This week over on the CW, Supergirl prominently featured Lex Luthor as we looked at his first three months as Earth’s savior in a post-Crisis world. Harley Quinn, meanwhile, takes a deep dive into the Joker’s past as a way of looking at Harley and Ivy’s friendship. It’s almost certainly coincidental, but interesting nonetheless. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 2, Episode 5, “All the Best Inmates have Daddy Issues.”
“All the Best Inmates have Daddy Issues”
This week’s episode of Harley Quinn doesn’t do much to move the plot forward, for as much plot as this show really has. Instead, it seems to be a sort of acting showcase for actors Kaley Cuoco and Alan Tudyk as they play two very different and opposed versions of their characters.
Harley and Ivy are sitting in a bar when Harley takes a closer look at the bartender and notices that he looks just like the Joker. At first, Ivy doesn’t believe her, but then sees it for herself. The two try to escape, only to come face to face with the man himself. The bartender hands Harley her bat and the three talk for a minute–just long enough to find out that this is one boring dude. If he’s really the Joker, then his tower’s collapse and his fall into acid must’ve really done a number on him.
Initially, Ivy wants to kill this Joker-Bartender, but Harley stops her; what if this guy really is an okay person?
Dr. Harleen Quinzel meets the Joker
The question leads the two down a rabbit hole into their pasts, when Harley was Dr. Harleen Quinzel and Ivy was a relatively new inmate at Arkham Asylum. Harley asserts that people can change, and this story is her proof.
Harley looks back to a time when she was a young psychologist and just starting at Arkham. The Joker has somehow planted a bomb somewhere in Gotham from inside his cell, and no one can get it out of him. Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent take a break from a push-up contest to task Dr. Quinzel, the only cheap psychiatrist left, with getting him to talk about where he hid it. Dr. Quinzel goes to interview him.
But first, on the way, there’s a breakout. Poison Ivy got her hands on some lettuce (which is a great sentence to be able to write). As a result, she’s spawning vines all over the place. She tears one guard into two pieces and impales two others before Harvey Dent has her singed by flamethrowers and tranqed to the ground.
The Joker we’ve seen so far is the classic clean-cut look we know from the Animated Series and most other cartoon portrayals of the character. When Dr. Quinzel goes to visit the Joker in his cell, though, we find a much more haggard version of the character, with shaggy locks and smeared makeup. In fact, he looks a lot like Heath Ledger’s take on the character.
Why so serious?
After the good Doctor’s first conversation with the Joker, Batman steps in to interrogate him, beating him up in the interrogation room. Dr. Quinzel questions him again, but thanks to some info from Ivy, she’s able to provoke the Joker.
He says, “you wanna know how I got these emotional scars?” He proceeds to tell a story that Harley–in the present–finds out was actually a story that Ivy told in group therapy. Just like in The Dark Knight.
It turns out that the Joker had implanted the bomb in someone inside the prison. Just like in The Dark Knight.
The Joker ends up taking Dr. Quinzel hostage, only for Poison Ivy, inspired by the Doctor’s kindness, rescues her and strings up the Joker. She even surrenders to Arkham guards and goes back to her cell after asking Dr. Quinzel to be her therapist. In other words, they were friends pre-Harley.
The Joker is basic
To Harley, Ivy’s change is proof that people can change. Back in the present, they bring in a tiebreaker: Dr. Psycho. Dr. Psycho reads the bartender’s mind and confirms that he’s extremely basic and that he has no memories from before the tower fell. His memories are of finding his lucky sock, getting a plain and predictable haircut, and of spending time with his girlfriend’s kids. In other words, this is the Joker, but it also isn’t.
The story ends with the ladies leaving the bar, ending up captured by Two-Face and his goons, while the bartender gets a text from his kids that make him cackle in a distinctly Joker-like way.
We already knew from stuff like Firefly, Dodgeball, and Doom Patrol that Alan Tudyk is a stellar comedic actor. Harley Quinn has been a sort of coming out for Kaley Cuoco as someone who has vocal range and a great understanding of what makes Harley Harley. It’s fun to see the way this show flips their characters. We see human Harleen as she meets the TDK-inspired Joker, and then post-Joker Harley as she encounters a very normal and seemingly well-adjusted amnesiac Joker.
There are some other good bits throughout, such as when Commissioner Gordon, who is a sort of police pastiche, demands Dr. Quinzel’s badge and gun (she doesn’t have those things). We also get a good look at the Batmobile, which looks to be heavily inspired by the 1989 Batman movie. It’s a low-slung vehicle with a raised cockpit and wheel wells. This isn’t Batman’s story, but little details like these are still fun to spot. We also learn that this Joker did indeed kill Jason Todd. In among all the lightness, the show doesn’t let us forget how bad the Joker and other criminals are.
I continue to enjoy the different ways Harley Quinn is exploring each of its characters. This is a unique look at both Joker and Harley, and the Dark Knight references were fun, too.