There are precious few instances when the image of a completely leveled city engulfed in flames encourages a sense of hope and renewal. However, when you spend an entire season rooting for a recently uncoupled villain aiming to establish herself as Gotham City’s leading threat, total destruction is a welcome development. It’s the sight that lies before Harley Quinn’s titular upstart and her motley crew of villainous misfits at the close of season one after having rid herself of her joke(r) of an ex, the Justice League, and the Legion Of Doom. The final scene begs the question, what lies ahead for the self proclaimed “baddest bitch in town” and a leader-less Gotham? Should we look forward to Harley’s total domination, or a decent enough stronghold on everything within a five-block radius, perhaps?
Well, not exactly. In the season two opener, “New Gotham,” the bubbly bandit is simply reveling in the chaos with her newly acquired pair of chariot-pulling hyenas and chilling at the mall with her friends and their in-house sushi chef-slash-hostage. It’s a far cry from they days when becoming part of the Legion monopolized so much of her personal drive. “This is what I’ve always wanted,” she tells her closest companion, Poison Ivy, after the latter raises some concerns about Harley’s sudden lack of initiative, “anarchy and sushi.” Though a lawless land and a Spider roll sounds like an interesting time, it’s still an unusually low bar to clear for a person who was once so eager to prove herself as a viable force. With Gotham quite literally up for grabs, Harley’s choice to drag her feet instead of seizing control at such an opportune time doesn’t quite gel with the determined woman we’ve come to know during the previous season. In fact, it’s a bit of a disservice to someone who, despite her penchant for bedlam, is tactical and intelligent enough to strike while the iron is hot.
Her failure to do as much clears a path for the rest of Gotham’s displaced villains, who are now scrambling for power and turf—including Harley’s mall-turned-lair. Rather than contend directly with the men at the top, she appeals to the community of people with whom she empathizes the most: their goons (or “henches,” as some of them prefer):“Now’s the time to rise up. Everyone should be their own villain.” If it sounds like a recipe for heightened mayhem, that’s probably because it is. Instead of defending her territory against a handful of imposing figures, she’s now up against, as Ivy puts it, “a thousand little assholes” eager to establish names for themselves.
Amid the frenzy, Harley receives an invite to a meeting with the newly formed and cleverly named bad guy coalition, the Injustice League—Penguin, Riddler, Bane, Two Face, and the timidly introduced Mr. Freeze. Instead of welcoming her to the fold, they present the schematics for New Gotham, complete with freshly split territories. Naturally, Harley is left with geographical scraps, because there has never been room for equity in neither the patriarchy nor the cutthroat streets of Gotham City. When she expresses her dissent, Harley and the threadbare league find themselves at a frosty impasse—rather, she winds up in a block of ice, courtesy of Mr. Freeze. Any half-formed plans she might’ve had to assert her power are literally put on ice, for months.
All of this, apparently, is what it takes to introduce new hurdles to the Harley Quinn universe: ice, total disorder, and an inexplicable amount of naiveté. That said, it is an effective reminder that Harley’s issues with her reputation in Gotham didn’t simply disappear with her clownish former lover, and her desire to climb the ranks of the city’s most notorious foes will require unwavering determination and pure audacity. At the very least, nothing has dampened her take no prisoners approach to self defense, which is more evident than ever when she manages to drive a makeshift shiv deep into Penguin’s neck. Killing one of the most overpowering villains in Gotham will surely come with its own special set of consequences, but for now, it’s just reassuring to still see that level of fight in her after so much wasted time.
And her blood-lusty gusto couldn’t have kicked in at a more crucial moment as one of the last scenes shows her taking in New New Gotham, a nearly rebuilt city divided among the surviving members of the Injustice League. Frustration aside, Harley works best when she is thoroughly underestimated (which is, you know, all the time). Watching her go head-to-head with a society that has long deemed her lesser should prove to be a gratifying experience, now that we’ve moved beyond her initial gullibility. The only thing that can save Gotham from permanently devolving into a total wasteland, theoretically, is some form of order, even if it’s at the hands of the more dastardly among its citizens. It’s high time for someone to step up and take charge; why can’t that person be Harley?
- The fact that neither King Shark, Doctor Psycho, Clayface, nor Ivy made any sort of play for Gotham during the months that Harley was on ice is a true testament to their bond.
- As the person who has had to sit back and repeatedly watch beloved friends engage in self-sabotage despite receiving heaps of logical advice, I feel for Ivy. Her relationship with Harley is incredibly fun to watch, but I hope that the second season will showcase a more symbiotic connection between the two woman, because right now the benefits seem fairly one-sided. Like, what exactly is Ivy getting out of this friendship?
- Damian Wayne is a hero not only for his willingness to defend the city in Bruce’s absence, but also for his refusal to share his guardian’s phone number with Commissioner Gordon without his expressed consent. Way to lead by example, kid.
- So at what point is soft, sweet Bane (ha!) gonna head over to the mall and join the good bad guys? He clearly doesn’t gel with Riddler and his ilk.
- “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH oh hey, Iv!”
- Harley Quinn’s ability to make animated gore almost as squeamishly resonant as live-action gore remains impressive.
- The A.V. Club won’t be recapping each episode, but we’ll drop in on the season finale.