“Harley’s Holiday” (season 2, episode 16; originally aired 10/15/1994)
All it takes is one bad day to push someone over the edge. Nearly every character in the Batman mythos is living with the consequences of their one bad day, that moment when their lives changed forever. For Bruce Wayne, it was the day his parents were killed. For Joker, it was the day he fell into a vat of toxic chemicals. Harley Quinn has had her share of rough times, but nothing compares to the shit storm she endures in “Harley’s Holiday,” in which Harley tries to go clean and ultimately attracts the wrath of Gotham’s police, underworld, and military.
While the previous Harley Quinn spotlight, “Harlequinade,” expanded on her relationship with Joker, “Harley’s Holiday” delves into the relationship between Harley, Batman, and Bruce Wayne. Paul Dini is the show’s best writer when it comes to making Bruce a pivotal part of the story, and he draws surprisingly poignant connections between the boy billionaire and the clown princess. Harleen Quinzel was a good person before she got caught up in Batman’s mess, and Bruce feels directly responsible for her descent into insanity. There would be no Joker without Batman, and the arrival of Joker into Harleen’s life was the equivalent of two shots fired in Crime Alley. When Harley is released from Arkham, Batman is eager to see her succeed in a new life away from crime, and he continues to hold onto hope for Harley as the rest of the city turns against her.
After passing her mental-competency test and being officially declared sane, Harley celebrates by going shopping with Bud and Lou, her pet hyenas. As expected from a Paul Dini Harley Quinn episode, there’s an emphasis on comedy; no matter how dire the situation gets, Dini will always get a laugh in. I’ve been watching season one of Animaniacs recently (thanks to Genevieve Koski’s awesome new T.V. Club recaps), and “Harley’s Holiday” has a similarly madcap, slapstick tone. The characters are more exaggerated, the action is more explosive, and the jokes are more prominent than in most B:TAS episodes. And Harley Quinn is Yakko, Wacko, and Dot rolled into one delightfully deranged package.
Dini establishes the tone of the episode immediately as Harley declares, “I’m just as sane as anybody,” before the camera cuts to an image of her rollerskating down the street in daisy dukes, pulled by two probably rabid hyenas. While shopping for new clothes, Harley runs into Bruce Wayne, who is updating his wardrobe with the help of Veronica Vreeland. When Harley first sees Bruce, she recognizes his chin from somewhere. She holds her hand in front of the top half of his face to get a better look at his kisser—a motion that represents the ways Harley blurs the lines between Bruce and Batman. Like Harvey Dent, Harley Quinn causes Bruce’s human emotions to awaken within Batman, turning him into a more compassionate hero.
When Harley buys her dress but forgets to have the security tag removed, she sets off the store’s security system and flies into a panic. She’s convinced that the police are out to get her and she completely relapses, putting on the black-and-red bodysuit in the dressing room and running off with Veronica Vreeland. Veronica’s military-general daddy isn’t happy about losing his little girl, and he procures a tank to join the wild goose chase that eventually involves Harvey Bullock as well. Harley goes to Boxy Bennett (from “Harlequinade”) for sanctuary, and the thug offers it as long as they get to auction off Veronica. Harley refuses, and Batman and Robin arrive just in time to stop Boxy and his goons from taking out the ladies.
Director Kevin Altieri has turned in his best work this season, and the animation in this episode is some of the show’s finest. His smooth, detailed storyboards are beautifully brought to life by Dong Yang, who succeeds in capturing the more comic tone of the episode. The variety of the facial expressions and body language helps land each joke, and the action sequences have an appropriately chaotic energy to them. Swirling clouds of car exhaust help create a sense of movement during the car chases, and seeing the dramatic damage done to the vehicles and environments emphasizes just how destructive Harley Quinn can be.
With General Vreeland, Harvey Bullock, Boxy Bennett, and Batman hot on her tail, it becomes clear to Harley that her brief stint of freedom is about to come to a close. When Veronica says, “Can’t you explain that it was all a mistake?” Harley replies, “Heh! With my past, I don’t even believe it myself.” Like the man she loves, Harley Quinn has become an avatar of chaos, inviting bedlam wherever she goes, whether she wants to or not. What does a bad day look like for someone whose very nature makes days bad for others? For Harley, the worst thing possible is being punished for doing the right thing.
When Batman corners her on a rooftop, Harley explains: “I’m having a bad day! I’m sick of people trying to shoot me, run me over, and blow me up! I didn’t even get to keep my new dress, and I actually paid for it!” If the world won’t let her be a good girl, she’s not going to try anymore. She tries to blow up Batman, fails, and ends up back in Arkham to start the cycle all over again. Or maybe not. Batman decides to be a little more proactive in helping Harley with her rehabilitation, and offers some words of encouragement that perfectly encapsulate the Harley/Batman dynamic: “I know what it’s like to try and rebuild a life. I had a bad day, too. Once.” It’s the soft side of Batman that we rarely see nowadays, and it reminds us that Batman is fighting for all of Gotham, including the people he puts behind bars. He hands Harley the dress that caused all of this episode’s trouble, and with it he gives her hope for the future.
- Dynamic Duo Beatdowns: It’s a pair of comic ass-kickings this week as Robin uses dead fish as nunchuks and Batman knocks out a thug by causing him to smack into a wooden support beam. Fighting can be funny, too!
- What exactly could A Porus Line be? A dermatology Chorus Line?
- I love that moment of silence after General Vreeland knocks over Commissioner Gordon’s coffee. Gordon’s “Are you done yet?” face is wonderful.
- The Harley Quinn/Batman kiss makes me wonder why we’ve never had a story of Bruce Wayne and Harleen Quinzel going on a date before she turns into Harley Quinn. It would make sense for Bruce to reach out to Arkham’s criminal psychologist early in his Batman career, although the setup would be a little difficult.
- “I was the clown girl holding the gun on ya!”
- “Back off rich boy! I’m armed.”
- “For the first time today, I think things are finally lookin’ up.” Then a tank shell almost blows them to bits.
- “I think I made a mess on your cape.”