Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 1
“Summer School: Chapter One”
Stargirl returns strong with an episode light on action but heavy on character. Checking back in with the new JSA we get a strong sense of where everyone now is following the ISA’s defeat, and get a glimpse of the new dangers the young superteam will face this time around.
The first season of Stargirl heavily focused on the team gradually coming together and then identifying and figuring out how to defeat their enemies, and this looks at what happens after the high of victory has faded and life returns to some semblance of normality.
However, before we get into all of that we open on a mysterious prologue with the vague chronological setting of “Decades ago” that comes right out a Blumhouse horror movie. A young girl named Rebecca sulking for not being allowed to attend a neighbour kid’s birthday party soon turns sinister when she encounters a boy it quickly transpires is otherworldly. Goading her into opening a present of a doll, this seems to be all the excuse the entity needs to hold up a black diamond that looks suspiciously similar to the one Cindy was seen gazing into in the first season finale’s stinger, and reduce the girl to a smoking corpse, most likely traumatising her mother for life in the process. Marketing has already shown this season’s big bad in all their repellent glory, but for the purposes of these reviews I’ll be a bit vague until the official reveal if anyone reading happens to be unaware of what’s going to happen.
The narrative significance of the sequence is rather refreshingly not immediately apparent, and it’s only when the shot pulls back to reveal a mail box with the name McNider that it becomes partially clear, suggesting the girl was the daughter of Charles McNider, aka the first Doctor Mid-Nite. As it’s not entirely clear when this takes place, at this point it’s hard to tell if Rebecca’s demise was what put Mid-Nite on the trail of the entity responsible for her death, or if she was slaughtered in vengeance for a previous defeat. If the latter, it’s most likely a variation on the comics fridging of Mid-Nite’s love interest Myra when she was murdered by serial killer the Shadower. It’s not outwith the realms of possibility that other members of the original JSA will have also encountered it, meaning we can expect more of these tragic cold opens as the season progresses.
For now, we return to Blue Valley. With the homicidal band of villains defeated the new JSA are finding themselves at something of a loss, with even Courtney’s dauntless enthusiasm to continue their calling proving insufficient to convince them they’re not wasting their time. When you don’t have the looming threat of millions of deaths and the lives of your friends and families to protect, any kind of attempted heroics can seem inconsequential.
Typically unperturbed, Courtney instead turns to obsessively researching Pat’s files on JSA enemies into the small hours, referencing a roll call of villains so obscure that even comics fans might have not ever encountered them, namely time traveller Per Degaton, Celtic druid Blackbriar Thorn, Nazi Übermensch Baron Blitzkrieg, and spectral thief Gentleman Ghost.
Pat’s role as Team Dad has always been secondary to his place as Courtney’s father, and attempts to impart on her the importance of finding a balance between one’s dual lives in and out of costume. While Stargirl the hero might have a bright destiny ahead of her, she shouldn’t rise at the expense of Courtney Whitmore the teenager, whose belief in – perhaps even need of – something larger than herself she can be a part of is in danger of growing into an obsession. The identity of Stargirl has become so entwined with who she is she’s reached the point where it’s hard for her to switch off, seeing a future as the heroine so strongly defining her that nothing else she might choose to do with her life could possibly have as much importance
Pat has also found something of a balance, in respect to how best talk to Courtney. Instead of speaking to her as an authority figure and telling her what she is supposed to be doing, he instead uses the benefit of his own experience to make her understand that she needn’t define her life by a sole goal, eventually convincing her some sleep is needed. It makes you wonder exactly what experinces he had that imparted this perspective, as well as at what personal cost they were attained.
The other members of the JSA aren’t having much better a time. Beth is trying to revive Chuck within her goggles, the perfunctory information they provide greatly diminished to her without the personality of their accompanying AI. She soon afterwards discovers her parents are intending to get divorced, but to be honest if it’s something they didn’t want her to yet know, as evidenced by the fact they haven’t told her, it seems kind of dumb to leave the papers lying where they can be so easily stumbled across. Nevertheless, her realising that her family might be separating, along with with her mum and dad seemingly abandoning her for the evening right as Chuck comes back online without any memory of her is heartbreaking, seemingly everything that could make Beth feel like her life is falling apart is all coming at her in a single moment.
Yolanda, meanwhile, has it worse of all. As I suggested might be the case, her killing of Brainwave isn’t something she has been able to just move past. Latin families are often big on religion, usually Catholicism, and that particular denomination’s stress on guilt and shame is probably a doctrine Yolanda was raised on, emphasising that which would already be a natural reaction to the choice she made. Unable to even admit her feelings within the sacrosanctity of the church confessional, the moral quandary of whether or not she made the right decision is eating her up inside. Although it’s unclear if the flashes of the psionic psychopath’s death to which she’s being subjected are merely invasive blasts of memory or the result of something rather more insidious forcing her to relive them, but given the horror stylings we’ve already seen, it’s not much of an assumption to go for the latter, and there’s no way these few moments will be all that she’d made to suffer through.
Surprisingly, the only one who has achieved some semblance of peace is Rick. He has pieced together a series of events as indicating the lingering presence of Solomon Grundy, and is now searching for the giant zombie. His face is softened by an unfamiliar look of calm that indicates it’s not undertaken with any malice, so maybe in hindsight he is able to perceive the creature as being as much of a victim of the villains’ machinations as he was, perhaps even feeling the spark of some kind of kinship with him in their both having lived miserable and isolated existences beholden to the expectations and assumptions of others. Alternatively, perhaps since he was the one who released the beast into the world he now feels responsible for him. Whatever the internal reasoning, the very fact that Rick is able to demonstrate some empathy and compassion shows that he’s actually managed to grow as a person, and realise that there are ways to react to what life throws at him other than anger and violence.
Some minor players are reintroduced with the inevitable intent of upping their significance later in the season. Cameron, Icicle’s son, could go either way regarding whether he’ll end up a hero or villain, as he was revealed to be a fundamentally decent person in the few minutes of screen time he was afforded before the writers forgot about him, and it remains to be seen if that will be enough to overcome the malevolent influence of his sinister grandparents.
Artemis, meanwhile, is encountered by Courtney in the cafeteria where the latter mistakes her as coming in for an attack and reacts accordingly. Based on what little we know about her, it seems a little strange for her to not question how someone she perceives as a blonde airhead was able to knock her on her back in a matter of seconds, but seeing as the moment was to further emphasise Courtney’s over-heightened awareness we presumably shouldn’t question it.
There’s also the odd emergence of Zeek (King Orba), the junkyard owner seen in couple of first season episodes and from whom Pat sourced many of his parts for building S.T.R.I.P.E., and such was the somewhat convoluted manner of the aborted family trip by which his presence was established it seems the plan is for him to become a more regular fixture, since with the departure of Justin a new recurring character of an enigmatic bearded man seemingly not quite all there upstairs was apparently deemed warranted. Unlike most other characters on the show he doesn’t have a comics counterpart, the four-colour individual with the closest name being an Atlantean military commander, so it’ll be interesting to see what the plans for him are.
Outwith the main events, there’s a brief scene with Sylvester Pemberton (or, at least, the man with his face claiming to be him) searching for Pat, which for the moment is completely disconnected from the main plot so it’ll probably be a while before we see where it goes. There is one possibility that ties in with comics events, but I’m not going to drop a potentially massive spoiler just to prove how much I know.
The biggest action set-piece made good on the foreshadowing provided by the earlier ominous verdant flash emitting from a certain lantern. A nighttime home invasion sends Courtney into hero mode, only soon discovering her foe has skills and abilities that prove the equal of her own. Also, it’s a great character beat for Courtney to take in the kitchen counter she just blew in half with a burst of cosmic energy and her face to briefly contort into an expression that says “Oh, crap! Mum’s going to be so mad about this!”
After the brief but intense bout – which undoes the repairs to the Whitmore/Dugan home that can’t have long been completed after the last altercation that took place there – the young woman introduces herself as Green Lantern’s daughter. It does seem a little jarring to greet someone in such a manner rather than, say, using her name, but given the series’ heavy theme of family legacy, as well as almost every one of its younger characters seeming to define themselves by their parental provenance, I can let it slide.
Of course, the returning roster of season 1 characters wouldn’t be complete without Courtney’s would-be nemesis Cindy, who just has to make an entrance even if there’s nobody around to see her, not entirely unlike the present day events opening with Courtney backflipping into an alleyway to be greeted by a rather bemused raccoon. Seeing Cindy bitch-swaggering down the nocturnal high school corridor to claim the ISA’s subterranean lair as her own tacitly indicates how little she was cowed during her imprisonment by Dragon King, and is determined to become the supervillain she has always believed to her birthright.
It’s not clear if the dark jewel she’s brandishing is the same one held by “Bruce” in the prologue or another segment of a greater whole (in the comics a larger such jewel was shattered into a thousand shards), but the connection is undeniable. Things will soon be made clearer as the exact machinations of villains both human and demonic are made known.
As predicted, her team choices are Artemis, Isaac and Cameron, since being the scions of her late father’s accomplices they’re logical selections, as well as the four of them each now having to make do without parents. Having had Henry in the line up suggests the plan for her own team was put together prior to last season’s finale, and her casually ripping his picture in half demonstrates, if nothing else did, that she never cared for him and to her he was just someone else she could use.
Her final selection of Mike was an intentionally provocative one. While there’s little he could bring to the table to complement a team of young supervillains, Cindy managing to corrupt him to her side would form a victory over Courtney far more satisfying than besting her in any physical confrontation, something her driving sense of spite would relish.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning this opening part of the season being given a subtitle, designated by the altered title card. This “graphic novel” (actually Trade Paperback) structure has previously been adopted by several comics TV shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Flash (the one-great latter of which you will soon be able to hear Craig and I give its annual mauling), that largely avoids filler episodes by having shorter story arcs and thus much tighter plotting.
Courtney and Rick ending up at summer school for, respectively, her fight with Artemis and his refusing to prove himself to a teacher unreasonably suspicious of an academic achievement, will become of major significance. The next episode will see Beth and Yolanda join them for some infraction or other, possibly related to their deteriorating personal lives. It’s entirely possible that Artemis, Cameron and Isaac will end up with them, because if there’s one thing the CW loves almost as much as love triangles it’s forcing heroes and villains together in situations where they can’t do anything to each other. I just hope it manages to get somewhere serious before it threatens to go all Breakfast Club on us.
“Summer School Chapter One” is a compelling reintroduction to the world of Stargirl. Character interaction is placed to the fore, giving us clear ideas of where each of them are, both mentally and emotionally, while dropping hints and possibilities of how characters will develop and interact. If anything, it’s a little too measured, merely establishing the new status quo and doing little to indicate how the main events will progress, but overall is pretty much everything we could have hoped for.
- The mysterious horror opening
- Efficiently re-establishing the characters
- Rick’s character development
- Beth and Yolanda’s personal issues
- Setting up minor characters to become more significant
- Little semblance of what the main plot will be
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