Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 13
“Summer School: Chapter Thirteen”
Stargirl finishes off its second season with an action-packed finale giving every character a moment to shine while bringing the full exploration of its themes full circle.
Corruption, redemption and the nature of true good and absolute evil have been the core topics of this season, and the two extremes featured now come to a head. Every one of Eclipso’s choices since gaining freedom from the black diamond has been to push Courtney ever closer to succumbing to the negativity that dwells within all of us no matter how much we might like to pretend or convince ourselves otherwise. His gaining control over light and darkness is a suitably dramatic endgame, and to attain absolute power by merging the Shadowlands with the mortal world is certainly a convincing goal for someone who has spent eons imprisoned in a small gem. His utilisation as a villain initially seemed an odd choice, given that his cosmic-level powers should have been well beyond the scope of heroes barely more than novices, but despite this, his justified reduction in strength and varying levels of subtlety in operation has made him an engaging opponent.
But before we get to the main fight, there’s still one final confrontation with Bruce. I’ve made no secret of how much the child persona irritates me, especially since the subterfuge is long redundant – insofar as it was ever even necessary – and the young voice squeaking in sadistic glee again fails to make the desired impact. Perhaps the juxtaposition of innocence with evil is supposed to be unsettling (after all, there’s a good reason why so many religious horror movies feature a small child as a supernatural vessel), but in this context it never progressed past an annoyance. Thankfully, we don’t have to put up with it for long, the focus instead being on further mental intrusions.
Yolanda is attacked by a vision of Ted Grant, now representative in her mind of everything wrong with the Wildcat persona and what it represents, showing that the very identity has become entwined in her mind with the death she now associates it with. Cindy faces off with a manifestation of herself as a girl, the same age she was when she accidentally killed her mother, and also possibly just a little too reminiscent of Logan’s variation on X-23. Pat takes on a vision of himself, helpfully outfitted in the Stripsey shirt to allow for easy differentiation between the two, and showing the full force of the darkness he let out last week in its undiluted and unrestrained form. Of the three bouts the scene features he acquits himself the best, further demonstrating how much more in control he is of his darker impulses and possessed of enough introspection to understand them and keep them chained. Each is a manifestation of shameful aspects of themselves (identity rather than self in Yolanda’s case), underscoring the fears and insecurities dwelling within then that Eclipso has been feeding on.
Meanwhile, Courtney attempts to land a hit on the obnoxious sniggering child, but each time he vanishes at the moment of impact. After multiple encounters with an entity whose signature move is making you see things that aren’t there, you’d think by now they’d all be a bit wiser to the possibility of what they’re seeing not being real, but we still have to go through the motions of battling hallucinations, only stopped by the appearance of the Doctors Mid-Nite and the reminder of the illusory nature of their opponent, Beth being forced to take a break from trying to save her parents from being literally destroyed by their fear of having failed their daughter.
Even without using any powers Eclipso is still a formidable opponent, and Courtney and Cindy attempting to physically overpower him goes as well as you’d expect, especially with the latter’s vicious slashes being practically ignored. I did for a moment wonder if he was going to tear out her other wrist blade for good measure, before both girls are knocked out and into the street, whereupon everyone else has a go at taking down the monster.
Mike piloting S.T.R.I.P.E. is such a comedically joyful display of immaturity alongside an almost cartoonish display of outsized weaponry like a jaeger from Pacific Rim, it’s unlikely to be the only time we see this going forwards, while the Thunderbolt is once again demonstrated to be powerful, but not invincible.
Meanwhile, Rick thankfully doesn’t manage to regain his hourglass strength, since as I mentioned last week it would have made the fact he smashed it effectively meaningless as he wouldn’t have had to make a stand absent its power. Nevertheless, he still goes up against Eclipso, despite it being conclusively proven in “Chapter Six” that even with superhuman strength he’s no match for the entity, never mind reduced to a puny mortal. His growth into someone with far more consideration for the needs of others makes it convincing he would actually choose to face down the fear demon if even the few moments it took for the monster to kill him would to stop Jakeem from being flattened or provide his friends with the brief advantage they needed, but it transpires such a sacrifice was ultimately unnecessary now that he has a new ally to bring along.
Solomon Grundy’s intelligence has been a variable thing throughout his comics history, and this interpretation is certainly more towards the animalistic end of the scale. It’s not been made clear if he even understands who Rick is, but certainly knows that the young man made an attempt to treat him like he’s worth something, as opposed to the ISA who kept him locked in a dungeon cell and only let out to destroy, thus earning his loyalty and friendship. Being a purely physical threat with no greater finesse than charging in with brute strength, it’s not too surprising that Eclipso overpowers him once he got the measure of him, but the very fact the zombie came along in the first place is indicative of the development that his brief characterisation has demonstrated he’s capable of.
The apocalyptic atmosphere is augmented by the visuals of the two realms merging, using tears in the heavens like Doctor Who’s cracks in space-time rather than the effectively ominous but badly overused visual of a skybeam, giving the sense of the shadowy otherworld gradually seeping down to claim the material plane and drain it of life and vibrancy. Again, the key to this being that Courtney is such a celestial beacon of purity that her very existence exemplifies all that is good and virtuous in the world is laying it on a bit thick, but perhaps all it takes to qualify as such in our cynical modern world is her simply being a fundamentally decent person who has proven herself time and again (with only the odd out of place hiccup) to be capable of always looking for the best in everyone she encounters.
After Eclipso briefly tortures Pat, it forces Courtney to reiterate her hatred of him for everything he’s put her and her loved ones through, giving him the opening to take her over. The gleeful malevolence proves that Brec Bassinger’s few minutes of bitchiness in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged wasn’t a fluke and could equally convince as a villain should Stargirl’s light ever have cause to go out. However, like in “Chapter Eight” when Eclipso failed to corrupt Beth, his one-sided view of human nature is his undoing, and his presence in Courtney’s mind is overcome (with a little help from the timely appearance of Starman) by his causing her to think not of all the loss and hardships she’s endured, but the friends she’s made who will stand by her and do anything for her and the family who loves her no matter what, and suggesting that while hate might be easier to provoke its influence is transitory, while love is eternal and absent of judgement.
It then turns out that the reinforcements Cindy called on was the entire Crock family (a potential surprise again ruined by the opening credits), justified by Artemis apparently breaking her parents out of prison at some point during the last couple of weeks. This frustratingly undermines the end of her own focal episode where they willingly surrendered themselves to incarceration to prevent their very presence from derailing her life, but it seems that after Cindy tanked Artemis’ dreams of professional athleticism (something which needs to be both uncovered and addressed in the future) she evidently decided that a normal life is now forever beyond her reach. It might seem like an extreme reaction to a single setback, but nobody ever claimed teenagers can’t be irrational and impulsive at times. However, as suitably dramatic a moment as it was, their contribution to the fight was so inconsequential that in all honesty they really might as well have not been there.
Courtney, Starman, Jennie and the Thunderbolt’s combined power of magical light proves enough to finish Eclipso off, rounded off by Jakeem’s ambiguous wish literally transforming Eclipso into a piece of toast. It’s the kind of goofy resolution you’d expect to see in an episode of Legends of Tomorrow or Doom Patrol, rather than a season that has for the most part been taking itself very seriously, but with the off-kilter literalness of the Thunderbolt being among the most interesting breaks for levity leaves it a resolution still acceptable in context if somewhat dissonant in tone. Despite the conclusive end to the combat, the denouement’s timing still leaves a quarter of the episode left, used for typing up loose ends and the planting of new seeds.
So far, Cindy’s every decision has been made for her own benefit. Whether it’s to demonstrate herself worthy of joining Dragon King in the ISA to prove to both her father and herself that she doesn’t need him, or wanting to take out Courtney to establish herself as superior, she has never been seen to do anything for reasons that go beyond petulantly selfish, seemingly in an attempt to overcome her own deep-seated insecurities that she’s just not good enough. Actually conceding, unprompted, that she was wrong about how to fight Eclipso shows she’s capable of growth, although what she hopes to gain by becoming a member of the Justice Society is unclear since it will require her to work as part of a team instead of ordering around people she can varyingly command to her every whim.
After making a couple of appearances in earlier episodes evidently trying to track down Pat, Starman just kind of just fell away, since the very fact he was undertaking the search was also the most interesting thing that could be gleaned from it. There is frustratingly no hint of an explanation of how he survived his apparent death, leaving us no closer to an actual answer than we were at this exact same point last year, which makes me cynically suspect that nobody has bothered to actually outline it. Okay, there’s not much point delving into an issue that will likely be a significant aspect of the forthcoming season 3, but a small indication that someone actually took the time to think it through at any point in the last two years wouldn’t have gone amiss. Similarly, regarding his suggestion that there’s even more of a celestial source to the Cosmic Staff’s power than has been thusfar suggested, after all that it’s been seen to be capable off I once again reiterate how badly needed such exploration is.
Rick’s burying of Grundy was a rather sweet gesture, and something his angry old self wouldn’t have even thought of, let alone considered actually doing. The Shade referencing his possible resurrection if buried in the “right place” is likely a reference to Slaughter Swamp, a marshland of mysterious elemental properties where the man once known as Cyrus Gold met his end in the 19th century, and no matter how resoundingly destroyed always eventually arises anew from its dingy waters like Jason Voorhees from Camp Crystal Lake. Thus, there’s every possibility that the giant zombie may yet live again.
There’s also the matter of Cameron, who has once again received short shrift and dropped out the narrative as though forgotten about, though the hint at the development of his ice powers and his grandparents deciding to tell him about their family strongly suggests he’ll have a far more significant presence next time around. As I’ve mentioned previously, whether the “truth” refers to them being criminals, metahumans, or scions of an ancient Norse entity is not clear, nor has he been developed enough to ascertain ahead of time if he’ll choose the path of villainy, but it’ll be interesting to see the long-teased story finally play out.
As for the penultimate reveal and the apparent driving force of the next season, the Crocks now living beside Courtney’s family has the potential to go either way. On paper, a family of violent villains moving in next door to a houseful of heroes sounds like the premise of a really bad sitcom that Fox would air for half a season before unceremoniously cancelling, but “Chapter Four” did demonstrate that the humour to be mined from the psychopaths attempting basic human interaction has some potential, and we can only hope that such a setup stretched out over a whole season won’t become grating. It also doesn’t suggest how the concept will move past their being wanted fugitives, but presumably it’ll be addressed more directly in future.
Finally, like at the end of the first season, there’s a brief glimpse of who will likely be the next primary villain, the poison-skinned Mister Bones (Keith David), the director of the institute where Jennie was looking for Todd in “Chapter Ten” and who was briefly namechecked for future reference. He will likely be portrayed as having his own ideas of what the talents and abilities of heroes and villains can be used for, forcing even more mutual co-operation between the two to take him on.
“Summer School: Chapter Thirteen” is a worthy denouement to the last three months of gradual build-up. The season’s themes of the nature of good and evil come to the fore, and the varying levels of both that each character displays deftly demonstrates that such a balance exists within all of us. Conclusively ending one plotline while planting multiple seeds for others and continuing character development, it’s a satisfying ride.
Overall, this season of Stargirl has largely been a stellar offering with few major points of detraction. Its exploration into the shifting greyscale of morality has been compelling, if a little simplified and rushed at times, and forced its young heroes to learn that good and evil are not inflexible binary points but have myriad subtleties between them. Most importantly, the time taken to develop the show’s core characters from the point they ended the last season allowed the show to flourish, the lingering fallout from prior events still affecting their thoughts and actions, allowing them to be portrayed as fully rounded people.
- the fast pace of the action
- the measured use of every character
- the sinister visuals
- Courtney’s inherent goodness
- the dramatic reappearances
- the goofy resolution
- Cindy’s character growth
- the multiple setups for future plotlines
- Bruce still being annoying instead of scary
- the Crocks serving little purpose
- Starman’s survival going unexplained
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