Saturday, July 13, 2024

Harley Quinn Takes A Look Inside, Finds Strength And Agency

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Spoiler Warnings for Harley Quinn S01E05

This came out a little later than I’d have liked… a mixture of recovering from a bad cold and just a very hectic schedule I’m afraid. Which is a shame too because I think this might be one of my favorite episodes thus far, maybe even my favorite period. But, we’re here now, so let’s dive into this very…interesting episode of Harley Quinn,


The episode begins with a realtor showing Harley and Ivy different lairs as options to move into after Ivy was evicted at the end of the last episode. We see a volcano, a series of underground tunnels, and a frozen castle that has a Chuck E. Cheese style restaurant inside of it, but Harley isn’t satisfied with any of them, or the three other lairs they apparently visited off-screen, much to the realtor’s annoyance. They return to Ivy’s lair, where King Shark finds a crate of Suicide Squad branded t-shirts (apparently they’re attempting to recruit Harley by sending her gifts, which is an interesting interpretation of the Squad) and begins excitedly putting them on the others.

It’s pointed out that a lair is a reflection of the villain who lives in it, and so the realtor begins asking Harley questions about herself, her villainous nature, and her past, only for Harley to be unable to answer any of them, eventually resulting in her having a literally paralyzing identity crisis. Fortunately they have a telepath with them, and Dr. Psycho agrees to go into Harley’s brain and fix her, though the others insist on coming along to keep him from doing anything gross (which is very fair, given what he did to Giganta, something that weirdly doesn’t come up much given how rather progressive and feminist the show is). So they go in, and find Harley’s ‘Museum of Memories’, which is where we encounter multiple snapshots of Harley from back when she was a child and a teenager and okay, I have to deal with this now.

There’s been a trend recently in the comics of depicting child and teenage Harleen as more or less the same as Harley, just with a different aesthetic. That there was a brief window of sanity and maturity when she was in grad school and at Arkham, but that before and after she was kinda the same. Now, I get where the impulse comes from, Harley does behave in a rather childish manner, but this does result in some rather tragic and unfortunate implications, that the Joker didn’t just damage her sanity and impulse control but regressed her mentally to a childlike state, which makes me extra uncomfortable. I don’t know, I think it’d have been better to make her a shy and quiet child. Make a joke of it, that she’s more childish now than as a child, something, I don’t know.

Sorry, just needed to get that off my chest, it’s been bothering me for a while. Let’s get back to the plot recap.

They find Harley sitting in the museum, trying to figure out what’s going on with herself, and Psycho tells them all to sit still, look don’t touch, while he finds the mental reset button to fix Harley. So Harley and Ivy wander around, eventually coming across a moving picture that represents Harley’s origin story, of landing in a vat of acid and coming out bleached like the Joker, becoming Harley Quinn. Except, she notices a glitch in the picture. As she explains, from what she remembers, Joker pushed her into the vat. But the moving picture shows the pair standing on a walkway over the vat, and then jumps to her splashing into it. That’s a problem, as this picture is specifically labeled ‘Origin Story’, which means it’s foundational, causing Harley to guess that the root of her current predicament might be this glitch. She reaches into the picture, but this triggers her brain’s self-defense mechanisms, locking them in, much to Psycho’s dismay. The crew is promptly set upon by a horde of child Harleens, dangerous monsters the brain sent in to kill them, and they retreat to an elevator.

Psycho tells them that there should be an emergency exit in the subconscious, but before he can hit the button to take them there King Shark’s dorsal fin accidentally hits another button, taking them to the optic nerve. It’s here that they realize that Sy, Ivy’s elderly cyborg landlord voiced by Jason Alexander, has found them all passed out and unresponsive, wearing shirts that proclaim ‘Suicide Squad’, and has decided to burn down the building for insurance and destroy their bodies so nobody knows, thus keeping his property prices up. For some reason Frank, Ivy’s sentient, human-eating, English speaking plant, doesn’t speak up at any point. He was curiously absent in the last episode as well, now that I think about it. Regardless, it’s revealed that Sy is a former spy, and he and a lady friend of his take the bodies of the crew out to an abandoned mall to put them in a the pizza oven there.

Spurred on by the realization that they’re extra close to death now, they head into Harley’s subconscious, a dark and dirty carnival populated by clones of the Joker. The child Harleen horde finds them once again, and after a brief fight they’re trapped. Clayface wishes for a deus ex machina to save them, and one appears in the form of a hooded boy, who leads them to safety and the emergency exit. He’s revealed to be Harley’s memories of her first crush, Frankie Muniz (voiced by himself), who the brain sent to protect her. Psycho is relieved and wants to leave, especially after Harley spots the ‘Island of Repressed Memories’, but as Harley points out she will still be catatonic when they get out if she can’t figure out what’s going wrong, and so she heads off to the island. Ivy declares her intention to follow her, then points out to the others that Harley is the only one who gave them a chance, getting them all to agree to go with her and help.

They’re cornered at the dock leading to the island by the child Harleens, but Clayface saves the day by turning into Frankie Muniz and leading them away. That taken care of, they climb on King Shark’s back and, with a bit of lampshading about how lucky it is that a member of the crew has the exact powerset they needed to get them across the shark-infested waters surrounding the island, they land. Within short order they find a door covered in caution tape, which Harley opens to see the picture from before. And here its revealed that what she repressed was jumping into the acid of her own free will, rather than being pushed in.

This leads to a moment of horror on Harley’s part, that it wasn’t all the Joker’s fault, but it then leads to a rather wonderful, stirring, and emotional scene where Harley storms into the memory and forces her brain to readjust. To change her origin story, her foundation, to when she freed herself from the Joker’s control, destroying his lair and making herself independent. It’s a rather lovely moment that really makes the episode for me, as she declares that the only person who made her was her, and that she is and always has been her own person.

Once that’s settled, and a semblance of sanity, or at least balance, is restored, the crew reunite with Clayface and exit Harley’s mind in time to stop Sy and his friend from burning them alive. And to add to their good fortune, Harley realizes that the mall is the lair she’s been looking for and, after accepting Sy’s pleas to join their crew on the grounds that an elderly man in a wheelchair managing to move all their bodies into a pizza oven is pretty impressive, the episode ends.

Final Thoughts

I really, really liked this episode you guys. Admittedly, the only episode I’ve had anything truly negative to say about was the second, so that might lessen the impact of that, but still. It was a fun exploration of Harley’s psyche, even if the restrictions of the half-hour format lessened its freedom, and it had a very powerful and good emotional climax that I really appreciated. I don’t know what else to say about it, it’s just really, really good you guys! Watch it! Please!

Images courtesy of DC Universe

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