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HARLEY QUINN (2019- ) S01E05 “Being Harley Quinn” review

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Harley Quinn (DC Universe/Warner Bors.)

Harley Quinn debuts new episodes on Fridays via the DC Universe streaming platform in North America. International air dates are yet to be confirmed.

Synopsis

When Harley suffers a paralyzing identity crisis, her crew must enter Harley’s mind to free her with the help of Dr. Psycho’s telepathic powers.

Review

After delving in to villain-of-the-week territory last episode (reviewed here) Harley Quinn goes full on character development as the cast dives in to Harley’s psyche.

Written by Adam Stein, “Being Harley Quinn” takes the show in an interestingly poignant direction. It forces Harley (Kaley Cuoco) to look inwards and explore her own origin story and uses Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) and the rest of the cast to bring in the humour.

Taking the story in to Harley’s mind allows the series to retread, albeit very lightly, over territory often covered in the comics, BTAS and 2016’s Suicide Squad. Given that the show has focussed heavily on Harley’s post-Joker growth I hadn’t expected it would take a step backwards to her creation but it makes sense for her story.

Harley can’t move forwards until she resolves her past.

As I’ve come to expect from Harley Quinn the story is expertly wrapped up the premise-of-the-week. Harley, looking for a hideout to call her own, is struggling to decide on a location which fits her personality. When her evil real estate agent asks her about who she is and what she stands for it sends Harley catatonic and it’s up to Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan Tudyk), King Shark (Ron Funches) and Ivy to step in and save her.

The episode takes a few liberties with Harleen’s backstory. Particularly with her younger years which the series frames as being equally as crazed as her alter-ego. Though it may not be in keeping with her comic book origins it allows the show to make excellent use of the young Harleen as a nightmare monster to attack the gang.

There are plenty of bells and whistles inside Harley’s mind: demon children; multiple Joker’s, remote locations of repressed memories and even an excellently placed cameo from Malcom in the Middle’s Frankie Muniz. But underneath it all is another strong heart, rooted in the show’s lead character.

The episode masterfully maintains delicate balance between humour and drama by throwing the characters into certain moments in Harley’s memory just long enough to make it poignant before ripping them out using a comedic plot device. Though at face value it seems slightly repetitive, given the short runtime of the episode it’s the perfect plot device to maintain strong pacing.

Early in the trip down memory lane we see the moment Harleen plummeted into a vat of ACE Chemicals and was transformed in to Harley. It’s strongly signposted that Harley doesn’t fully recall the moment and becomes the crux of Harley’s emotional arc for the episode.

The journey to realising that she had jumped of her own accord in to the vat and wasn’t pushed my Joker is a huge turning point for Harley. She had been living under the allusion that she had become Harley not by choice, but by circumstance.

Rather than wrestling with this realisation, Harley uses it as another moment of empowerment. Taking her anger, turning it towards Joker and fighting her way back out of her psyche.

It’s another huge moment of character for Harley (both the series and the character) and really cements the producers idea that this show will be more than just an action-adventure comedy. Five weeks in and Harley has become a clear, yet also very flawed, role model for the audience. I’ve said it before but underneath all the bells and whistles there really is a strong story of a girl fighting her way out of an abusive relationship and taking back her power.

Verdict

After a so-so villain-of-the-week peace, Harley Quinn returns to top form this week with a poignant episode reflecting on the character’s origin story.

8/10

Harley Quinn stars Kaley Cuoco as the voice of Harley, and she’ll be joined by Lake Bell, Alan Tudyk, Ron Funches, JB Smoove, Jason Alexander, Wanda Sykes, Giancarlo Esposito, Natalie Morales, Jim Rash, Diedrich Bader, Tony Hale and Chris Meloni.


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