The Harley Quinn cartoon on HBOMax has taken a lot of unexpected turns. The show is definitely off in its own world, not connected to any other version of the DC Universe. This gives them some freedom to explore various ideas and be utterly untethered by the continuity or characterizations that have existed previously. It’s safe to say you never quite know what’s going to happen on this show, and that’s certainly the case with “Joker: The Killing Vote.” The title, of course, is a nod to “The Killing Joke,” a graphic novel by Alan Moore, a story that had a deep impact on the DC Universe, and the Bat-Family in particular.
This episode focuses almost entirely on the Joker. Harley and Ivy, the main characters of the series, are largely absent. Apparently, most of this takes place during the episode “It’s A Swamp Thing,” where the usual stars of the show are in Louisiana. Voiced by the incomparable Alan Tudyk, this version of Joker has retired from being a supervillain to become a stay-at-home dad, married to a nurse, and stepfather to two kids. Me, I wouldn’t let the Joker anywhere near any kids I cared about, but he really does seem to have changed. The episode opens with Joker having a nightmare that at first seems like something you might expect for this former foe of the Dark Knight, but it takes a sharp left turn and goes really weird. Waking up, he’s comforted by Bethany, his wife (I think she’s his wife, this is actually somewhat unclear).
Shaking it off and trying to go along with his day, he gets a sitcom-like opening compete with theme song. Joker drops the kids off at school, flirts with the receptionist (in a harmless way) and encounters what may be his new arch-enemy. I think he’d almost rather fight Batman again. Joker gets some disappointing news, and has to deal with a rival’s gloating. All things considered, he handles it remarkably well.
Commissioner Gordon is still lurching ahead with his mayoral campaign, and it’s not going well. Considering his campaign manager is Two-Face, I’m not sure that’s a surprise. Barbara, ever the voice of reason, tries to inject some logic into what they do next, but she’s ignored. Back at home, Joker rages about the news he got earlier, although things aren’t as bad as they looked before. On tv, the mayoral campaign takes a surprising turn, and Benicio, Joker’s stepson, makes a request that sends Bethany into a rage. Joker, surprisingly, calms her, and says he knows a thing or two about how to deal with archenemies.
Joker tries to influence Debbie, the problem du jour, in the school parking lot. It’s a really surreal scene, made more so by the fact that everyone clearly knows who the Joker is, and what he used to be, and still treat him like any other suburban dad. He’s one of the most terrifying people in Gotham, and it’s weird to see this play out. Debbie drives off after offering some taunts, and his muttered response to what happened is probably my favorite line of the episode.
Gordon and Two-Face celebrate the latest bizarre turn in the mayoral race, while Barbara looks on disapprovingly. She raises some good points and is, once again, ignored. Elsewhere in the city, Joker takes some really surprising action, and we see the Gotham version of what would be a not necessarily surprising event in any other city. This turns into a sort of interview at a bank, with Joker and his crew doing something not really unusual for them, but for a unique reason. There’s another amusing bit with one of the hostages that really captures the strangeness of this series, and certainly this episode, really well.
Displeased by recent events, Gordon rants and raves, while Barbara, you guessed it, offers good suggestions and is ignored. There is a minor running joke in this scene that might be a nod to Barbara’s costumed identity, but that’s as close as we get to seeing Batgirl this time around. That night at dinner, the devotion to the family that has marked this incarnation of the Joker seems to be slipping, as he is completely wrapped up in is new project. Bethany and the kids are all disappointed in how he’s acting, and he excuses himself from the dinner early.
Things kick into a higher and more surprising gear during the final act. Joker attends a rally dressed like the Nicholson version from the 80’s Batman movie. Things are going well until he gets a surprising phone call. One of the people Joker has been causing problems for has upped the game, and Joker has to abandon his plans to run off to the rescue, which must have felt weird for him. The big final confrontation has some surprising shifts in alliance, and more nods to both the Keaton Batman and the Killing Joke story. Finally, after someone realizes they’re doing the wrong thing (and a Law & Order: SVU joke), Joker emerges victorious. The final scene or two make it seem like this isn’t just a sort of throwaway episode, as Harley and Ivy return at the very end and are stunned by the developments in their absence. Next episode should be really interesting on several fronts.
What I Liked: Alan Tudyk is amazing, and there was some great writing for this episode. I’m not a particular fan of the Joker, and don’t like the trait of making him into a hero of late, but this was a damn fun episode. There were a few great lines, and Harley and Ivy’s return was well-timed and funny as hell.
What I Didn’t: I get how screwed up Gotham City is, especially this version, but some of the things going on really should have attracted the attention of the various Bat-Family members. Even with the weirdness of this show, I still have trouble with Joker going from mass-murderer to suburban dad, everyone knowing who he is, and just sort of being “Oh, well, this is who he is now.”
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. I’ll give this a 3.5 out of 5. If they follow up on the events of this episode, I’m going to be really curious to see how.