Stargirl – Season 3 Episode 3
“Chapter 3 – The Blackmail”
Stargirl takes a closer look at its two primary murder suspects as an additional motive comes to light, while a potential new villain edges towards surrendering to the darkness.
Although it was established fairly conclusively last week that for various reasons Sportsmaster and Tigress were unlikely to have killed Gambler, it ended with them cryptically alluding to a secret that would point suspicion back towards them should it be revealed. As this week’s episode title all but directly informs us, the “Kentucky Fried Felon” was blackmailing them, which anyone would perceive as a viable motive.
The information came out by Cindy anonymously sending the details to Beth, intending to throw suspicion at the Crocks to make everyone see them as guilty and so stop searching for the laptop. Her attempts to access the computer are still roadblocked by her lack of a password, and it raises the question of why an expert in both creating and breaking digital encryption would not have added a failsafe that wipes the hard drive after a certain number of incorrect attempts, but it must be said it’s also within character for him to chuckle to himself at the thought of his own obnoxious face taunting a thief with each successive error.
For all Cindy’s seemingly genuine desire to be treated as an equal teammate, she still seems to not quite comprehend that this shouldn’t involve attempting to manipulate people into doing what you want, even if doing so has been second nature to you for years. Neither is going behind your team’s back and doing the one thing they said nobody should do, namely tell Sylvester the news lest he go off half-cocked again, which is of course exactly what he does, leading to the crux of the episode.
Sylvester has quickly proven a tendency to charge into situations without much in the way of forethought and this is certainly no exception, evidently not seeing any issue with picking a fight with Sportsmaster and Tigress out in the open and starting a brawl in a busy supermarket where dozens of innocent bystanders are ready to get caught in the crossfire. The fight is a fast and energetic affair, the Crocks’ athleticism and agility balanced against Sylvester’s skill and weaponry. It’s worth noting that this is the first time we’ve actually seen Sylvester fight since the frantic melee of the first season’s prologue, where out of those of the fractured JSA still standing he acquitted himself the best. The synergy with which the Crocks fight is flawless, so used to providing what the other needs in any given moment that no words or even glances are required to communicate it. However, it was also demonstrated in the series’ opening battle that Sylvester is capable of taking them both on simultaneously and eventually overpowers them with his cosmic advantage, only for Pat’s timely landing in S.T.R.I.P.E. to prevent anything truly terminal from happening. The last time he made such an entrance was in first season episode “The Justice Society,” saving the teenage nascent heroes after they were outclassed by the psychotic spouses, making it an interesting inversion for him to now do the same to rescue the former villains from the wrath of the man he once considered a leader.
It transpires the Crocks were being blackmailed over ISA crimes, but oddly only for criminal acts committed by its other members that they weren’t involved in, which seems a bit convoluted when they doubtless perpetrated multiple murders on behalf of the supervillain group. It’s probably to avoid adding any new transgressions to their slate in addition to the ones they’re hoping to be forgiven for, but it’s a little too straightforward just to avoid eroding sympathy for them. Similarly, their freedom from prison is explained as having been granted by a legal loophole, which seems unlikely given their having been incarcerated for their part in a plot to mind control the entire country that in the process would bring about millions of casualties, but since it was little more than a passing comment we’re unlikely to get anything more. The point is to bring up that they have a chance at a fresh start and aren’t about to do anything to jeopardise it.
Elsewhere, we get an explanation of Rick’s hostility towards Cameron that was briefly seen last season and then never alluded to again. As far as Rick is concerned, Cameron is just another spoiled rich kid unappreciative of the privilege his life has afforded him, and it’s implied that the pair’s dislike of each other has been festering for years.
Cameron’s academic decline is brought up by Miss Woods, the strict maths teacher Rick had a couple of interactions with last season, now having evidently moved past her suspicion of him cheating on tests and appreciates what she was trying to do for him, and calls Cameron out on his aggression towards her. The desire to take out your anger and frustration on anyone who happens to be nearby is something Rick can truly understand, as well as the regret that comes after the realisation of how spitefully meaningless your actions were.
Rick’s resentment of the life and family that Cameron still has is unspoken but clear. Yes, Cameron has also lost both his parents, but he still has grandparents to look after him, a large and luxurious house to live in, and presumably no concerns about where money will come from. Rick, on the other hand, as well as being dirt poor it transpires his uncle Matt has abandoned him to live a sleazy drunken life of bitter resentment somewhere else after he recovered from the near-fatal beating Rick gave him last season. In a better world the pair might have ultimately bonded over their shared tragedy rather than remaining at odds over their differences.
Throughout Cameron’s interspersed appearances over the previous two seasons it’s been ambiguous if he’ll take the path of heroism or villainy, but it now seems that he’s being firmly set up for the latter. It’s possible Courtney might be his saving grace as the two of them are clearly still into in each other, the only problem being what relationship point they’ll be at when they each discover the other’s secret, and what will happen as a result.
The scenes with Tigress coming to Barbara continue to be a highlight, and rather than being someone she turns to in desperation, she has become someone she can confide in and ask for advice. It’s a strange contradiction that someone who only the night before was willing to stare down almost certain death at the hands of a homicidal superhero is now intimidated by speaking in front of a half-empty room of middle-aged women. It reinforces that confrontation and killing is really all she knows, and that attempting to interact as a social human being is uncharted territory for her. Her nervousness is eased by Barbara appearing in support, suggesting the pair are on their way to becoming genuine friends. As a thank you she deals with Barbara’s obnoxious manager Tim, and while it’s not shown what happens, by the next episode he will doubtless have made a sudden about-turn in personality. Previously, she’d have just killed him and disposed of the body, and even when attempting to be a better person she’s evidently decided that being terrifying can be justified in the right circumstances. A woman who until very recently was a professional killer would have little trouble scaring a man whose idea of revelling in his minimal authority is to treat his staff like petulant children.
After having some sense talked into him by Pat, who once again proves himself a reliable voice of both reason and wisdom, Sylvester attempts to be more productive by re-searching the murder site, only to fall foul of whatever giant creature caused the damage. It’s unofficial but fairly reliable wisdom that if someone is seen battered, bloody and motionless with their eyes open it means they’re dead, while if someone is seen battered, bloody and motionless with their eyes closed it means they’re unconscious but probably still alive. Thus, this won’t be the last we’ll see of Sylvester, but he’s unlikely to enjoy what comes next.
It’s odd that nobody has mentioned the apparent contradiction of the trailer’s destruction and the Gambler’s cause of death. If you’re strong enough to pulverise a metal wall, you’re unlikely to kill someone by stabbing them in the heart instead of beating them to death or crushing them with your bare hands. Therefore, it’s likely that two people were present for his demise: the possessor of superhuman strength brought along for muscle, and the one in charge who actually killed him, possibly after grilling him for information. The latter of these is probably the out of focus silhouette seen watching camera feeds in a dank lair, and who may well be Mister Bones, the creepy, not-actually-skeletal and somewhat Nazi-coded individual seen in the stinger of season 2’s finale and set up as a potential big bad. The identity is suggested by the leather gloves seen in the shot; Bones’ skin sweats a lethal poison so he must keep his hands covered lest he kill anyone he even accidentally touches. Whether this actually is him, as well as what he hopes to gain from spying on the oblivious heroes and villains, remains to be seen.
“The Blackmail” largely consists of a central fight scene along with its build up and aftermath, but the battle itself is spectacular viewing that showcases the capabilities of some of the series’ most powerful surviving characters, while blurring the line between hero and villain being set up a as a major theme.
- the supermarket brawl’s excellent choreography
- the long-overdue development of Cameron
- an explanation for Rick and Cameron’s animosity
- the Barbara/Tigress scenes
- Pat acting as the voice of rationality
- the oversimplicity of Sportsmaster and Tigress being blackmailed for crimes they’re innocent of
- the weak justification for the Crocks’ freedom
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