After a premiere episode filled with necessary, character-centric detours, Harley Quinn returns to its villain-hideout status quo from prior seasons, but with a renewed focus on family. The second episode opens by introducing — via a gruff film noir parody voiceover and emo hair flips a-plenty — DC comics mainstay Nightwing, a.k.a. Dick Grayson (Harvey Guillen), the former Robin. He happens to have caught the same bus back to Gotham as Harley and Ivy, who then promptly steal his limo. The villains eventually cross paths with Nightwing once more, along with the rest of the Bat-family, but not before both sets of characters have brushed up against some lingering internal tensions.
Season three has yet to reach the levels of hilarity of the previous seasons — while it has plenty of sight gags, the nonstop verbal jokes and references are mostly hit or miss— but “There’s No Ivy in Team” builds its story with watertight precision, balancing both its episodic plot and the overarching tale of Harley and Ivy’s rocky (but undoubtedly sincere) romance.
After returning to their villainous lair inside an abandoned mall, Harley forces Ivy to explain her world-terraforming plan to fellow baddies Clayface, King Shark, and Frank (J.B. Smoove), the foul-mouthed Venus flytrap. Her objective is to break into a museum — vintage Gotham villainy! — and steal a mosquito trapped in amber, à la Jurassic Park, before using the plant DNA preserved in its belly to resurrect ancient megafauna. However, where the other villains are in it for sheer criminal fun (and, in Harley’s case, loving support), Ivy approaches the scheme with straight-faced seriousness, and stringent organization on par with Leslie Knope, binders and all. Somehow, she makes crime in Gotham boring, but her fellow delinquents go with the flow.
Things don’t go as planned, mostly thanks to a hyper-specific circumstance that wasn’t in Ivy’s overly detailed notes. (She should’ve listened to Clayface’s warning about [checks notes] a day guard who, after picking up an extra shift prior to proposing to his high-school sweetheart, takes a break to show his coworker the cigarette he still carries around after having quit smoking years ago.) Cue a hail of gunfire and ensuing chaos — at which point Ivy, the only one willing and able to improvise, grows fed up and irritated with her team’s scatterbrained antics. She ferries them to safety, but she also uses her superpowered vines to gag them and make them shut up for a while.
The serum Ivy creates, which she hopes will bring ancient, buried plant life back to Gotham’s surface, seems to work initially. It even gives birth to anthropomorphic sapling, but something goes horribly, hilariously wrong, and the little plant creature hulks out, all but transforming into a radioactive dinosaur before drowning itself in acid. Ivy, surrounded by even more personal failure this week, decides it’s time to work on the serum alone. However, Harley — whose penchant for screwing up while trying to fix things is eclipsed only by her tendency to forget this singular trait — thinks it would be a good idea to take advice from a janky TV advertisement, and has the villains partake in an escape room. You know, as a fun team-building exercise.
Elsewhere, a brash Nightwing acts recklessly while battling super-arsonist The Firefly, tossing out braggadocious one-liners while endangering his fellow heroes: Bruce Wayne/Batman (Diedrich Bader), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Briana Cuoco), Bruce’s snobbish son Damian/Robin (Jacob Tremblay), and Gotham’s most fashionable vigilante, Alfred Pennyworth/The Macaroni (Tom Hollander), whose powdered wig is as tall as the front wheel of his penny-farthing. After the Bat-fam is almost cooked to a crisp, Barbara has the same bright idea as Harley, though the innocent escape room turns out to be an elaborate, murderous ploy by none other than the Riddler (Jim Rash).
It’s fun getting to see Gotham’s heroes and villains in close quarters, especially when they’re on the same team for once. The Cuoco sisters even get to have a fun exchange as Harley and Batgirl, who bond over the fact that they’re each team’s de facto motivational coaches, while Ivy and Nightwing battle a chess robot to no avail, unleashing both ceiling spikes and personal insecurities in the process. Behind Nightwing’s douchey demeanor lies a self-loathing little child who just wants to impress Batman and can’t seem to reckon with failure — something Ivy has been struggling with of late as well, leading her to push Harley & Co. away. In a nice nod to this emotional hurdle, Ivy and Nightwing discover that to beat the dangers of the Riddler’s Saw-like puzzle, they must fail at their individual tasks, rather than trying to constantly one up the people around them.
Harley Quinn has always been a raucous comedy bolstered by character-centric flourishes, but as the third season unfolds, it seems increasingly like the formula has been turned on its head. Whether or not the jokes all land, the focus falls squarely on what makes Harley and Ivy tick, and the plot feels like an extension of their disconnects as people. However, what keeps the show from getting dour — and what keeps it feeling classically sitcom-esque, with a neat bow at the end of each episode — is that no matter the conflict between Harley and Ivy’s fundamental natures, part of that nature always seems to involve a desire to resolve things rather than letting them fester. Of course, with Frank now mutated into a super-plant and the group’s villainous hideout turned to ash, things don’t exactly end on a high note, but at least “Harlivy” is going strong, at least for the time being.
• James Adomian’s courteous Bane doesn’t have a real story purpose, but his exaggerated impression of Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises makes his concern for retrieving his pasta maker one of the episode’s most memorable subplots.
• “Going to need you to step aside ma’am, card-carrying MENSA member. JK, MENSA doesn’t give cards. My incredible brain is my card!” Jee, no wonder they call Nightwing “Dick.”
• “Did you know Mr. Kool-Aid improv’d that style of entry on the day? Some talent you cannot teach!” Preach it, Mr. Clayface. Preach it.