Bad Girls Get It Done
Harley Quinn: Season 4
DC is more than willing to play around with their own heroes and worlds. They've had some form of "Elseworlds" variants going for the longest time, and that doesn't even delve into the multiverse of worlds they created and expanded during the Silver Age. While Marvel has had their own Multiverse for a while, it feels different at DC. More free. More open to experimentation and, at times, just fucking around to see what works (even if its deeply silly). Thus you can go into a new DC product and when the show or movie diverges from the source material substantially, it doesn't feel out of place.
Harley Quinn, which has been running on HBOThe oldest and longer-running cable subscription service, HBO provides entertainment in the force of licensed movies along with a huge slate of original programming, giving it the luster of the premiere cable service. for four seasons (and a special), is that kind of "let's see what works" idea for a show. As we saw over the three previous seasons (and that special), the show isn't afraid to go over-the-top, to go silly, to go gory, and often to do all of that at the same time. As a show centered around Harley herself (voiced all this time by Kaley Cuoco), the series is able to let her freak flag fly in the best possible way, creative a delightfully chaotic and hilarious adventure season after season.
At the end of the third season, Harley (Cuoco) and Ivy (Lake Bell) found themselves at a bit of a crossroads. Harley had just helped Batman, in her capacity as a psychologist, and discovered she really liked the idea of being a hero. Ivy, meanwhile, was giving the job head of the Injustice Society by Lex Luthor (Giancarlo Esposito). The two were suddenly split by wanting to pursue their diametrically opposing jobs while still finding a way to be in a relationship together. The solution: each would pursue their lives but they wouldn't share information about what they were working on with their partner.
For Harley, this was a struggle as she was trying to work her way into the Bat-family, most of whom, namely Nightwing (Harvey Guillén) and Damien (Jacob Tremblay), don't want to work with a former villain. Even her friend, Batgirl (Briana Cuoco), struggles to accept Harley since the former villainess is still dating Ivy. Meanwhile Ivy is fighting the patriarchal attitudes at the Injustice Society while trying to push forward her plans for "Social Conscious Evil". And it doesn't help that Lex seems to just be using her as a prop for his own agenda without letting her really run her evil society her way. Both ladies will have to prove themselves all over again while figuring out who they truly want to be, together.
The third season of the series was great, don't get me wrong, but it absolutely wrote the show into a corner. Harley and Ivy would be going along two separate paths for this fourth season, and that would leave the series feeling split, bifurcated. Sure, there had always been A-plots and B-plots (and sometimes C-plots) in episodes, but never so split that the halves felt unrelated. This time around, though, Ivy's evil storylines very rarely connected to Harley's good storylines, leaving the two women adrift, away from each other.
This was a big issue considering that the Harley and Ivy dynamic (aka HarlIvy) was the core of the series. We started watching them, back in season one before their romance blossomed, and then from the end of season two on as a happy couple. The will they/won't they dynamic lead into big romance, and that gave the show its strength and its emotional depth. But this season splits them for too long, due to work, and that core dynamic is missing.
What we get in its place is... confused. Harley can't blend in with the Bat-family and the series treats this as a weakness, something she has to fight against. It should treat it as a strength, that she can add something new and dynamic to the team (especially with Batman off in Arkham for a time). Meanwhile, Ivy ends up dealing with a bunch of idiots at the Injustice Society and, as much as she's in charge there, it never really feels like she takes command and blends in. The show, frankly, doesn't know what to do with her at the top of the villain heap and, so, it just kind of fucks around fruitlessly.
The season does finally manage to find some energy by the seventh episode, when the girls are accidentally teleported to the future and learn that some massive apocalypse occurred soon after they left the past. This sets them on a mission to actually try and stop the apocalypse and whoever is behind it. We get four pretty decent episodes out of that, but the rest of the season (two-thirds of it) likes the drive and connection to make the whole storyline work up to that point. It's weak writing.
Of course, the reason why the last four episodes of the season work is because the show puts Harley and Ivy back together, only proving the point. These two are the heart and soul of the show and they shouldn't be pushed apart to follow their own agendas. It does look like the creators understand this as the next season is already promising to be about the Gotham City Sirens (a play on the Birds of Prey), with Harley and Ivy working together with Catwoman and Batgirl / Oracle. All of them working as vigilantes sounds way more fun than this messy fourth season.
That's not to say this season was terrible, mind you. The acting is still great, and there are plenty of funny moments that still made the series watchable. It just wasn't as great a show as it had been for three seasons (and a special) prior. Every series has off moments, and this was one of those seasons that just felt wrong. Not as good, not as strong, not the series we were all expecting year after year. But it can recover as long as it stick to the core that works, and, for now, it seems like we're getting that again next season, so we'll see.
I like Harley Quinn. I think it's a fun, silly, violent romp. Plenty of that was still here in fourth season, but just not to the degree we're used to. The vibe was off, that special blend that made it must watch television. But if the creators can get everything back on track next season this will remain a high point of the DC on Max lineup for seasons to come.