“Harley Quinn” is an adult animated series from DC Comics that follows the misadventures of the titular supervillain as she strikes out on her own with a misfit crew after her breakup with the Joker.
Much of the show is spent exploring Harley and her relationships. The most significant ones are the Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley herself.
In addition to being a supervillain, the Joker’s also a jerk. He’s completely toxic and not just from all of the acids and chemicals. In the first scene of the series, he leaves Harley to buy time while he escapes from Batman. As Joker goes into his submarine, he promises to quickly break Harley out of Arkham. He doesn’t. It takes her a year, in addition to Poison Ivy’s help, to realize that he never had her in mind.
Given the opportunity, Joker always uses Harley to further his own goals and constantly puts her in danger. When they’re together, they’re a horribly unbalanced pair. Harley is completely under Joker’s thumb. When she tries to introduce her own ideas, he quickly undercuts them and gets his way.
After Harley tries to break up with him, he twists the situation to make himself look sympathetic. He lies and says he didn’t break her out because it would be too dangerous for them to be together. She falls for this and immediately jumps back into his arms. She then bakes him a bread pudding, which he immediately shoots because he thinks it has raisins. He would have known they were chocolate chips if he had tasted it first instead of unloading a clip into it mere seconds after his loving girlfriend set it down.
In contrast, Poison Ivy starts the show as Harley’s best friend and always supports her, even when Harley doesn’t support herself. Ivy goes along with Harley’s evil schemes at great risk to her well-being, but she respects herself enough to be honest when the situation isn’t great.
That all changes when Harley and Ivy share a passionate kiss after they escape “The Pit” in season two. Ivy denies these new feelings for Harley to focus on her upcoming wedding to Kite Man, the comedic relief, low-level supervillain. (His catchphrase is “hell yeah.”) After several romantic encounters during the bachelorette party, Harley asks Ivy to be with her. Ivy turns her down because of Harley’s flighty and spontaneous nature, preferring the stable yet unfulfilling Kite Man.
All of these scenes flex how strong Kaley Cuoco and Lake Bell are as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Their chemistry as both friends and lovers is phenomenal, with equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching.
At the wedding, Kite Man paints an incredibly specific picture that Ivy realizes she doesn’t want. She recognizes that Harley has grown into a person she wants to be with. Glowing in the light of their new relationship, Ivy and Harley drive off into the sunset as they escape the cops.
Harley and Ivy’s relationship is significant as it is one of the few mainstream LGBTQ+ couples in one of the most popular genres. Other queer characters are relegated to supporting roles or just obscure.
Ivy’s reluctance to leave her loveless engagement to Kite Man can be interpreted as a form of compulsory heterosexuality, first identified by Adrienne Rich in 1980. It was easy for her to go along with it because that’s what was expected from her. Being with Harley allows Ivy to explore herself and discover who she is.
Harley’s journey through season one is becoming her own woman after leaving an abusive relationship. Her past self, Dr. Harleen Quinzell, a licensed psychiatrist, often appears as her conscience and tells her what she needs to hear.
As Sammy Davis, Jr. will tell you, “I can’t be right for somebody else if I’m not right for me.” Although he sang it in a different context, the point still stands: Self-love is key to lasting happiness, whether you’re with someone or not.
Harley reconnected with her self-worth and forged a new identity, separate from her trauma but born out of it.
For everyone else this Valentine’s Day, love someone. Love your partner, love yourself, love a family member, love a stranger. The world needs love, and it needs you.