On a whim, I decided to try watching Harley Quinn on HBO Max. My only real experience with Harley Quinn up to this point had been Batman: The Animated Series, obviously, and DC’s recent Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn. As I watched, I thought it’d be fun to write about the experience as I did last year, when I tried to binge-watch ninety-six episodes of Supergirl in the nineteen days I had left before the new season premiered. Instead of doing any sort of analysis or deconstruction or anything like that, I just wrote my stream-of-consciousness thoughts as I watched. Now I’ve discovered the DC Universe’s Harley Quinn show! And, while I watched at a more leisurely pace (relatively speaking), I decided to write the same sort of piece. Let’s see where this goes…
What follows is a stream-of-consciousness list of lessons I learned while I watched the first two seasons of Harley Quinn over the course of eight days.
1) I’m literally ten seconds in, the opening scene has us on a yacht and the guy in the captain hat has just raised his glass to say, “Gentlemen, my fellow whites! Let’s raise a glass to this pyramid of money, the foundation of which was built upon our favorite pastime – fucking the poor!” Then they all cheer…and HOLY SHIT. I am impressed. This is certainly not the show I was expecting! This has something to say and it’s bold enough to say it directly and unapologetically. Am I in love? Is this love? I don’t know…
2) Listening to Harley Quinn and the Joker bicker is hysterical. I’m dying! Despite its immediately established brilliant and biting social conscience, it’s nothing I could ever show in a class XD. It’s pretty violent and they say “fuck” a lot. But I fucking love it! This is love.
3) I love how supportive Poison Ivy is! Oh my gosh. From the second she’s introduced, she’s trying to show Harley how bad the Joker is for her and how much she’s worth as a human being. It’s brilliant!
4) They don’t just show Harley’s relationship with the Joker is abusive, they name it, too. Once Ivy’s broken Harley out of Arkham, she tells Harley she was the only doctor to ever help her. Looking at the photo of herself with Ivy before the Joker, Harley begins talking with Photo Her. Photo Harleen asks for help with a patient, describing her situation, and Harley tells her, “Oh, easy – classic abusive co-dependency. You just gotta show her there’s no future with him and she needs to end it and find her own identity and haaahhhhhhhhhhhhh, oh, I see. You’re smart.” And Photo Harleen tells her, “I know. I’m you.” Naming it is so important for healing!
5) I love that Ivy tells Harley she loves her :). Ivy has walls (which she owns) and she doesn’t let a lot of people in (which she also owns) but she openly tells Harley she loves her. She is so supportive and so caring!
6) I want Harley to succeed. Like, in all the ways. She’s aspiring to get into the Legion of Doom! But I don’t even feel conflicted about rooting for her because she’s better than all those supervillains. I want her to get away from Joker. I want her to be successful on her own. I just want her to be happy! She is a hot mess of conflictions and impulse control problems and makes some really bad choices…but I love her.
7) Am I gonna start reading Harley Quinn comics? Hmmm…
8) Ok, with all due respect to Arleen Sorkin and Margot Robbie, I will now always hear Kaley Cuoco in my head when I read Harley Quinn. Lake Bell is my definitive Poison Ivy, too. I HAVE NO REGRETS.
9) I’m always skeptical of the “antihero” trope as so often in comics it seems they just take a popular villain people think is cool and give them a passing social conscience so they can feel less bad about making extra money by giving them their own comic series (Punisher, Venom, Deadpool, Deadpool, Deadpool…So. Much. Deadpool). But with her background with the Joker and the nature of their abusive relationship, Harley Quinn feels different. She is a complex, dynamic character – a woman driven “mad” by the damage the Joker inflicted on her – who is now trying to break free, heal, and figure out who she is. She’s not so much a “villain with a passing social conscience” as a woman trying to define herself again on the other side of serious emotional trauma.
10) HARLEY QUINN AND POISON IVY ARE THE BEST RELATIONSHIP EVER. Did this show set out to mindfully depict the healthiest, most loving and supportive friendship of all time? BECAUSE THEY DID. Harley and Ivy aren’t just a brilliant example of a strong female friendship – they are the sort of friendship we all want!
11) Dr. Psycho!!! Ahhh! I’m so glad I just read all of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman run a few weeks ago so I know who he is. I feel like such an “insider” now that I’m bursting with this DC knowledge X,D.
12) I can’t believe how much I like Clayface! Watching Batman: The Animated Series as a kid, Clayface always made me so sad. But here Clayface is a lovable goofball, so sure of himself, his acting, and his dreams. I love it!
13) Watching this show directly call out patriarchal oppression and then smash it down has me literally cheering! Maxi Zeus tells Harley, “No villain will ever work for a woman.” Ivy tells Harley, “There’s a glass ceiling for female supervillains. Yes, we’re tolerated, as long as we don’t get too powerful.” The Queen of Fables tells Harley, “A male supervillain can rob a bank and he’s a criminal mastermind but if we do it…” and Harley finishes, “We get called a ‘crazy bitch.’” After Dr. Psycho calls his wife a “c***” on TV, the crawl reads, “Man says terrible thing again! Will probably get third chance.” Ultimately, after assembling her own crew, Harley robs Maxi Zeus and beats the shit out of him, leaving him to tell reporters, “All I can say is…Harley Quinn’s crew ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.”
14) King Shark has my heart. What else can I say? I LOVE KING SHARK!
15) Then we also have Jim Rash as the Riddler! Wayne Knight as the Penguin! Wanda Sykes as the Queen of Fables! And Jason Alexander as Sy Borgman! Is this the best cast superhero show in the history of superhero shows? Maybe. I could just be super excited in the moment. But maybe.
16) The show directly discusses how Harley isn’t evil, in the way the Joker and Bane and Two Face are. Ivy tells Harley, “You’re a bad guy but you’re a good person.” Harley herself tells the Queen of Fables murdering innocent people is a line she won’t cross. When Fables tells Harley supervillains don’t give a fuck, Harley says, “Yeah, you know, you know, I think maybe I just give a microscopic fuck.”
17) Ivy, too, identifies as “an ecoterrorist” as opposed to “a supervillain” and when Harley asks her if she’s going to do something “evil” (when Ivy is planning to destroy a company tearing up Gotham’s greenspaces for factories) Ivy says, “Yeah, you know, I mean if we’re still categorizing fighting to protect the environment as evil, then sure.”
18) Ivy is SO fiercely protective of Harley and I love it! She calls out Lex Luthor to his face without blinking when she believes he may be messing with Harley over the Legion of Doom.
19) Oh my gosh! Yes! They equate the Joker’s head games and emotional abuse with fat shaming when, after Joker passive-aggressively welcomes Harley to the Legion of Doom, King Shark says, “Oh, I’ve seen this before. It’s just like the time my ex, Sandra, called me up after I lost twenty pounds. Where were you when I was still 2,750 Sandra?? Where were you?!? I needed love then!!!”
20) This show BRILLIANTLY models open, emotionally-vulnerable communication between its characters! After Harley gets into the Legion of Doom – which Ivy despises – they have a great conversation:
Harley – “Although, listen, I am working there and I hope it doesn’t affect our friendship. I would be dead without you. Like a lot.”
Ivy – “I do not disagree with that. I mean, I’m glad you’re not dead. But…I dunno. It felt like you were so ready to abandon me.”
Harley – “I would never do that. I will always be there for ya. I will always smash things you might need smashed, Ive.”
21) While it hurt to watch – like a lot, my heart broke in so many ways – I respect and appreciate this show was honest enough to say leaving an abusive relationship isn’t as easy as just walking away. We see the hold the Joker still has on Harley, even when she’s left him, and they show how that hurts Harley, her relationship with Ivy, and her relationship with her crew. And they show how it hurts Ivy to watch Harley keep making dangerous choices she can’t save her from.
22) I love Harley’s conversations with “Sane Me,” in her head. I have that li’l voice inside my head, too! Harley may hear hers less but she’s better at listening to it than I am :8. I think I have some things to learn from Harley Quinn.
23) I’m going to start reading Harley Quinn comics. I know it. I feel a deep dive into her comic history ahead.
24) Everyone should be so blessed as to have a friendship like Ivy and Harley – to be able to be a friend like Ivy and to be able to have our Harley moments and be held within them, too.
25) Alright, I cried. I cried! This show makes me cry! There, I learned that. I cry at Harley Quinn.
26) HAHAHAHAHAHA, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, when Ivy – the environmental warrior she is – is in Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth she says, “I take long showers. I think paper straws are stupid; they get too soggy.” I love it! And she’s right – paper straws are stupid and they do get soggy. Thank you for speaking THE TRUTH, Ivy.
27) This show MASTERFULLY weaves biting, one-liners overflowing with justice-oriented social commentary in and around the hilarity, superheroics, and emotional core. A few favorites include:
- Speaking of the Queen of Fables’ imprisonment, Ivy says, “Haha, yeah, ‘cause she almost destroyed Gotham.” Harley replies, “Yeah, I think it was more a lack of affordable housing that destroyed Gotham.”
- When Scarecrow is giving Harley, Ivy, Clayface, and King Shark their tour of the Legion of Doom, he walks them through the giant gold statues lining their entryway and points out, “Pretty cool, huh? All the heavy hitters. Sinestro. Lex Luthor. Roger Goodell. Oh, FYI, we stand for the anthem here.”
- As Ivy is breaking out of her prison a guard says, “Eh, don’t worry. There aren’t any plants around. She’s just another weak, helpless woman.” And Ivy says, “Uh, who still has hands [she draws a gun from one dead guard] and the god-damn Second Amendment [she shoots the two remaining guards through the face]. Obviously I support background checks and common sense gun laws.”
- When Harley confronts Mr. Freeze for imprisoning her in a block of ice Freeze says, “Everyone else wanted to kill you but I convinced them to freeze you. As you can imagine, a group of white, cisgendered, heterosexual, male crime lords, they love the idea of turning a woman into a helpless object of mockery.” Surprised, Harley says, “Oh.” And King Shark tells her, “Well I hope you’re proud of yourself. You falsely accused the most woke, ice-themed villain in all of New New Gotham.”
- Debating their course of action King Shark says, “I promised myself I’d never kill an old person – I’d let the American health care system do that. But we need to get Harley’s back.”
28) JIM GORDON’S CHEST HAIR.
29) HARLEY AND IVY DANCING TO BARB’S “PARTY MIX” DURING THEIR CONVERSATION!!!
30) I never tire of watching Harley and Ivy support each other and help each other grow. Harley’s there to reaffirm who Ivy’s becoming while still supporting who she’s always been! It’s beautiful. It really is.
31) I love that “post-Joker Harley” is just looking “to fuck as many randos” as she can. Yay! Go Harley! You’re entitled to all the fun you want. My heart’s all warm and fuzzy. The idea we “need” a romantic relationship or always need to be in one gives rise to a lot of unhealth longings in people. Relationships are great. But so is being single. And so is fucking as many randos as you can…if that’s what you’re looking for.
32) Yes, yes, YES. Oh my gosh, yes! The open S2E5 with two guys sitting in a basement, one’s wearing a “Release the Snyder Cut” t-shirt and the other a “The Last Jedi Isn’t Canon” t-shirt. They are talking about the show! Snyder Cut Guy hates it, saying he’s never watched it, but – as Last Jedi Guy points out – he’s been writing about it online. Snyder Cut Guy bitches about Harley’s “Mary Sue powers” and how he’d watch the show if, “It wasn’t a fucking tsunami of virtue signaling.” I LOVE how they call out the type of baseless complaints leveled at brilliant, insightful, important stories like this and they capture that sort of “fan” so perfectly!
35) Really, this entire list could just be different versions of me saying how much I love Harley and Ivy. That’s the real lesson here. They are the best. Everything else here is secondary to how much I love them, how great their friendship is, how wonderful a model it is, and on and on. HARLEY AND IVY ARE THE BEST.
36) I appreciate how they play with the potential romantic dimensions to their love/friendship, too. Harley and Ivy are open to all of the beautiful, varied dimensions of love between them – and when it becomes new or different ot potentially awkward, they talk about their feelings and boundaries with each other. We can be so scared of romantic love – especially between best friends. We’d do well to model Ivy and Harley, being open to love in whatever way it manifests, and just seeing where love leads.
37) What this show does with modelling setting boundaries, truly hearing another, standing up for yourself, and the journey of growth in our lives is MAGNIFICENT. I don’t know that I’ve seen a show that handles all this in a better, more authentic way. At least not so directly! And it manages to do all this while simultaneously being the most laugh-out-loud-until-my-sides-hurt funniest thing I’ve seen since Fleabag (which is saying A LOT), wildly irreverent, filled with crazy and violent superhero shenanigans, and so well conceptualized and pulled together perfectly throughout. Harley Quinn is a master class on telling superhero stories and telling stories that matter. GO. HARLEY.
38) With the exception of Patty Jenkins’ genre-redefining Wonder Woman films, Harley Quinn is the best DC story I have ever experienced. Period. Full stop.
39) I absolutely need more Harley Quinn in my life! Looks like it’s time to buy some comics. That aforementioned deep dive into her catalogue is coming up.
P.S. I did immediately start rewatching the series once I finished.
P.P.S. Since writing the above piece, I may’ve already purchased Vol. 2-5 of Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti’s acclaimed New 52 run on Harley’s solo title after finding Vol. 1 and 6 at Ollie’s. Who can tell for sure?
P.P.P.S. I may’ve read through those so quickly I may’ve purchased Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti’s entire Rebirth run on Harley’s solo title already, too. LISTEN, WHAT CAN I SAY? THE SHOW IS GREAT AND THEIR COMICS ARE, TOO.