As bloody, curse-laden, and generally bawdy as DC Universe’s Harley Quinn show is, it’s always displayed a surprising level of emotional intelligence in the way that it’s handled the complicated, interpersonal relationships that have shaped the lives of its characters.
As someone fresh out of an abusive relationship, season one Harley needed to take the time to rediscover herself and figure out what kind of presence she wanted to be in Gotham city. All the while, Harley Quinn never shied away from the reality of how difficult it is to pull away from someone you love—even if that person’s hurt you in a deep, deep way.
But as the series continued and Harley kept evolving into a newer, stronger version of herself, Harley Quinn still seemed none too concerned about fast-tracking its titular antihero toward finding new love in Poison Ivy’s arms (despite the fact that it’s a canonical part of their characterizations that the fandom’s been clamoring to see). Harley Quinn could have easily just had Poison Ivy dump her now-fiancé Kite Man (hell yeah) and declare her love for Harley from the rooftops. Instead, the series told a much more heartfelt, moving story about how true love has to develop organically over time.
Harley Quinn’s past two episodes have taken the slightest of breaks from this season’s general monster-of-the-week format in order to focus on the moments in Harley and Ivy’s lives where they first understood one another as being potential allies and how that friendship has morphed and become more intense over time.
While going out for a drink in “All the Best Inmates Have Daddy Issues,” Harley and Ivy bump into a man they believe to be the Joker—something that alarms them both, as the murderous clown’s been completely missing from the Gotham scene since one of his attempts at taking over the city backfired and resulted in him (and Batman) being crushed under the debris of a massive building. Though Ivy’s ready to take the clown down, the fact that he’s working as a barkeep, has normal skin, and seemingly doesn’t remember who they are leads Harley to believe that he’s been struck with a convenient case of amnesia that’s rehabilitated him in ways that Arkham never could.
For her part, Ivy’s deeply unconvinced by the man and Harley’s willingness to just accept that the Joker’s miraculously gotten over his love of clown-themed terrorism, but Harley reasons that she can convince Ivy the Joker’s become a new man by reminding her about the time when she helped Ivy similarly turn a new leaf.
Before there was Harley Quinn, there was Dr. Harleen Quinzel, one of the most talented psychiatrists working in Gotham, who took special pleasure in trying to solve the puzzle-like minds of the city’s dastardly villains. When Gotham PD deduces that the Joker’s hidden a bomb somewhere in the city, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent tap Harley to spear his psychiatric evaluation in hopes of figuring out where the bomb is and how to diffuse it. True to form, it doesn’t take much for Harley to get the clown to open up and reveal his inner secrets during their sessions.
But while Harley puts her degree to good use in trying to figure the Joker out, she also spends a small, but not insignificant time interacting with Ivy. At the time, Ivy was her most vicious self, ready to murder any and everyone dumb enough to get too close to her and whatever plants she could get her hands on. While the rest of Arkham’s staff saw Ivy as an animal, Harley understood that she was a person being put through the cruelest of situations that brought out her instinct to defend herself.
Ultimately, it’s Ivy who gives Harley the inspiration to finally break through the Joker’s mental defenses enough to convince him to tell her the location of the bomb, divulge a bit about his past, and begin wooing Harley. But Harley Quinn uses this moment in the past to establish that the Joker was bad for Harley from the jump, which she couldn’t really grasp about him until the future when Ivy went out of her way to make that fact blindingly clear.
“There’s No Place to Go But Down” finds Harley and Ivy in the present and in the deepest of shit after being apprehended by Two-Face (who Harley named, it turns out) and being put on trial for the Penguin’s murder in a twisted display of New New Gotham-style “justice.” With Man-Bat acting as their incomprehensible lawyer, it doesn’t take much for Harley and Ivy to be found guilty. They’re sentenced to prison but not Arkham. Instead, they’re sent to live in a giant pit overseen by Bane because the Legion of Doom understands that if given the chance, supervillains can and will break out of regular prisons.
Curiously, Bane runs the pit prison with a focus on healing and self-actualization, which is what makes Harley and Ivy’s plan to break out by causing a riot during—and this part is important—a comedy show in which George Lopez makes a guest appearance not work out in the end. Once Lopez’s helicopter departs from the pit during Ivy’s set on stage where she absolutely bombs, it seems as if she and Harley might really be stuck, but it’s that feeling of utter helplessness that prompts Ivy to be vulnerable in the way she starts telling her jokes. Where her previous forced attempts at provoking her fellow prisoners to fight one another through humor failed, her ruminations on the objective lameness of their collective circumstances speaks to everyone and garners more than a few laughs. Though what Ivy wanted was an all out brawl, what she ends up creating is something of a small revolution that’s just chaotic enough to give her and Harley the time and space to make a go at running for it, helicopter be damned.
When Ivy sees a stray vine jutting out of one of the pit’s broken walls, she realizes there actually is a way for her and Harley to escape the hellhole safely, but as the pair are zooming up into the air, Bane launches himself after them and manages to grab hold of Harley. Why Harley didn’t simply stomp Bane in the face and slip her shoe off is anyone’s guess, but as she chooses to let go in order to make sure Ivy survives, Harley Quinn emphasizes that Harley’s always been willing to do whatever it took to make sure that Ivy was protected in some way.
The scene in which Harley seemingly plunges to her doom mirrors the moment from the first season where the Joker unceremoniously pushed her out of a helicopter after convincing her that he’d finally changed and was willing to reciprocate her love. There, Harley’s fall was one shot through with the devastating realization that she’d been played again, but here, she has a sense of contentment because she fell out of a genuine love for someone who valued her as a person.
Of course, Harley’s fall is interrupted by Ivy’s swift return as she swoops down to catch her and fling them both topside. Bane...presumably crashes into the pit’s fiery bottom and injures himself pretty badly. The objective wildness of what they’d just been through leaves both Harley and Ivy at a loss for words, but it also puts them both in the right headspace to act on the romantic feelings they’ve always kinda had for one another, but never spent much time (at least on screen) reflecting on.
Harley and Ivy’s kiss was long overdue, yes, but Harley Quinn ended up delivering it within the context of a story that made it impossible not to understand their love as anything but deeply felt and like something that’s going to last. The one sad thing, though, is that someone’s going to have to let Kite Man know that...it’s just not going to work out for him again.
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