Stargirl – Season 1 Episode 2
Stargirl concludes its two-part opening, seeing our nascent heroine Courtney begin to find her place in her new town, face her first challenge, and decides for herself what it means to be a hero.
The pilot episode of Stargirl cut things off mid-scene, right as Pat appeared to Courtney in his S.T.R.I.P.E. armour, and this one picks it up in the next moment, each of them trying to process what the other is doing. The post-encounter debrief begins with a welcome touch of realism as Courtney is visibly shaken up by Brainwave trying to kill her, but also determined to face the threat that she has inadvertently unleashed.
Courtney is still hung up on the notion that Starman was her father, possibly more to do with his death explaining his absence in her life rather than it providing an easy justification for how she has somehow inherited his ability to wield the staff. The latter issue is nevertheless brought up, with Courtney’s explanation of “It knows the bad guys are here” being overtly simplistic, but for all the information we currently have about the situation it might as well be the case, and it would also explain why the staff evidently remained dormant despite how long Courtney and Barbara have lived with Pat, meaning she presumably came into close enough proximity with it in the past.
Courtney’s thoughts remind us of how young she is, her need to know that her lack of a father figure wasn’t something she did as a child to drive him away and that he would have been around for her life were he able to. Parental issues are a stock motivation for so many countless heroes it’s practically a cliché, but here it’s intended not as a reason for her to don the mask and costume, but rather something that defines her as a person, as a young girl who needs to be reassured she is worthy of parental love.
The notion of Golden Age heroes existing in our cynical times is an interesting contrast, and utilises Courtney’s dismissive disbelief at their dated naming conventions to acknowledge that for all the seismic and lingering influence that such comics had on the creation and development of the superhero genre, they were also cheesy as hell, and it’s certainly an uphill struggle to convince people that they were taken as seriously as the rest of the Arrowverse with their modernised takes on well-established material that secures them in their settings. Pat handwaves it with a declaration of “It was a different time then,” sidestepping that on this Earth that time was 2010, and until then such cornball monikers were apparently accepted without ridicule.
On the villain side of things, Brainwave of course survives the explosion from the last episode’s climax, and emerges determined to discover the identity of this upstart nuisance who had the temerity to prevent his son from acting like the loathsome thug that he is. His psychologically abusive relationship with Henry Jr might explain why the teenager takes such delight in tormenting other people, making him feel powerful to counter the helplessness that overwhelms him when on the wrong end of his father’s intensity. Brainwave tacitly mocks him for being beaten up by a girl and subjects the boy to various tests that seem intended to ascertain if his abilities have been passed on, and the fact that he is either blind to or uncaring of the emotional damage he is inflicting reminds you that people don’t always need superpowers to be villains.
We also get the introduction of another Injustice Society villain, Wizard (Joe Knezevich), now local councilman William Zarick, who in a wall safe keeps the Wand of Glastonbury, the source of much of his greater power that goes beyond the hypnosis and illusion with which he previously made do. In a not particularly friendly meeting he and Brainwave make vague allusions to a “grand plan” that Icicle has, involving something named Project New America, along with some apparent discord over which of them holds the true control. The Project may or may not account for the retro stylings of the town’s aesthetic, but for the moment it will remain something faintly sinister to keep at the backs of our minds and be brought up every now and then to remind us of our ignorance of its details.
Just as an aside to anyone screaming at my ignorance, yes, I know who the other villains are from my being seeped in comics lore, but until they’re explicitly revealed as such I won’t be referring to them lest I accidentally spoil something for someone who had a more productive childhood than me.
It was an unusual choice to have Brainwave ascertain Courtney’s identity so early in the series, as scenarios like this often play out by having the heroes instead attempting to prove the identified villain’s malfeasance while the criminal hunts for whoever it is scuppering their plans. Here that results in Brainwave wheeling out that most tedious of villain tactics, threatening the family. Although it does create a welcome sense of immediate danger, it unfortunately also means that the story can’t end in anything other than Brainwave’s utter defeat. There be no bargaining or reasoning with him, and he made it clear that he intended to kill Courtney and her entire family regardless of her choices, so a result that that didn’t see him, if not killed, then somehow completely removed from play, wouldn’t have been viable. Yes, a hero defeating a villain is a pretty standard outcome, but its predictability should be on account of storytelling convention rather than the narrative structure a scenario puts in place declaring such a result to be an inevitability. If nothing else, it does create a tense final battle, as Brainwave is someone with a pretty high-level power set of telepathy and psychokinesis who has had years to hone the use of his abilities in combat, while Courtney has only begun to scratch the surface of what she’s capable of and Pat is piloting a makeshift mecha that barely functions.
It’s a particularly poignant moment when Pat tells Courtney to run from the town with Barbara and Mike while he faces Brainwave in the unreliable power armour, knowing his probability of survival is slim, but that his sacrifice will give his family a chance to escape from the danger his moving them to Blue Valley inadvertently put them in. Pat might not be the father Courtney wanted, but he’s the one she’s got, and he’s determined to provide all the protection such a role entails. It’s inevitable she wouldn’t listen to his plea, but it makes her continued involvement in the issue entirely her own choice.
To be honest, Brainwave had the upper hand for much of the fight, and it was only the complacency of his own sadistic arrogance that afforded Courtney the opportunity to zap him with the staff and unleash some kind of energy that left him comatose. Doing so neutralises him as a threat (and also means Courtney doesn’t have to deal with the guilt of killing someone, even if they were as evil as him), but also leaves him as a lingering danger to potentially return, which he of course inevitably will.
Outwith the hero and villain aspects of the episode, Barbara faces her own battle with her new job being hampered by her obnoxious boss Steven Sharpe (Eric Goins), who looks and talks like he belongs in a KFC advert, and Pat’s attempting to work out being met by overenthusiastic gym owner Larry Crock (Neil Hopkins) practically stalking him to ensure he maintains a healthy diet. Also, a brief moment sees Wizard’s wife Denise (Cynthia Evans) responding to Pat’s declaration of Blue Valley being a nice place with a pointedly ambiguous comment of “People think so.” It’s a moment that has no real significance and goes unremarked upon, but the very fact she was afforded it suggests she is aware that something is off about the town and possibly her husband’s work, and it can only be assumed she will have a greater part to play as the series progresses.
We also get a mention of the original Starman, Ted Knight, as the creator of the Cosmic Staff, which also tacitly acknowledges that Sylvester Pemberton was the name of the Star-Spangled Kid (who in the comics took on the adult moniker of Skyman), and it’s only in this series that the name has ever been associated with Starman. What happened to Ted was not mentioned, meaning there is the possibility of him still being alive and reappearing to offer some crimefighting wisdom and tutoring in making the staff behave itself.
A coda sees the appearance of Icicle come to deal with the threat to whatever it is he’s planning and presumably reform the Injustice League, which also reveals Barbara’s boss as another of the masked villains, Gambler, brought in alongside the CGI monstrosity of immortal zombie Solomon Grundy locked in a cell. While it’s not apparent exactly what the League is intending to do, that they are each influential figures in the town will not be a coincidence, and their decade of plotting will soon reveal itself.
Less a separate episode and more a second half to a pilot, “S.T.R.I.P.E.” resolves the plot threads that the first episode left dangling and reveals a hidden sinister scheme threatening the seemingly idyllic town. Some of the story points exist in an odd dichotomy, cancelling each other out with both positive and negative aspects, but overall the pair of episodes have come together to create an enthralling opening that takes Courtney one step towards realising her destiny.
- Courtney already thinking like a hero
- not using Courtney’s daddy issues as motivation
- the surprisingly swift advancement of Courtney and Brainwave’s hero/villain dynamic
- Brainwave being unambiguously evil in multiple ways
- Pat’s willingness to sacrifice himself for his family
- Courtney and Pat developing a partnership
- Courtney possible being too confident for her own good
- the inevitability of Brainwave’s defeat
- Brainwave’s tired threatening tactics
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