[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Harley Quinn” Season 3, including the ending.]
“Harley Quinn” doesn’t save the battles for the very end.
By the time the Season 3 finale of the animated series arrives, the show has already had its usual massive “Gotham under siege” moment, this time with Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and some unlikely rivals taking on a hoard of zombified plant people unwittingly created by Batman (Diedrich Bader) and harnessed by Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The season’s ninth episode wraps up its own large-scale conflict in a way that leaves plenty more to resolve on a personal level.
Not only is that in line with the structural rhythms of past seasons (Doctor Psycho’s attack last season and Scarecrow’s the season before that each happened in penultimate episodes), it’s by design for a show with more than citywide destruction on its mind.
“We want to be able to wrap up the plottiness of the season, and then allow the last episode to be a meditation on what we’ve processed in that season and what questions we want to pose going forward,” showrunner Justin Halpern said.
This HBO Max comedy is making its own distinct tweaks to the comic book adaptation formula. One of the biggest so far is where Harley ends up at the end of that whirlwind Season 3. After reconciling the fact that she and Ivy have different goals for the city, the two are able to save their relationship by heading down different paths. In a tiny preview of what’s ahead in Season 4, Harley’s final moments are spent at the side of Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl as they take some literal and figurative leaps at the same time.
Those next episodes will come with a change for the show, too, as series writer Sarah Peters takes over showrunner duties from Halpern and Patrick Schumacker, who have guided the show over its first three seasons. All three spoke with IndieWire about some of their favorite Season 3 moments and where the show is set to take things from here.
IndieWire: There have been traces of it before Season 3, but these last few episodes emphasize the point that Harley is actually a good therapist. How important was that to really be front and center here and Sarah, is that something that’s on top of mind for you going into Season 4?
Patrick Schumacker: Speaking to Season 3, and specifically the “Batman Begins Forever” episode, it was really important for our writer on that episode Jamiesen Borak, who has spoken openly about the EMDR therapy that he’s done. It was really important for that moment of Harley, getting a greater understanding of young Bruce and getting a really intimate picture of his broken psyche, for her to use those techniques. That really spoke to me. I go to therapy, many of the writers on the show do, and I think everybody should do it. If this show can, in any way, normalize that for those who might be timid about doing it for themselves? Great.
I’ve said before that, 95% of the time Harley is this kind of impetuous representation of everyone’s inner id and we love to gravitate toward that bombastic side of her. But yeah, every once in a while, we have to remind the audience of the multifaceted character that she is. Any time that we can organically bring in her psychology background, we try and do it. This one felt like it had a really huge impact on her character arc moving forward.
Sarah Peters: Season 4, generally, we’re gonna see Harley and Ivy. We’re going to build out their individual worlds a little bit more, and I think, like, show opportunities to see different sides of Harley. I always love when we play Harley as smart even though she’s very chaotic. I love seeing those different sides of her and Ivy too, with her science background. It’s always fun to play with characters being good at stuff because for us, Gordon is a dummy. We had Kiteman for so long filling up that space. It’s exciting for me to have the challenge of showing our two female leads being smart, but also funny.
In the finale, Lex Luthor can’t bring himself to say the word “Jazzapajizza.” Was that a carryover from the writers room? Did some people just draw the line and say, “I just can’t. That’s too far.”
Justin Halpern: We had so many different names for that. Originally we want to call it JazzFest, but there’s, obviously I guess, a real Jazz Fest somewhere.
SP: The funniest jokes usually come from a legal note.
PS: Usually we’re cursing legal. But then by the end of it, we’re praising them.
JH: Also I think in that moment, none of us could imagine Giancarlo Esposito saying that word. So part of it was that maybe he shouldn’t say it if we can’t imagine him.
When we follow King Shark into his kingdom, they’re in a church and there’s a shark crucifix. When you include something like that, do you think about what a shark religion is? Or is that just a rabbit hole you can’t let yourself go down?
PS: In the first season, King Shark says, “Everyone knows that Jesus was a shark.” So I think I’m gonna go with Christianity. I was raised Catholic, so I didn’t have to imagine much of that.
JH: Some of the executives got a little nervous. We got three or four different emails of them being like, “Are you sure we should depict Shark Jesus? Are you sure you guys want to do that?” We were like, “Yes, we want to see Shark Jesus.” They’re like, “Well, he would be nailed to a cross.” We’re like, “Yes, that’s Shark Jesus. We want to see it.”
PS: He died for our shark sins.
Joker turns out to have some oddly progressive policy ideas as a mayor. How did you talk about having him be the vector for that?
JH: If you go back and watch any Joker-related content, a lot of his gripes, if you take them out of his mouth and put it in the mouth of another person, might be valid. We were playing with the idea that it’s always “Batman is the hero and Joker is the villain.” In our world, we looked at Batman more as a billionaire and the Joker more as someone who, now that he has a family, is seeing the systemic problems that are plaguing his middle-class family. We used those as launching points.
And that makes a good complement to where Harley is the end of the season. Was there a moment either in the finale, or the episodes leading up that you saw as key to making that final choice seem in line with everything that came before it?
PS: When Harley’s inside of Bruce’s mind, I think that does a lot of the heavy lifting. That was what we were aiming for. Once she has the most intimate knowledge possible of Batman’s reason for being, that she sees him as a child and sees the the trauma of having been the victim to a horrible crime, that is a huge turning point for Harley. There’s also her friendship with Batgirl as well, which evolves over the season.
For you, Sarah, was there anything that came up over the course of Season 3 that you really wanted to find a way to add to what you’re including going forward?
SP: The way Season 3 ends, there’s a pretty clear path. We kind of know what’s gonna happen in Season 4. For me, what I’ve always really locked into with the show is that we have all the zaniness, and violence and Batman characters. But at the core, like we’re really trying to tell the truth about relationships and not just Harley and Ivy’s relationship. A lot of comedy comes from that irony of people having grounded attitudes in high-stakes situations or vice versa. For the next season, as we see Harley and Ivy dealing more with this good/evil binary as kind of a backdrop, we can explore what that means for their relationship without having their relationship story being at the forefront. We’ve done so much work on that in Season 3, so it felt really set up to expand things out.
Is there one joke from this season that you’re especially proud that it made the final version?
PS: In Episode 308, there’s a debate going on amongst Ivy and Harley, Doctor Psycho and Clayface about what the difference is between Joe Chill, Joe Cool, and Joe Camel. It’s the dumbest conversation possible that they could be having, which is then interrupted by the gunshots that take the lives of Thomas and Martha Wayne. That was, for me, sort of the pinnacle of comedy in this season. It’s so dumb, but I love it.
JH: In the “Joker running for mayor” episode, when Gordon finds out that Two-Face has double crossed, Two-Face says that they’re in too deep and he starts accidentally quoting a Sum 41 song and then he says he was listening to it in the car on the way over. I usually don’t love reference jokes for just being reference jokes, but when Conner [Shin] wrote that in, we started talking about Two-Face probably being about 41, 42 years old. And so he probably did grow up listening to Sum 41 before he became a district attorney. It’s one of the dumbest jokes in our entire season and I just love it.
SP: This isn’t Season 3-specific but it’s got to be the Cobb Squad. Seeing this dumb joke that now we’ve called back many times that’s just based on Poison Ivy’s being so insecure around Catwoman that she would eat a meat salad. She has this tattoo on her body now. That’s DC canon.
JH: And people have gotten real Cobb Squad tattoos!
PS: I’ve considered it.
SP: It’s just super funny to me that we can do something that’s totally random but also character-driven and that it can spiral and have this life of its own. I really wanted the spin-off to be a Cobb Squad show, but maybe I’ll get to write that movie someday.
PS: David Ayer’s “Cobb Squad” and James Gunn’s “The Cobb Squad.”
SP: Let’s just say the Cobb Squad movie is happening.
“Harley Quinn” Season 3 is now available to stream on HBO Max.