Stargirl – Season 1 Episode 12
“Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. (Part 1)”
Stargirl approaches the end of its first season, mirroring its two part opening with a two part finale crammed with even greater intensity than the opening action.
It seems like Stargirl has barely got going before it’s already gearing up for the climax. Part of that is down to the truncated length of the season; 13 episodes provide a story with far less room to manoeuvre than the standard 22. However, it’s also down to much of the focus having been on giving spotlight introductions to its wide ensemble, and so doubly feels like there has been less story than you might have anticipated going in. Either way, here we are at the point when the Injustice Society is ready to put its dastardly plan into action, and our heroes still have little clue about how they plan to stop it.
Starting the episode off with a pointed shot of a countdown in a scary red descending timer gives things a greater sense of urgency, and from there things don’t let off with the inevitable assault on Courtney’s family by Sportsmaster and Tigress immediately commencing events at a fast pace, emphasising that nobody is messing around.
Although there was no way that the pair would come out on top since this would have resulted in the deaths of characters the narrative isn’t positioned to lose yet, the setup and ambush makes any way out difficult to see, and it’s really luck more than anything that the whole family made it out alive.
With Pat facing Sportsmaster, I was expecting a remote controlled S.T.R.I.P.E. to activate and fracture his skull with a single blow, but it also worked having Mike wield Chekhov’s Drill to stab the psychopath in the back. It was only unfortunate that to establish him having the tool it required he spend some more time being his usual obnoxious self, demanding to not be treated like a little kid right after petulantly acting like one. Tigress targeting Courtney and Barbara lets the latter see what her daughter has become capable of, and while she might not have wished for Courtney to become embroiled in the world of vigilante justice, she can’t help but be impressed.
Both bouts suggest that there might be something more than human about the married maniacs, as they both display a level of strength and agility that goes just beyond artistic excess and into apparent metahuman powers, and if they survive the inevitable villain culling to be featured in the next episode it might be something explored in the future.
The family escape with Courtney’s friends to hide out in a holiday home, although their position is more than a little apparent seeing as the temporary residence now has a fifteen-foot mecha parked outside it, but we are presumably not to think about that.
The conversation between Pat and Barbara again displays the maturity of their relationship as the latter questions why he never told her any of his past with the JSA, and his response is different from the typical reply or wanting a loved one to remain safe by keeping them in the dark, instead stating that if he brought her into his world he would genuinely fear for her life, reminding us that virtually everyone he has been associated with has ended up dead. This includes a somewhat leftfield invoking of a dead FBI contact, which may be a reference to one of the incarnations of Mister America, a government agent who was inspired to take up the masked vigilante life after the murderer of a teenage girl evaded justice, and was ultimately killed by Vandal Savage.
One the subject of random declarations, stating that Brainwave grew stronger by absorbing Henry’s powers after killing him seemed a little redundant, as the machine is intended to amplify his abilities anyway, and his radius of influence being increased isn’t necessary as far as the stakes go, since even though fewer millions of people would be sacrificed for the greater good in the originally planned catchment area, the sum total would still be more than enough to constitute a tragedy needing averted. The only possibility I can think of is an intention for the younger psychic to crop up as a mental imprint within his father’s mind, and will form a part of how he is stopped. The huge machine itself and the vast chamber in which it’s housed are both a little too reminiscent of Cerebro from the X-Men movies, and the clearly complex design and construction was presumably a major factor in why the ISA’s plan took a decade to implement.
It’s revealed that the villains’ malevolent plotting involves forcing people to embrace despicable ideals like renewable energy and universal healthcare, and while a certain subset of the populace will declare this as further proof of the principals of The Libs being pure evil, its intent is to create some doubt over who is on the right side. Were it not for this brave new world requiring the deaths of 25 million people to birth, it might not seem like such a bad idea.
It’s possible that the manifesto’s point about energy may have been the first, stemming from Icicle’s wife Christine dying from chemical poisoning and leading to him hunting down all the people in charge of selling such toxins to the world, and then the scope of the vision grew until it became impossible to pull off without taking over everyone’s thoughts and free will, with mass murder thrown in as the eggs being broken to make this omelette.
It makes you wonder if the villains have considered that after creating a new nation free from strife, there is no place for people like them in it. Brainwave, Sportsmaster and Tigress are all sadistic murderers, Dragon King is a century-plus old war criminal thought dead, and Gambler is an obnoxious jackass with all the social graces of a syphilitic boar, as well as being as much of an unrepentant killer as Icicle is. The point is that the presence of violent criminals roaming unchecked would taint the perfection of their own vision of a safe haven, but this is unlikely to have occurred to any of them, as one thing you can pretty much guarantee villains to be is hypocrites.
In particular, having a pair of violent and impulsive killers running around this shiny new socialist utopia murdering whomever they please with utter impunity, is something not especially desirable that Icicle might realise after discovering they killed Fiddler instead of using her abilities to help them take out their opponents. Perhaps needling a pair of sadists wasn’t the smartest move, especially when it’s been shown how willing they are to kill people at the slightest provocation, but the moment was to highlight that even villains maintain standards of behaviour applied to one another, and also to leave her violin ready to be found or passed on to Isaac, whereupon he will take up the mantle, seeing as his name matches the supervillain from the comics.
To stop all this death coming to pass the Justice Society manage to ascertain a target to aim for after Rick manages to decipher his father’s journal, the gibberish forming a detailed 3D map of the ISA’s subterranean network because reasons, and in deciding how to infiltrate the lair they utilise something resembling a tactical assault where actually everyone does what they’re supposed to without getting sidetracked or ignoring instructions. It’s something that really shouldn’t have taken this long to come about, but is a welcome sight now it’s finally here.
Typically when countdowns are used they are stopped either at 0:01 or when the readout reaches some thematically relevant number, although here it’s delightfully subverted. While it’s debatable how much use a descending timer is if a key component of the process begins before it runs out, it doing so does provide a nice shock that the Justice Society had far less time to act than they thought they did, with the mass mind control coming into play right before they thought they still had time to stop it.
Thirty minutes is a very precise time frame for something so unprecedented and gargantuan in scope to play out, but it does provide an opportunity for the climactic set pieces of the final episode to play out in real time, then leave enough of it left over to wrap things up after the crisis has been largely averted with only a fraction of the death.
There is clearly going to be some way to block the transmission, as the ISA themselves have presumably been rendered immune to it. Although, exactly how the heroes can figure this out with zero time and their adult allies suddenly either immobile or hostile is anyone’s guess, and the only thing we can be sure of is that the final episode will be even more intense than any of them.
“Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. (Part 1)” might only be the finale’s first half, but it’s set things off to a climactic point from which there’s no going back. Heroes and villains alike are seeing each other for what they’re truly capable of, and while the latter might perceive themselves as ultimately benevolent, their actions scream otherwise. Things are left at a crucial turning point, promising a final episode of even greater stakes.
- the fast pacing
- the subverted countdown
- the JSA finally operating tactically as a team
- Pat and Barbara talking to each other like adults
- Mike still being annoying
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