Stargirl – Season 3 Episode 12
“Episode Twelve – The Last Will and Testament of Sylvester Pemberton”
Stargirl gears itself up for its season and series finale, and still finds time for one final rug pull before final confrontations kick off.
Quite a few of this season’s episodes have each revolved around a single big twist or revelation and this one is no exception, but it fares far better due to the groundwork done to make it comparatively plausible, ironically as a result of some of the things I’ve been complaining about. But once again, we’ve got some stuff to get through before we reach it.
Another “Decades Ago” opening takes us back to some time circa 1950, which as well as once again reminding us of the loosely defined chronology of the series’ history, it briefly shows us Delores Winters (Meredith Garretson), a Hollywood actress whose body the Ultra-Humanite took over. It’s an interesting scene but is also the kind of event that would have worked better as an introduction to the whole season, in the same way that Eclipso’s murder of Rebecca McNider opened things last time. Rather than its placement now where it serves little more purpose than reinforcing the exposition already received, with a bit of simple tweaking it could have provided vague allusions of things to come, crafting a mysterious prologue whose true significance would only come to light later on. As it stands, it merely reminds us of the Ultra-Humanite’s capacity for jumping bodies and well as bringing back Dragon King in his pre-mutated state for a seemingly cameo appearance.
Back in the present, the majority of events unusually revolve around Sylvester, which comes as no surprise given the episode’s title, and appropriate to it there’s a certain degree of finality in everything he says and does for most of it. From promising Artemis that he’ll kill Icicle to prevent her future from being tainted by the criminal family she was born into, to espousing the importance of the names of the fallen JSA never being forgotten and asking Beth and Yolanda to locate individuals worthy of continuing their legacies, he seems to have accepted that one way or another his confrontation with the cryokinetic supervillain will be a final conclusion. As an aside, there’s an odd inclusion of him bringing up heroes who were never previously mentioned as being among the fallen members of the heroic superteam, such as the Atom, Mr Terrific and the Spectre, and exactly how the ISA were able to take down a being as powerful as the latter (see also: Doctor Fate) is something we can only speculate.
Sylvester’s characterisation (when he’s actually been around) has been somewhat inconsistent, at times portraying him to be introspective and knowledgeable, while at others volatile and violent. It’s been a little frustrating to figure out how much of this we were to ascribe to his genuine personality and how much was due to the trauma of death and resurrection, but for every one of his seemingly selfless and heroic moments there have been others where he attempts to belittle the goals and achievements of others, making it difficult to ascertain exactly how much we are expected to empathise with him.
I’ve noted several times that this season’s expanded cast has come at the detriment of character development, and after a noticeable absence Rick finally comes back into things upon realising he needs help with his hourglass addiction, after an attempt to remove it instantly throws him into a world of pain and suffering shot like some Lynchian nightmare, the intended parallels to drug withdrawal clear without being laboured or even directly mentioned. That he was the one to make the decision rather than being forced into it by others shows he’s still holding on to some degree of self-awareness, and will hopefully lead to him if not making a full recovery, at least being partially released from the thrall in which his addiction has trapped him.
The subject of characters getting short shrift even applies to Courtney, having become partially sidelined in her own show. However, this time she gets a fantastic speech about the nature of heroes and those who look up to them, and after having been let down by the reality of two separate imagined father figures she now understands more than most about the pitfalls of idolising an idealised concept rather than a real person. After Sylvester’s outburst to push Pat away, her statement that Pat is her real hero is truly moving, perhaps only realising in the moment how much she genuinely admires and respects the one man who has actually been a father to her, in spite of her best efforts to prevent him from doing so.
Elsewhere, another wish of ill-advised ambiguity transports Mike, Jakeem and Cindy to one of Dragon King’s hidden labs, where they discover the mutilated corpse of the reptilian mad scientist and the revelation of his brain being in the giant villainous primate. Although Cindy still sees the boys as a pair of idiots she has somehow let herself become saddled with, her first instinct is still to protect them when her father comes stomping into the room in his new body, putting herself in between them and the monster to ensure they can escape. It’s a small moment, but it’s indicative of her growth considering that not that long ago she’d have thought nothing of abandoning them to save herself.
Of course, this leads to the voiced query of wherein the body-hopping megalomaniac is now actually residing, immediately answered for the audience by the scene being intercut with Pat stalking the Mahkent home with S.T.R.I.P.E.’s flamethrower as Sylvester reveals himself to actually be the Ultra-Humanite masquerading as the former hero, progressing to monologuing like a true Golden Age supervillain about the genius of his own plan as he methodically fills the shallow grave he has dumped Pat into.
Nobody would deny that Sylvester’s behaviour has at times seemed a little sketchy and difficult to justify, in particular when he told Rick about the hourglass’ limiter, but much of it could have once again been chalked up to having so little knowledge of what Sylvester was like prior to his death to compare it to. The villain has evidently been so committed to the deception he maintained it even when nobody was around to see or hear him and with the mask now removed it appears he is truly insane, so lost in the subterfuge he genuinely seems to believe he is Sylvester, to the point that Pat appealing to his old friend almost has him helping him out of the hole he’s just been burying him in.
I’d like to think that this was dreamed up in advance and isn’t just reconning his aimless wanderings for the previous two years into something more significant, but I also think I’ve made it pretty clear my cynicism for how well some of this season’s surprises have been thought out. Also, since the true purpose of his journey was evidently character research on Sylvester, it doesn’t quite track that asking questions about Pat’s current whereabouts would lead to such information being proffered, particularly to the extent of being able to wield the Cosmic Staff that his fighting style is indistinguishable to those already familiar with it. On the other hand, it does retrospectively explain a few odd moments, such as when Sylvester was investigating one of Dragon King’s labs and wandered off into a darkened corridor without any follow-up of what happened there, or times that would have required an eight-foot albino gorilla being able to move around a Midwestern town unseen by the general populace.
Either way, the combination of the infodump about the Ultra-Humanite’s nature and the genetic meddling of Dragon King means that this particular big twist has a far more satisfying payoff than the previous two. Each had little to no foreshadowing, allowing the new information to slot into place alongside that which was previously relayed. Brief allusions to Icicle and Dragon King’s “plans” and “endgame” suggest they’re out for more than simple vengeance, but exactly what they’re after, along with how they can be stopped, will have to wait until next week.
“The Last Will and Testament of Sylvester Pemberton” is a marked improvement over the previous couple of offerings, and although there’s little indication of how the finale will go, this episode demonstrates that even then we might still not know all we think we do.
- Courtney’s declaration of Pat being her true hero
- the satisfying reveal of who the Ultra-Humanite truly is
- Starman’s true identity retrospectively explaining his inconsistent behaviour
- the drug addiction subtext of Rick’s hourglass problems
- Cindy instinctively protecting Mike and Jakeem
- how the Ultra-Humanite was able to gather enough information about Sylvester to fool those who knew him
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