In season one episode three “So you need a Crew? (aka Maxie Zeus)” the focus shifts, to some degree, of off the Joker v.s. Ivy v.s. Society struggle that’s the main conflict/struggle of the series as a whole and on to the subject of feminism.
There are two “B character stories” told in this episode that contribute to the feminism theme. The first is the down fall of Dr. Pyscho, the second is the down fall of the Queen of Fables. These two stories are woven into the main plot of the story, Harley’s quest to find herself a crew. Coming together in absurd, hilarious and relatable tale of the struggles of women in leadership.
Harley’s need for a crew is something that’s been discussed since Ep 1. She’s been trying to get Ivy to officially team up with her, which hasn’t happened. This need becomes clear in the open scenes of the episode when Harley is unable to open a door to access her score due to the lack of a crew, in a rather hilarious, multiple keys need to turn simultaneously to open sketch.
This becomes a topic of discussion We’re introduced to Dr. Psycho on the TV in one such discussion. As Ivy is trying to convince Harley to go it alone, or at least leave her out of it Dr. Psycho fighting Wonder woman comes on then news.
But Dr. Psycho makes a lethal mistake calling Wonder Woman, in many ways the modern embodiment of female power, a c—. An offence so deeply felt as wrong that the world itself stops spinning for a moment. With this Dr. Psycho starts his fall out of power. I have mixed feelings both about the use of the C-word here, and how it’s used. In some feminist circle the C-word is a “take it back” word and used opening. A minority group, defiantly. But worth considering given the strong female leads we have her that are definitely on the extreme side of the feminist spectrum in this iteration. It’s also worth noting that as the show is an R-rated late night show, they didn’t have to bleep it, but do. Which is a deliberate choice by the creators. Which again makes it worth discussion.
The writing team on this one is largely fem folk so I’m sure this would have come up at the writing table. Along these lines it’s also worth noting that, though it’s bleeped out through out the show, women, such as Harley are “allowed” to use it in the episode. Where as when Dr. Psycho uses it the whole world literally grinds to a halt. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bleep out but acknowledgement that women can use the word without it being earth shattering was the teams way of honouring the views on both sides of the c-word being a take back word debate.
That being said, though Dr. Psycho’s reputation is damaged by the use of the word his life is not fully destroyed and he still has rebound potential. He is able to get help from UTI (Underworld talent Inc) despite the world stopping mistake. Getting a plan to re-shape his image and come out on top. This plan falls through, due to Dr Psycho’s inability to not demean a woman for more than 0.2 seconds, but he was able to get the initial help needed to attempt a recovery.
This is help Harley isn’t able to receive from the same agency. When they thought she was the Joker’s girlfriend UTI was happy to assist in her search for a crew, but when she lets it slip that she’s going up against the Joker, not with him and owns the break up they refuse to assist her, until/unless the two ever get back together.
This is Harley’s first direct hit with the glass ceiling. Female super villain out to destroy Gotham, sure, with the help of a leading man, of course. But a female super villain who is out to make a name for herself and take down the male lead, never. Support withdrawn, henchmen unavailable.
Harley then goes in search of her own crew. If she can’t buy a Hench man then surely she can find one. So she goes to a local bar and preaches an equal round table approach to leadership, asking for people to join her crew. She is completely rejected, Hench men jump to their death through hell portals to avoid joining her, others fake family emergencies, and Dr. Psycho, who happens to be at the bar turns her down before being ask
The rejection becomes even more apparent when Kiteman shows up with a pitch that boils down to “Kites will be involved” and clears the bar.
This moment is something ever women has felt at some point in their lives. I know as a woman in leadership I relate to it, there are many moments where an idea I pitch and turns down comes back around months later as a good one when presented by a male colleague. Systemic sexism is real and it’s often not noticed we’re doing it. Just like the crowd at the bar goes for a less than half baked plan presented by a male over the message of world domination and equality brought by Harley.
The critique on the way in which all jobs, even that of Super Villain, have a cap to while females can climb before the odds become inhuman and unfair goes a level deeper as the story of the Queen of Fables is brought into play. This, again, is brought up through Ivy dodging another ask to be a part of Harley’s crew. At Frank’s urging Ivy discloses to Harley that the real reason she won’t join her crew is the fear of the glass ceiling and suggests Harley go talk to the Queen of Fables to learn more.
The story of the Queen of Fables is the story of a female, POC, super villain who, rather than going to Arkham, is trapped in the tax code and stuck in a “dead-end” strip mall tax/accountant job unable to take over the world.
This is the cautionary tale. The story we all know. The take away as they boil it down in the show is “You can be as big as you want as long as you aren’t bigger than they are.” Fly to close to the sun and you get burnt. Or in the Queens case a victim of cruel and unusual punishment a male counter part would never be subjected to.
Despite this Harley is more determined than ever to take on the challenge of beating the Joker at his own game, and arms her with a new plan to build her crew. Rather than finding people who believe in her, Harley goes out looking for people no one else believes in. Starting to build up her little crew of misfits. Though, to date in the series, the crew is entirely male, is an interesting commentary on lifting others up as you lift yourself up while making the climb to the top. It gives us a classic underdog story, which we all love routing for, but it also speaks to the cultural idea of the need for successful women to ask as a sponsor and lift up other minorities with who can, in turn, help to propel them forward.
In the ultimate irony, and also expected story line to explain why Dr. Psycho has been a presence in the show at all, Harley’s first scumbag to call on is him. Harley, who has become, in main ways, a feminist symbol ends up giving the misogynistic and “unemployable” man his first new job after the C-word incident. Which, no one is really surprised by, after all the President of the USA had a similar moment and was elected into office anyways. Sexism doesn’t put a ceiling on sexist guys. hGrley also recruits Clayface and the trio pulls off their first heist. Paying back on Maxie Zeus, robbing him and beating him up as revenge for him trying to take advantage of Harley earlier in the episode.
Maxie Zeus is forced to admit his defeat in the Hands of Harley Quinn, giving, again, some hope that things are improving in the world. One of the most sexist characters in the episode (Zeus) has to admit he was wrong, Harley was able to put a crew together and defeat him despite earlier statements he had made to the contrary.
More importantly, the episode closes on Joker seeing this media cast and crushing his drink glass/breaking his TV, enraged by Harley’s success and potential despite the glass ceiling and the work he’s put into bring her down.
Over all, this episode continues to play with the relationship between Harley, Ivy, the Joker and the Audience, while simultaneously commenting on the feminist climate today. Both how far we have come and how much farther there still is to go. It’s my favourite episode in Seasons 1, by far, and does so much more than mere representation of the issues.
It provides hope for a fairer future and leaves one dreaming of the possibilities.