This review contains spoilers for Harley Quinn season three.
The animated Harley Quinn series follows the titular character as she moves on from her abusive relationship with the Joker. Through seasons one and two, she plots to take over Gotham, while also figuring out who she is beyond her identity as the Joker’s girlfriend. The show balances raunchy humor and gory action with grounding moments of emotional clarity to create an exciting new story about the classic comic book anti-hero. While I considered writing a more holistic review of the season, I want to focus on Harley’s journey because it left me more confused than not.
Season three picks up a few weeks after the second season’s finale in which Harley and Ivy drive off into the sunset (literally), making their relationship official. Harley dubs their adventure the “Eat Bang Kill Tour,” and eventually surprises Ivy by bringing her back to her garden of Edin (“spelled with an I for Ivy”), a terraformed acre of land that represents her failed attempt to terraform the entire Earth and take it back from humanity. While Ivy is busy studying plants, taking samples and admiring the beauty of her self-made Jurassic landscape, Harley is bored out of her mind. She may have healed from her previous relationship, but old habits die hard. She has never been in a secure romantic relationship before, and she immediately reverts to her people pleasing habits.
While dating the Joker, one misstep could have resulted in verbal or physical abuse, so she is constantly on her guard to make sure that nothing she does will make Ivy leave her. Even after Ivy notices her obvious disinterest in nature, Harley tells her, “I want what you want,” a phrase that she keeps repeating until the very end of the season. The first season was spent working through her traumatic past with the Joker, the second focused on self-growth and the third follows Harley as she learns how to exist in a healthy relationship while maintaining her sense of self.
While Harley’s journey in developing her self-worth made sense for the show, her season arc from villain to hero felt somewhat out of place. Harley’s desire to be a supervillain coupled with her inability to embrace the cruelty needed to be truly evil has been a major theme of the series since day one, but the beauty of her character is that she constantly toes that line. She does occasionally help people, and she might be friends with a hero. But, these were also facets of her character before losing her status as a villain.
For example, in episode seven, while on a mission to kidnap the Joker (who is now a socialist running for mayor after a frankly impossible-to-explain chain of events), she runs into Batgirl (aka Barbara aka Babs) on the elevator. During their conversation, she will not admit that they are friends, despite the relationship that they have formed. Being friends with Babs would mean admitting that she’s friends with a hero.
The scariest thing that Harley represses throughout the entirety of the season is that she is no longer a villain because it would mean losing Ivy, at least in her mind. When the elevator stops, Harley and Batgirl are greeted by the Mad Hatter’s goons and subsequently kidnapped, but Harley escapes. She feels guilty for leaving Barbara alone and eventually goes back to save her. After she does, Babs tells her that she is not as ruthless as she thinks she is, which echoes something Ivy told her in season one, “you’re a bad guy, but you’re a good person.”
In the final episode, Harley is finally forced to confront the fact that it’s time to move away from her life of crime. She can’t let Ivy destroy the city while innocent people are killed, and she realizes that what she truly wants to do is help people. However, by the end of the finale she is teaming up with the bat family—a huge leap from the anti-hero who wanted to destroy Gotham just a few weeks ago. This season gave Harley the character development needed to feel like an equal partner in her relationship, but in trying to establish her as a possible hero, the writers tried to accomplish too much in too short a time frame. Perhaps I just prefer Harley Quinn as an anti-hero who leans more heavily in the direction of ‘anti,’ but either way I’m excited for whatever adventures season four brings.