Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 4
“Summer School: Chapter Four”
Stargirl goes further into its dark side focus as a villain recruitment drive gets underway and some previous antagonists search for some closure, while secrets of an emerging danger begin to be revealed.
A minor loose end from the first season of Stargirl was what exactly happened to Sportsmaster and Tigress. They weren’t seen after Courtney knocked them both out in the final subterranean battle against the ISA, and although it wasn’t a stretch to assume they were arrested and sent to prison (and it was established in Chapter One that this was the case), not seeing their capture left it feeling like their story was incomplete. Now making a surprise reappearance, they’ve come to address their own unfinished business, that of their daughter Artemis.
The aggressive girl in question was little more than a glorified background character in the first season since, like with Cameron and Isaac, her presence first needed to be established to then be built upon for her planned greater prominence. Although right now, she’s not having a much better time of things than her parents.
People’s perception of her is demonstrated by a prison guard who is such a pitiful excuse for a human being he takes pleasure in mocking a girl who misses her mum and dad, while a foster mother who can’t be bothered looking after her beyond the bare minimum required for her to get paid for doing so proves once again that Shazam!’s Victor and Rosa Vásquez are the only decent and caring foster parents in all of American media. While teenagers often feel like the whole world is against them, Artemis certainly has more cause to believe it than most.
In the first season Sportsmaster and Tigress were both portrayed as ordinary humans, albeit ones whose obsessive level of athleticism elevated them to dangerous opponents even against powered individuals. However, Artemis displaying super-strength suggests at least one of the psychotic pair were metahumans, and since it wasn’t ever explicitly stated that they weren’t, it technically doesn’t count as a retcon. Whether this has anything to do with Artemis’ heightened levels of aggression remains to be seen, but either way it demonstrates that she has the potential to become more dangerous than both of them combined.
Nevertheless, at the start of the episode Artemis has no designs on following her parents into supervillainy, and in actuality believes them to be innocent. Her focus is instead on her sporting career, now fuelled more than ever by a desire to escape from the life of contempt and dismissal in which she now finds herself.
Her parents, desperate to ensure the success of the one good thing they’ve done during their lives of death and crime, escape from prison to support her in her American football tryout, flying under the radar due to forcing Pat’s help in keeping them hidden by ambushing Mike right as he arrives at his stack of newspapers to deliver and sees the front page story of their escape.
Just as an aside, speaking as someone with a compulsion to read every piece of text that appears on screen in any movie or TV show, I was pleasantly surprised that someone in the show’s props department actually took the time to write something relevant for the report on their breakout. Okay, it was only half a story that was also repeated on the other side of the page to fill up space, but it’s a vast improvement over the random articles on property sales that that have bafflingly made up the below-headline copy on newspapers previously seen.
There’s no suggestion the pair are sorry for what they’ve done or all the people they’ve killed, but rather giving more focus to the family aspect of their characters. Unlike, say, Brainwave having to hide his murderous sociopathy in everyday life, or Icicle toning down his arrogant narcissism when interacting with any non-supervillains, they never really made much effort to disguise who they were, their masked personalities being pretty much the same as when speaking to people unaware of their double life.
The scenes are intended to be more awkward than genuinely sinister or threatening, as there is no real danger of them doing anything since, ironically, the people they previously tried to kill are now in the best position to help them. Sportsmaster berates Pat for not keeping up his exercise regimen and Tigress silently judges Barbara for having no protein-enriched superfood or mountain mineral water available, the latter leading to some brief and unspoken bonding over the exasperation that comes from dealing with a hotheaded teenage daughter.
Despite the reduced tension and danger levels, there’s no true attempt at rehabilitation, since they’re still unhinged maniacs barely in control of their murderous compulsions. However, it’s made clear that they genuinely want the best for Artemis, which was part of the reason why they joined Icicle in his plan to turn the US into a socialist utopia (albeit one founded on an ocean of blood), and with the abysmal failure of that scheme the next best thing they can do is stay out of her life. They acknowledge that their defeat has repercussions for how the world will perceive her, and by remaining incarcerated it prevents her from being irrevocably tainted by association and instead allows her to forge her own path.
Indeed, if it weren’t for Cindy’s interference she may well have had the chance to do so, but someone with a potentially bright sporting career ahead of her is not someone the aspiring supervillain will easily be able to manipulate. All it takes it a quick blast of Eclipso’s power to make Artemis hallucinate Courtney as a tactical police officer and goad her into violently reacting for her to become blacklisted from sports. Losing the one thing that gives her life meaning, probably along with the friends that came with it, isolates her enough that Cindy’s suggestion of joining a superteam of teenage revengers comes with little other option. However, having to use such duplicity to get Artemis on board is likely to have consequences later, as is a violent reaction at learning who was truly responsible for her dreams being tanked.
It’s an interesting visual choice that in the vision Eclipso shows Cindy of the potential Injustice Unlimited, Artemis is shown with an outfit and weaponry both derived from those of her father, while in the comics it was her mother’s alias she eventually assumed after initially deciding that a given name shared with the Olympian goddess of hunters was intimidating enough on its own. Not to mention, Tigress’ outfit in the first season was actually heavily based on Artemis’ comic book one. It’s probably to do with the predilection for sports she picked up from the former, but let’s not digress any further into the tangle of comic book identities and monikers; that way madness lies.
Artemis isn’t the only potential ally Cindy has her eye on. Her recruitment of Isaac was far more straightforward, and while her tactic of pretending to be all shy and demure was transparently disingenuous and really shouldn’t have been so effective, you have to concede that notwithstanding her vile personality she’s actually a rather attractive girl, and Isaac is an introverted teenage boy who may well have had little attention afforded him beyond that of his smothering mother.
It must be said, however, that Cindy’s mention of Fiddler dying in a “hunting accident” doesn’t quite track. While the line references the crossbow bolt Tigress killed her with in season 1’s penultimate episode, there wasn’t any time for her body to have been staged to appear the result of a tragic mishap, especially since the psychotic spouses left her where she fell and might not have even bothered mentioning what they’d done.
It’s possible Cindy doesn’t actually know how things precisely played out, since at the time she was still imprisoned in Dragon King’s lair and it’s unlikely her father would have been keeping her abreast of current developments even if he’d been aware of them, but even if she knew the truth it wouldn’t have changed what she told him.
Anyway, given that in the little screen time Isaac has been afforded he’s been characterised as someone angry and violent, and more significantly eager to find anybody to take it out on, he was always going to be the easiest mark for Cindy to turn into an ally. Once his musical talents are transferred from a tuba to a violin (quietly ignoring that isn’t in the slightest how instrumental aptitude actually works) he will likely become one of her most ruthless allies.
Cindy herself gains a little characterisation, repeating her regret over Bobbie’s death, while a vision of her birth mother apologising for their being found by Dragon King suggests there’s more to her history than being a child with a lethal temperament. Perhaps her mother attempted to free her from a life destined as little more than an experiment in mental conditioning and genetic manipulation, only for the reptilian madman to catch up to them and maybe even induce the tantrum it has been strongly suggested killed her.
Switching gears, and despite the last 1500 or so words suggesting otherwise, the heroes also had a part in proceedings this week, primarily with investigating Eclipso. We as viewers of course can’t receive pertinent information before it becomes dramatically judicious to reveal it, so details instead must instead be drip-fed until such time the plot demands it come into play.
The biggest development was the mention of Bruce Gordon. In the comics, he was a solar engineer and the most well-known and enduring of the characters associated with the demonic force, and is unfortunately the second character invoked in as many episodes who has a problematic history involving a backward portrayal of Pacific Islanders. Incidentally, House of Secrets, the name of the second-hand bookshop where Courtney searches for answers, is also the comic title in which Bruce and Eclipso debuted back in the ‘60s, in the story “The Genius Who Fought Himself.”
Anyway, any significance that could be gleaned this time was overshadowed by Courtney running into the Shade. Through his now-typical assortment of growling implied threats and penchant for cheap theatrics, he reveals his intention to dispose of the black diamond rather than use it, while his mention of never killing anyone who didn’t deserve it is a required perspective alteration for the viewer to accept him as an antihero rather than a true villain. This also ties in with his condescending dismissal of “You don’t know what you’re talking about” when Beth stated he killed the first Doctor Mid-Nite, another technically-not-a-retcon since we never actually saw the blind physician die, confirmed when it’s revealed the voice in Beth’s goggles is Mid-Nite himself trapped in a realm of shadow and sadly not Chuck the A.I. having been revived.
On the subject of details of ambiguous significance (yes, I am the king of segues), there were two points in the episode where Courtney refers to “Doctor Midnighter.” Once could have been written off as an outtake that was somehow missed in the editing process, but the same mistake cropping up twice in separate scenes strongly suggests it was deliberate. Yes, there is precedence for this kind of thing, with Yolanda calling Jennie “Green Llama” and Justin “Silent Knight,” but they were intended as jokes with their inaccuracy made clear, while this is a passing error going unremarked upon by people who would know better. Plus, it’s the codename under which one of Courtney’s closest friends has been operating for months, so it’s not something she’s likely to forget. Exactly what it signifies is unclear, perhaps that Courtney’s mind is being slowly clouded by something and her memory of details is being eroded, but I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t come back later.
The rest of the JSA are this time briefly seen through Yolanda having a new job, Rick proving his academic credentials, and Beth desperately trying to keep her parents together. It’s a little concerning that their roles are currently so minor, since it shouldn’t be until long after early in the second season before there’s any danger of a show’s ensemble expanding so much that it’s unable to adequately accommodate them all.
It’s being made clear just how dangerous Eclipso is, to the extent that Pat and Barbara decide that not telling the Courtney the whole truth about the kind of entity he is will protect her, only partly driven by the fact that people hiding information from one another for their own supposed safely is the core of much of the melodrama that the CW loves peddling to an audience who seemingly can’t get enough of it. Also, given that in the first episode Courtney made a point of being truthful to Pat about having stayed up all night nose-deep in JSA files when a white lie wouldn’t have altered the situation any, that he is not affording her the same courtesy will feel like a betrayal when it inevitably comes to light that he was keeping things from her, and create a rift that will take some time to heal. This also prompts her to instead seek answers from the Shade, because going to a morally dubious source for advice and information historically always ends so well.
“Summer School: Chapter Four” gives a surprising focus on villain characters, portraying them as people rather than just one-dimensional killers, even if, in the case of Sportsmaster and Tigress, this looks like it’s the last we’ll see of them. The emphasis is to the detriment of the heroes, most of whom once again have little to do, but with the main plot finally beginning to take shape it shouldn’t be too long before this stops being a problem I’ll repeatedly reiterate.
- developing Sportsmaster and Tigress as characters
- the comedic awkwardness of their interactions with others
- portraying villains as more than irredeemably evil
- the growing danger of Eclipso
- feeling like the story is starting to come together
- the unconvincing in-universe explanation for Fiddler’s death
- the growing inability of the show to balance the use of its cast
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