ivy and Kite-Man’s relationship, and so there’s less to recommend on this episode. It’s not terrible, but calling anything in it aside from Harley and Ivy’s gorgeously animated heart to heart near the end better than mediocre would be a stretch. Watch it, cause it’s going to matter in future episodes, but be prepared.

Thanks for reading y’all, see ya next week!

Images Courtesy Of Warner Bros.

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