[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Harley Quinn Season 3, Episode 8. Read at your own risk!]
Harley Quinn ventured where almost every Batman property in history has gone before in the eighth episode of Season 3: the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Even non-comic book fans and superhero-adverse folks are perfectly aware that the billionaire couple were murdered by a masked robber in an alley after taking their young son to see the classic version of The Legend of Zorro in theaters. Witnessing his parents' murder is what inspires Bruce Wayne to take on the Batman moniker and reform Gotham City.
However, in true Harley Quinn fashion, the HBO Max animated series gave a deeper context to the most pivotal moment in Bruce Wayne's life while unabashedly making fun of the fact that every Batman property dredges up the same tragic scene. Harley (Kaley Cuoco) and her friends use Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale) to get inside Bruce's mind in an attempt to find out where he's hiding Frank, Ivy's (Lake Bell) best friend/plant. When they get there, they find out that Bruce has a "reverse repressed memory," in which he represses every other memory except that of his parents' murder. It's a nonstop loop of Joe Chill cornering them in an alley, the Waynes being shot, and Martha's pearls spilling over the ground. Harley and the crew are initially horrified, and then deeply annoyed and disturbed by the ultra-traumatic Groundhog Day scenario (except for Clay Face, who is using the loop to gain insight into Thomas Wayne's mindset to use in his performance in the Thomas Wayne biopic he's starring in back in actual Gotham).
"Bruce Wayne is kind of our big bad this season. He is the chief antagonist, having kidnapped Frank for very selfish reasons," executive producer Patrick Schumacker told TV Guide. "We were like, 'Oh, it'd be fascinating to go inside of Bruce's mind' — and also [take] the opportunity to literally paint that picture by using Batman: The Animated Series backgrounds. Those are actual backgrounds from the original series. We wanted to play off of the trope that every Batman movie or piece of new Batman media seems to still require that we witness Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered to understand that man's ethos. What if you saw that seventy times?"
The loop and Harley's crew's humorous reaction to it weren't just for the sake of laughs, though. The series takes the opportunity to analyze why this is such a pivotal scene in the Batman lore. It's not just because it inspires Bruce to put on a cape. Harley Quinn gives an answer for why Bruce, 30 years after the event, hasn't seemed to make any progress in his grief.
"Something we also wanted to dig into is if we are going to be talking about his trauma over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, let's find out why. Why can you not get past it?" executive producer Justin Halpern added. "That was really the crux of the episode, when you find out he's in the [Joe Chill] mask, there's a part of him in his mind that is like, 'It's your fault your parents died. You need to relive this over and over and over again as your penance for being responsible for your parents' death.' That was one part of Batman lore that had never really been explored. You understand why it's always used as 'Here''s why he's Batman,' but the other part we were interested in is, 'Why does he keep punishing himself with this?'"
What's even more pivotal is that in this telling of the Batman origin story, it's Harley who helps Bruce recognize this truth in himself, and it's Harley who helps him take his first real steps toward healing. The profound exchange between Harley and Bruce's self-consciousness, represented by his 8-year-old self, also has a deep impact on Harley that will shape how she behaves for the rest of the season.
"It's a really important episode in the season," Halpern explained. "When we went into that episode, we didn't really know what the episode was going to be yet, but we knew we needed a point in the season where she begins to realize, 'Maybe I don't want to be a bad guy. Maybe I want to help people.' …What if we could explain why Batman keeps walking over himself with this trauma, but at the same time show Harley why someone would ever do what Batman does? We needed to do those two things."
But what will Harley's new altruistic streak mean for her and Ivy's plans to take over Gotham? That will be answered in the remaining two episodes of Harley Quinn Season 3. The series continues with new episodes dropping Thursdays on HBO Max.