What exactly is it that Harley Quinn sees in “Mr. J.?” We’ve seen in this feature several instances of when he was an absolute homicidal maniac to her (which is not different to how he is to everyone else, granted), and she’s even needed assistance from Poison Ivy to get rid of him, even though it didn’t take. But, she’s never had Batman’s “gentle” hand pushing her toward ratting on him, and maybe this time it’ll work. Or not. That’s the premise of this week’s episode of Batman: The Animated Series, the finale of Season 2; Harley Quinn is forced to help Batman and Robin foil a plot by the Joker to blow up the city. And the hilarious pun title is: “Harlequinade.” Get it?
Written, of course, by her creator Paul Dini and directed by Kevin Altieri, “Harlequinade” is one of the few out-and-out comedy episodes of the series, but one that still has a surprisingly high action quotient and some really enjoyable set pieces. And at the center is someone who quickly became the standout of the whole show, Harley Quinn, once Joker’s psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum now his long-suffering sidekick/girlfriend/object of berating. Theirs is a relationship fraught with turmoil, but I guess they really love each other. Oh, man, only the two of them could find happiness in emotional abuse. Pretty grim for a kids show.
We begin at an auction in Gotham’s underworld. A criminal is selling a giant, city-flattening bomb to the highest bidder. The highest bidder is the Joker, and he bids a bomb of his own. Of course, he’s the Joker so it’s just a gag bomb, but he does manage to get away with the big behemoth. Commissioner Gordon wants the mayor to evacuate the city, but Mayor Hill, inexplicably, refuses to do so. Gordon and Batman know they have to locate the Joker and they need to do it with the help of someone who knows him… and his lady Harley Quinn just happens to be locked up in Arkham. They offer her a deal to get out of the clink faster if she helps. At first, she’s quite excited to be teaming up with Batman, but less so when she realizes she’s still a prisoner. After almost killing them both by trying to turn on the Batmobile’s radio (which naturally doesn’t exist), Batman yells at Harley and tells her not to touch anything. It’s pretty funny.
They next check out Joker’s hideout, and find no one there of course. It does give Harley a chance to change into her costume, much easier for all the gymnastic moves she does 100% of the time, and for her to reconnect with “the babies,” her pair of pet hyenas that immediately stop attacking Batman to go give her some smoochies. [Nerdist would like to issue a public service announcement: it is NOT okay to keep hyenas as pets anywhere in North America, and probably most of Europe too (we haven’t checked). It is also not advised to try to give hyenas kisses if you do come across them. They will likely kill and eat you. Thank you.]
Batman and Harley arrive at an abandoned warehouse that Joker used to use as a hideout, but Harley says it hasn’t been in use for quite awhile. However, Batman opens a secret door leading to a speakeasy casino run by mobster Boxy Bennett. The gangsters inside all pull their guns on the Dark Knight and the quick-thinking Harley knocks him out herself and pretends to be giving Boxy a peace offering. They tie up Batman and Harley spots Robin crawling in a window, so she distracts everyone by singing a lounge song that pretty well sums up her relationship with the Joker.
After beating up the gangsters and escaping, Robin tells Batman that Gordon’s been unable to get a hold of the Mayor and Harley begins to laugh, saying how smart her puddin’ is. No better way to control the police department than by controlling the Mayor. The Joker has indeed trapped Mayor Hill in his own home and is using the palatial estate as the site for his bomb explosion while he and his dumb, mime-dressed thugs get away in a big WWI-style biplane. The Dynamic Duo plus Harley arrive and begin to thwart, but Harley of course sides with Joker and traps the heroes. Joker is legitimately surprised that Harley’s there, given she’d just been in Arkham, but shrugs it off and tells her to come away also. Robin, however, yells to her that the ten minute bomb timer wouldn’t have given the Clown Prince nearly enough time to save her from Arkham, which she finds highly suspect. And he’d have let their friends die too (“Ivy, and Two-Face! And Hat Guy, Lizard Lips, and Dummy Head!”) and also the babies. Harley is none too pleased and decides to kick the Joker and free Batman and Robin after all. Can’t let the whole city blow up, can she?
“Harlequinade” is just a good time from start to finish. It’s a lot of fun to see Harley and Batman interact solo for a good portion of the run time, and there’s some great comedic stuff when Harley tries to be cool like him. (She fires her own grappling gun but it just falls back and hits her on the head.) At one point Batman asks her what she could possibly see in the Joker and she replies that he was the only one who’d listen to her when she was a psychiatrist and was made to listen to everyone else. A fairly valid reason, I suppose. We also get the very complex ending in which she nearly shoots him with a machine gun, him telling her she doesn’t have the guts, then her pulling the trigger only to have a sign pop out saying “Rat Tat Tat”. They look at each other sheepishly for a moment before the Joker just exclaims “Baby, you’re the greatest!” I guess they really are meant to be.
This episode was also a showcase for actress Arleen Sorkin, who was a friend of Paul Dini’s who had written the role of Harley for her specifically. She always brings so much depth and sadness to her vocal performance which shines through her ditzy New York accent and girlish squealing. We also got the great Dick Miller as the voice of Boxy Bennett. Miller had also voiced Chuckie Sol in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
That episode concluded the 10 episodes of the second season, in May of 1994. Season 3 would premiere in September of the same year and would bring in the most recent addition of the comics-canon villains. Next week, Batman meets “Bane.”