Stargirl – Season 2 Episode 2
“Summer School: Chapter Two”
Stargirl continues slowly moving forwards with the arrival in Blue Valley of new faces with ties to the past, and suspicion runs rife as to their true reasons for coming to the small town.
The first season of Stargirl had a very specific structure of each instalment focusing on a single character whose backstory and current goals formed the bulk of the featured events. The deft balance of last week made it seem like the series was moving to a more all-encompassing form of storytelling, only for this episode to backslide into the previous format. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but juxtaposed with the excellent season opener it feels like stagnation.
The spotlight here is on new character Jennie (Ysa Penarejo), the future superhero Jade and the daughter of Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott. In keeping with a major theme of the show (and superhero comics in general), Jennie lost both parents and was raised in various group homes, a time now at an end due to her having just turned 18 and thus legally an adult whose care is no longer the responsibility of the state. It’s not specified what happened to her mother, but in the comics the woman in question was the reformed villainess Thorn who gave up Jennie and her brother Todd when they were born for fear her dark side would harm them.
It doesn’t really make sense for Jennie to be booted out of her temporary home in the middle of the night, however belligerent it’s briefly suggested she was in her time there, but such callous disregard serves to demonstrate how alone and abandoned she feels, as well as setting up the nocturnal home invasion that ended the previous episode, guided there by her father’s Power Ring.
The parallels between Jennie and Courtney are plain to see, with the former’s vibrant enthusiasm for learning about everything to do with powers and heroics – her father’s exploits in particular – being highly reminiscent of how Courtney was after the Cosmic Staff first lit up. While Courtney never knew her biological father (well, not until very recently), Jennie would have been just old enough to have memories of him before he was killed along with the rest of the original JSA, and as such it’s natural for her to be eager to learn all she can about him.
It may seem a little over the top for Jennie to be so considerate and friendly, but you have to remember the girl essentially grew up without a real family and separated from the one member of it with whom she could have had a connection. While she might not directly see the Whitmores and Dugans as a potential surrogate, their connection to the life of her father, however tenuous, is the closest thing she has to latch on to, so it’s natural for her to want to make them feel like she’s worthy of their time. Her desire to endear herself to them likely also plays on the fear of rejection she would have developed throughout her childhood as a result of being bounced between foster homes with little consideration of how this was affecting her psychological development.
For once, Courtney’s compulsion to look for the best in everyone she encounters takes a back seat, instead overshadowed by her inability to trust Jennie’s motivations. While it’s obviously an extension of her obsession with identifying the villain she’s convinced herself is out there and thus validating her continued operation as Stargirl, her being so quick to dismiss Jennie’s proclaimed sincerity doesn’t quite track. If you recall, her first season exploits in overlooking people’s glaring character flaws included attempting to empathise with both the sadistic Henry and psychotic Cindy, so it seems odd to not extend the same courtesy to a girl who’s basically a blonde dye-job away from being her. Pat’s ever-reliable wisdom goes some of the way towards pointing this out, but it’s only when he gives her a look of silent disapproval after dismissing Jennie’s words that she realises she’s gone too far, once again demonstrating that his opinion is the one she genuinely respects. Also, when Rick is the one directly telling you you’re being unreasonable, that should be a stark indicator you’re doing something wrong.
In addition, it’s worth nothing that Courtney’s suspicion about the improbable occurrence of an unknown girl appearing from nowhere and proclaiming herself to be the lost daughter of a long-dead superhero based on nothing but an affinity for his signature weaponry has a fundamental irony to it that establishes her continuing lack of self-awareness. Pat does point out the parallel, albeit in a far less glib manner than I just did, although Courtney’s take that Jennie has everything she herself wants spectacularly backfires. It’s only in that moment she realises she hasn’t bothered to learn anything about the new girl beyond what she assumed about her both initially and right then, and Jennie’s longing to be reunited with a family member she feels will make her whole finally makes Courtney understand what drives her.
The climactic scene of Jennie’s spiralling emotions causing the lantern to attain critical mass is suitably dramatic, along with how little everyone involved understands what’s happening making it even more hectic. Courtney deducing that Jennie was fuelling the lantern rather than vice versa was a bit of a logic leap, but it was serviceable enough as the required inspiration for Jennie to try absorbing the volatile energy. After it explodes, you genuinely wonder, if only for a moment, if she actually has been killed, before the dramatic reveal shows her to have jumped up a few power levels.
This ties in with Jennie’s depiction in the comics, who doesn’t use a lantern and can instead tap the energy of the Starheart directly, and prevents her from needing to carry around a clunky hunk of metal if she wants to power up. It also continues the theme of the new generation of heroes making the inherited mantles their own instead of being beholden to how they were previously utilised, continuing to forge ahead instead of forever looking back.
It made sense for Jennie to leave at the episode’s end, since while she might have found people like her and made some new friends, the lantern bringing out her true nature was really all that Blue Valley had to offer her. While it’s a certainty she’ll be back before the season is over, she isn’t going to achieve her primary goal of locating her brother by hanging around a small Nebraska town, so it may be a while before we see her again.
Of course, Jennie isn’t the only new arrival with past links to metahuman exploits. Enigmatic stranger Richard Swift (Jonathan Cake) also comes swaggering into town, all RP accent and oily charm. It’s not long before Pat deduces him to be the Shade, although unfortunately not until after a cringey forced interaction where he displays the blundering lack of subtlety Courtney typically does in her everyday actions.
The fact he’s in town for the assorted magical artefacts Wizard collected tacitly suggests that he’s after the black diamond, the storage unit being where Cindy found the jewel in the season 1 stinger, so he will doubtless be more than a little disappointed to discover its absence, which in turn will lead to him sticking around as a peripheral and wholly untrustworthy character. His presence will also trigger a potential issue from the fact that in the frenetic battle that opened the first season it was heavily suggested he was the one who killed Doctor Mid-Nite, something with which Beth will take issue, as well as Chuck once his memories are restored. However, that’s a problem for another day.
On the subject of Beth, the personal issues plaguing the girl’s life play no part this time around, as she’s barely around for more than a few minutes. It’s frustrating that so much was made of where her life currently is, but to now have that in no way followed up upon. Okay, as was stated above this episode’s purpose was to give Jennie a proper introduction, but these problems Beth would naturally want to share with her friends have temporarily been shunted to the side due to their being narratively inconvenient. This issue also extends to the other members of the JSA, but since she has the least screen time or direct interaction with others it’s most glaring with her.
Outwith the main plot, the summer school aspect of things has some inauspicious beginnings, the classes overseen by an art teacher surprisingly unresentful of having to work through the holidays, and does that incredibly annoying thing of trying to appeal to his young charges on their level. Apparently, in his mind nothing clicks with teenagers more than trying to be ‘cool’ and making dated pop culture references over twice as old as the kids themselves are. The scene serves little more purpose than establishing the sullen presence of Isaac, who so far has had nothing to do other than scowl and snarl while it’s quietly ignored that he’s undertaken a year’s worth of physical maturation in the mere weeks since season 1’s finale.
Yolanda is also there with dubious justification to give Courtney someone to talk to, while Rick skips his mandated attendance to continue bringing stacks of junk food to the forest clearing that has seemingly become the home of Solomon Grundy. It seems a little unlikely that a twelve-foot monstrosity wouldn’t be visible twenty yards away through a sparse treeline, but I can only assume the POV perspective was a creative choice to save on the CGI budget rather than foreshadowing the unseen presence being something else entirely.
As well as introducing new characters, there’s also the unexpected reappearance of an old one, Cindy’s stepmother Bobbie. It takes you a moment to remember who she actually is, partly because her season 1 appearances were brief and minor, and also because she now actually looks and dresses like a modern-day thirtysomething woman rather than the pastiche of a ‘50s housewife seen previously.
Chugging wine and smashing crockery in celebration of being about to leave behind the life of fear and oppression to which she has been subjected for an indeterminate length of time, her hopes are immediately dashed by the return of her evil stepdaughter and being swiftly put under the power of the black diamond. On that topic, as dramatic as it looks the shot of the glowing jewel being held in front of someone’s right eye is swiftly becoming overused. It’s possibly symbolic of the popular notion that the right half of the brain deals with feeling and emotion while the left with analysis and intellect, but whatever the reason it certainly wouldn’t hurt to make a different stylistic choice every now and then.
There was no real reason for Cindy to return here, except that for all her ambitions of supervillainy she’s still an entitled child with a belief that parental units should take care of her, as god forbid she should have to cook her own food, and further emphasises her perspective that other people are tools for her to use as she sees fit.
It’s tacitly suggested that the entity is only able to directly act when someone commits some kind of infraction against nebulously defined rules, since before it could take control and devour her soul Bobbie was first required to be goaded into trying to kill Cindy. This ties in with the first episode’s prologue where Rebecca was only killed after she tried to steal the doll, Bruce stating her crime as the darkness emerged.
Surprisingly, Cindy actually seems shocked by the result, the declaration of “I didn’t want her dead” sounding genuinely remorseful, and not just because Bobbie’s death will mildly inconvenience her everyday life. It’s the closest to something resembling genuine emotion other than malice and anger that Cindy has yet displayed, and may be an indicator that some kind of genuine development may be on the cards for her, especially after she is inevitably betrayed by the sentient force she thinks is hers to command. Perhaps it’s even some lingering guilt over, as was implied in the first season, her being responsible for the death of her biological mother.
Exactly why the entity decided that Bobbie needed to die isn’t clear, but perhaps each time someone kills under its influence its control over them grows, or consuming souls allows it to grow stronger. Either way, it seems the more people it can get Cindy to murder the quicker it can break free of its gemstone prison. So, about a couple of weeks then?
“Summer School: Chapter Two” is a serviceable if not especially distinctive episode notable only for its introduction of important new characters. Jennie quickly makes her mark and leaves you eager for her return, and the Shade is suitably inscrutable in his motivations, but overall the main story feels like it’s being held in limbo.
- Jennie’s enthusiasm in learning of her legacy
- the parallels between Jennie and Courtney
- the organic feel of Jennie’s abrupt departure
- Cindy getting some character development
- the main plot still being set up
- Rick, Beth and Yolanda having little to do
- the inconsistency of Courtney’s mistrust of Jennie
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