CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Kevin Altieri.
REVIEW: The whole "villain pressed into service by the good guys to stop an even bigger threat" trope feels as old as the world, but it can nonetheless be a lot of fun. And that's the case here when Harley is forced to help Batman find her Mr. J, seeing as the Clown Prince of Crime is in possession of a big, whomping, atomic bomb. That the Joker is willing to nuke the city is terrifying enough, but this is a post-Phantasm Joker and just a touch more violent than he's been in previous television appearances. He uses the Joker gas just like he did in the film, pushes the tied up mayor into a swimming pool, and makes bombing and strafing raids at the heroes and even his Harley, with a biplane.
But violence is very much at the heart of this story that proposes to show us what makes Harley tick. And that's a pathological form of masochism. Though there are jokes aplenty, and it's quite a lot of fun to watch her be an instrumental, though vaguely dangerous, member of the Dynamic Trio, the episode keeps bringing up the fact that her relationship to the Joker is abusive and one-sided. Her burlesque song number, meant as an amusing distraction, is all about extreme ways her lover has hurt her (you'd almost think this was an original piece, but no, it's Earl Brent's "Say That We're Sweethearts Again", 1944). Batman point blank asks why she's with him. And though she's aghast that he would blow Gotham up with her, their "babies" (the hyenas), and all their friends (most of whom she can't actually name, funny), she nevertheless ends up staying in love with him. Anger can make her turn momentarily, and it's part of the show's violence that had the gun she was holding not been a gag gun, she would have shot the Joker dead (!). One wonders who she would have then turned her attentions to. Batman, perhaps. He's punched her. All of this makes me rather uncomfortable, to tell you the truth. The psychology is fascinating, but they're still presenting domestic abuse as a joke.
And Batman in all this? Well, he's rather angrier than usual, and while it's hard to blame him given the circumstances, it does make us like Harley better. His deal with Harley also makes him seem a little foolish, and the real surprise is that she held out her end for so long (fake-outs aside). He doesn't prepare for her eventual double-cross, and yet she's quite ready for his moves (the bit with the false hand, for example). And so it's really up to her to stop Mr. J, knocking him out with her bauble/grappler combo, sending him into a deadly spin that shoots up his own plane and crashes it into the mayor's own veranda. Great sequence, but Batman has nothing to do with it. Paul Dini liked his creation more than he does Batman, clearly. It's too bad for her that the Joker doesn't.
SOUNDS LIKE: Gremlins' Dick Miller voices Boxy Bennett; he was last heard in Mask of the Phantasm as Chuckie Sol.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Despite the deceptively heavy subject matter's treatment (especially in a kids' show), Harlequinade is an extremely fun episode that makes Harley more sympathetic than ever.