This Harley Quinn review contains spoilers.
Harley Quinn Episode 5
There’s something special about episode five of Harley Quinn. The adult animation from DC Universe is as irreverent as ever, filled with curse words, deep cut comic characters, meta sight gags, and stellar voice work. But it also tries to delve into a bigger question: who exactly is the woman known as Harley Quinn and who is she without the Joker?
Taking a solid recurring trope from its streamer-sibling Doom Patrol, this episode takes place predominantly in Harley’s brain as her friends dig around her subconscious–which even looks like the white room set from Doom Patrol–attempting to fix our protagonist after she has a severe physical and mental breakdown whilst trying to find the perfect lair for the motley crew. Pushing the title character further on her narrative journey of self-determination is a smart move and this episode achieves that as well as being funny, smart, heartfelt, and easily one of the best episodes of the series so far.
We really get to know who Harley (Kaley Cuoco) isn’t in a super smart bit of character building as the episode opens with her, Ivy (Lake Bell), and a real estate agent touring multiple villain lairs. Watching the titular anti-hero turn down the ostentatious and outrageous options gives us a little more insight into just who she might be under the pale makeup and skin tight costume. It’s also a great comedy bit that leans into the Venture Bros. of it all and will make anyone who grew up reading comics or watching Saturday morning serials smile.
The hunt for a new lair is tied into the greater arc of this episode; namely, Harley trying to find herself outside of the Joker. When she can’t find the right lair, she literally freezes up, leading her ragtag group of friends right into her subconscious. Whilst Ivy, Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan Tudyk), and King Shark (Ron Funches) rifle through Harley’s early life and teen crushes, their old landlord Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander) discovers the crew seemingly dead wearing Suicide Squad shirts, leading him to (not completely unfairly) assume that they’ve all killed themselves. It’s a pretty dark subplot that sees Sy and his friend attempt to burn the “bodies” in the incinerator of a local mall.
While the nefarious cyborg tries to get rid of the evidence, the crew are finally becoming a team as they explore the depths of Harley’s life and trauma. There are plenty of funny moments as we see Harley as a young child–spoiler alert, she was a “little sh*t”–and get to meet her childhood crush, Frankie Muniz, who when you put together this cameo and his Lizzo-chasing antics seems to be endearingly open to ridiculing himself at the moment. As they adventure throughout Harley’s mind it feels like the characters finally begin to gel as a group which offers up some interesting potential for future episodes as previously Bell’s hilarious Ivy has often been sidelined for the sake of Harley building her team and her goal to become a famed criminal.
As with most of the best moments of Harley Quinn so far, the big reveal of just what has Harley frozen is actually pretty powerful. The moment works especially well for fans of the comic as she realizes that rather than Joker throwing her into the acid the reality of her origin story is that Harley made that choice herself. But until she takes responsibility for that action she’s stuck seeing herself as a victim–which she still arguably is–in taking control of her narrative and past.
Triumphantly, the former Arkham Asylum doctor manages to not only acknowledge what really happened but to also free herself from the origin she created with the Joker, crafting a new and more motivational one with her friends. That’s lucky timing as she’s just in time for them to all escape from Sy’s incinerator. Thankfully for all involved–Sy included–it turns out that the ramshackle mall immediately feels like home to Harley. And after their erstwhile landlord almost burned them alive, Harley manages to convince (read that as blackmail) him to let rent it for $1 a month. It’s a happy ending for all and means that our anti-heroine finally has her own place to call home.
“Being Harley Quinn” is an example of how great Harley Quinn can be when the creative team balances their need for crassness and cruelty with some interesting character exploration without compromising on either. If the show can keep delivering episodes that are as strong and entertaining as “Being Harley Quinn” then it seems like it’s destined to end up on HBO Max where it would undoubtedly find a far larger audience than it ever will on DC Universe.