‘Harley Quinn’ Shows What An Evolving Relationship Looks Like


The will-they-won’t-they relationship dynamic is one of the most tried-and-true storytelling models in television history. It’s a solid foundation to fuel continuous storytelling because it keeps the audience in a limbo state where they clearly want a certain something to happen for the sake of emotional catharsis, but gives the writers leeway on how long they can stretch the inevitable out. The issue with this style of writing is it often leads to clichéd scenarios where the ups and downs of a relationship can feel manufactured or histrionic. A couple will get into a relatively small fight that leads to them not talking for the duration of an episode, or it’ll seem like the good portions of their relationship are dull and uninteresting, therefore not worthy of being shown on screen. But HBO Max’s Harley Quinn is different. Harley Quinn is a show that values the inherently uncomfortable and fluid state of being in a relationship with someone you truly care about. The show properly contextualizes Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) as two individual people who must recalibrate and renegotiate what they need from each other, throughout each stage of their friendship.


Harley and Ivy Are Allowed to be Supportive Friends First in ‘Harley Quinn’

Image via HBO Max

For the majority of the show, Harley and Ivy are strictly friends and coworkers. In fact, Ivy spends a good portion of the show in a relationship with Kite Man (Matt Oberg), who is a perfectly competent nice guy, but there’s nothing particularly special about him. Multiple points throughout the show, people ask Ivy why she would want to marry Kite Man, and she always seems either embarrassed to admit it or seems uncertain herself as to what she finds appealing in him. Considering her past trauma and professed issues with trusting others, it seems that Ivy likes him for how uncomplicated and upfront he is about his intentions, combined with the fact that their home life habits are somewhat similar; after all, Ivy is the type of person who wants to unwind at the end of her day in pajamas and watch trashy reality shows, while Kite Man is the kind of guy who just wants to enjoy any kind of downtime with the person he cares about.

What makes this dynamic stand apart from typical love triangle writing is that at no point does Harley try to break up or interfere with Ivy’s and Kite Man’s relationship; she harbors no passive-aggressive resentment or jealousy. It’s because she truly cares for Ivy that she supports what Ivy wants. This dynamic leads to an interesting scenario where Harley insists on throwing Ivy a giant bachelorette party that somehow leads to them making sure Themyscira won’t become sold off to become a tourist trap. This shows that while Harley is wildly unpredictable and at times misunderstands what Ivy truly wants, she does know what Ivy finds important in terms of her core values. The show adds extra nuance by not treating this dilemma as events worthy of judgment or simply fuel for wacky plot twists, but as an insightful window into what is truly going on with their dynamic. Combine this with the fact that during the bachelorette party, Harley and Ivy repeatedly have drunk sex that they both deny means anything deeper, it goes to show how even before either of them were ready to admit their true feelings for each other, there was always a raw connection between them.

RELATED: ‘Harley Quinn’ Showrunner Believes Harley and Ivy Are More Interesting When They’re Together

When Harley and Ivy first meet, Harley is a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum and Ivy is a violent misanthrope inmate. They forge a connection over helping each other: Ivy gives Harley information that will help her make a breakthrough with Joker (Alan Tudyk), and in return Harley gives Ivy a small bud she can grow into a flower. When Ivy asks why she’d do this, Harley says “Everyone needs a friend.” Ivy is touched by this, and she asks Harley to be her official therapist in the future. This lays the compassionate groundwork for their eventual friendship once they break out of Arkham Asylum and live together. It’s a friendship built off of knowing what the other needs and trying their best to give it to each other.

Similarly, Ivy consistently tries to get Harley to break out of her codependent tendencies conditioned into her by Joker, which leads to a crushing disappointment for Ivy when Harley seemingly goes back to Joker. Due to past family trauma, Ivy has been conditioned to believe that she cannot count on anyone, so seeing Harley go back to somebody who treated her poorly is triggering to Ivy. Ivy’s trauma also influences her to not listen to Harley when she truthfully maintains that she only met with Joker to help her crew. When Ivy confronts Harley with this conundrum, Harley takes a mature route and asks “how do we fix this?” This interaction highlights one of the ways that the writing is of a higher quality than typical relationship shows. Rather than have the two blow things up into a huge fight and throw away internal progression, the writing took into account Harley’s psychiatrist background and gave her the conscientiousness to be present-minded and think in terms of solving problems for the good of the person she cared about. It also highlights how seeing the progression of their shared character growth is one of the high points of the show.

Harley Feels Internal Pressure to Prove Her Love in ‘Harley Quinn’

While Ivy doesn’t have the psychological background Harley does, she displays her knowledge and care of Harley more through action. While Ivy is somebody who generally doesn’t care much for other people’s shenanigans, she’s remarkably tolerant of dealing with the situations Harley creates. When Harley accidentally almost kills Mr. Freeze’s (Alfred Molina) wife Nora (Rachel Dratch), Ivy willingly helps while still calling out how Harley is the one who made the situation worse. When Harley and Ivy are imprisoned in The Pit and need to escape, Ivy begrudgingly carries out their escape plan single-handedly because Harley got in trouble for not making her bed. When Harley wants to go to the Villies Award Show to win Best Couple, Ivy decides to go as her date after Harley begs her to, even though she doesn’t want to be distracted from her current work. Ivy continuously acquiesces and puts up with these types of things because she cares enough about Harley to do so, and she’s acknowledging what matters to Harley and wants to see Harley be motivated to become her own person. Towards the end of season 3, Ivy acknowledges that they’re equals in the relationship and that they shouldn’t have to compromise for each other to make each other happy. This comes about because Harley tells her that she’s concerned that if they don’t want the same things, then she will lose Ivy, and they won’t work as a couple. Harley’s codependency is messing with her perception of how a relationship should work, considering her previous relationship with Joker relied entirely on her doing what he wanted.

All of this comes to a head in the recently released Valentine’s Day special, where the various nuances in Harley’s and Ivy’s relationships converge in a brilliant fashion. Harley insists on giving Ivy the biggest Valentine’s Day ever, which leads to various shenanigans. Harley can’t stand the idea that this won’t be Ivy’s favorite Valentine’s Day, as her trauma history with Joker has taught her she must make each one bigger than the last. Ivy meanwhile only ever wanted to stay in, watch TV, and have sex, but still got convinced once Harley mentioned her favorite restaurant, Mama Macaroni. After they have dealt with all the consequences of Harley’s actions, Ivy lays it out that Harley didn’t truly listen to her because Harley is so caught up in proving how much she loves her instead of just loving her. Props to Ivy for not using this as an excuse to walk out on Harley like she probably would in the past, but instead reasonably breaking down her logic. It’s a wonderful way to end the special because it shows that even though the two have made so much growth both together and apart, they can still be prone to slip ups or regressions in behavior, which is a very natural part of being an evolving human. Perish the thought of these two ever breaking up and no longer growing together.

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