It’s October 15, 1994. Boyz II Men are at number one with “I’ll Make Love to You”; Sheryl Crow’s cover of “All I Wanna Do” is second, with Luther Vandross, Baby Face, and Immature rounding out the top five. At the box office, Pulp Fiction opens at number one.
In the news today, Haitian President Aristide returns to the country after three years of exile in the U.S., and Iraq withdraws troops from the Kuwaiti border in yet another round of the long dance of threat and counter-threat that will continue until the second Gulf War, still nearly a decade away.
And in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley gets a vacation–an episode of her own with no Joker in it! Oh, and she’s been released from Arkham, there’s that too. Funny how once the Harlequinade begins, and the world changes under her spell, Harley is suddenly no longer considered quite so mad, isn’t it? Even Poison Ivy, in a sense, returns to the world–not completely, since it still won’t allow her to speak, but she is visible in the background in the Arkham scenes, watching approvingly as Harley plunges the world into chaos.
As she inevitably does. Harley passes through the streets and shops of Gotham like–well, it’s hard to come up with a metaphor more appropriate than a bubble gum-chewing, pigtailed, scantily clad roller-skater being pulled down the sidewalk by a pair of slavering hyenas on leashes. She passes through the streets and shops of Gotham like Harley, which is to say equally and simultaneously deliberately fetishistic, bizarre, and ridiculous. She ignores and upends all rules of social behavior, seemingly blissfully unaware that, for instance, hyenas are not permitted in upscale clothing boutiques. But again, she managed to survive living in the world long enough to get through medical school and secure a job at Arkham; she knows what the rules are.
Why, then, does she pretend not to? The answer’s in the title of the episode: she’s on holiday. She’s been on both sides of the glass walls of Arkham; she knows that criminals come in and out all the time. She doubtless knows about the Riddler’s and Two-Face’s brief releases before her, and knows they were out hardly any time at all before they returned. Sooner or later (sooner, as it turns out) she’ll have a bad day.
To get out of Arkham, Harley had to pretend to be what those who had power over her–the doctors and wardens–wanted her to be. Now she’s free to indulge, to be Harley; as long as she doesn’t break any actual laws no one can stop her. And it’s her job as the Harlequin, the Trickster, to push the boundaries of socially accepted behavior, to put people in positions they never would have thought to find themselves in–especially the powerful, or those who cater to the powerful.
It’s no accident that the store she enters with her hyenas is the kind of place Veronica Vreeland would take Bruce Wayne to spiff up his wardrobe. It’s frankly astounding Harley could afford anything there–but that’s where this ties into, and caps off, the trilogy of villain reformation episodes we’ve been working our way through. However she manages to buy that dress, she does so legitimately, and so panics when the alarm goes off.
It’s hard to blame her. She must know that on every level, she is expected to fail. The audience expects her to fail and become a criminal again both because of the last two episodes, and because we know that’s how she’s most interesting. The “justice system” expects her to fail because, as we’ve discussed, it exists not to rehabilitate or protect, but rather to ritualize the brutal vengeance of society upon those who violate its norms–and as we already said, violating norms is what the Harlequin does, what it is.
The world around Harley doesn’t understand her panic, and Harley doesn’t understand that the man in the uniform is trying to help. Why would she? She’s been in the system, she has years of experience telling her that people in uniform exist solely to violently enforce arbitrary rules, rules that she has now accidentally violated. She takes a hostage, flees, and one bad day ensues.
That perhaps is the best part of this episode, its climactic thumbing of the nose to The Killing Joke. Harley had a bad day, and the result was… that she stayed the same person she’s always been, Harley Quinn, the Harlequin. Her bad day caused her to end up right back where she started, where she belongs, under the knowing and watchful eye of Poison Ivy.
There’s few better proofs that Paul Dini, at the very least, gets it.
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