NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the second season of, “Harley Quinn” are present in this review
Harley Quinn’s astonishingly quick turnaround in 2020 saw its second season premiere just one month after its first season ended. That’s great news however, since Harley Quinn has gone on to become one of the best original shows for WarnerMedia’s niche DC Universe streaming platform. The quick debut for the show’s second season is no doubt due to its immediate 26-episode order as well, which was originally meant to follow a similar model as DC Universe’s animated revival series, Young Justice: Outsiders, only to ultimately split the 26 episodes into two 13-episode seasons shortly before they premiered. Season Two of Harley Quinn does appear to round off a noticeably complete story too, while still leaving some narrative wiggle room for a potential third season, should the series be renewed, at DC Universe or elsewhere.
Harley Quinn’s first season ended with several massive changes to the show’s status quo back in February. Chief among these was a story twist inspired by celebrated Batman comic book arc, “No Man’s Land”, wherein Gotham City becomes devastated by an earthquake resulting from the destruction of Joker Tower, leaving it cut off from the rest of the United States, and fresh for the picking by this animated universe’s surviving Batman foes. Making matters worse is that Batman himself is M.I.A., while the rest of the Justice League remains trapped in the Queen of Fables’ storybook. On the bright side, Joker has also vanished, having unknowingly been returned to the state of a normal, everyday man (another twist taken from an acclaimed Batman comic book arc, “Going Sane”), after being dropped into the fateful, normalizing acid that was meant for Harley. It’s a bold new world for new New Gotham, the hilariously terrible unofficial name for this animated Gotham City, and the city’s playground of anarchy becomes the main chance for Harley to realize what she truly wants, and more importantly, who.
Yes, Harley Quinn’s second season starts exploring the romantic tension between Harley and her best friend, Poison Ivy. Naturally, the problem here is that Ivy is engaged to her boyfriend, Kite Man, representing Ivy’s greatest push to become domesticated, and finally achieve a steady support system. Harley continues to pull Ivy in the opposite direction however, while insisting on taking the fight directly to Gotham’s surviving villains, in a bid to become the biggest, baddest criminal left in the abandoned city. This predictably lends itself to all sorts of delightful animated hijinks, as Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Two-Face and Bane carve up separate territories in the city, while Harley resolves to take them on one by one, often with her enthusiastic crew in tow.
There’s certainly a lot going on in Harley Quinn’s second season, but the smart writing is also more consistent in Season Two than it was in Season One. Harley Quinn has better come into its own as an animated adult sitcom for its sophomore selection of episodes, immediately hitting the ground running with the brilliant idea of having Harley individually take on new New Gotham’s villains. Season Two even introduces a few previously AWOL Batman foes, including Mr. Freeze, a newly-resurfaced metahuman threat voiced by Spider-Man 2’s Alfred Molina, and Catwoman, a hyper-seductive, popular girl-esque cat burglar, voiced by The Cleveland Show’s Sanaa Lathan. Neither of these characters show up particularly often, and Mr. Freeze ultimately ends up being dispatched astonishingly easily (something Harley Quinn itself even makes fun of at one point), but they’re fun additions to the villain ensemble that help provide even more fun opportunities for laughs and emotion alike.
Surprisingly though, Harley’s battle against new New Gotham’s villains only defines about half of Season Two. The latter half of Season Two is instead more about Harley realizing that her dreams of villainous conquest are primarily being motivated by a desire to break free of her former reputation, and finally achieve true independence. This in turn serves as the foundation through which Harley’s feelings for Ivy develop, something that eventually spills over when the two have sex more than once during Ivy’s bachelorette party in Themyscira. The Harley/Ivy relationship was inevitably going to happen, since it would feel extremely insulting if it didn’t, given that Harley and Ivy have been a well-known lesbian couple in DC Comics lore for some time now. Disappointingly though, the inevitability of this Harley/Ivy romance ends up hurting every Ivy/Kite Man storyline this season, since almost every Batman Family/DC fan would already know that the Ivy/Kite Man romance is doomed. This also somewhat hurts the funny, but rather predictable second season finale of Harley Quinn, since it could only believably cap off Season Two in one way– Kite Man dumps Ivy, and Harley and Ivy end up driving off into the sunset together, as a newly-minted couple.
That said, Season Two of Harley Quinn is nonetheless packed with ambitious, novel and unexpected story developments, which further bolster the second season’s superior humour. Whether it’s an exhausted, ailing Bruce Wayne being forced to entrust his superhero mantle to Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara, who becomes Batgirl after getting involved in an early plot by the Riddler, or Harley having to try and cope with Joker now being a very milquetoast, fully sane bartender, Harley Quinn’s second season is never content to settle into a predictable groove. There are a couple of weak episodes here and there, with the dual Ivy/Kite Man bachelorette/bachelor party storylines feeling like a particular waste, but most of Harley Quinn’s Season Two episodes are sublime, in terms of humour, drama and storytelling alike!
Arguably the biggest twist yet in the series also occurs later in Season Two, when Harley makes contact with DC ultra-villain, Darkseid, and wins his army of Parademons, only to reject them, and decide that she doesn’t want to be a violent global conquerer. This enrages Doctor Psycho, and leads to Psycho not only leaving Harley’s crew, but even teaming with the Riddler to take Darkseid’s Parademon army for himself! The betrayal of Doctor Psycho, re-positioning a former friend and ally of Harley’s crew into the season’s ultimate arch-villain, is a highly unexpected and well-executed twist, one that brings home Harley having to face her tendency to be reckless and make big messes of things, something that’s given especially heightened focus in Season Two. Even through trying to fix her messes, Harley sometimes sets up new threats as well, such as angering Darkseid, and motivating him to come conquer Earth in the future, breaking Two-Face out of Arkham Asylum so that she can stop Gordon from ruining Ivy’s and Kite Man’s wedding, or even ‘restoring’ the Joker to his former insane self, so that she can learn where the Justice League are hidden.
Not all of Harley Quinn’s ambitious Season Two ideas are winners, but the vast majority of the season is overall funnier and more consistent than the already-great Season One was. Harley Quinn fully cements itself as one of the best DC Universe shows to date by the conclusion of its second season, completing Harley’s evolution into a fully independent super-villain, while still leaving the door open for a potential Season Three. The uncertain state of DC Universe as a whole continues to leave Harley Quinn’s future in question at this point, but even if it has to move to a different network/platform, this show deserves to go on. It’s a very funny, potently heartfelt examination of trying to rise above a lifetime of disappointment, while never giving up on expecting better for yourself, even if you have to fail and make mistakes along the way. Having further refined its inspiring message alongside its overall writing throughout Season Two, Harley Quinn thus firmly establishes itself as the DC comedy series that we’ve always deserved, and no, I don’t think Harley needs to smile more.
- Exciting, fun battles against new New Gotham's rogues gallery
- Harley's and Ivy's smart relationship development
- Lots of funny, subversive and unpredictable story turns
- Ivy/Kite Man storytelling often doesn't work