Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 11

Oct 23, 2021 | Posted by in TV

“Summer School: Chapter Eleven”

Stargirl delivers another emotional episode that pushes many characters to the brink, forcing them to face who they truly are and reveal the extent to which they’ll go to maintain the illusion of what they’re capable of.

Sometimes heroes need to be pushed to their utter nadir before they can start being able to mentally heal themselves, and after having had her faith in herself slowly eroded as the season has progressed, this time Courtney is shown the manifestation of the darkness plaguing her, whether or not she was aware of it being there.



Before this, we have an opening scene of Pat and Jennie returning to Blue Valley after last week’s encounter with Eclipso, and one powerful in its simplicity. Sometimes when you hear unbearable news you’ll latch onto anything to dupe yourself into believing it’s all some kind of terrible mistake, but something that can’t be interpreted any other way lurches you into accepting the horrible truth of what happened, and the sight of Jennie walking through the door carrying the Cosmic Staff hammers home the dreadful reality to Barbara, who seems barely able to stay standing. As far as anyone is concerned Courtney is dead and nothing can be done to rectify this, and all they can do is try to deal with the loss and heartbreak. No words are needed to express what everyone is going through, and the scene is all the more impacting for its lack of speech.

Not wishing to pointedly invoke Game of Thrones again, but we as viewers are well aware that there’s no chance a series would kill off its protagonist this early in its run, and to its credit the show doesn’t bother trying to maintain such an implausible fiction. However, instead of watching Courtney endlessly fall through darkness like Bill & Ted on their way to hell, she instead awakens in a mysterious Blue Valley drained of colour, and not just from the sunlight being blocked out by Eclipso’s thunderstorm.

The monochrome palette gives the setting an otherworldly vibe that portrays its ethereality as efficiently as the despondent atmosphere the typically bright town now evokes, and sets us up well for the off-kilter visions about to be experienced. As if this didn’t clue Courtney in to something being seriously off, the appearance in the diner of Wizard and his wife Cynthia and son Joey cements it, what with all three being dead and all. Their overt friendliness and wide smiles are creepy rather than welcoming, and act as subtle introduction to just how banally sinister is the psychological manipulation.


An old friend

The initial memory Courtney experiences is of pretending Joey’s card trick worked after she met him in the first season. With it being one of the initial moments that demonstrated her compassion, not wishing to publically humiliate a sweet boy who just wanted to nerdily impress a cute girl, it’s not clear why she would be made to relive it. However, the claim that this demonstrates a duplicitous nature that has consequences for other people is a low-key instigation of a gradually escalating assault on her sense of self.

It’s ambiguous over whether the realm is supposed to be the actual Christian purgatory (Eclipso’s comics origin casts him as the original Angel of Vengeance), but it certainly plays out as if it were, subjecting its denizens to tormenting visions of their regrets, fears, secrets and shames. As much as she’d like to pretend it doesn’t this also applies to Cindy, who as predicted shows up very much alive, or as much as anyone technically can be in a realm of shadowed half-life.

It’s amusing that her time in her own personal nightmare hasn’t changed her personality one bit, in particular her refusal to accept responsibility for the consequences of her rash decisions and belief that everything that goes wrong in her life is someone else’s fault. It’s emphasised by her once again dismissing Courtney as the New Girl, since if you recall, Cindy begging for Courtney’s help as the latter tried to pull her out of the bottomless well of darkness into which she was about to fall was the only time she’s actually referred to her nemesis by name. The instant Cindy realises Courtney is actually real and not a construct is fantastic visual, and although exactly why someone’s blood would show up red when everything else in this realm is black and white isn’t made clear, nor is it even inferred to have any real justification, but to be honest it’s such an arresting moment I can let it slide.


Blood red

Her personal demon is of course her father Dragon King, who appears through an oddly dramatic haze of theatrical bombast, and despite her projected confidence and hatred of him it was made clear in the first season that he was possibly the only person she was genuinely afraid of. Perhaps it’s because of what he made her, and having to accept that the physical augmentations she so loves having the opportunity to break out on anyone who even mildly annoys her came at the price of her becoming someone capable of being responsible for the death of her mother, however unintentional the act might have been. As a result, even though he’s now dead at her own hand, in many ways, both physically and psychologically, he will always be a part of her and thus keeps afloat childhood traumas from which she can never truly recover.

Courtney’s next trial sees her mother declaring that Courtney’s very existence ruined her life, her birth dooming Barbara to life as a minimum wage single parent and never to achieve her full potential. It’s similar to the trick Eclipso tried to pull on Beth, but with Courtney already so disoriented by her surroundings it gets to her far more effectively. While there’s little chance Barbara ever resented her daughter for being born, that Courtney’s subconscious manifested such an accusation shows that it’s something on some small level she’s afraid might have a glimmer of truth to it, as it’s sometimes the things we try to think about the least that affect us the most.

In keeping with this, while Cindy dismisses the appearances of Dragon King as fears she’s over, the same can’t be said for the quietly accusatory face of her mother, the one person whose fate she was responsible for that she actually feels guilty about. When Cindy is pulled into the encroaching shadows to be tortured with her mother’s death, Courtney is saved by the real Dr McNider, explaining to her the reality of the wasteland they’re trapped in and the torment he himself endures.


Street lights

While an eternal roiling hellscape of utter darkness would be more than most people could endure for more than a few moments, never mind over ten years, when the alternative is being tormented by images of your murdered child and hearing nothing but the echoes of her pleading for your help and blaming you for never coming for her, the alternative would actually be preferable.

McNider also continues the season’s portrayal of the Shade as not being as overtly villainous as was initially assumed by his membership in the ISA, and it’s reiterated that McNider was sent to the Shadowlands to save him from perishing alongside his team, in respect of the almost-friendship the two had after their dual guilt bonded them following Rebecca’s death.

Anyway, as compelling as it is to walk through a sinister town of manifest regret and lost souls stumbling through somnambulist desolation, the episode isn’t all on the far side of the veil and we check back in with the others, still reeling from Courtney’s apparent death. Beth looking around Courtney’s bedroom is another silently powerful moment, the heavy decorations of gymnastics trophies and photos of happier memories now making up the only permanent physical evidence the girl ever existed. While Jennie of course doesn’t know Courtney all that well, she certainly has first-hand experience of what it feels like to have a loved one snatched from you long before their time, so knows exactly what they’re all going through and can fully empathise with them. So things might have progressed were it not for McNider’s voice breaking through again and rekindling the embers of hope that had already died.

The ability of Jennie’s Power Ring to sniff out dark energy sources like a metaphysical bloodhound is a handily specific one, but it’s really little more than a variation on Chapter Three’s use of the Thunderbolt to locate the Shade, with Mike initially even suggesting trying to recover the pink pen to do the same thing again. The conveniently detailed green holomap makes him easy enough to pinpoint, although the confusion that it shows him in dual locations doesn’t get any follow up, meaning that whatever Beth and Jennie found at the second site will have to wait until next week where it will be more plot-specific. Incidentally, the cinema in which the Shade is holed up showing The Picture of Dorian Gray isn’t just a random choice of movie, but is a reference to his comics iteration having personally known Oscar Wilde, while a short Starman arc had the exploits of Damon Merritt, a minor villain the shadow-wielder battled alongside Jack Knight, as being the original inspiration for the tale.


Piercing the veil

The Shade’s perpetually self-serving nature sees him sorry for Courtney’s fate but still only interested in his own survival, and it’s only Barbara, through a mix of her refusal to abandon the one faint possibility of getting her daughter back and despair at the thought of such an outcome not coming to pass, that breaks through to what little remains of his sense of obligation and morality, despite knowing that doing so would use up the last vestiges of his power and be the end of him.

Because such a solution would be too prosaic to play out absent any kind of hitch, Courtney’s compassion once again gets the better of her and she decides she can’t just abandon Cindy, despite everything to have happened to Courtney and her friends and family over the past weeks being more or less entirely the arrogant girl’s fault, and some would argue that being left to rot in a purgatorial wasteland where she’s doomed to be endlessly tortured with reflections of what a miserable excuse for a human being she is would be an entirely fitting punishment. However, Courtney once again proves that the darkness Eclipso has been trying to bring out in her is yet to come to the surface, but the next barrage of taunting pushes her to the limit.

The visions she’s shown, first of Yolanda sat alone in her bedroom and then of Rick in his jail cell, force Courtney to accept the states of isolated misery in which her friends are now trapped. Of course, the visions can’t be taken as literal reflections of reality; we currently know nothing about what happened to Yolanda following her abrupt departure from the team (and, it seems, every other aspect of her life) and Rick at least feels the wordless support of Solomon Grundy. However, what’s important is that this is how she perceives the current lot of former teammates, and the reminder that they are in such situations as a result of Eclipso’s machinations begins to bring out her anger against him. Or, specifically in this case, Bruce, who is swiftly becoming more irritating than actually scary or convincing as deviously manipulative. Since everyone now knows the child is one of Eclipso’s guises there’s no need for the subterfuge, and hearing malevolent glee delivered in a prepubescent register just sounds obnoxious rather than the sinister that’s being aimed for.


Serenity in death

Although it’s clear he’s trying to get her to give into her hate and surrender to the darkness, and even going so far as to remind her of what human garbage her biological father is, all thrust to the forefront of her mind at once is too much for even her sunshine disposition to burn through. Although Bruce disappears upon attaining his goal of making her verbally acknowledge her contempt, the moment is not followed up upon, so it stands to reason that the surrender, however brief it might have been, will have repercussions as the fractured team try to take on the fear demon again.

With a possible nod to Labyrinth’s “You have no power over me!” Courtney rescues Cindy, but of course the portal the Shade created is flickering right as the trio make it back to its location. It’s a brief but suitably dramatic climax, since there’s no guarantee they’ll actually make it. Yes, Courtney returning to the material plane is an inevitability, but there’s no guarantee it would happen this time, and if it didn’t it would create another mystery of how she could. Even after she makes it home, the other two being of lesser narrative significance means it might close behind her before they can jump through. All the while, the heavy pipe organ of the overly dramatic music once again invokes the classic horror movies from which the season has been taking much of its thematic and visual inspiration.

The Shade dying for the final time was a touching moment, in his last moments taking solace in knowing that he’s actually done something truly selfless, and in the process possibly achieving something as akin to peace as someone can after living the kind of life he has. Now, with the team partially reassembled, along with a new recruit inviting herself along without bothering to first ascertain anyone even wants her there, the countdown to the final confrontation has begun.


Back to reality


“Summer School: Chapter Eleven” is possibly the most compellingly emotional episode in the litany of them this season has provided. It lays bare the depths of Courtney’s fears and regrets, forcing her to accept the darkness that lies within her, while the others’ belief in her demise deftly portrays the pain endured in the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one. The Shade gets a meaningful send-off and we receive about as much sympathy for Cindy as we’re likely to get, and things are now one step closer to the finale.

  • 9.5/10
    Summer School: Chapter Eleven - 9.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • the heartbreaking opening scene
  • the black and white palette
  • the sinister purgatory of the Shadowlands
  • the measured peeling back of the layers of Courtney’s guilt
  • the silent expression of the devastation of loss
  • the brief but uncertain climax
  • the Shade’s touching death


Rise Against…

  • the use of Bruce rather than Eclipso being annoying rather than scary


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