In a staggering development, Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is released from Arkham Asylum, declared competent and crime-free. What’s a girl to do with her newfound freedom? Go shopping, naturally, with her pet hyenas in tow. A little snafu with a security tag, however, turns a simple shopping trip into a night of larceny, kidnapping, and explosions as Harley digs herself deeper and deeper, pursued by what seems to be a relentless Batman.
In the final hours of the show, it’s only appropriate that Paul Dini gets the last word on Harley Quinn (though it won’t be his last word, since he writes or co-writes all but the last episode from here on out). Harley, his finest creation, has been without fail the shining light of this show, an impeccable manic pixie partner for The Joker, matching his madness and mood swings with her own daffy brand of demi-sanity. Brought to fine life by the practically irreplaceable Arleen Sorkin, Harley might be the only character on this show not to appear in a bad episode. And her swan song, “Harley’s Holiday,” is a note-perfect capstone on her wacky run; I’ve spoken about this as the ostensible third part in a trilogy comprised of “Harley and Ivy” and “Harlequinade,” and the good news is that this isn’t a trilogy of diminishing returns.
One is immediately struck by the madcap logic that governs this episode, a crystalline reflection of Harley’s own demented way of looking at the world. Right around the moment when the tank rumbles down a Gotham bridge, driven by a spittle-flecked army general, I stopped and said, “Wait, all this over a security tag?!” And yet, as Emily Dickinson once noted, “much madness is divinest sense / to a discerning eye,” and Dini’s eye is nothing if not discerning. The escalating consequences stemming from a basic misunderstanding and the sheer amount of stuff packed into this episode might seem out of place and out of hand, but so too should a psychiatrist falling in love with her homicidal patient; this whirlwind is how a Harley Quinn story should work. As a result, the episode’s intended pathos works extremely well. We feel immensely sorry that Harley has found herself in the middle of this great big mess, and we want to see her resolve what should be a fairly straightforward mix-up. Even if we don’t buy into the idea that any governing body would declare her sane (although if any institution would, it’s Arkham, where – recall – the doors are literally not locked), we accept her earnest desire to reform. Her heart’s in the right place, even if the marbles aren’t all in the bag.
I can’t oversell what a delight Sorkin is. Her unique voice aside, a veritable godsend for an all-audio cast, Sorkin has always walked the line between effortless comedy and repressed tragedy, a four-color Judy Holliday with a nasty temper. Like Anthony Hopkins, in the space of a breath, Sorkin can slip between great rage and pleading despair, between a romantic swoon and a proud one-liner. She’s helped, of course, by Dini’s clever-as-ever dialogue (“Talk about grasping at straws! Oh well, at least I’m going out on a joke”), but it takes a special kind of performer to sell the sorrow behind “jiggety-jig.” Clearly Sorkin was a kind of muse to Dini, and neither is quite as good alone as when they’re together. (See also the Arkham Asylum videogame, which gave us “Nurse Harley.”)
And as ever, Dini finds ways to make his Gotham seem larger than life, paying tribute to the subtle continuity being drawn into this series. The episode begins with Scarecrow’s latest arrest, while Veronica Vreeland, late of “Birds of a Feather,” makes her least contemptible appearance here as a victim of circumstance and a bewildered straight man caught in Harley’s vortex. Boxy Bennett, meanwhile, returns from “Harlequinade” and remains the quintessential midlevel Gotham gangster, snarling his way through dropped vowels and elided consonants. We even get a good dose of Harvey Bullock thrown in for good measure (“You ain’t got nothing on me!” “I’m sure I can find something. Move it!”).
Like the past few episodes, “Harley’s Holiday” is one more story about a rogue’s inability to reform, and consistent with the others Harley proves to be her own worst enemy, her temper and rash judgments coloring the world as perpetually against her. Like her puddin’ himself in “Joker’s Wild,” Harley proves unable to recognize Batman out of costume, but where Joker had no interest in Bruce Wayne, Harley is consequently unable to recognize her greatest supporter. Joker wants only to joust with the Batman, but Bruce Wayne genuinely wants to help Harley, wants her to find peace. “I had a bad day too, once,” he tells her, with that heartbreak that only Kevin Conroy can leaven into the subtext. But because it’s one of Dini’s clown episodes, he makes sure to leave us with a laugh, a reminder that Harley isn’t all bad, even if she is a little nutty.
Writer: Paul Dini
Director: Kevin Altieri
Villain: Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin)
Next episode: “Lock-Up,” in which Arkham finally hires a new chief of security.
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