Batman: The Animated Series, “Harley’s Holiday”


It’s sad that Harley Quinn only got two episodes to herself in the Animated Series, since she’s one of the most vibrant and interesting characters the series produced. Part of that was the fact that most of the characters created for the series were far below her caliber, but she’s also been a strong support whenever she’s appeared. At the same time, she managed not to get overexposed since she only had these two episodes, and arguably “Harley’s Holiday” is even better than the first one. It’s also unusual for being not just funny (the screwball sensibility is back in spades), but actually rather optimistic about Harley’s future.

The episode actually opens with Harley’s psychologist, telling her that she’s passed her evaluations and will be able to leave Arkham with a clean bill of mental health. It’s a rare sign of competence at America’s Worst Mental Hospital, but it fits that Harley would have the best chance of getting out, since she was seduced by a bad relationship into crime. Batman manages to give her the worst congratulations possible short of just punching her preemptively, yet Harley sounds sincere in her protest that she plans to stick to the straight and narrow. Queue the next scene, where she’s rollerskating down the sidewalk, pulled by her pet hyenas as they scare everyone else.

It’s not a very smooth debut, and it quickly gets much worse, as the mere hint of illegal activity on her part causes her to panic, don the clown suit, and kidnap social prop Veronica Vreeland to steal her car. There’s some deliberate awkwardness in how this escalates, but at least it’s handled quickly, and that screwball tone is combined with the sad truth that Harley just isn’t ready to be a normal citizen. Her heart is in the right place now, and that’s still a huge improvement over anyone else in Arkham, but just because she knows what’s wrong doesn’t mean she understands the smaller social mores and norms yet. When Batman (having witnessed the whole thing as Bruce Wayne) goes to intervene, he can at least recognize there isn’t some master plan or real threat of violence. That doesn’t mean Harley isn’t dangerous, she’s just not trying to be a threat.

There’s a nice callback to the last Harley episode, where she goes to the owner of the club she ruined for a way out of town; he’s understandably angry about this, at least until she kisses him and he gets the idea she’s interested in more. Unfortunately, while the silliness works well for most of the episode and even parts of this scene, it doesn’t go well with Batman and Robin popping in to fight off Bugsy’s thugs. It’s only a minor flaw, but it’s still odd to see Robin knocking a gun out of someone’s hand with a whirling fish in his hand.

Probably the best proof that the episode is doing its best not to be taken seriously comes with the climax of the chase, where just after Veronica sees that Harley really isn’t trying to kidnap her, Veronica’s father starts trying to shoot the car with the main cannon of a tank. Things have really gone topsy-turvy when Harley Quinn turns into the voice of reason for the episode, even if it’s only for a moment or two. After nearly crushing his daughter to death, Veronica is saved by Harley, Bugsy is apprehended by Robin and Bullock (who got involved after Harley’s initial escape forced him into the side of a building), and Batman goes after Harley to try to salvage what he can of her day out. That only amounts to keeping her from accidentally killing herself, but there are worse outcomes.

The part that really hits home is the ending, though. Harley is despondent over being brought back to Arkham, even when her psychologist tries to encourage her by pointing out this isn’t a big setback, especially since Veronica lived up to what she said and didn’t press any charges. Of course, that’s conveniently ignoring the destruction of several roads, but then Veronica’s father was the one firing the gun that took out those chunks of asphalt. Harley turns to Batman, and asks what would motivate him to try to help her, instead of just bringing her in. His response? “I know what it’s like to rebuild a life.” And as he pulls out a copy of the dress she had tried to buy earlier: “I had a bad day too, once.” Two lines of dialogue that, thanks to Kevin Conroy’s delivery, manage to be sweet, appropriate, and gut wrenching all at the same time. Oh, and Harley gives him a very long kiss, because why not?

“Harley’s Holiday” is probably the best synthesis of a “serious” version of Batman and the goofy 60s camp you could ask for. The point isn’t to undermine the serious nature of Batman or what he’s fighting against, but to briefly lighten it, with humor and some hope. Sure, Harley isn’t really ready to be a normal citizen yet….but there’s a chance she could be, and instead of just locking her up and forgetting about her, Batman does his best to help salvage that chance. It makes him less dour and grim just by doing good, rather than an awkward attempt at lightening his overall character. And even if Harley doesn’t get to stay a law-abiding citizen, a tantrum that she then tries to fix is still a healthier response than, say, running to the Joker for help.

The silliness of the episode is greatly helped by the visuals as well. This is just a flat-out gorgeous episode of Batman. There’s bright colors, high levels of detail, and a general bounciness to everything, which both fits and enhances the mood. Watch as Veronica screams in shock at an oncoming truck they’re about to hit…and the fear that goes across the hyena’s faces as well. Completely unrealistic? Of course. A hoot to see? You’re damn right it is! Little touches like that abound in “Harley’s Holiday,” and they make for great (if subtle) visual gags.

“Harley’s Holiday” is an episode that everyone should see, more than once. It’s fun without being cheap, fits perfectly with Batman even with all the laughs, and is probably the best showcase for Harley as a character you could get. There’s literally no downside here, and any faults are very small. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.


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