Harley Quinn is a show about growth. And dumb hijinks. But mostly growth. Comic books often put a character in a situation and either ask ‘what’s the coolest thing this character could do’ or ‘what’s the most dramatic thing this character could do.’ Harley starts by acknowledging that all of this is absurd and then asks what would a character who exists before and after the story actually do? Very few villains–the Joker being one of them–do evil for evil’s sake. They have a goal, a stance, or something that they’re seeking out. Dr. Psycho wants to be accepted (and be allowed to be a vile misogynist). Clayface wants to be an Actor. This week’s episode is about what Poison Ivy wants. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 2, Episode 3, “Trapped.”
The first season of Harley Quinn was about Harley escaping and then grappling with her abusive relationship with the Joker. This season is about her taking control of her life and, in the process, Gotham City. Since the beginning, Poison Ivy has stood by her as a loyal friend and, arguably, the only properly competent person on the show. But Ivy hasn’t had much chance to express what she wants. Often times, it’s not even totally clear exactly what she wants.
Harley’s continued quest for revenge on Gotham’s Injustice League leads her to Mr. Freeze’s doorstep. While the icy criminal is too cool to appear in this episode, a bit of exposition from his henchmen leads Harley and her crew to try to steal Firefly’s flamethrower from deepcut villain Dr. Trap. Harley smartly brings in a contractor for the heist: Catwoman.
Never meet your heroes (or villains)
And it’s here we start to get some insight into Ivy’s mind. Ivy, it turns out, has a complex about Catwoman. The master cat burglar has damaged their friendship on multiple occasions, but she exudes an unflappable coolness that enchants Ivy every time. We watch Ivy vacillate between admiration and abhorrence as she interacts with Selina. In one moment she’s mad as Catwoman orders Cobb salads for the whole team, and the next she’s awkwardly suggesting that the group call themselves the Cobb Squad and get matching tattoos. She stumbles over herself as if she’s meeting her ultimate idol; it would be sweet instead of awkward if Ivy was 15 or 20 years younger.
The trio heads back to Dr. Trap’s lair for a second run, at which point their ride, Kite Man (Hell yeah) confesses to Harley that he has a reason he wants to join them: Dr. Trap’s museum has a leaf-shaped diamond ring, and Kite Man wants to propose to his green-thumbed girlfriend. Harley still isn’t confident that Kite Man is the right guy for Ivy, but she agrees to help him while Ivy and Catwoman go after the primary MacGuffin.
What cool looks like
Splitting the team up this way sets up an interesting dynamic for the episode. Ivy tries to justify her life to Catwoman while Catwoman effortlessly keeps her out of Dr. Trap’s countless deathtraps. Meanwhile, Harley listens to Kite Man speak his mind honestly about Ivy as he stumbles fearfully but determinedly into one trap after another, soldiering on through arrow wounds, bee stings, and more.
Ivy has this idea in her head of what coolness looks like that doesn’t jive with the life she’s finding happiness in. Catwoman is a globetrotting loner while Ivy has a boyfriend she likes and a group of friends she cares about, all of whom support her. Ivy has to reckon with the idea that being happy is worthwhile, and that Catwoman’s version of cool wouldn’t work for her. As Ivy works through this, Harley is learning that Kite Man and Ivy are more similar than first glance would suggest. They both see the other’s softer side. Ivy sees through Kite Man’s dorky grandstanding while he sees her hidden warmth. Also, they always match.
The Dumbass Squad
While all this is going on, Harley tasks Dr. Psycho with keeping an eye on the Riddler. Edward Nygma quickly taunts the tiny raging bull into throwing a fit. The Riddler escapes and forces Psycho, King Shark, Cy, and Frank the Plant to track him down. It turns out that the Riddler escaped just to prove he could; Harley’s mall base is the safest place in the city now that Riddler U has been shut down.
I like that Harley and Ivy both want more from life than just to keep on keeping on. That matches with on-going relationship the two have had in the comics. The things they want feel organic for this take on Gotham and its criminals. My biggest complaint is that the show has established three clear dynamics: the whole crew; Harley and Ivy; Dr. Psycho and King Shark. Clayface shifts between the two a bit more, but he leans toward the latter group. I want to see the team mix up the dynamic a bit more so that it’s not just the Real Characters and the Dumbass Squad as the A and B plots each week.
A more minor complaint is that Catwoman, voiced by Sanaa Lathan, is one of the more underwhelming performances in the show. I don’t expect Catwoman to show up again, but it’s hard not to have Adrienne Barbeau’s voice ringing on my ears when Catwoman is on the screen. Lathan’s performance gets the job done but doesn’t leave a mark.
Finally, I’m surprised that the episode ends the way it does. In one scene, we see Harley and Ivy bonding and holding hands. In the next, Ivy is making a longer commitment to Kite Man. The showrunners have previously said that this season would explore Harley and Ivy’s relationship more, so I’m curious to see how those somewhat oppositional elements play out.