Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 10
“Summer School: Chapter Ten”
Stargirl begins arranging its pieces to build to the season finale, seeing temporarily absent characters return while varying revelations of trustworthiness make many question what they previously believed true.
For the most part, the narrative of this season of Stargirl has been more or less linearly straightforward in its movement from one plot development to the next, but now curveballs are being thrown at the heroes that it’s difficult for them to dodge, and not just ones lobbed by their enemies, all the while themes of what it means to be family play heavily into events.
The opening flashback returns to after the Justice Society made their fateful decision to do what needed done to defeat Eclipso, and where Starman tries to alleviate Pat’s guilt at what he was made a part of and remind him of why they made the decision. Given the rather final declaration of the fate of the Justice Society, the scene isn’t one that was expected, but nevertheless becomes a touching one through Sylvester’s reminiscence of a birthday gift given to him as a kid by Pat after his parents forgot, and further develops the relationship the two shared both before and during Sylvester’s crimefighting exploits. It unfortunately also further muddles the chronology when you remember that despite Joel McHale being only a couple of months younger than Luke Wilson, Pat is supposed to be at least ten years older than Sylvester. However, it still manages to concisely make the point that, to quote a wise philosopher, “family don’t end in blood”, and the bond the two shared is made clear.
Back in the present, Pat is now looking at things from the other perspective, having had to be the one to make an undesirable decision to keep his family safe. While keeping the truth from someone is a far cry from outright murder, he still acknowledges it as going against the values he espouses and has tried to pass on to his daughter, meaning it may well be some time before Courtney is able to wholly trust him again. For all her brash impetuousness, Pat has become someone she genuinely respects, both as a father and as Team Dad, and for her to have made a point of always being truthful with him no matter how minor or potentially uncomfortable an issue only to discover he wasn’t doing the same naturally feels like a betrayal. It’s also worth reiterating that because Courtney is still so young to be involved in life and death struggles, she feels anything related to them more intently than an adult would, making her reactions that much more intense.
However the recrimination might have continued is interrupted by the return to the material plane of the Shade, crashing through the only recently repaired kitchen counter and still the worse for wear from his encounter with Eclipso. Despite being delirious and dying, he does come with the handy information of using powerful radiance to repair the black diamond and re-imprison Eclipso, of course delivered in his typically condescending manner. The very notion that this is all that’s required to defeat Eclipso is a frustrating one, since as I mentioned last week so much emphasis has been placed on what it took to stop him last time it seems a cheat to not require the contemporary team to be faced with a similar moral quandary. Even though this is later proved a falsehood, it’s still an annoying shortcut to a resolution without having to accept responsibility, however briefly it’s to be endured. It also doesn’t quite tally that if it was light that shattered the diamond then light would also fix it. Anyway, since the Cosmic Staff is still out of proper commission, it’s fortunate they recently encountered someone who wields an alternative, namely the Light of the Green Lantern.
Since Jennie ducked out to continue searching for her brother Todd they have no way to contact her, but fortunately several reports of buildings going up in green flame give a good idea where to start. You can’t deny it’s a little convenient to have a beacon both figurative and literal to follow, but it was established in “Chapter Two” that Jennie is only marginally more subtle than Courtney is, so it’s not that much of a jump for her to have left a trail easy enough to follow for anyone who knows what to look for, especially since she’s still learning to wrangle her newly acquired powers.
While Pat and Courtney’s conversation en route doesn’t fully justify the former’s choice to hide things, it certainly goes a long way towards explaining it, as well as how the JSA came to their own decision, wanting to protect the people they cared about. Rather than thinking she couldn’t handle knowing, he instead wants to preserve her idealistic outlook of the path she’s chosen and those who inspired her to do so, and further reinforces his determination to do all he can to protect her, even if it’s from the truth of his own shame. It also brings up what I mentioned last time that the original JSA’s decision parallels the one Yolanda made, so perhaps Courtney will use the new information to attempt to convince her to rejoin the team, assuming she first gets the chance to actually talk to her.
After discovering that Jennie has been camping put in the old JSA headquarters, which incidentally is strangely devoid of dust for a place that’s been abandoned for over a decade, they soon locate the last place Todd was to be found and find Jennie there. Given how euphemistic is the building’s designation of an “institute for youth rehabilitation,” even without character names and references alluding to comics events it’s not much of a leap to guess that the apparent low-security medical facility is a façade with undesirable intent for the young offenders, runaways and other adolescents who darken its doors and nobody will come looking for, and if nothing else it’s expressly stated there’s something dodgy going on that will doubtless soon be uncovered. It’s not clear if Todd is intended to be introduced before the end of this season or if he’ll become a sub-plot of the next, but given that a highly specific ability he possesses would, as of the end of this episode, prove very useful for the heroes to have at their disposal, it’ll probably be the former.
Jennie’s growing despondency is in stark contrast to the cheerful and enthusiastic girl we met a couple of months ago, another dead end amplifying her despair that she will ever find where her brother ended up. Her talk of her inability to reign in the ring’s power and guilt that she wasn’t able to maintain the control that Pat taught her is more poignant stuff, and emphasises that despite her determination and attempted independence, she’s barely a couple of years older than Courtney and still practically a kid herself, and as such is finding it hard to overcome the frustration that even though she’s now in possession of cosmic powers, they aren’t helping her achieve the only important thing in her life. Her statement that “You’d do anything to protect your family” finally makes Courtney understand what Pat has been trying to tell her but was too blinded by her anger to properly accept, and provides a further facet to the themes of family both biological and chosen the episode emphasises.
Elsewhere, Mike’s attempts to being S.T.R.I.P.E. back online demonstrate that Pat is apparently such a fantastic tutor that the boy was able to pick up the fundamentals of mechanics in a few days. He’s interrupted by a radio report of pink lightning that inform him the Thunderbolt is still around, and manages to track it to the delightfully incongruous sight of an honest-to-goodness gingerbread house, strongly suggesting that the mischievous djinn will be imminently reintroduced. We also get the first look at Rick since his arrest at the end of “Chapter Eight” to ensure the audience he hasn’t been forgotten about, where some apples thrown through the window bars of his cell let us know that Solomon Grundy has come to visit his new friend in the same way as was done for him, even if the situation does again raise the question of exactly how such a lumbering monstrosity is apparently able to move around unseen.
Also on the recurring theme of returns, Beth is back after being sorely missed last week, the incongruity of her refusal to remove the goggles that neutralise Eclipso’s illusions causing some consternation for her parents and providing more of the comedic beats that balance out the episode’s despair and so stop its events from being too disheartening. Her refusal to explain herself by comparing her reticence to their hiding their marital problems feels like a victory for any young person who’s ever been in a comparable situation, since when children feel let down by their parents at a fundamental level the impulse to respect their authority is greatly diminished.
It’s quite a surprise to discover that McNider isn’t angry at the team having sort-of aligned themselves with the Shade, and even more so is his declaration that the posturing shadow-wielder saved him by transporting him to the Shadowlands. Exactly why he chose to do so isn’t clear beyond the reiteration that he was never a full-on villain, but it’s a further factor in the development of him as an antihero.
The comics’ portrayal of the exact origin of the Shade’s powers is more than a little vague (as well as having also been retconned a couple of times), so the show goes its own way in linking them to Eclipso, expanding upon the demon’s statement that the pompous Victorian’s abilities originate from the same place Eclipso does by portraying him as having attained them during a botched sacrifice by a power-hungry cult. It’s always interesting when an adaptation goes in a different direction from its source material, and demonstrates that a show like this can still provide welcome surprises even to viewers steeped in the lore and history of comics it took as inspiration. He is further humanised by talking about his sister Emily and his efforts to maintain her innocence by shielding her from his powers and the dark deeds they compelled him to become complicit in.
Beth’s goggles also provide a few references to the Shade’s comics encounters, including Simon Culp, a malevolent dwarf and rival of the Shade who possessed the same powers as him; Captain X, a derring-do Second World War aviator (and, incidentally, also the grandfather of the younger half of Firestorm); and Ted Knight, the original holder of the mantle of Starman, and who Pat previously referenced as the creator of the Cosmic Staff and hopefully someone who’ll show up before too much longer to explain more about the rod’s operation to justify its myriad abilities and I promise this is the last time I’ll bitch about it.
The revelation that the Shade was lying about what repairing the black diamond would do demonstrates that for all his talk of the greater good and the relativity of evil, at his core he’s still self-serving and ultimately uncaring of who his actions hurt as long as he comes out on top. He might have genuinely wanted to destroy the black diamond for the benefit of the world, but the minute his own immortal existence was threatened his priorities shifted, everyone else immediately being relegated to collateral damage in the goal of keeping himself alive.
The situation also brings up what appears to be a massive inconsistency. Destroying the diamond freed Eclipso, but it wasn’t until he was burned by the Cosmic Staff that he was weakened and unable to use the full extent of his powers. The diamond is his prison, not the source of his power, so it makes no sense that its reforging would “summon” him and return his full strength. Perhaps it was decided that a shortcut was required for him to regain his might that didn’t involve helpless townsfolk being wantonly slaughtered while the heroes were unable to stop him, but if the jewel is supposed to be a conduit to the realm of primordial darkness that should have been better established. Yes, Cindy was able to use it to channel his abilities, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that being in possession of it himself would augment them. It’s like arguing a car can go faster if it’s driving itself rather than suffering a puny human at the wheel.
Moving past this, now that Courtney has been swallowed by the same void into which Cindy was dragged at the climax of “Chapter Six,” it implicitly suggests that it’s possible to return from there, and there’s a reasonable chance that she and Cindy will encounter each other lost in the darkness and end up forming a temporary alliance to escape the shadowy purgatory. Things are about to get a lot darker. Literally.
“Summer School: Chapter Ten,” aside from the frustratingly inconsistent revelation of the black diamond’s nature, is a measured episode driven by the notion that family means different thing to different people, but united by the reliability of their being people who will do all they can to protect you no matter what. Things might now seem at their bleakest, but it’s from such a place that the greatest hope can emerge.
- the exploration of the different ways people can be family to one another
- the Shade’s backstory expanding the character
- the further development of Jennie
- comedic beats balancing the otherwise despondent tone
- the suggestion the black diamond need only be repaired to defeat Eclipso
- the inconsistency of the black diamond’s nature
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