Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review: Batman: TAS "Harlequinade"

According to good ol' Wikipedia:
"Harlequinade is a British comic theatrical genre, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'that part of a pantomime in which the harlequin and clown play the principal parts'. It developed in England between the 17th and mid-19th centuries. [...] The story of the Harlequinade revolves around a comic incident in the lives of its five main characters: Harlequin, who loves Columbine; Columbine's greedy father Pantaloon, who tries to separate the lovers in league with the mischievous Clown; and the servant, Pierrot, usually involving chaotic chase scenes with a policeman."

Huh. Seeing a few parallels, but where do the hyenas come in?

"A superstitious cowardly lot! They plan and plot but they always get caught!"
The one where Joker steals a nuke.

There's no The Dark Knight Rises-style handwaving and making up stuff about a modified Waynetech fusion reactor; it's a nuke. It has a big "A" for "Atomic" on it. The Joker stole a freaking nuke.

This raises a whole load of questions regarding how it was able to be stolen in the first place, how easily the Joker took it from the seller at the bad guy auction, and how un-Joker-like Plan Nuke-it-to-Hell was. But not only does it give Batman a solid reason to team up with Harley Quinn, it gives her a reason to betray the Joker at the end of the episode. And the general premise of our titular hero consulting the mind of a criminal in order to stop another one reminds me of Silence of the Lambs. Quite appropriate, considering what we'll later see in "Mad Love," which I've hyped up to the nth degree.

If I had to criticize the episode, I'd actually take the most issue with the pacing. The bit in the middle with Boxy Bennett in the Joker's old hideout goes on for a bit too long (thanks to Harley's impromptu musical number) before we race full speed ahead to the climax. I can't help but wonder if this would have worked better as a two-parter, but the episode is still a memorable one. Of course, it was definitely a stronger episode when it first aired. You have to remember, all we knew about Harley Quinn at this point was that she was the Joker's henchwench. We didn't know her real name (it was revealed, but not confirmed in an earlier episode), we didn't know her story. And this episode gives us the first few hints. We learn that she was a psychiatrist who fell in love with the Joker, but we don't know the specifics yet. But now that we can look back on this episode post-"Mad Love," that aspect of the episode loses a bit of its punch.

Still, the ending holds up as well as ever. After Harley's abuse at the hands of the Joker was alluded to in "Harley and Ivy," the scene where she actually pulls the trigger at him is incredibly powerful. And the ending where they gleefully reconcile hits equal notes of goofiness and horror. As it should.

Much like "Harley and Ivy," this episode relegates the Harley/Joker stuff to subtext while focusing on a main plot, but the subtext is much stronger here, even leading to the emotionally powerful end of the episode.

In general, the Joker is a terrible protagonist. Don't get me wrong, the character's had some wonderful solo outings. But its simply difficult to root for him and him alone. "Joker: The Vile and the Villainous" needed to team him up with the Weeper, "The Killing Joke" had him share protagonist duties with Batman, and even the critically-acclaimed graphic novel "Joker" was told through the eyes of the Joker's latest henchman. The Joker is very difficult to make the sole protagonist of his own story, with a few exceptions.

Enter Harley Quinn.

Suddenly, the Joker has someone to bounce his material off of. Through his relationship with Harley, we learn more about the Joker than we could if he were a solo protagonist/antagonist. He doesn't even appear for most of this episode, but through Harley, we learn quite bit about him through the way he treats her. And he's a monster.

Harley Quinn
While we get more hints and tidbits about her past, nothing is concrete yet. But like I said, we do see just how horrifying her relationship with the Joker is. And yet, they gleefully reconcile at the end.  Are these two truly mad lovebirds who don't go halfway with anything, including their spats? Or are they two obsessed souls who've built themselves a ramshackle courtship at Dysfunction Junction?

Batman, the most sensible person in the episode, hints at the latter, but the end of the episode hints at the former. Answers won't completely arrive until "Mad Love."

As I said already, this was a milestone episode that is often overshadowed by "Mad Love" these days. But just as Harley's subplot in "Harley and Ivy" led to this, this episode paved the way for "Mad Love." It has its issues, but I'd say this was an above-average episode that's definitely worth a watch. See you next time!

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