Stargirl – Season 1 Episode 13
“Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. (Part 2)”
Stargirl comes to the end of its inaugural season with a suitably exciting climax. Showdowns are had, lessons are learned, emotions are addressed, and the fate of millions of people is decided.
It’s been a fast first ride for Stargirl, but it has more than made an impact with its distinct assortment of characters and ever-increasing stakes, and this finale does not disappoint. It was always an odd choice to feature Golden Age characters and ideals in the modern day, as the respective idealism and cynicism don’t mesh well, but as the series progressed it became clear this was kind of the point; the remnants of a previous way of life making way for a new one.
Things kick off by revisiting the kind of over-the-top lunacy seen in classic comics by way of the school’s sports field opening up to reveal the vast subterranean cavern, out of which emerges a ludicrously huge satellite array that looks like it came straight out of a James Bond movie, one prior to Jason Bourne making that bastion of British cinema abandon its camp formula and reinvent itself.
The prospect of 25 million people being killed is certainly a large scale problem to deal with, but such a vast number is difficult to internally qualify, so instead of hearing the echoing anguished cries of countless people screaming as they become trapped in their own minds, the human aspect is instead neatly represented by showing a little girl scared about what’s happening to her immobile and unresponsive dad.
One way or another, a major theme of the series has been family, among heroes and villains alike, and the moment of Courtney calling herself Pat’s daughter is a culmination of the development of the pair’s relationship over the course of the season. Although she only said it in an attempt to break through Brainwave’s reprogramming, the sentiment was utterly sincere, even if she only truly realised it in that moment. As she says, he’s someone who’s always been there for her, and her acknowledgment of such reinforces just how much she’s matured over the course of the season. If you compare the girl she is now to the sullen teen from the pilot episode, it’s almost like they’re two different people.
An aspect of the show that had been bothering me since the start was how the new Justice Society could possibly hope to ultimately defeat their enemies. The ISA is a honed team who have been operating together for years, whereas the new JSA is an assortment of kids thrown together by circumstance who have barely learned the concept of teamwork, never mind actually figured out how to put it into practice. Their predecessors were, as Pat put it, “the best in the world” and were still defeated, so what kind of genuine threat can realistically be posed by a bunch of teenagers trying to emulate them with only a few scant months of training? Fortunately, it’s justified to some extent.
The original JSA were caught in an ambush which gave the supervillains the upper hand in the first place, whereas this one was met on equal terms. Also, the villains’ lineup has been largely reduced to ones with purely physical abilities, lacking the psionics of Brainwave, the magic of Wizard and the manipulated physical darkness of the Shade, each of whom were seen to utilise significant battle prowess in the frenetic fight sequent that opened the series, with the paralysing music of Fiddler also being absent. There is also the possibility of the older villains having become gleefully complacent at their imminent victory and so underestimated the possibility of their adversaries having levelled up since they were last encountered. Each fighter faces off with an opposite number they are best matched against, with enough variation in the action to keep things exciting throughout the satisfyingly lengthy sequence.
Solomon Grundy has been a looming but largely unseen presence, partly because he would have little part to play in the story, and also to save on the visual effects budget. It’s a common complaint against comic book movies that the climax consists of a fast-cut punch up between two CGI characters, but if nothing else, the bout between Grundy and S.T.R.I.P.E. was lit far better than such encounters typically are, both combatants clearly identifiable and their movements actually capable of being followed. If such a brawl can be put together on a fraction of the budget of the movies, there’s no excuse for big screen counterparts to not do the same.
It was always inevitable that Rick would end up facing the giant zombie in vengeance for his parents’ death, but it’s satisfying to see him realise that venting his rage on something barely more than an animal is not any different than him doing the same to the tree he used to lay into, and that killing Grundy would bring no justice or sense of satisfaction. That not every problem can be solved by punching it is as close to any kind of lesson he was ever going to learn, and hopefully such new understanding will lead to him being less in thrall to his anger management issues and more of a functional human being.
Cindy killing Dragon King was a genuine surprise, but certainly not out of character and an action that reinforces the girl’s vindictive nature. She clearly still bears a grudge against Courtney, although it was an amusing moment when the latter realised there was no point in engaging her, having no time to waste on her and unlike the psychotic cheerleader having nothing to prove.
Another genuine surprise was Henry’s reappearance, and even though it seemed like he was unequivocally dead at the end of “Brainwave Jr,” such is the revolving door nature of death in the world of comic books it was convincing he might have been saved, even if only for the moment it took for Yolanda to see through the disguise. It’s one thing to maintain a sanctimonious stance, religious or otherwise, that places your sense of morality higher than that of others, but quite another in the moment to make the conscious choice to kill someone so irredeemably evil that the world can only be a better place without him. Still, regardless of what action movies of the ’80s and ’90s would have us believe, ending a life is no easy task, and the decision to rip open Brainwave’s throat is one she will not get over in a hurry.
Beth is someone who has either never learned much in the way of fighting, or made the decision to not get involved as her inherited abilities extend towards the mental rather than physical, but even she gets a sort-of face off with Gambler though hacking, deftly out-manoeuvring him by the targeting of his money that plays him and not just his abilities. The only casualty on the hero side was Chuck, who despite being an A.I. had more personality than some of the human characters, and his loss will affect Beth deeply.
Icicle’s growing obsession with Barbara is a part of the series that has never been properly developed, but his last ditch attempt to make her see his way of thinking followed by a swift rejection of her is symptomatic of his growing desperation as his decade of plotting crashes down around him at the last moment. It also serves as an excuse to get everyone into place for the climactic moments.
A rooftop showdown is another convention of action stories from yesteryear and here plays out in a suitably dramatic fashion, seeing Courtney, Pat and Barbara fully come together as a family in superheroics. After Icicle survives the inevitable plummet and is subsequently shattered by Mike crashing into him, the tonal dissonance of the moment meant to break the tension of the life or death struggle means we are presumably to simply disregard that the boy essentially just killed someone. From there, things swiftly go back to something resembling normal, but it’ll not be long before some new danger arises.
As for the stingers, Eclipso, from the dark gem Cindy unearths, is a nigh-omnipotent demonic force whose duties as the Wrath of God were taken over eons previously by the Spectre due to the former’s entity’s nature of directionless violence. He was imprisoned within a black diamond which was then shattered into a thousand pieces and scattered across the world to prevent his reforming, which of course eventually failed. In the comics he has no connection to Shiv, but at one point was responsible for the deaths of, amongst many others, Yolanda and Beth. It’s unlikely that the series will kill off two of its central characters so early in the run, so instead the likely tease is a variation on a comics arc where the agent of chaos takes over Yolanda’s cousin Alex, seen briefly in “Wildcat” as the only one of her family who still supports her following her public shaming.
The reappearance of Starman could mean anything, the two likeliest possibilities being that he was alive the whole time, raising the question of what he’s been doing for the last decade, or if he has been resurrected, in which case how and why? There is also a brief reminder that the Shade is still out there, although his being played by an anonymous stand in rather than actually being cast suggests there are no solid plans for how he’s going to be used, but him stating that he was never on board with Icicle’s plan right from the start might indicate he has moved on from villainy and into antiheroism.
Going forward, we can likely expect a new generation of villains to rise as the heroes did, forming some version of Injustice Unlimited, a villainous reflection of Infinity, Inc, a group of young heroes conceptually similar to this new JSA. Some immediate potentials are Artemis, who now that her parents Sportsmaster and Tigress are presumably incarcerated will lose what little restraint she has and take out her anger on whatever well-meaning foster families are luckless enough to take her in. Isaac, given tacit permission by his mother Fiddler to embrace his violent side, may well take on the mantle both his parents held. Cameron, the son of Icicle who was introduced as a potential love interest for Courtney and promptly forgotten about may move from the benevolent boy first seen to someone angrier and less empathetic, possibly influenced by his grandparents, who seemed completely on board with their son’s mission of mind control and murder and likely won’t take his death very well. The most obvious is Cindy, who in knowing Courtney’s identity and likely that of the others, will know just who to come after. Crucially, each of them has in one way or another lost both their parents, and will likely blame the JSA once Cindy recruits them by informing them who to blame, while her need to dominate others will likely lead to her assuming leadership.
Regardless of what happens in subsequent seasons, for now Stargirl has more than made its mark, proving itself easily the equal of the existing crop of Arrowverse shows and setting itself up to become something even better in the future.
“Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. (Part 2)” is everything viewers could have hoped it to be. It ties everything together and delivers on narrative promises both explicit and tacit, while not skimping on the emotional beats that have elevated the ongoing story above the throwaway engagement it might otherwise have been. As an episode it’s well-paced and engaging, and as a season finale it efficiently ends its current arc on a definite note while planting seeds for new ones.
Overall, this first season of Stargirl was a little hit and miss at times, but was far more of the former and well worth watching through its down points to where its picks up again. It excelled at the unenviable task of introducing multiple characters who most viewers will have never heard of, developing them in such a way that they swiftly become as familiar as anyone from the Arrowverse, and slowly opening the breadth of the multiverse back up with a branch that’s currently an offshoot from the main shows, but equally as compelling.
- Courtney verbally acknowledging Pat as her father
- the variation of the fighting in the final battle
- the final battle setup justifying the differing skill levels of heroes and villains
- Rick finally overcoming his rage issues
- the surprising moments featuring Cindy and Henry
- the seeds of new plotlines being planted
- the lack of reaction to Mike killing Icicle
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