Different villains in the world of Gotham come from different places. Joker is the embodiment of chaotic evil. Ra’s Al Ghul and Poison Ivy are different shades of ecoterrorist, each with their heart in the right place. Mr. Freeze is closer to those villains than the Joker. Like the Joker, you can blame an accident for his physical condition. But his circumstances are what make him who he is and decide how he behaves. Harley Quinn manages to zero in on that idea without losing the over-the-top core of the show. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 2, Episode 4, “Thawing Hearts.”
Harley is on a revenge tour of Gotham. The Injustice League put her on ice, and she’s going to show them who really runs Gotham. The Penguin is dead and his nose is bitten off, while the Riddler is happily jogging his days away in Harley’s mall base. Last week’s episode had Harley acquiring the tools to fight Mr. Freeze while Ivy dealt with her feelings of inadequacy in comparison to Catwoman. Now, Harley has the tools and the talent to invade Freeze’s icy HQ, and we find her doing just that, but not before making her entry tunnel resemble a certain piece of human anatomy.
Harley, Clayface, King Shark, and Dr. Psycho are fighting off Freeze’s ice-skating hockey goons when Harley gets an update from Ivy and Kite Man (Hell yeah): they’re getting married. This opening fight has some really fun animation as our antiheroes skate around and fight, but it’s not long before Freeze has the upper hand thanks to his powerful freeze gun.
Clayface: Surprise MVP
The saddest part about watching Harley Quinn is watching it knowing that no matter how much I enjoy it, I can’t possibly be having as much fun as Ron Funches (King Shark) or, even more so, Alan Tudyk (Clayface). When Freeze steps out in a cloud of back-lit ice mist, the two react, with King Shark saying “Oh my god it’s Beyoncé!” and Clayface replying “Oh my god, it’s Lady GaGAAAA~!” complete with the twisted emphasis and wavering voice. Clayface has such an expressive voice in this show, and Tudyk is absolutely making the most out of it.
But this episode is primarily bout Mr. Freeze, and it doesn’t waste any of his on-screen time in letting us get to know him. One of the things Harley Quinn has been great at doing is imagining what these villains might be like when they’re not there just to be a point of conflict for Batman. It turns out that Mr. Freeze is… actually a nice guy. It makes sense. His whole goal in life is to cure his wife’s blood disease. He’s a villain by circumstance, not by nature or desire. The “Heart of Ice” episode of Batman: The Animated Series did a great job of showing this, and Harley does the same, albeit with a lighter heart.
After some conflict, Freeze ends up serving his new prisoners lunch, and he checks in to make sure they don’t have any food allergies. As they eat, he asks them to describe the food because he can’t eat hot food anymore.
PTSD all around
When Freeze wheels in his beloved Nora, it triggers Harley hard. She was trapped in a block of ice for two months and in an abusive relationship for far longer. She frees Nora from her icy sleep only to find out that Nora was in suspended animation willingly. Harley has to face the notion that her relationship with Mr. J twisted her own view of love way out of whack.
When she points out that Freeze locked her in ice, he reveals that the other guys wanted to kill her. He suggested that they freeze her instead because, as he smartly points out, a bunch of straight white men love seeing a woman turned into a literal object, thus saving her life.
Kite Man, Wedding Planner
Harley eventually has to call in Ivy, an expert biochemist, to help with the situation she’s unwittingly put herself and Freeze in. That pulls Ivy away from the situation she’s in: trying to get a venue for her and Kite Man’s wedding. I love the idea here that Kite Man, a guy whose trademark is being excited about kite-related crime, is also the emotional driver behind the relationship. Ivy is interested in Kite Man or, as she calls him once this week, Chuck, but she’s also used to being aloof. It makes sense that Kite Man would be the one with ideas about what his eventual wedding would look like.
Of course, he’s Kite Man, so he doesn’t get to have any clean success in life, and his bid for his venue of choice goes sideways when his nemesis shows up: The Condiment King. There aren’t any major thematic revelations here, other than that Kite Man, one of the silliest DC characters, is getting growth from Harley Quinn that the comics would never really have space for. Also, Condiment King has food puns to spare.
The biggest surprise here is that I’m impressed and pleased with Harley Quinn every week. The show always finds something new to do with Batman lore. I love that we keep seeing villains in their downtime, existing as people. While this story is far from canonical, it does a lot to flesh out these characters and it makes me look forward to seeing them again in other stories.