Harley & Ivy’s Lessons in Life, Love, and Unburdening c/o the “Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour”

I adore HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series.  It fundamentally shifted my relationship with the character.  Before I watched the show, I enjoyed Harley Quinn.  After watching it, I began tracking down every Harley comic I could find!  In the process, she became a very important character to me.  Naturally, I was excited when I heard of Tee Franklin (writer) and Max Sarin (artist)’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour, billed as Season 2.5.  The comic captures everything I love about the show and features serious character development for both Harley and Poison Ivy, something all too rare in stories set between films in a series or seasons of a TV show.  This development, woven through a story with all the profanity, insanity, and hilarity you’d expect from Harley Quinn: The Animated Series, enriches the characters and serves as a beautiful model for readers.  Any comic which can do all that while also including the line “Piss cakes of a dick” is a true gift :D.

The series has been out for months but the trade collection won’t be released until 30 August 2022 so I want to note this piece has significant SPOILERS for Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour.   

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Photo Credit – DC Universe’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series

Season Two ends amidst the chaos of the Gotham City Police Department raiding Ivy’s near-wedding to Kite Man.  Kite Man tells Ivy, “I saw your face during the vows and I knew your heart wasn’t in it,” breaking up with her, as Ivy finds the courage to listen to her heart and own the full shape of the love she and Harley share.  Part of what makes their relationship so beautiful is their romantic love grew from the solid foundation of friendship evident from the very first episode.  Harley and Ivy are best friends but their relationship is as messy and complicated as it is loving and supportive.  Ivy struggled to open up to Harley, given her fear of abandonment, and Harley wrestled with finding a calm within her inner chaos to be present with and for Ivy.  But they connected.  They also fought.  They hurt each other.  Then they talked.  They listened.  They grew together – each becoming healthier in her own life and thus able to be healthier in the relationship they share.  Romance blossomed from their friendship’s love.  As they drive off together at the end of the episode with the GCPD in hot pursuit, they share a beautiful moment:

Harley – “You don’t think I’m chaotic and crazy and make a buncha messes?”

Ivy – “No, no you definitely do that.  But you’re trying to grow and actually doing it and that, I mean for me, that’s what matters.”

Harley – “I love you Ive.”

Ivy – “I love you too, Harls.”

Harley and Ivy love each other, just as they are, finding beauty in all their broken messiness.  This is exactly where Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour picks up.  Issue #1 opens with Gordan and his men chasing Harley and Ivy as they speed down Gotham’s Harley Quinn Highway.  The first page bears the story’s title: “Journey to Love.”  The title is fitting as what plays out over the miniseries’ six issues illustrates what we must do within ourselves and within our relationships to form healthy, mutually symbiotic connections.

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Photo Credit – DC Universe’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series

As showrunners Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern told ScyFy Wire:

For us, we wanted to make sure that the characters were in a mentally healthy… it sounds crazy, because it’s a silly cartoon where we do lots of shit.  But we wanted to make sure the characters were in a mentally healthy place where we could do a Season 3 and not have to make it about, “Are they going to break up?  Are they not going to break up?” and just have them be together….Putting Harley and Ivy together in our show was always going to be messy, and so we didn’t want it to be something that happened quickly.  We didn’t want anyone to say, “Oh, they just threw them together just to throw them together.  They didn’t do the work.” [….] Any stakes that we want to build into the [third] season moving forward are not going to involve [the question of] “Will they be able to stay in a relationship?”  They’re going to be a couple [….] When we were talking about where a third season could go, the first thing we both said is, “We don’t want to do a third season where it feels like the stakes are [whether] Harley and Ivy stay together.”  It’s much more interesting to do a show about how you navigate these very different personalities being in a relationship.  And what are the fun things that can come out of that?  What are the outside influences that can make that relationship tough but without the stakes being, “Are they going to break up?  Are they not?”  So yeah…the stakes will not be “Are Harley and Ivy going to stay together?”  They’re a couple.[1]  

Franklin handles this masterfully.  It may sound hyperbolic but Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour is an authentic how-to guide for creating and maintaining healthy relationships, flowing from and building upon what Schumacker and Halpern did on the show’s first two seasons.

Having escaped Gordon, Harley looks to begin their happily-ever-after as Ivy tries to process all that’s happened.  She alternates between lovingly being in the moment with Harley and tears.  Through it all, Harley’s “Inner Harleen Voice” reminds her to be gentle and patient with Ivy as she processes her trauma.  Harley is very understanding and she does her best to listen and be supportive of Ivy.

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Photo Credit – DC Comics

Ivy is upset with herself for what happened at the wedding.  She is holding a lot of guilt.  “I hurt so many people today.  Why didn’t I just pretend to be happy with Kite Man?  I’m as phony as this hair.  Why did I fall for Harley?  Why?” and then she begins crying.  Her guilt makes sense and it’s so natural.  Most anyone in her place would feel something similar.  At the root of that guilt is also the question of the validity of her happiness.  To pretend to be happy would mean a life where Ivy isn’t and Kite Man has a partner who doesn’t love him as he loves her.  That would be a sad way to live but “settling” for “good enough” happens in relationships.  We do it for all manner of reasons.  Fear.  Guilt.  Shame.  Comfort.  A sense of “safety” or “security.”  Expectations.  Sometimes it doesn’t just feel easier to settle in such a way but it also feels like settling’s the right thing to do.       

Harley comes in, finds Ivy crying, and naturally asks what happened.  Beautifully we see Harley hold Ivy physically and emotionally in all she’s going through and Harley doesn’t push or press when Ivy tells her, “It’s…nothing.  I just couldn’t…unzip my dress and got frustrated.”  Harley isn’t stupid.  She’s a brilliant psychologist and she also knows the woman she loves very well.  She knows its more than just frustrations over unzipping a dress.  Yet Harley accepts what Ivy is willing to share, honors those boundaries, and helps her undress. 

They hold each other and then they go to bed.  These scenes of intimacy are so beautifully rendered.  I’ve seen few comics which create the sense of beauty and intimacy Franklin’s writing and Sarin’s art do here and these scenes fill my whole heart.

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Harley finds Ivy in the bathroom. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

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Harley soothes Ivy as she dries her tears. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

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And then Harley and Ivy go to bed. / Photo Credit – DC Comics.

Gordon vows revenge and begins a mad hunt for Harley and Ivy.  Seeing this on the news, Harley decides the time has come for a little “honeymoon” road trip.  She and Ivy can hit the hideouts of Nightfall, Livewire, and Killer Frost – all captured at Ivy’s wedding – and cause chaos in their cities while the heat dies down in Gotham.  Looking at the back of the car as she waits for Harley to finish packing Ivy says, “‘Just Married.’  It should say ‘Just Failed.’  He always told me no one would want to marry me.  Guess my dad was right…”  Ivy rips the sign off the back of their car.  Franklin is laying important groundwork as the wounding from Ivy’s relationship with her father is affecting her relationship with Harley and it needs to be healed for their relationship to be a healthy one.

Through the entire series we see Harley and Ivy struggle, fight, and hurt each other but through it all they practice open communication and trust.  Even when they snap at each other or fight they come back to this practice.  On their way out of Gotham, Ivy senses something’s amiss.  Looking around Harley says, “I’m not seeing it, Ivy.  But if you say we have company, I’ll grab my bat just in case.”  Ivy says, “Thanks for believing me, Harls.”  Harley believes Ivy automatically and without question.  What support!  And we see what that means to Ivy, too.

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Ivy and Harley have a very natural, very comfortable flirtatious rhythm, too! / Photo Credit – DC Comics

By the beginning of issue #3 they are freely calling each other “girlfriend” and it’s not just Harley modeling healthy relationship practices.  At a rest stop in Blüdhaven, two girls follow Harley into the restroom, call 9-1-1, and try and collect a reward.  Ivy becomes frustrated when she sees it all, presuming Harley started some shit.

Harley – “I don’t know why you won’t believe me.  I thought we were past that, Ive.”

Ivy – “Ahhhh shit, Harl.  You’re right.  Today’s just been so damn long.  I’m hungry and tired…which is no excuse.  I never should’ve taken my anger out on you.  I’m sorry I lost it back there.  Forgive me?”

Harley – “Already forgotten.”

Look at that!  Ivy reacted harshly because of the other stressors in her life.  This is natural and we all do it.  We often take things like this out on those closest to us, too.  But where Ivy models a strong, healthy relationship is she sees what she’s doing with Harley.  She owns it.  She apologizes.  And Harley, modeling a security that comes from the strength of their relationship as well as an understanding and acceptance of where Ivy’s at, can receive her apology.

I love the pacing of the series, too.  It has a willingness to give us these small moments alongside the action and, understanding their importance, has the courage to anchor the series on them.  The entire issue takes place at a rest stop outside Blüdhaven and at a restaurant in Blüdhaven, where Harley and Ivy go out for dinner.

Their road trip takes a detour to Detroit to try and stop this new poisonous villain – Mephitic – from killing a bunch of polluting CEOs in a way that will harm innocents, too.  Harley talks Ivy into crashing at Nightfall’s place as she was arrested at Ivy’s would-be wedding.  Ivy is very conflicted but ultimately relents.  Then Livewire, Nightfall’s ex, shows up.  Understandably she’s upset to find them living in her ex-girlfriend’s place while she is locked up in Arkham for attending Ivy’s disaster of a wedding.  Ivy is frustrated and lashes out at Harley while apologizing to Livewire.

In her inner monologue we see Ivy’s fears.  She sees all this as her fault.  Her wedding got so many of her friends locked up.  She keeps hurting the people she loves.  And she’s worried her actions – including crashing uninvited at Nightfall’s house – have cost her another friend in Livewire.  Ivy’s wounds around her abandonment run so deep she is always worried about how the littlest action could cost her a friendship and lead someone else to leave her.  It’s something I deeply understand.

Ivy’s fear of abandonment resonates with me in the show and I connect with it in The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour, too.  I have very deep, very personal issues with abandonment.  It’s funny as my life is filled with a wonderful collection of natural supports.  I know I have people whom I love and who love me in return, people I share the fun and joy of life with as well as people I trust to hold me in my struggles and people I can share my deepest fears and heaviest wounds with.  Yet it is only recently, only very recently, only within the last eight years of my life that I have found relationships where I trusted the other wouldn’t leave and I trusted I didn’t have to do/give everything to ensure they wouldn’t.  In these relationships, I am enough just as I am.  I’m supported as much as I support.  It turns out, there’s nothing unusual in expecting my needs to be met as I met another’s.  It is only within the last three years that I learned to recognize those relationships as such and use that model to build similar relationships with others.

But for the majority of my life I have refused to assert boundaries or ask for what I need in a relationship – romantic, platonic, or familial – because I a) didn’t feel worthy of having my needs met and b) was scared to ask for what I needed, fearing the “demand” would lead to the other abandoning me.  So, in those fears, both my Caretaker and my Fixer parts went into overdrive and gave and gave and gave and gave to try and keep people from leaving.   

Harley sees this fear in Ivy and, after they leave Nightfall’s place, she tells Ivy she texted Livewire and explained it all.  She said it was all her fault and while Livewire is still rightly pissed at Harley, she isn’t mad at Ivy.  Harley made sure to patch that relationship up for Ivy and let her know it was safe to ease her fears.  What a partner!

Yet all this mutual support and open communication isn’t enough for a healthy relationship if wounding and trauma are left unacknowledged and unresolved.  In issue #5, we see Harley and Ivy taking a bath together to wash out the skunk smell their run-in with Vixen left behind.  Harley becomes upset when Ivy won’t finish the job they came to Detroit to do and take out the last CEO who’s polluting and poisoning the area.

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Photo Credit – DC Comics

Harley – “We need to get this last CEO, Ivy.  This isn’t you.  You never leave anything half-assed.  What’s really going on?  Even though it’s only been a few days, you’ve blown up at me over little things this entire trip.  Just today you blew up at me and ignored me back at Nightfall’s and now you wanna go back on the run because of Vixen and the superdorks?  I wish you’d stop thinking you’re doing this alone, Ivy, and let me in.”

Ivy – “How many times do I need to tell you that there’s absolutely nothing wrong?  Why won’t you just drop it and let me finish scrubbing you clean?”

Harley tells Ivy she can’t keep distracting her with sex when she’s trying to have a serious conversation and she’d’ve stayed with the Joker if she wanted to be put down daily.  Harley reaffirms she loves Ivy but also underscores she can’t – and won’t – be shut out all the time nor be Ivy’s emotional punching bag when she’s upset.  Harley communicates this and then steps away from the situation before it becomes heated or aggressive.  She goes to the Black Cat Lounge, a strip club on Pryor Place, and tells Ivy she can come find her if she decides she wants to talk and fix this.

Harley respects Ivy’s boundaries but she also respects her own.  She won’t force Ivy to do something she can’t or won’t do but, at the same time, Harley won’t let herself be treated as Ivy’s been treating her.  Go Harley!

Sitting alone in the tub, Ivy cries and slides under the water as she thinks, “I said I couldn’t trust Harley with my heart, but in reality, she shouldn’t trust me with hers.  All I had to do was to be honest with Harley.  She knows I’m a train wreck and I’m certain she’d accept me, flaws and all.  I don’t know why but I just can’t bare my soul to her, no matter how much I want to.” 

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Photo Credit – DC Comics

Over a two page spread we see Ivy floating against a black backdrop while a series of memories float by her.  Her narration continues, “My life has been nothing but one traumatic event after another.  Abuse from my dad, growing up without my mom thanks to him, in and out of Arkham, on top of having no friends.  You build a wall around you…not to keep people out.  But for keeping yourself in…secluded from everyone…including Harley.  No, especially Harley.  I fucked up with Kite Man.  He didn’t deserve any of that.  I truly loved him and I shouldn’t have cheated, even if Harley was what my subconscious wanted.  There’s really no excuse for my behavior.  Wanting Harley wasn’t just what my subconscious desired.  I didn’t want to lose my best friend.  So I pushed her away.  I still haven’t even processed that I was killed by Harley’s ex.  I haven’t processed any of this.  My behavior towards Kite Man and Harley is inexcusable.  The way I’ve belittled Harley these last few days has been appalling.  I have to fix this!  I cannot lose her.  I’m just not sure how to take that first step.  There’s too much that’s happened and now that all these memories have flooded back, I really can’t ignore and shove these emotions down anymore.”

With this revelation, Ivy pops up from the tub and goes to find Harley.  Harley left a note next to a picture of them which reads, “I love you, Pammy, and I want you to be okay.  If you don’t open up to me, please open up to someone.  XO, Harls.”  No anger.  No recriminations.  Just a proclamation of love, acceptance, and concern.

At the strip club, as Peaches dances for Harley, Harley looks at a photo of her and Ivy on her phone.  Harley’s inner monologue says, “I love you, Pammy, but I don’t deserve how you’ve been treating me.  I did what she wanted me to do – – ‘respect boundaries.’  I just hope she respects mine and we can actually talk when I get back home.”  Yes!  YES!  Yes, yes, yes!  This is exactly how healthy relationships should work!  Harley is respecting Ivy’s boundaries but at the same time she understands that her boundaries are worthy of being respected, too!  And, if their relationship is to work, they both have to do this for the other.  I love it.  I LOVE IT.  I love that a comic can serve as such a brilliant model for what a healthy relationship looks like!

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Harley and Peaches at the Black Cat Lounge. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

Getting dressed to meet Harley, Ivy finds her own inner Dr. Harleen Quinzel who explains there’s unresolved trauma affecting her happiness and her life with Harley.  Appearing in a *POOF* Harleen says: 

Harleen – “So you’re not upset about the stolen clothes but you are upset about breaking into someone’s home and getting caught.  Interesting.”

Ivy – “Holy shit, Harleen?  What are you doing here?”

Harleen – “How am I supposed to know?  This is your doing, Pamela.  If I had to take a guess, you’re dealing with PTSD and you’re hallucinating.  Or you could also be having a dissociative episode…unless you took some form mushrooms.  I can’t correctly diagnose you until we have our session.”

Ivy – “Piss cakes of a dick.  I need to address this trauma, don’t I?”

Harleen – “And how does that make you feel?

Ivy – “Nope.  Not doing that.”

Harleen – “Can’t get rid of PTSD like that, Pamela.  It will eventually bubble over into everything.  I know you’re already starting to see it spilling into your arguments with Harley.  Come back…let’s talk about it.”

Ivy – “Sorry, doc, my girl’s waiting on me.”

Harleen – “I’ll be here when the dam in your brain eventually breaks…and it will.”

While Ivy wants to fix things and fears losing Harley, she is still hesitant to take the steps needed to do so.  However, when Ivy learns Mephitic has kidnapped Harley she freezes and journeys back into her own mind.  Here she finds the courage to begin the journey to heal things within herself so she can fix things with Harley.

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Peaches tells Ivy what happened to Harley, causing Ivy to slide back into her own mind as the dam breaks. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

Ivy – “This is all my fault.  I can’t lose Harley, she means the entire world to me.  I love her as much, if not more, than plants.  Last time we were in my mind, I said Harley was my worst fear.  Now my worst fear is me hurting all these people that mean so much to me.  I’m truly my father.”

Harleen – “I told you I’ll be here when your dam breaks, Ivy, but I need you to know…you’re not even remotely similar to that man.  You’re struggling with unresolved traumatic issues.  It’s not uncommon: one in eleven people will be diagnosed with PTSD.  There is a way out of this, if you’ll let me help.  Let me in, Ivy.  Admitting you need help doesn’t make you weak.  Accepting and asking for help from others is the strongest thing that anyone could do.  Now take my hand, please.  I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”

They end up back at her childhood home from “Harley Quinn Highway” (S1E11).  Ivy’s Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque plant Frank appears alongside them for this “freaky-deaky John Malkovitch shit” to serve as her “Dungeon Master and shit – – giving you shitty clues and then disappearing when you need me the most.”  Holding Harleen and Frank’s hands, Ivy looks ahead and says, “Shit.  Of all the places to end up.”  Harleen tells her, “Well, he is the root of your trauma and it was this moment where everything started to change for you.  You deserved a father who was there for you, lifting you up, showing you love, not ridiculing you and making you feel worthless.”

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Photo Credit – DC Comics

We see a tear falling down Ivy’s cheek as they stand in the cold, imposing setting of her family dining room where all the seats are empty and watch her father emotionally abusing her younger self on her birthday.

Ivy’s Father – “I thought you had at least one friend, but mother knew better.”

Ivy – “Hey Fuckwad!  Don’t talk to her that way!  She has so many friends who love and support her in a way that you could never imagine.”

Pamela – “Really?  You mean it?  I have friends?”

Ivy – “You sure do, Pamela.  Plus, you have someone special that loves every part of you, no matter how many mistakes you make.”

[The memory of her father transforms, his face becoming a massive glowing monster which fills the room.]

Ivy’s Father – “STAY AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER!  HOW DARE YOU GIVE HER HOPE?!  SHE’S NOTHING…YOU’RE NOTHING!  IF YOU HAVE ALL OF THESE FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES, THEN WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?  IT MUST NOT BE THE PRETTY PICTURE YOU’RE PAINTING FOR PAMELA.”

Ivy – “I’m here to paint an even prettier picture for Pamela…with your blood.”

Pamela – [smiling and clapping] “KICK HIS ASS, BIG PAMMY!

Ivy – “Frank?  Ready to unleash your inner Harley?”

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HECK YES! / Photo Credit – DC Comics

Together, they rip the monster apart and its blood pools on the ground below Frank.  As little Pamela runs into Harleen’s arms for a hug, Harleen tells Ivy, “I’m so proud of you, Pamela.  You took the first step and now you can begin your journey of self-love and acceptance.  Ivy, go get your girl.”

We can’t really love another until we are able to accept and love ourselves and while others – the right people, in healthy relationships – can hold and help us in that journey, they can’t heal us.  If we are looking for another to “heal” or “fix” or “save” us, to be our “missing piece” that makes us complete, then we are creating an unbalanced relationship and putting expectations on our partner they can never fulfill. 

The first time I read this issue I wept at the beauty and the power of this scene.  In a poetic twist of timing, just a few weeks before I read this comic I had the most profound experience I’ve yet had in therapy.  I had my first unburdening.  It was also the most deeply spiritual experience of my life and I felt all of that reflected back to me in Ivy’s experience here.  What would’ve always been a beautifully moving scene took on a whole new meaning for me given what I’d just personally experienced.

As I’ve written before, IFS (the Internal Family Systems model) has been one of the treatment modalities I’ve been using in therapy since the summer of 2020.  IFS has taught me to see and to welcome all my thoughts, feelings, memories, emotions – all that moves inside of me – as different parts of myself.  The goal is to learn how to meet, recognize, listen to, and converse with all my parts in order to bring balance within my internal system.  As I begin to understand my parts, I can develop relationships with them.  Really, it’s all about relationships – my relationship with my parts and, through them, my relationships with others.  Part of the healing this modality can bring comes from the process of unburdening

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Ivy with her Inner Harleen. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

IFS was developed by Richard Schwartz in the early 1980s.  In his latest book, No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model, Dr. Schwartz defines a burden in this way:

These foreign feelings or beliefs (sometimes described as energies) are what I call burdens.  It turns out that burdens are powerful organizers of a part’s experience and activity – almost in the same way that a virus organizes a computer.

                It’s important to note here that these burdens are the product of a person’s direct experience – the sense of worthlessness that comes into a child when a parent abuses them; the terror that attaches to parts during a car accident; the belief that no one can be trusted that enters young parts when we are betrayed or abandoned as children.  When we are young, we have little discernment regarding the validity of these emotions and beliefs and, consequently, they get lodged in the bodies of our young parts and become powerful (albeit unconscious) organizers of our lives thereafter.  These we call personal burdens.[2]

Through the process of IFS, these parts can be freed of the burden they carry and, as a result, it changes how you live your life.  Dr. Schwartz explains, “Unburdening is another aspect of IFS that seems spiritual, because as soon as the burden leaves parts’ bodies, parts immediately transform into their original, valuable states.  It’s as if a curse was lifted from an inner Sleeping Beauty, or ogre, or addict.  The newly unburdened part almost universally says it feels much lighter and wants to play or rest, after which it finds a new role.  The former addict part now wants to help you connect with people.  The hypervigilant part becomes an advisor on boundaries.  The critic becomes an inner cheerleader, and so on.  In other words, it’s as if each part is like a person with a true purpose.”[3]

What Ivy does is so parts-oriented!  In her mind, she returns to her birthday party, a particularly traumatic moment in her childhood where this worthlessness she felt taught her to believe everyone will abandon her.  As why, young Pamela wonders, would anyone not leave her when she’s so worthless?  Young Pamela, who has little discernment to the validity of these beliefs, took them on in that moment and this part continues to hold them, affecting how Ivy’s lived her life ever since.  The idea that Ivy struggles to let people in because she fears being abandoned is addressed consistently in the show as well as here in the comic.  In this moment, Ivy returns to that memory, stands by young Pamela, confronts her father – even when he becomes a demonic monster – tells him off and destroys him.  When young Pamela felt most alone, Ivy now stands beside her.  She protects her.  Ivy assures Pamela she’s there and she won’t be alone anymore.  In addition to standing beside her young self, Ivy assures her she will have friends who love and support her and someone very special who will love every part of her.

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Ivy with her person who loves every part of her. Awwww, my heart! ❤ ❤ ❤ / Photo Credit – DC Comics

With a huge smile on her face, young Pamela claps and cheers Ivy on, “KICK HIS ASS, BIG PAMMY!”  She hugs Harleen and, as Ivy leaves her mind to return to the outside world, Pamela enjoys her birthday cake with Harleen and Frank as they watch Ivy go rescue Harley.  Young Pamela – this part which carried the burden of the wounds her traumatic experience with her father created – was unburdened.  She was freed.  She was transformed.  She was finally able to play and rest and find a new role in Ivy’s system.

This – you know, minus all the Poison Ivy-specific stuff – was what I experienced in therapy just a few weeks before reading this comic.   Most of the session my eyes were closed and I was within, in a meditative place conversing with my parts, when I met this part which held this burden.  While the specifics are not something I’m (yet) comfortable sharing here, I will say it was a memory from when I was very young of a time I felt I was abandoned.  I invited the memory to blend (meaning I feel what it feels with it as opposed to just conversing with it (whenever we feel an emotion, it’s blending with us)).  I wanted it to know I was with it in this so I asked it to let me feel what it feels.  Let me hold it with it.  It did and…whoa.  The tears came and flowed freely.  I felt sadness, fear, betrayal, anger, and a fracturing of trust.  I felt all of that with this part.  And it was beautiful.  That’s how I spent the rest of the session, blended with this part and letting it tell its story.  It told me nothing was ever the same after that.  It changed everything.  A bubble of childhood naïveté was popped.  It was a growing up moment.  It fundamentally changed the way I trust as I felt I couldn’t trust anyone.  Not fully.  Not ever again.  I came out of the meditative place and I felt a mix of Zen-like calm and post-EMDR-like emptiness.  But it felt good.  I felt good.  This was big.  This was foundational.  This was the furthest back we’d ever been.  I couldn’t wait for next week.

In our next session, we went inward again.  Katherine, my therapist, had me connect with the part and see what it wanted to tell us.  After we did that for a bit, just as I would see Ivy do with her inner Harleen, Katherine had the part take me into the memory and (I grant this may sound odd if you’ve never done it but) I was there.  I felt what it felt.  I walked through the memory with this part.  And I gave this part now what it needed and didn’t have then.  I stood beside it.  I held it’s hand.  As we felt the frantic fear, sadness, and betrayal together, I promised it would never be alone again.  It had me now.  At one point the “hot” emotions faded.  It showed me an abyss.  It was dark, cold, empty, and lonely.  That’s where it went after the events of the memory occurred the first time.  Katherine explained it was exiled.  It went to that abyss after everything.  It went back and forth a bit, from the memory and those emotions to the cold isolation of its exile.  As we neared the end of the session it didn’t want to let go.  Katherine promised it we’d return to it next time.  It believed us…but was still scared.  It was born by being abandoned so it trusted us…but was still scared.  Katherine asked it if it liked where it was (the void) or if it would rather be someplace else.  It wanted to stay wrapped around my heart.  All it wanted was to be held and I was happy to hold it there.  I assured it we didn’t have to wait a week.  I was here whenever it needed me.  It wasn’t alone anymore.

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Young Pamela isn’t alone anymore either, and reading this filled my whole heart. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

As Katherine suggested, in the days that followed I’d sit with this part every night.  I’d invite it to blend, cry with it, and then I’d “hold it” in its fear.  The tears would slowly stop and I could feel this part slowly calming.  I told it I would hold it for as long as it needs.  Eventually it would settle and was ready for me to let go of it.  It felt like it was “ready for bed” and – after the experience – so was I.  As weird as it may sound if you’ve not experienced it yourself, I could feel it in my arms.  I just kept repeating what I was saying, and assuring it I would take any of that sadness, fear, hurt, and betrayal.  It wasn’t alone anymore.  It never would be again.  I’d never experienced anything like this before and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

In our session a few weeks later we had our first unburdening!  I lack the words to describe how this felt.  It’s beautiful.  It’s incredible.  It’s amazing.  It’s…wow.  Just WOW.  After my beautiful Little One (as I came to know this part) released all it carried, Katherine asked it what it wanted to be full of now and it said JOY.  So I sat with it as it filled itself up.  I said we are infinite and we are filled with infinite joy so it can have all it wants.  I cried a lot at the beauty of it all.  After the session, Katherine encouraged me to dance, to move, and get that youthful energy flowing through my whole body and celebrate along with this part so we “danced together” for days. 

I still can’t fully describe it but I was fundamentally changed.  It’s beautiful.  It’s magnificent.

The sacred beauty of this experience moved through me as I read.  I watched Ivy stand beside her younger self in a traumatic memory, just as I did a few weeks earlier.  I watched Ivy heal the wounds around that experience, just as I had.  Then, I saw the effects of that unburdening ripple out into Ivy’s life and her relationships, just as I was experiencing in my own life – just as I continue to experience now.  Ivy comes back out of her trance-like meditative stand and heads off with a fiery determination in her eyes to save Harley.

Harley and Ivy EBKT 24 (3)

To save Harley, Ivy seeks help from Vixen…who’s girlfriend Elle convinces her to fight alongside Ivy and save Harley. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

Ivy knows she can’t do it alone so she seeks help from Vixen.  After Elle, Vixen’s girlfriend, convinces her to help Ivy, Elle helps them suit up for the fight.  As Ivy gets dressed, she thinks, “The dynamic of their relationship seems so loving and fun and non-toxic, and after everything Harley and I have been through…we both need and deserve that.  I have to change my ways and open up more.”  As they fly towards Mephitic’s hideout, Ivy continues to reflect, “It’s been a while since I saw a city from this view and it is truly beautiful.  I need to apologize to Chuck at some point.  I have to hold myself accountable for what I’ve done.  But first, I need to save the lady of my life.  Hold on Sweet Pea…I’m coming.”  Look at this!  Ivy’s acknowledging the type of relationship she wants and deserves.  She wants it for Harley, too.  And she’s taking ownership of what she did with Kite Man and acknowledging that she needs to make amends there as well.  She is going through so much growth!

When Ivy goes to rescue Harley she realizes she may not be able to.  Preparing to sacrifice herself Ivy says, “I am so sorry.  For everything…” and she kisses Harley passionately.  With growing concern, Harley asks, “Why’d that feel like a goodbye kiss, Pammy?  And why’d everyone stop fighting?”  Ivy tells her, “I want you to know you did nothing wrong, and didn’t deserve how I treated you.  It was all me and my traumas resurfacing.  I love you so much – – I’ve loved you for as long as I’ve known you.  I’m sorry I pushed you away when all you did was be supportive.  I never had this support, Harls.  Not in the way you’ve given me.  You are my everything…and that’s why I’m doing this.”

Despite all appearing lost, Vixen arrives with Livewire and Zatanna and, together, they all defeat Mephitic.  Tawny, a news reporter for the Gotham TV station Metro 7 and host of The Tawny Show, arrives as well, having manipulated Gordon into making a fool of himself on live TV (again).  It seems he will back off now, so Harley and Ivy can enjoy their trip together.

Harley – “Listen, I wanna thank you for everything you said and for allowing me to take care of you and your heart while you did the impetuous shit this time around.  I love you, Ivy.”

Ivy – “And I love you.  I’m sorry it took me so long for me to let you in.  But your words found their way into my brain and helped me figure it out.  Where to next?”

Harley – “Ooooohhh, I could kill for some jitters!”

Part of a healthy relationship – romantic or otherwise – is letting the other person care for us when we need it, too, just as we care for them.  This is something I took a very long time to learn myself.  I was well into my thirties before I did.  Their conversation is so beautiful.  They are so open, so accepting, so supportive of one another.  They can be this way with one another because of the space they create together and the work they’re doing within which leads to the growth that allows such openness, acceptance, and support of another.  It’s what we should all strive for.  More than that, it’s what we all deserve.

When it comes to “relationship goals,” what we see between Harley and Ivy in Harley Quinn: The Animated Series and especially what Tee Franklin and Max Sarin give us in Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour is it.  We all need to find someone who hears us, holds us, communicates with us, and accepts us the way Ivy and Harley hear, hold, communicate, and accept each other.  To find and maintain a relationship like that, we need to be willing to do the work within to heal, love, and accept ourselves just as Ivy does.  This insane, unpredictable, hilarious, profanity-laden show and comic have, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, given us one of the most beautiful, authentic, and healthy depictions of love – for ourselves and with another – I’ve ever seen in popular culture.  

Harley and Ivy EBKT 26 (2)

There is so much beauty in Ivy and Harley’s relationship – and we can have the same sort of connections, if we’re willing to do the work they do. / Photo Credit – DC Comics

As I always like to do in any piece where I discuss therapy, I offer this link to Psychology Today where you can browse listings of therapists in your area.  I found my therapist, Katherine, here and my life’s only grown better and brighter for her guidance.  So if therapy sounds like something you need or something you’re just interested in trying, here’s a great place to start.


[1] Carly Lane, “Harley Quinn Eps Talk the Evolution of Harley and Ivy and Plans for Season 3,” ScyFy Wire, Published June 19, 2020.  https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/harley-quinn-eps-talk-the-evolution-of-harlivy-and-plans-for-season-3

[2] Robert C. Schwartz, No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma & Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2021), 18.

[3] Ibid., 19-20.

2 thoughts on “Harley & Ivy’s Lessons in Life, Love, and Unburdening c/o the “Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour”

  1. I haven’t finished this run yet (like every comic ever I trailed off halfway through and then got to far behind!) thanks for the update on the trade collection though I’ll definitely pick it up then.

    Nice to know that they aren’t going to constantly dangle the relationship itself over us in season 3. I like they’ll stay solid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right?!!? I am so, so, so, sooooo excited about this! It was a relief when I heard it and it made me even more excited for Season 3.

      Also, Tee Franklin has two more comic tie-ins coming out – ‘Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Real Sidekicks of New Gotham’ (a one-shot) and ‘Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: Legion of the Bats!’ (another six issue miniseries set to follow Season 3). So, yeah, I’m…I’m PRETTY EXCITED.

      Like

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