Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 5
“Summer School: Chapter Five”
Stargirl forces several of its characters to face the demons of their past, while also demonstrating how destructive is the power its heroes have pitted themselves against.
I’ve commented a few times now that one of this season’s weaknesses has been its inability to feature characters who are supposed to have significant places in the show. This thankfully only seemed to be a temporary issue while the narrative was being established, and is now starting to be rectified. Cameron is the one of the core cast who has been least developed so far, with events giving us more of an insight into the abrasive Isaac than the son of season 1’s primary antagonist. However, now interactions with various characters serve to flesh him out a little.
His main meeting was with Courtney, and the promised romance between the pair about to be rekindled, since him having evidently studied Courtney’s face enough to draw it from memory is a none-too-subtle indicator of how appealing he finds her, and their somewhat awkward interactions indicate a mutual attraction. It’s a pleasant development between two teenagers who are clearly into each other but lack the emotional maturity to express this in more direct ways.
However, the possibility of them hooking up comes with its own apprehension, since it’s only a matter of time before it comes to light what kind of a person Cameron’s father really was, as well as the part Courtney played in his demise. Exactly which side he’ll end up on is refreshingly ambiguous at the moment, even if someone else has already set her sights on trying to turn him.
Cindy is someone used to people falling over themselves to accede to her whims, so the feeling of Cameron making it abundantly clear just how much contempt he has for her probably feels like a personal attack. Since one way or another she has almost always got what she wanted, she has little experience of how to react to someone purposefully defying her, and so resorts to her default reaction of petulant physical violence, only to be interrupted by the art teacher Mr Deisinger as she surreptitiously brought out her wrist blades.
Cameron’s statement of Cindy’s callous reaction to her birth mother’s passing was a moment powerful in its simplicity (as well as reminding us that the denizens of Blue Valley had their own lives long before Courtney came crashing into them) and demonstrates that her thoughtless spite is nothing new, but something she has expressed for years. It’s apparent that the exact circumstances surrounding the death of her mother is going to become a significant plot point that will heavily inform her character, but as Cameron stated, it’s difficult to believe in her expressing any kind of emotional sincerity when she has displayed so little.
Rick’s hostility towards Cameron came out of nowhere. Okay, the young artist is painting a mural of the memory of a man who ordered the deaths of Rick’s parents, but with Cameron being oblivious to his father’s villainy he really can’t be judged for wanting to venerate the second parent he lost in tragic circumstances. There may be some history between the two we’re as yet unaware of, but regardless of whether this is the case it comes off as needlessly confrontational, especially since Rick’s journey this season has largely seen him learning to let go of his aggression, so to direct it towards someone who has done nothing to deserve it is a distinct step backwards. Hopefully, it’s merely indicative of Eclipso’s growing influence bringing up the worst moments of people’s pasts (a recurring theme this episode), else it comes off as a disjointed character moment that completely misfires.
It all reminds us how little we really know about Cameron, since despite being planned from the series’ beginning to have a major role down the road, his brief and sporadic appearances thusfar have left us understanding little of him other than a compassionate nature and a love of art. Exactly what drives him remains a mystery, as is how he will be affected by the emergence of his cryokinetic powers, but there is the likelihood that his sinister grandparents are the ones to whom he’ll turn for help, and who may well steer him towards picking up where his father left off. In the comics the character is a villain, typically portrayed as even more dangerous than Icicle due to having turned to a life of crime purely for the fun of it, and as a result having no morals to appeal to. An earlier shot seeing his grandmother Lily exhale frost breath as her eyes mist over suggests Icicle’s powers were hereditary, and tacitly raises the question of if the family are metahumans, or if their Norwegian heritage and the mention of Niflheim and their ancestors in the first season is an indicator they are descended from some entity of Norse mythology, perhaps one of the jötnar.
Elsewhere, Pat pointing out that the apparent survival of Doctor Mid-Nite could be another of Eclipso’s ruses was an interesting observation. Despite the series’ development edging towards the reveal being accurate and that things are likely to progress to his being returned to the physical realm and becoming key in Eclipso’s destruction in justice for his daughter’s death, it’s a valid point that can’t be ignored. While its narrative purpose was to stall investigating the hero’s possible survival until it becomes more pertinent to the plot, it adds to the doubt and mistrust over what people’s senses are telling them. Also, on the subject of the malevolent monster, Pat is still keeping things from Courtney about his true nature, which will of course lead to her feeling even more betrayed when his reticence is revealed.
The Shade was aware Courtney was looking for him for information on Eclipso, but since he apparently has no more snide condescension to offer without repeating himself he didn’t deign to allow himself to be found. You have to wonder exactly what it is he’s doing to find the black diamond, since despite his repeated demands that everyone stay out of his way, he seemingly has no course of action to take other than harassing Barbara for details in any progress the team has made.
After Cindy’s failure to recruit Cameron, her dismissal of him in a meeting with Artemis and Isaac suggests she doesn’t have much of a plan thought out if his potential contribution can be disregarded so summarily (see also: Henry), once again drawing a tacit comparison between her and Courtney. There is still her plan to bring Mike on board, which we’re reminded of without even a vague hint of what use he’ll be to the villains’ mission of vengeance.
However, character and plot development aside, what truly made the episode stand out was the re-establishment of the season’s horror credentials with which it so memorably opened.
One of the problems with having an intangible force as a main villain is the difficulty in establishing how truly dangerous they are, especially if they need to work through proxies in order to enact their will. Since the start of this season Eclipso has seemed somewhat limited in his capabilities, something on par with the Thunderbolt in his being a magical entity residing in an inanimate object and only able to act when a puny mortal demands something.
The only thing so far that has held him up as a great threat is what others have been saying about him, painting him as such a force of malignant devastation that few can stand against him. While his ability to consume souls, reduce human bodies to ash and mess with people’s minds is certainly destructive, the power’s seemingly limited scope in range and targets doesn’t really approach the kind of danger at which he’s been stated to operate by those who have encountered him previously. The “show, don’t tell” rule of storytelling should always be applied, and it’s precisely this which makes the episode so striking.
Thunderstorms have always been compelling portents of doom, since despite scientific advancement furthering our understanding of our world, such a display of the raw elemental might of nature still subconsciously affects us as much as it did our Palaeolithic ancestors hiding in caves from the wrath of all-powerful sky gods whose motives they could not comprehend. Eclipso is traditionally better able to operate in the darkness, so the freak weather blocking out Blue Valley’s perpetual sunshine and leaving only a gunmetal sky rumbling with apocalyptic portents are an arresting way of establishing his increase in strength (although after a decade and a half of Supernatural it’s hard to not imagine them also indicating the presence of demons).
Bringing in Deisinger to be the one to take the brunt of Eclipso coming out to play was a balanced choice. He might come off as a little annoying and seems to believe he is both fifteen years younger and also living in the ‘70s, but that certainly doesn’t mean he deserves to be the pawn of an eldritch darkness entity flexing its metaphysical muscles for nothing but the joy of inflicting suffering. Driven to the brink of insanity like somebody whose mind snapped after observing the alien incomprehension of one of Lovecraft’s cosmic abominations, the choral chanting as Deisinger vomits up paint like demonic bile was a little pointed, but efficiently establishes the tone the scenes are going for.
His transformation is a reworking of obscure villain Paintball, who was a henchman of Dragon King possessing colour-coded powers, but rather than being a shout-out to one of comics Stargirl’s most minor foes, far more effective is the use of body horror. The utter fear that comes of your very humanity being warped into something beyond your understanding and your physical form twisted into an unrecognisable version of yourself is mesmerising in its repugnancy, that our very bodies are not ours to control but can be hijacked by a power outwith our ability to fight.
As well as a fantastic horror sequence, it also gives us our first glimpse of the true extent of Eclipso’s capabilities. This is him working through a proxy without being in any proximity to the black diamond and thus is presumably only a portion of his power being made manifest, yet he’s still able to craft a nightmarish hellscape and drive everyone involved to the brink of madness.
The empty school is just as oppressively purgatorial as the mental hospital or dilapidated church that scenes like this typically play out in. Paintings of the black diamond glare from canvas like the Eye of Sauron, while paint swells up the walls like the pus-bloated tumours of corrupted flesh ready to burst from its swollen evil, a palatable PG-13 substitute for viscera but still managing to convey the same unholy taint.
The team are taunted with hallucinations of what they each fear the most – Rick being a monster, Yolanda a murderer, and Beth unable to hold her life together – mocking them for their insecurities and eroding their sense of self-worth. The only exception is Courtney, who is kept safe by the power of the Cosmic Staff, which apparently is also a font of holy light and able to repel Eclipso’s intrusive illusions and purge Deisinger of the malevolent influence. This is the second time that a literal force of darkness has been repelled by the weapon’s radiance, and for it to have such a high-level defensive capacity when we know so little about its history is an oversight that needs imminent rectification. Without its power being in any way quantified there is the risk of it turning into a deus ex machina ready to perform any number of plot-specific tasks, such as displaying omniscient awareness of encroaching evil or rendering an antagonist comatose when his conscious contribution is key to a villain’s plan coming to fruition, for example.
This is only a taste of the destructive intensity that Eclipso is capable of, meaning we can only imagine what horrific chaos is waiting for us the coming weeks, so much so that when Pat finally sees fit to reveal all he knows, it may well be too late.
“Summer School: Chapter Five” is a fantastic blend of character development and compelling set pieces. Cameron’s long-overdue characterisation is a welcome addition, while the lengthy finale invokes familiar demonic possession tropes while still remaining true to the series. The horror stylings make for a compelling sequence of action and madness, and tacitly promise even eerier set pieces to come.
- the atmosphere of impending doom
- the compelling use of a forgotten comics villain
- Cameron finally being developed
- Courtney and Cameron finally coming together
- the intense finale
- Rick’s characterisation seeming to take a step backwards
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