Spoiler Warning for Harley Quin S01E13, Trigger Warning for violence, torture, death, and gore
And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…sorry, couldn’t help myself. Welcome friends, to the final episode of Harley Quinn‘s first season. It’s not going to be a long break I concede, as we’ll be seeing season two premiere this upcoming April 3, but it’s something. So, join me as we take a look at the finale, “The Final Joke”.
We begin with the show having the unmitigated gall to be serious, as we watch Ivy die once more. It’s actually rather artfully done to be perfectly honest, complete with showing Ivy’s death with most of the world in black and white, with just Ivy, Harley, the Joker, and Kite Man in color (could have done without him being in color to be honest, but oh well). We then get Ivy’s funeral, where Harley’s too distraught to speak, and so Clayface gives a eulogy instead. Specifically he give’s Kirk’s speech at Spock’s death from Wrath of Khan, but it’s played straight. The whole funeral is honestly. No gags, no jokes, just a group of people lamenting the loss of a friend and/or loved one. It’s honestly a really moving moment.
Eventually Harley breaks her silence, screaming and running at Joker’s tower, but she’s quickly restrained by Psycho, who chides her for risking her life so carelessly and demands that she make a plan before they go kill Joker. And she does, heading off to GCPD to make a deal with Batman to team up and stop Joker. Where’s the rest of the Bat-Family? Who knows, they’re not in this show. Harley will provide the distraction, first by offering up herself to get Joker’s attention, and then showing him Batman. Well, not really of course. It’s Clayface shape-shifted into Batman, so that Joker won’t be looking to notice Batman breaking into his tower. Things go well at first and then the series being a comedy bites itself and its characters.
See, Harley presents ‘Batman’ as both a symbol of her surrender and as a birthday gift for Joker. Joker, in turn, demands that Harley sing him his special birthday song. Now, given that Clayface liked Ivy quite a bit, considering her a close friend and someone he cared about, and given that he’s totally down for revenge, you’d think that he’d keep quiet and do his part. After all, he’s quite committed to acting and being ‘in character’, and he’s playing Batman, who’s quiet and brooding. But while that would make sense for the character in this specific situation, it wouldn’t be very funny. And so Clayface breaks character, belting out the final lines of the song and cluing Joker into the fact that something’s wrong. This lets him react in time to Batman’s attempted attack, letting him get behind a protective dome to gas Batman and use the tower’s defenses to capture the crew, with only Harley escaping thanks to her acrobatic skill. So in other words, every bit of suffering and destruction we see in the rest of this episode can all be chalked up to Clayface being unable to get over himself for two minutes. Will this ever be brought up? Not in this episode! Maybe next season, who knows. But it’s frustrating all the same.
Fast forward one week, and Joker has declared himself the King of Gotham, with Gordon in chains, military police, and an execution squad for people who don’t laugh at his bad jokes. He’s also killed Scarecrow, melting his head with acid, for revealing Batman’s identity to him and for noticing how much Joker misses Harley. Harley has managed to continue to evade capture fortunately, with an ever-increasing bounty on her head, one for a live capture only. We cut to her visiting Ivy’s grave, and putting a bouquet of roses on it, half red and half dyed black. Kite Man is there to greet her, as he is currently living in a tent behind the grave with Frank. He reveals to Harley that Joker is advertising a big 80’s themed party, at which he will execute Harley’s crew. This pushes Harley to come up with a plan for a direct confrontation with Joker, and she returns to his tower, finding him pretending to read Infinite Jest. She demands that he release her crew, and reveals her bargaining chip. Since the Joker wants her alive, she’s strapped a suicide vest to herself, and will kill herself if he doesn’t free the crew.
Joker invites her up to the top of his tower, and a deal is struck. Harley takes off the vest and puts on her original costume, and in exchange Joker sets her crew free, depositing them safely at the bottom of his tower. The pair speak, Joker pretending to want to seduce Harley and Harley pretending to fall for it, and then they simultaneously stab each other in the stomach, each thinking the other was fooled by their fake kiss. They fight for a while, Harley getting more cuts and stabs in but Joker eventually getting the upper hand, pinning her to the floor. He reveals that he wants her gone not because he doesn’t love her, but because he does, and his twisted mind interprets that as a weakness. His only weakness. And thus he wants her gone. But not dead, no. As he explains when he has two goons drag her down to the special vat of acid in his basement, he feels that killing her would make her a martyr in his own mind. So instead, he’s going to drop her in an acid designed to cancel out the bleaching, twisting effect of the acid she jumped in before the series began, wiping her memory and making her look like just another person. A nobody.
Harley starts to actually panic, finding this prospect genuinely terrifying, but then she notices rose vines growing visibly and rapidly around the vat, and persuades Joker to let her jump into the acid, one final act as Harley Quinn. He agrees and turns to walk away, but then realizes that he never heard a splash. Harley laughs, rising into the air, cradled by vines, and causing Joker to actually panic, realizing what this means. Ivy soon reveals herself, returned from the dead and not remotely interested in letting Joker escape. She drops him into the acid he was going to use on Harley, but Joker has just enough time to activate a bomb. A rather insanely big one too, as it triggers an 8.6 magnitude earthquake in Gotham. Batman manages to save Harley and Ivy, but is knocked into a chasm in the process. The season then gives us a reminder that the protagonists are villains, as they happily survey the burning wreckage that is Gotham after the earthquake, Harley and Ivy leaning on each other. And finally, we end with the Joker’s hand emerging from beneath some rubble. He begins to laugh maniacally, but his laughter slowly becomes less manic and less…well…Joker sounding, and his hand slowly turns into a human skin tone before passing out. And thus the season ends.
Well, that was a ride! I think I can rather firmly say that I liked this finale a lot. It was good! Undeniably flawed, but good. The show’s format, both as a twenty-two minute cartoon and as a comedy, definitely hurts it unfortunately, but for what it is, it’s quite satisfying. I’m glad that it’s getting renewed for at least another season (if only for the hope that they’ll give us some Harley/Ivy content) but to be perfectly honest, if it weren’t this would frankly be a good season and a good way to end. They did a good job on that front, narratively.
Am I inclined to be more charitable than I might otherwise be because I know there’s a second season coming in a little more than a month? Eh, maybe. As a whole, this season is flawed and messy and not my perfect, dream version of a Harley Quinn centered animated series, but it’s by no means terrible and really, honestly worth a watch.
Thanks for reading this! See ya in April!