How many themes can you pack into one episode? Harley Quinn is pushing the boundaries this week as it shifts its focus to the Clown Prince of Parenting, the Joker, giving us an episode of television that manages to comment on politics and parenting while sending up the 1989 Batman film, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, ’90s sitcoms, and Todd Phillips’ Joker. And it all works. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 3, Episode 6, “Joker: The Killing Vote.”
“Joker: The Killing Vote”
If there was any doubt about Joker’s sincerity regarding his new family, the opening of this week’s episode reveals him to be totally genuine. Even in his dreams, he thinks first about the best interests of his stepchildren, Benicio and Sophia. Batman finds the Joker walking alone at night and chases him into a dark alley. Joker protests that he’s changed, but Batman charges; he unmasks the caped crusader only to see the face of his PTA rival Debbie, voiced by Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy, Bojack Horseman), beneath the cowl.
Joker wakes up in a cold sweat and it transitions into a ’90s sitcom-style theme with that classic yellow Full House font. It’s definitely taking a page from the legendary Too Many Cooks. After flipping a pancake to Sophia, it cuts to Joker dancing down the stairs, dodging all the toys left by his kids, with a 1:1 match to Joker’s iconic dance from Todd Phillips’ film.
Joker for Mayor
This all inspires Joker to run for mayor of Gotham, which he announces with an explosion and a classic clown gun with a pop-out flag announcing his candidacy.
Joker’s first campaign act is to rob Gotham City Bank–and redistribute the money to Gotham’s citizens. when asked if he’s like a socialist, he says he’s not like a socialist, he is a socialist. This, of course, leads to a scene ripped right out of the climax of 1989’s Batman. Only instead of giving money to Gothamites so that he can poison them all at once, he’s doing it to redistribute wealth and secure their votes.
Meanwhile, Jim Gordon continues to bumble through Two-Face’s transparently self-serving plan to get him into the mayor’s office, and as Vulture notes, this really feels like a satire of not just socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders, but the Democratic establishment as well. While Joker campaigns on clear ideas and goals, Two-Face has trained Jim to trail off mid-sentence like the very best politicians.
The Killing Joke
The whole thing hits its climax in a script-flip of the Killing Joke. In that story, the Joker cripples and assaults Barbara Gordon and then kidnaps Jim Gordon in an attempt to break his sanity to make a point to Batman about the effects of one bad day. Instead, though, Two-Face tricks Gordon into helping him kidnap Benicio. This is a legitimately cool-looking sequence that makes heavy use of colorful outlines to keep track of the characters in the dark of the abandoned ride. Harley Quinn is a good-looking show but its mostly in service of telling good jokes, so this stands out.
The Killing Joke is, of course, one of the most iconic Batman stories, but it’s also aged worse than many of the best Batman stories and even many of Alan Moore’s best stories. While the goals still feel authentic to the characters, many of the story beats don’t feel as fun today, and it deserves a little poking fun at this point.
Joker does, of course, become mayor just in time for Harlivy to return from their New Orleans swamp adventure.
The Joker Who Loves
I’m continuing to enjoy this alternate timeline version of Joker who found his way back to something like sanity thanks to Harley, but who never completely leaves his old self behind. It’s more like he’s redirecting the same energy toward positive goals. The writers are doing a great job of mining this idea for jokes about this character we’ve gone into overload on in the last five or ten years thanks to so many portrayals in both live-action and animation. At this point, flipping the script on the character is a necessity to find anything new in the character. This version of the Joker has something to lose and something to live for, and that’s all it takes to reveal a very different person.