Thursday, February 5, 2015

Recap: Batman: TAS "Harlequinade"

Harley's Quinn's big episode! Until The New Batman Adventures, it filled in the most mysteries about our favorite happy harlequin. Not bad for a character whose only appearance was going to be popping out of a cake in "Joker's Favor."

And in the end, the Joker did it himself. Irony.
So, without further ado, "Harlequinade."

Nothing quenches your thirst with a smile like Harlequinade!
Our episode opens with some underground arms dealing. Being Gotham, the item for sale isn't just a gun shipment, or some explosives, or even a missile. It's a freaking nuke. What's with this malarkey? I mean, I tried and failed to get my hands on one of these things to wipe every last trace of "Mission: Impossible Man" from my DVR, but established criminals just have one? Thanks, Obama.

The bidding starts at a million dollars, but the Joker comes in and just steals the darn thing by threatening the assembled gangsters, mobsters, and thugs with a fake bomb of his own.

"And I'm saving a bunch of money on this whole deal by not hiring any sort of security!"

"Evening, gents."

"...I have only myself to blame."
Sometime later, the cops are on the scene. Commissioner Gordon wants to evacuate the city pronto, but Mayor Hamilton Hill tells him not to. As crazy as it might sound, this is probably one of the better options. I detailed in my Recap of Avengers Assemble's "Depth Charge" the difficulties that would be involved in evacuating a city of this size, let alone doing it without the Joker noticing.

But let's think about the implications of this nuke theft.

The nuclear bomb. Its greatest power is what it can manage without even being used. The mere idea of nuclear weapons is enough to create panic and frenzy. What you can accomplish through the threat of using nuclear weapons is far more than what you can accomplish through actually firing one off. Having said that, this particular nuclear bomb is in the hands of someone who would set it off just for a laugh. Ignorance is bliss.

So Gordon simply goes to his default plan: Keep Calm and Call Batman. But there's no need to grab the red phone, he's already here. They discuss how difficult it's going to be to get any info from the criminal underworld; the Joker's probably being more careful than usual, given the size of the operation. Luckily, there's a close acquaintance of Joker's sitting in a cell right this second. And if you guessed it was Gasgworth A. Gagsworthy, the Joker's original sidekick... you'd be 100% wrong, but I'd give you points for knowing who Gaggy was.

As those who read the title of the episode know, it's Harley Quinn. She's lounging in her Arkham cell, loudly chewing her gum and messing around with a doll. Batman enters in his usual way, startling her so badly that she falls off her cot and swallows her gum.

Batman: "I need help."
Harley: "Well, ya've come to the right place. I recommend a lobotomy."

Batman explains that he need help finding the Joker because if Batman fails to catch him before he sets off his nuclear bomb, then everyone in Gotham is dead. She initially declines, but Batman mentions that the city officials are willing to give her a complete pardon if she complies. This gets her to change her tune.

Batman: "If... you promise no double cross."
Harley: "Aw, shoot, take all the fun outta life!"

She shakes on the deal, without a joybuzzer, even. That's a good sign. But it's not enough to let her ride in the Batmobile without handcuffs. While she picks the cuffs with a hairpin, Robin radioes in to remind the audience that he exists. Batman tells Robin to keep him posted on Gordon's progress. After he signs out, Harley decides that she wants to listen to the radio and starts pressing random buttons on the dash. After some brief shenanigans with the Batmobile's chute, he yells at her in the Batman voice, which is enough to get anyone to shape up.

For a while, anyway.
After making some faces at him, she agrees to take Batman to the Joker's last hideout. Batman investigates the place while Harley changes into her clown getup (because she'll be damned before Batman dresses more ridiculous than her), and he discovers an array of monitors showing the Mayor's office, the Commissioner's office, and other important locations. As Batman glowers and scowls and frowns, Joker's hyenas, Bud and Lou, ambush him. Harley quickly gives them big hugs and placates them enough to stop attacking Batman.

"Who's mommy's slobbering, mangy, stupid, poachers?"
After all this madness that Harley takes in stride, Batman finally decides to ask the question: Why the Joker? Harley gives a little spiel about how she got paid to listen to people as a psychiatrist, but the Joker was the only one who ever listened to her.

Batman: "You think it's funny when he hurts people?"
Harley: "It's just a joke."
Batman: "Hope you're still laughing when it's your turn."

...I'm not saying anything; just keep that line in mind for "Mad Love."

They get in the Batmobile, and he radios Robin to meet them at another one of Joker's hideouts at the Apex Novelty Factory. They arrive and make their way in and sneak around.

Harley: "Sneak, sneak, sneak!"

That's how you know you can't hear her.

Batman triggers a secret panel which opens up onto a room filled with lounge music and well-dressed men and women gambling to their hearts' content. They notice Batman and come after him, but Harley beats them to it by knocking him on the head and tying him up. When Batman comes to, the gangster that now runs the place, Boxy Bennett, is a bit excited to get to work killing him. But before any of that, he wants to know what Harley's doing with him. I mean, the Batman? And Joker's henchwench? Something smells fishy, and Penguin's nowhere to be found.

"How do I know you're not working for the Suicide Squad to bring me down?"
"Because we ain't allowed to say 'suicide' on a cartoon?"
"...Good point."
She rolls a 20 for bluffing her way out of having guns pointed at her, and asks where Joker is. Boxy doesn't know. As he flirts with her a bit, Harley notices Robin crawling through an air duct. Thinking quickly, she jumps on stage and starts singing a little number about the Joker's over-the-top, slapsticky domestic abuse towards her, disguised as an old-school, sittin'-on-a-piano love song, complete with a Fred Astaire lookalike playing piano. Remember, this was before writers had enough chutzpah to try and fill these musical numbers with double entendres. This distracts the gangsters long enough for Robin to make his way down unnoticed and free Batman.

Because Paul Dini wants you to be as attracted to clowns as he is to magicians.
Harley: "Life used to be so placid; won't you please put down that acid? And say that we're sweethearts agaaaain!"

You know, it's an odd dichotomy. You can't show Joker hitting Harley around on TV, but you can imply that he tortures her on a regular basis depending on his whims. In song. Of course, that might be because this love song was featured in the 1944 film Meet the People. And yes, Harley's singing the original cartoonishly-violent lyrics. Complete with the lines about acid, kicking the singer in the head, and being thrown off the roof.

And the unused ending of the song's even worse.

"My love can go just so far/Won't you please put down that crowbar? And say that we're sweethearts again!"

Of course, now I know what reference I'm going to make when I get around to recapping Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Back in the episode, as the gangsters applaud this oddly well-rehearsed number, Batman and Robin start a-brawlin'. Once enough gangsters are taken down, Batman, Robin, and Harley make a hasty exit as the latter brags about her fighting skills.

Robin: "What was she before she went bonkers?"
Batman: "A clinical psychiatrist."
Robin: "Figures."

At the Batmobile, Robin tells Batman that the cops still haven't figured anything out. Hearing this, Harley's poker face slips and she figures out the Joker's latest scheme: The Joker nabbed the mayor to keep him from organizing the cops and is now hiding out at the Mayor's place. When they arrive, a quick recon confirms Harley's theory.

Harley: "And here you though I was just another bubble-headed blond bimbo! Well, the joke's on you. I'm not even a real blond."

Batman cuffs her inside the Batmobile again due to the inherent conflict of interest involved and Harley drops her fake hand to escape as soon as the heroes go after the Joker. Speaking of him, he's just finishing up a late night dip as the mayor begs him to just make some demands this time. But Joker actually wants to set the darn thing off after blowing town (pun intended), so he can take out the cops, the mayor, and the Batman all at once, leaving nothing left of the city to loot and plunder, thus making the whole endeavor rather fruitless.


After the Joker pushes the tied-up mayor into the pool, Batman heralds his arrival with a batarang to the Joker's forehead. Robin goes to rescue the drowning mayor while Batman takes down the Joker. But Harley Quinn suddenly arrives with a gun that fires restraints (from the Batmobile's arsenal) to double cross the Dynamic Duo. Harley greets her boyfriend, who's very proud of his bright little henchgirl.

"Did you steal the Batmobile's tires, too?"
"And I sprayed Cheez Whiz into the air conditioners!"
"I have taught you well."
The plane arrives to take them away, and Joker activates the countdown for the bomb so they can watch the fireworks as they fly away. Robin, thinking quickly, congratulates Harley.

Robin: "It's lucky you were here, Harley. The countdown sequence didn't leave enough time for Joker to swing by Arkham and pick you up."

Joker tries to bluff his way out of this, but Harley's still a bit upset about the whole Arkham thing.

Harley: "But what about all our friends?! Ivy and Two-Face and Hat Guy and Lizard Man and Puppet-Head and...."

And when Batman reminds her about Bud and Lou, she loses it and kicks Joker in the teeth. Joker gets inside and takes off anyway as Harley hurries to free Batman. Joker drops some extra bombs from above on our heroes, but they manage to avoid the blasts. Joker comes back around again for a run with the machine guns as our heroes defuse the bomb, but he misses again. Finally having had enough, Harley takes Joker's plane down by using her faulty grapnel-baton to spin Joker's gun turret to take out the propellers. A bit Rube Goldberg, but she's a bit of a rube.

After Joker emerges from under his parachute, Harley's waiting for him with his own machine gun. After all the times her threw her down stairs, hit her with acid, abandoned her to save himself, this was the last straw. This. Ends. Now.

"Ya ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, Puddin'?"
Joker: "You wouldn't dare. You don't have the guts."

Tears fill her eyes.

Joker: "Not in a million years would you..."

She sticks the gun right in his face as Batman and Robin can only watch with horrified expressions. Slowly, purposefully, she pulls the trigger... and a little flag with RAT TAT TAT gently emerges from the barrel, to everyone's surprise. Joker finds this attempted homicide hilarious, and welcomes her back into his arms. They gleefully embrace while referencing The Honeymooners, and the episode ends.

A happy ending...?
So, if your neck hasn't been broken by that abrupt mood whiplash, let's review.

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