Harley Quinn has thus far been great at changing the status quo of its version of Gotham each season and then digging into what that change means. Season 3 ended with Harley realizing something–for as much as she enjoys chaos, she’d rather help people than hurt them. Usually. Meanwhile, Poison Ivy became the CEO of the Legion of Doom. So, you know. Things are complicated. Spoilers follow for Harley Quinn Season 3, Episodes 1 – 3.
Episodes 1 – 3
Usually, when superhero comics start up a romance between two characters, they’re on the same side of the law or, at worst, morally aligned even when they aren’t in agreement on other matters. It’s rare that we see a hero and villain paired together. For obvious reasons, too–their agendas are directly in conflict with each other, and the fights that come out of that tend to be pretty serious.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear, then, that Harley and Ivy run into problems almost immediately. But this is Harley Quinn‘s strong suit–taking a weird idea and exploring it in way too much depth. As we pick back up, Harley is trying to ingratiate herself to the Bat Fam while Ivy starts as the Legion of Doom’s first CEO.
Much of these first few episodes are wrapped up in the idea of identity–Harley’s identity as a hero, Ivy’s identity as a boss, Bruce Wayne’s identity as a popular prison DJ, and Alfred’s identity as his butler. Clayface’s identity as a beloved Vegas performer. You know–standard Batman stuff.
That element feels very true to Batman and Gotham-related stories in general, and the episodes we’ve seen so far mine a lot of good stuff from that. Harley isn’t used to putting a limiter on her violence, and despite carrying only a baseball bat, people tend to get dismembered around her with startling regularity. With the Bat Family though, she’s suddenly finding herself accountable to someone and coming to grips with the fact that they’ve been doing it for a while and have gotten good at it. Harley’s slow move from being a villain’s girlfriend to being something of an antihero protagonist has been a rewarding but sometimes bumpy one as she struggles to adapt to changing circumstances.
While there are certainly interesting things to find in these situations, though, it definitely takes a toll on the show. So much of the fun of Harley Quinn in previous seasons came from the dynamic of Harley’s chaotic nature, Ivy’s constant self-doubt, King Shark wanting to just have a chill time and not give into his irrepressible bloodlust, and, of course, Clayface’s unachievable dream of being under the spotlight, and the way those all bounced off of each other. Clayface could bust up a well-planned mission if someone accidentally suggested he was anything less than 100% authentic in his portrayal of his character. Ivy struggled with doubt, but support from Harley turned her into one of the most formidable villains in Gotham.
Together, these weird takes on these characters work so well and provide so much depth to plumb for humor. Separately, they suffer. Harley is a little more annoying, and Clayface is a lot more annoying. Ivy isn’t quite as endearing. King Shark seems pitiful instead of lovable when he’s with the deeply uninterested, chain-smoking mother of his shark pups.
I’m still enjoying the show, and it’s unquestionably still Harley Quinn. One of the stupidest villains they introduce this season is Snowflame, a very real DC Comics villain whose source of power is cocaine. If there’s one thing that makes Harley Quinn fit into the new DC Studios paradigm of DC entertainment, it’s the show’s willingness to dig deep into DC canon, find the weirdest possible character, and then play with them. Snowflame feels like the kind of character Gunn would’ve killed off in the opening moments of The Suicide Squad.
With the Bat Family playing a bigger role in the story, Alfred is there as well. When he finds out that Bruce has a prison butler, he takes some unique and surprising measures to ensure that he, Alfred Pennyworth, is Batman’s sole butler–while also making Harley look good to her new coworkers. It feels both true to the character and yet wildly irreverent. Alfred is always there to back up Bruce and stitch him back together, but the story turns him into a hilarious sort of helicopter butler (no, not a literal helicopter, that’s for Cy Borgman).
It’s important to let characters (and people!) grow, and sometimes grow apart. That’s just how character development works over a long time. The whole show is as gory, irreverent, weird, and silly as ever. But in splitting up these characters, the show loses a part of its heart–this little squad of bumbling goofballs had near-perfect chemistry, and without it, something is just not quite the same.