The following contains spoilers from the Sept. 1 episode of HBO Max’s Harley Quinn.
It was a very dark night for Harley Quinn this week, as the adult animated series served up “Batman Begins Forever,” an episode chockablock with nods to previous incarnations of the Caped Crusader.
In Season 3’s eighth episode of 10, Harley (voiced by Kaley Cuoco), Ivy (Lake Bell) and Clayface (Alan Tudyk), with an assist from Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), journeyed inside a stubborn Bruce Wayne’s mind, to find out what the billionaire playboy has done with MIA Frank the Plant (JB Smoove).
There, they quickly realized that Bruce Wayne has repressed all memories except that of his parents’ tragic murder — which they saw play out again and again… and again and again… and many more agains. (Poor Clayface, never getting to consult Thomas on his biopic role!)
Eventually, Harley found herself alone inside Bruce’s mind, where she A) realized that he is Batman!, and then B) did her best to play therapist to the distraught eight-year-old.
Justin Halpern, who serves as Harley Quinn co-showrunner with Patrick Schumacker, his partner at Delicious Non-Sequitur Productions, explained to TVLine, “We needed a turning point for Harley, where she sort of understands why Batman would ever want to be Batman, because she’s kind of on her journey to becoming someone who is questioning whether or not she’s a villain or a hero. And as we got to talking about it, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this could be such a good episode if we went in his brain.’
“And also, I think [the idea for the episode] started because we wanted to murder Batman’s parents, like, a million times,” Halpern said with a heart laugh. “So those two things kind of came together.”
Along the way, Harley and Young Bruce peeked inside literal windows to moments from Batman’s existence, affording the always-cheeky cartoon the chance to sample other Batty fare such as Batman Returns (his cavern clash with the Penguin and robotic birds), Batman Begins (“As a symbol, I can be incorruptible”), the supercampy Batman ’66 and, yes, copious amounts of Batman: The Animated Series — including actual artwork and the 1990s series’ version of Harley Quinn herself.
“The Batman: The Animated Series [aka ‘BTAS’] of it all, that was a later decision,” co-showrunner Patrick Schumacker shared. “Like, we wanted Bruce’s interior mind to look a little different. I can’t remember who pitched it initially, but once we landed on BTAS, it was like, ‘Yeah…. Yeah.'”
Schumacker noted that the Harley Quinn team has over the years thought about “almost recreating famous episodes of BTAS, but told in our universe. Like, the ‘Almost Got Him’ episode where all the villains share stories about how they very nearly killed Batman. And who’s to say, if the show keeps going on, that we can’t do that.”
In the meantime, “Batman Begins Forever” offered the perfect amount of spoof.
“Visually, it had actual original artwork from BTAS,” Schumacker acknowledged, “and sonically, Jefferson Friedman, our composer, took his modern themes and married them with Danny Elfman’s theme that he did for BTAS, and the [Tim] Burton movies…. It was kind of a serendipitous marriage of different forms of Batman.”
“Batman Begins Forever” thus scattered a bevy of Easter eggs for fans to find — though the EPs suspect the show’s savvy fans have collected each and every one.
“I think most [of our references] were fairly overt,” Schumacker admitted. “But it’s funny, the episode has been out for like 24 hours, and people have already put it under a microscope! Yeah, I don’t think anybody’s missed anything, really.”
The already-renewed Harley Quinn streams new episodes every Thursday, with the season finale set for Sept. 15.