'Harley Quinn' Season 2 Episode 6 Review: A compelling update to a classic Batvillain story
Spoilers for 'Harley Quinn' Season 1, Episode 7 - 'All the Best Inmates Have Daddy Issues'
Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's 'Mad Love' has defined the origin story of 'Harley Quinn' for an age now, but even through it featured a Harley Quinn who struck out on her own, it was very much the story of a Harley who was completely devoted to her Mistah J. With a new era for Harley, it's about time for her origin to get some updates of its own - and the latest episode manages to do just that, without stepping too heavily on the toes of 'Mad Love.'
After spying an apparently sane Joker (Alan Tudyk), Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) get into an argument as to whether a person can truly change, triggering a flashback sequence to Dr. Harleen Quinzel's first day at Arkham Asylum, and how she met the Joker and Poison Ivy for the very first time.
It's an interesting challenge for the show to tackle - they've devoted a lot of screentime to showing just how terrible a person the Joker is, and not just because of his murderous tendencies. He's been a truly terrible boyfriend in the most mundane ways, so how does the episode manage to show what made Harley fall for him without making her appear like a complete fool?
The episode artfully makes the Joker a fascinating, charming character while undercutting that charm right as the episode ends. This is a more appealingly dangerous version of the Joker than the coiffed, suited boor who dominated Season 1.
His appearance is a lot more ruffled, and he pushes Harley's buttons in all the right ways - challenging her just as much as he manipulates her. His tale of childhood trauma is compelling, and some of Tudyk's best work in the series yet. Knowing that the Joker is probably lying about all of it doesn't make it any less compelling.
On the other hand, you have Poison Ivy. Donning her goth-tears look we caught a glimpse of last season, she is a lot more dishevelled and lashes out at anyone she can get her vines on. The progress that Dr. Quinzel has helped her make has been alluded to, but it's almost a shock to see how different Poison Ivy used to be as compared to the put-together, open person she is today.
Where last episode parodied the Batman mythos in a big way, this episode plays things a lot more straight. There's humor, yes, but the emphasis is on electric, charismatic character moments. It would have absolutely worked as a pilot episode for an 'Arkham Asylum' spinoff, showing us more familiar characters in a brand new light. 'Harley Quinn' has a great handle on Gotham's rogue gallery, and episodes like this highlight just how much. It doesn't invalidate 'Mad Love' so much as it adds depth to the story we didn't have as close a look at. This is hopefully not the last we've seen of the flashback episodes.
The next episode of 'Harley Quinn' airs May 15, on DC Universe.