Over Harley Quinn’s past few episodes, Ms. Quinzel’s gotten a whole mess of things incredibly right (like figuring out she’s in love with Poison Ivy) as well as getting even more things wrong (like unleashing a wave of parademons onto Gotham, plunging the already destroyed city into even more chaos). But because Harleen’s a fundamentally good person, she understands how unbalanced her actions have been in the grander scheme of things.
As of now, Harley’s come to the realization that she messed up big, and if Gotham and all its citizens are to be saved for her to terrorize another day, she has to be the one to fix the mess she made. Or, at the very least, she has to be the one to eat crow and team up with the only team of heroes capable of handling a full-on invasion from Apokoliptan aliens: the Justice League. The only problem is that lately, every member save for Batman has been missing.
That, in a way, was also Harley’s fault.
With virtually all of her other options exhausted, “A Fight Worth Fighting For” sees Harley do what was once unthinkable—she seeks out the Joker for a team-up in order to deal with the Apokolips army. The Justice League wasn’t just missing, but rather still trapped somewhere in the pages of Queen of Fables’ book of fairytales, the location of which is only known to the Joker.
The bigger problem, however, is that following his confrontation with Batman in Harley Quinn’s season one finale, the Joker disappeared... until suddenly popping up as a seemingly amnesiac, but otherwise quite normal, man working as a bartender. How being buried in a pile of rubble reverses the effects of falling into a vat of villain-making acid is anyone’s guess, but Harley quickly becomes convinced that the man (who doesn’t know who she is, but is familiar with her because she’s famous) was once her Puddin’.
Though Harley’s skills as a therapist could have almost certainly helped the bartender work through his memories organically, when he mentions having dreams of something like a past life, she realizes that the most expedient way to get her hands on the fairytale book would just be to turn him back into his former self. It’s something that troubles her deeply, as she certainly doesn’t want the Joker back, but for the Gotham’s sake, she needs him. As she pushes him into a vat of acid in the very same building where he once pushed her, it’s hard for her not to feel a modicum of remorse.
When the bartender emerges from the acid, his hair is green, his skin is white, and that signature cackle of the Joker bursts from his mouth as he revels in his rebirth. But his mind’s also shot through with the memories of what he’s been up to for the past months: namely living a quaint life with his new wife Beth and her two children from a previous marriage. Even though the Joker’s immediate instinct when he comes face to face with Harley is to fall back on their old habits, they both know he’s been changed in a deep way. Though just in case, Harley informs him that if he tries any funny business, she’ll detonate a bomb in his head, and he agrees to behave.
When the pair make their way to Beth’s house, she of course only recognizes the man as the Joker. But that changes as he explains to her how they fell in love after she found him in the building’s rubble and nursed him back to health, and how some of the children’s fondest memories were of him reading bedtime stories from the massive book Harley is looking for. Beth’s understandably devastated, but not by the fact that her beau was the Joker. She’s hurt because he left her once and now seems prepared to do it again, something he pretends to find funny, though Harley can see that isn’t the case. In a fit of rage, Beth tosses the book out of her house at just the right angle for a flying Parademon to swoop in, grab it, and take it back to its hive. It prompts the clowns to continue their journey, and it’s here that the episode really leans into its more nuanced characterization.
Strange as Harley may find the Joker’s whole deal, the entire experience of regaining his memories leaves him with a new perspective on what it means to be in love. The Joker explains that unlike Harley, who fell in love with him when he was already a noted criminal, Beth fell for him when he was a nobody, and that authenticity of feeling became the bedrock of their emotional intimacy. The Joker also points out that while he and Harley may have never had that sort of bond, he’s well aware that she had it with Poison Ivy. The Joker’s always been skilled at manipulating people by playing on their deepest insecurities and fears, but in that moment (in a hive full of Parademons), what he’s doing is being the same kind of therapist that Harley once was for him, and in doing so, helping her come to grips with the fact that she’ll lose the woman she loves if she doesn’t work up the courage to fight for her in earnest.
Most surprisingly, though, is that when the pair do find the book in the hive, they realize it’s not actually the Queen of Fables’ book, forcing them to schlep all the way back to Beth’s to ask for the tome again. Rather than laughing his way through his problem this time, the Joker instead chooses to demonstrate for Harley what it means to make a good faith effort for true love. He genuinely wants Beth back, and she wants him.
As weird as it all is, it works if only for the fact that the Joker’s always been driven more by his innermost desires. In this case, said desire is finding the sort of happiness that killing Batman would probably never give him, and witnessing that is something that’s going to put Harley on a path of resolution going forward.
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