Batman: The Animated Series – “Harlequinade”

Harlequinade_Title_CardEpisode Number:  72

Original Air Date:  May 23, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Boxy Bennett

“Harley & Ivy” introduced some unhappiness to crime’s most celebrated couple. The Joker, angered with Harley, tosses her out forcing her to make it on her own where she finds a kindred spirit in Poison Ivy. That was back in episode 56, and Harley and Joker have made just one appearance each since and that was the ensemble episode “Trial” which seemed to reset their relationship while still drawing on their dysfunction for comedy. “Harlequinade” feels like the true follow-up to “Harley & Ivy” as a result. This is an episode that’s going to further establish that Harley and Joker do not share a relationship that anyone should aspire to emulate. It’s an abusive, toxic, relationship that will likely eventually end with one, or both, dead. And therein lies the strange dichotomy of this relationship as it’s largely presented for laughs, but writer Paul Dini isn’t afraid to peel back some of that surface-level humor to show what’s underneath.

In order for this episode to work, it’s going to ask of us to suspend our notion of disbelief. It begins with a mob auction, and what’s on the docket? An atomic bomb! The episode makes no mention of how the Gotham underbelly acquired such a destructive weapon, which really might be more interesting than the episode itself. Obviously, if a crime boss ever got ahold of something such as an atom bomb more than just the Gotham PD would be on-hand.

btas abomb

On the block today, one A-Bomb!

Those attending this auction aren’t particularly of interest. On one hand, it’s admirable that Dong Yang Animation didn’t re-use a bunch of season one characters, but it might have also made sense to see a Rupert Thorne in attendance. The bidding opens at a million, and it escalates from there, until someone interjects with a “zero!” That someone is The Joker (Mark Hamill), and when he walks on stage in his usual attire plus a fashionable top-hat (The Mad Hatter would be furious) all of the guns in the place soon find him. Before anyone can open fire, Joker removes his hat to reveal a lit bomb. Not a realistic one, mind you, but a cartoonish, spherical, black bomb. Everyone hightails it out of there, but Joker grabs the auctioneer (played by Neil Ross) and sticks him with the bomb. Predictably, it’s a gag-bomb, but it also houses a sinister purpose as Joker Gas soon pours out of it. The auction dealer bursts into hysterical laughter while his eyes look like they’re about to pop from their sockets. And now Joker is in possession of an atomic bomb. The setup may be silly, but I can’t lie, it’s an interesting situation.

sinister gag bomb

Did real bombs ever resemble this?

Commissioner Gordon is shown on the phone with Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who is stressing this needs to be hidden from the public. Why a mayor gets to make that call is not explained, but Gotham feels like it’s its own island. A quick cut to Hill on the phone reveals that the hand holding the receiver to his ear possesses a violet jacket and white glove, so someone is obviously being coerced into making this statement to Gordon. Batman is there to eavesdrop and makes the pronouncement that in order to catch The Joker they need to be able to think like him, and there’s only one person capable of doing that.

batmans proposal

Batman’s got a proposition for old Pig Tails.

Which brings us to Harley (Arleen Sorkin), who seems perfectly content by herself in her room at Arkham when Batman busts in on her. She’s not particularly thrilled by his presence, but Batman brings her up to speed and offers her a way out:  help him find The Joker and she can walk out of Arkham a free woman. Harley accepts and there’s some good visual humor as she enthusiastically waves Batman’s arm around while proclaiming herself his greatest female adversary. Batman, for his part, is able to convey a feeling a dread as he now has to put up with her for what could be a long night.

harley bat teamup

She may be a psycopath, but she sure is adorable.

They jump into the Batmobile, and after Harley nearly causes a crash (and Batman gets really angry with her, bravo Kevin Conroy on this piece of voice-acting), he tells her they should first head to Joker’s last known hideout. It’s some kind of dilapidated fun house, but it was obviously in use recently. Harley disappears a moment to “slip into something more comfortable” while Batman takes note of Joker’s vast surveillance network that includes City Hall, Gordon’s office, and Hill’s office. He also gets reacquainted with Harley’s babies, two massive hyenas that pounce on him and rip his costume a bit. Harley emerges form the back, now in her harlequin costume, and calls off her dogs who are delighted to see their mommy. This leads to an interesting conversation between Harley and Batman who questions why she’s so infatuated with Joker. She reveals another layer to her origin by explaining that she got sick of listening to other’s problems while she was a psychiatrist at Arkham and that Joker was the first one to listen to her’s. And he made it all seem fun. When Batman asks about the people Joker hurts, she crosses her arms and stubbornly responds with, “It’s just a joke.” Batman then offers up what can only be foreshadowing when he says she’ll think differently when it’s she who is on the receiving end.

harley and her babies

Harley reunited with her precious babies:  Bud and Lou.

Batman and Harley then head off to another old hideout and Batman radios ahead to Robin (Loren Lester) to meet them there. As Batman fires off a grappling hook to enter, Harley tries to impress him with one of her own, but only succeeds in hurting herself. They enter, and much to their surprise, find a thriving night club full of mobsters. They turn and notice Batman’s presence and start pulling out their guns. As Batman surveys the room, he’s struck from behind and knocked out cold by, who else, Harley Quinn.

harleys performance

Silly and seductive.

She ties him up and tosses him on a roulette table announcing her presence with extreme authority. The host of this party is Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller), who has taken over this location from The Joker. Harley and Bennett apparently know each other as they reminisce and Harley soon jumps onto the stage and launches into a rendition of “Say that We’re Sweethearts Again.” It’s a humorous little number full of slapstick humor. It soon becomes obvious this performance is a distraction, and one that apparently is working as the men all hoot and holler and Bennett himself displays a disturbingly aggressive expression upon his face. As Harley sings, Robin sneaks in through a window and is able to cut the ropes on Batman’s wrists. After that, it’s a just matter of beating up the bad guys. As the dynamic duo take them all on, Harley encourages them in a rather cute manner referring to them as “B and R.” She also gets in on the action herself, swinging from a chandelier that she drops onto Bennett.

the dynamic trio

Maybe they should just replace Batgirl with Harley.

As the trio escape into an alley, Harley cheerfully encourages Batgirl to eat her heart out while Robin asks Batman just what was she before she went nuts. They arrive at the Batmobile, and Robin came via motorcycle, and he gives Batman an update. No one has been able to locate the Joker, but Hill still refuses to evacuate Gotham. At that point Harley starts laughing. When Batman inquires why she responds with how better to tie-up the police than to tie-up the mayor himself?

We then cut to a bound Mayor Hill. He’s at his home and Joker soon struts into the picture wearing an old-fashioned striped swimsuit complete with sunglasses and his duck floaty from “The Laughing Fish.” The atomic bomb is the backdrop to Joker gleefully jumping into Hill’s swimming pool as ominous music thunders in the background and Joker laughs menacingly.

Outside Hill’s residence, Harley is happily congratulating herself for figuring out the scheme until Batman cuffs her once more and seals her in the Batmobile. She easily gets out of the cuffs and starts playing with some of the many buttons as Batman and Robin sneak in.

harley n joker reunited

Joker surprised, but hardly disappointed.

Done with his swim, Joker is happy to taunt Hill as he prepares to make his escape. Viewing Gotham’s annihilation as the ultimate punchline, he radios for his boys to bring in the plane and shoves a bound Hill into the pool. Batman bursts in and wacks Joker with a batarang before attending to Hill. Joker then attacks with his only weapon, a patio umbrella (first Mad Hatter, now Penguin!), which proves rather ineffective. It seems like the fight will end rather quickly, until Batman gets shot with a strange weapon. What basically look like steel “U” shaped stakes hit him in each wrist before going into a nearby tree, pinning him against it. The camera pans to Harley, who is armed with some kind of rifle she found in the Batmobile. She fires it again at Robin, who was busy untying Hill, and a bolo comes out and ensnares him before she jumps into Joker’s arms.

harleys worried

What about the babies, Mr. J? WHAT ABOUT THE BABIES?!

Joker is about as surprised as he’s ever been to see Harley. It takes him a few moments to compose himself before eventually congratulating her and asking her how she got there. When Batman cries out to remind her they had a deal, she lets him know the deal’s off and that no one could turn her against her beloved Mr. J. An old-school looking Joker Plane then arrives and Joker activates a ten-minute countdown on the bomb. As the two head for the plane, Robin calls out to Harley that it’s a good thing they came because that countdown didn’t leave Joker enough time to swing by Arkham to get her before blowing the whole city up. Joker tries telling him to shut up, but this gets Harley’s mind racing. She starts bemoaning all of their friends who will soon be killed and she lists them off in amusing fashion:  Ivy, Two-Face, Hat Guy, Lizard Man, and Puppet-head. It’s Batman’s reminder that her precious pets will also be killed that puts her over the edge. Joker tries shoving her onto the plane, but she kicks him in the face and races over to Batman declaring for the first time that maybe Mr. J isn’t the right guy for her after all.

jokers attire

Getting a real Snoopy vibe, here.

Undaunted, Joker climbs aboard the plane and emerges in the gunner position complete with flying attire. Batman is able to escape from his bounds just before some Joker bombs strike. Joker is discouraged to see his attack failed and he orders his men to circle back. They, understandably, protest given the presence of the atomic bomb about to explode and Joker responds by swinging the gun turret in their direction. Batman and Robin are able to cancel the bomb’s countdown, but Joker soon swoops in with machine guns blasting. He declares the bomb is going off no matter what, but they fly too close to the ground allowing for Harley to make a move. With one final bad ass line, “Laugh this one off, puddin!” she fires her jester-head device and lands a direct hit on Joker’s noggin. He lurches back, obviously concussed, with his hands still squeezing the triggers causing the turret to spin around wildly.

harley rattattat

Of course.

The plane crashes into Hill’s house, but Joker demonstrates once again his hidden super power of avoiding death as he merely stumbles out the backdoor, unharmed. He collapses on the ground as his chute deploys. He eventually looks up to find Harley standing over him with a gun aimed right at him. He stands up to confront her and declares she doesn’t have the guts while Batman calls to her to stop. She’s determined though, and yanks the trigger only for a “Rat Tat Tat” series of flags to emerge. Joker appears shocked, while Harley seems just as surprised and even a little disappointed. He soon smiles and declares “Baby, you’re the greatest!” She too smiles and jumps into his arms once again as the camera pans up to close out the episode with an iris shot in the shape of a heart. Before it fades to black, Joker’s two henchmen can be seen crawling from the wreckage of the plane as well, in case you were concerned.

baby youre the greatest

I guess they’re made for each other, for better or worse. Mostly just worse.

“Harlequinade” both explores the dysfunction of Joker and Harley’s relationship while also serving as a bit of a reset. We find out what it was that lead Harley into Joker’s life and get a little peek into both of their minds. For Harley, Joker is an obsession, a controlling force in her life not unlike addiction. Even when she proves to herself that she’s ready to move on, she still comes crawling (or jumping) back. For Joker, she’s merely another plaything. When she’s there to help with a punchline she’s useful, but when the joke doesn’t call for her he’s fine to move on. And moving on for Joker essentially means he no longer places any sort of value on her life. For Batman and Robin, the events of this episode probably help them to understand Harley a bit more and I presume even pity her. She demonstrated an ability to be heroic, but also further punctuated that her Joker obsession is far from over. It just further stresses that this relationship won’t have a happy ending.

Arleen Sorkin is delightful as Harley, as usual, but this time gets to show off some singing skills as well. It’s a fun sequence and it’s interesting to see the usually goofy Harley Quinn take advantage of her obvious sex appeal (that costume leaves little to the imagination). The whole sequence came about when Paul Dini heard Sorkin singing this same song and thought it would be perfect for Harley and Joker. This is also one of the better episodes from Dong Yang in terms of visuals. Batman looks especially intimidating, and it obviously helps when Kevin Conroy is playing up his angry side when he’s yelling at Harley. The only shortcoming is a goof with the piano player who appears to lack legs. The commentary also points out an issue with Robin’s green attire. They didn’t have access to a good dark green, so a lighter shade of blue is used for the shadows and I think it’s made more obvious by the HD transfers. It’s amusing that given the show’s budget, which was quite large for a cartoon, they couldn’t afford a dark green. It also seems obvious that the network wanted the characters to shy away from the atomic bomb and it’s really only inferred rather than stated explicitly.

Harley is truly the star though here. It’s not surprising to find out via the commentary that Paul Dini had developed a Harley and Ivy spin-off, but it obviously never made it into production. She plays well off of serious characters, and Batman is perhaps the most serious of them all (despite the fact the he wears a Halloween costume all of the time). She has a tremendous amount of character in all facets:  her mannerisms, the script, the acting performance. It’s actually a shame that spin-off never came about. The episode could be uncomfortable for some though, as when viewed through the lens of Harley as Joker’s victim, the story is less comical and more sad. That angle really isn’t played up and the ending feels like it’s intended to be almost cute while also being funny. Maybe it’s asking too much for what is a kid’s show to really wade into such dark waters, but I’m comforted by the fact that we have more episodes to come and more time to see if Harley can break away from the psychotic Joker.

 


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