In spite of everything I love
Harley Quinn but, damn, writers treat her so badly. I swear, the temptation to
make her actually stupid must be terrible because it’s so often implied, or
explicitly stated, that she slept her way through school. First of all, it
does not work like that. Second, she’s
not a therapist or a psychologist, she’s a psychiatrist, she’s a fricking MD
and a damn young one too. Managing pre-med and collegiate gymnastics that she
relied on to keep her scholarship? Harley is fucked up, but she’s not the dumb
blonde she plays. (also stop making her stacked, she’s a gymnast. she is 4’11”
of pure muscle and is not top heavy)
If you want a good Harley
backstory it’s simple. She’s ADHD but medicated and slightly robotic because of
it. I want to take special care not to demonize meds but, rather, people’s
disapproval of neurodivergence and a lack of focus on what is best for a
patient rather than what is most convenient for others. So, maybe, around ten
years old Harley is a hyperactive space cadet who’s brilliant at tests but
sloppy at coursework, who would be a gymnastics prodigy if she could actually
focus on technique and put in practice time instead of fooling around. Then the
meds come and it’s actually really cool because she can do the things she needs
to do instead of just wanting to do them, doing something else entirely, and
getting in trouble. People are proud of her, she’s proud of herself. But now
there are expectations. Family and teachers and coaches overschedule her, find
worth only in her success and don’t care about her mental health at all as long
as she’s performing and castigate her when she does fail. Fuck if you don’t
internalize that. But she doesn’t look unhealthy and she’s doing amazing. She
actually has to choose between the Olympic trials and continuing her grad
studies. She probably has some issues with self-harm but it either doesn’t look
like self-harm or is well covered up.
When Arkham accepts her, fresh
from her residency, it’s not a mistake. The woman is amazing. All they can see
is a mountain of achievements rather than the seething ball of nerves,
self-loathing, and imposter syndrome boiling just under the surface. That’s
when Joker comes in. He’s got the Hannibal Lecter shtick down. Where everyone
else sees an intelligent driven young woman he sees a frightened overwhelmed
girl who is working her hardest to convince the world she’s anyone other than
herself. Sending her into a nervous breakdown would be too easy so he doesn’t even
bother. Instead he’s open with her, almost friendly. The other doctors are
amazed, Harley is amazed, she’s not done anything particularly revolutionary
but, for the first time in forever, it looks like the clown prince of crime is
showing progress. He unravels her and it’s a challenge, she flinches back and
gets very serious when he comes too close to the real Harley under the
professional. Still, soon she’s questioning everything. She doesn’t even really
like her co-workers. She hasn’t had a real friend in years. She’s forgotten how
to have fun. Did she ever want this to be her life or did she just do it for
other people? It starts so slowly that it looks, at first, like she’s getting
better at self-care. Maybe something totally silly one weekend, a trampoline
park where she can enjoy the way her toned body moves without stressing out
over landings, a face painting booth at a street fair, some garishly colored
downright tacky decoration that clashes with her sensible apartment. Suddenly
she realizes how much she hates knowing the difference between cream and ecru.
The beigeness of her life is repulsive. She hates the person she’s pretending
to be even more that she hates herself which is really saying something.
After her weekend of freedom she
would have called in sick if it wasn’t so suddenly important to see him. The
relief she feels at talking to one of Gotham’s most infamous supercriminals is
disturbing but it is relief and she’s been swallowing a slow-motion panic
attack for hours. She admits, though she shouldn’t, that she took his advice
about doing something fun and he teases her, what would straight-laced Doctor
Quinzel do for fun? Did she realphabetize her sock drawer or buy a new
clipboard? It’s not important to impress him, it’s really not. He’s dangerous,
cruel, and he looks so proud when she admits that she bought a lamp shaped like
a lawn flamingo. The only mistake, he says, is that she should have stolen it.
She hopes the wicked thrill it gives her doesn’t show on her face. It does. She
almost even laughs. He likes it when he can make her laugh and she likes it
when he likes things.
It’s wrong and unprofessional,
the relationship she develops, and she knows it but her whole life she’s been
so high strung. Nothing she’s done has been for her, she’s not sure she knows
how to really do selfish things anymore, but he knows the selfish things she
needs to do. It feels good when she follows his advice even when it’s small
things like the rainbow striped socks she wears concealed under her very bland
slacks and sensible shoes. She’s so happy, almost giddy, and he loves her
happiness, he loves her, he loves the real her that she’s had to beat down and
hide for so long, the her that even she isn’t able to love. She is able to love
him, though, and since he loves her she’s able to love herself for him, to
protect and nurture something so important to him.
When the choice comes between
her old self, the tedious endless labor of making the world proud, and Him, the
spectacular man that brought color into her life, it’s not even a question.
She kills Doctor Harleen Quinzel, she throws away the version of her that let
herself burn just for medals and hollow accolades. She embraces Harley Quinn
and it’s so much a part of her nature she can’t even see that she’s still
living her life for someone else’s approval, except this time that person is a murderous
clown. She hasn’t let her hair down, she’s just put it in pigtails instead of a
Some people have done so much damage that they need to be kept from society because there is no reliable evidence that they will ever reform and there is no way to make restitution for past actions
But whether or not they have the capability of change?
Sorry dude, tough break. That’s part of what defines us as human.
We all have that ability to change, for the better and for the worst.
The decision to change for the better is an entirely personal thing, and is within the capability of every person so long as they breathe. No matter how much you were hurt, you do not get to decide for another person whether or not they are capable of or allowed to change for the better.
That being said, no matter how much somebody changes for the better, they cannot demand:
Freedom from consequences, both legal and social
If an abuser is demanding forgiveness from their victim, then it is a sign that there was no desire to change in the first place.
That said, a true apology is not a demand for forgiveness, but an open acknowledgement of wrongs done and a window for the victim to seek restitution and closure if it is desired.
tl;dr: it’s true that some people won’t change, it’s wisdom to learn to differentiate when somebody is sincerely apologizing, and there is no shame in divorcing yourself from people who have harmed you regardless of how much they may change for the better.
You owe them nothing, and they still must atone for past actions in whatever ways are possible.
It is not true, however, that people can’t change.