Stargirl – Season 3 Episode 2
“Chapter Two – The Suspects”
Stargirl kicks off its murder mystery in earnest, looking at the most obvious potential killers and examining how likely they are to actually be the culprit.
Most murder mysteries begin with the surprise death of somebody seemingly innocuous, only for the subsequent investigation to reveal shady secrets that may or may not have led to their untimely demise. However, in this case it’s been long established what a despicable excuse for a human being Gambler had been in the past, along with just how many people would either want to see him dead or won’t shed any tears now that he’s gone. Given that Blue Valley is now populated by a number of villains in various stages of reformation, nobody has to look far in order to start pointing fingers.
If the suspects weren’t already clear, a few moments from the first episode are replayed in extended form, seeing Sportsmaster having to restrain himself from carrying out some homicidal retaliation as he pulls up to Gambler’s trailer, and the Shade barging inside it for a conversation we are not privy to. It was mentioned last week that Gambler drained the Shade’s bank accounts after he left the ISA, but while the loss of money is enough for him to treat someone with contempt, simply just killing them over it is a notion he would see as inelegant and lacking in class, especially years after the fact. Even if he wanted to kill Gambler, stabbing someone is a prosaic form of violence he’d consider beneath him, as he himself explicitly states. Meanwhile, the animalistic roar and the hole ripped in the trailer requiring superhuman strength would suggest Solomon Grundy, but a quick visit by Rick to the zombie’s latest burial site confirms he’s still there, so unless someone dug him up, resurrected him for a single night and put him back in exactly a manner in which he was found to avoid suspicion (which seems a little elaborate, even for a comic book villain), an explanation will lie elsewhere.
There are still the circumstances pointing to Cindy that most of the team, especially Yolanda, are fine to accept as definitive proof of her guilt. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that she might be malevolent, violent and spiteful, but the everyday sadism she exhibited in the past was more of a psychological thing, meaning she won’t physically attack people without reason, and Gambler was someone whose existence likely barely registered to her. Courtney’s steadfast resolve to find the truth is partially down to her refusing to let a murderer walk free, as such a flagrant shirking of the duties of a hero goes against the very core of who she is, but also her determination to find Becky and be able to tell her what really happened. Although it’s clear she’s projecting – and with a little more of the self-awareness she so fundamentally lacks she’d realise this – it doesn’t mean that she’s wrong to want to bring a killer to justice or let a mystery girl know what her absent father felt about her.
It was briefly established in the first season that Cindy has more than a little knowledge of chemistry, and the scene of her in some scaled down variation of a mad scientist’s lab studying anatomy diagrams point to her undertaking some kind of biological experiments, precisely as Yolanda suspects. Her wincing at an unidentified pain in her shoulder is meant to suggest some heavy exertion (such as, say, tearing open a large metal dwelling), but it’s equally possible that the suspiciously colourful liquid she’s brewed up is to stave off the deterioration of her physical augmentations. Similarly, her having Gambler’s laptop might be her hoping to discover some details of her father’s experiments on her she can recreate to fix herself, and not necessarily that she also killed its owner to get it. In mystery stories like this, if something is to be taken as definitive fact we will see it happen rather than have it heavily hinted.
This may even be what prompted her to attempt to join the JSA in the first place; she might have realised that she can’t solve her problem alone but also knows that she won’t get any help from people who don’t like or trust her. Instead of the previous reactions we’ve seen of a high school princess sneering with indignation at classmates refusing to kowtow to her every whim, she seems genuinely hurt by their continued rejection, suggesting that after having alienated everyone who once stood alongside her, the people who not that long ago she tried to kill are ironically now the closest things she has to actual friends. Whatever the truth, it’s an interesting direction for her character to take.
As Sylvester and Pat begin their investigation, the former Starman is set on re-establishing their previous hero/sidekick dynamic like something from the 1950s, although pushes the point a bit too far. The notion has been outmoded for decades, and having someone sincerely trying to invoke it sounds ridiculous. It could be intended to emphasise how much the world has moved on in the years since his death, like with his painfully dated reference to ancient computer game Frogger, but it does raise the question of what business someone so evidently out of touch has taking the lead in an investigation.
Sylvester’s belligerent attitude might be indicative of some change having come over him since his resurrection since we have little frame of reference for how aggressive he was prior to his death, but you can hardly expect politeness when dealing with someone you hold responsible for your friends being killed. However, the Shade’s comment about nobody except Pat showing up for Sylvester’s funeral suggests that even as a hero he may not have been a particularly pleasant person (after all, it was him who murdered Bruce Gordon to defeat Eclipso the first time around). It brings up the season’s developing theme of second chances, what with Blue Valley seemingly having become a haven for people looking to leave their pasts behind them, and that by remaining he can figure out who he is absent from the identity of Starman to give his life meaning.
We also see a far more optimistic side of him in his training of Courtney, as it seems that being able to use the Staff is about the only thing that brings him any true joy. Channelling the Staff’s energy gives some suitably histrionic visuals, and provides Courtney with something tangible to work towards attaining, this being the first time she hasn’t had to figure out for herself something she can use it for. As an aside, if Courtney’s power level is destined to be defined by weaponising her positive emotions, she may well soon ascend to godhood.
A new dynamic for this season is fast proving a highlight, that of Barbara being paired with Tigress. It’s amusingly psychotic for the latter to offer proof of innocence of one murder by explaining how she’s dealt with others, and just as fun to watch her stumble through attempts to understand social interaction and basic human empathy, while almost physically grimacing at the mask of civility she is forced to wear to fit in with this town of wholesome Americana. Her lack of comprehension could indicate some level of neurodivergence but is more likely simply intended to emphasise how her violent nature has left little capacity to experience functional emotion and thus fathom its significance. Hopefully, the two will have many more such interactions, as there’s the potential for them to be a lot of fun.
Rick and Beth have a little to do with discussing the former’s problem with the hourglass and the time his enhanced strength lasts being unpredictably variable. It brings some needed consequences to his rash decision to previously destroy it, and will likely make him question his place in the team if he can no longer rely on the endurance it affords him. The scene also kicks off the first of several sub-plots, seeing the Shade depart with his customary flair for the dramatic, the jet swirls of his eponymous tendrils now crackling with green sparks. Nothing is mentioned, but it’s likely whatever is afflicting him has something to do with Jennie, it perhaps not being a good mix for the light of the Green Lantern to be used in close proximity to a living conduit to the Shadowlands.
Mike and Jakeem start their own investigation to identify the Gambler’s killer in the hope of being taken seriously, having a slight edge in being able to get something resembling answers from the Thunderbolt (now voiced by Seth Green and not so eager to physically manifest in order to save on the CGI budget). Of course, we can’t have any kind of definitive answer this early in the season, so we’re instead left with a cryptic message of the killer having many names. It’s information of pointedly limited use in a setting where almost every featured character has a codename in addition to their given moniker, but using ‘many’ rather than ‘two’ or ‘dual’ is just as deliberate a choice, and since we’ve yet to encounter anyone who rattles off titles like Daenerys Targaryen we don’t yet possess enough information to determine the significance of who it might refer to.
A brief aside brings Cameron back (along with art teacher Paul Deisinger, partially crippled from his encounter with Eclipso last season) who has lost his artistic focus now that his ice powers have begun to manifest. His development of metahuman abilities has been a long time coming, and his sinister grandparents Lily and Sofus are set on helping him realise them, strongly indicating they’ll become important sooner rather than later.
There’s another mention of Gambler’s old No Limit Gang (comic book naming conventions are nothing if not thematic), but if we’re supposed to take them seriously enough to be a convincing red herring then they need to have more of a presence since right now they feel like little more than an afterthought.
A final ambiguous revelation comes in the form of Sportsmaster and Tigress revealing they’re hiding something they don’t want getting out, possibly the source of their animosity towards Gambler. Although it wasn’t ever in doubt that they never liked him, nothing we’ve seen of their interactions would provoke a lethally violent reprisal, even from a pair of psychopaths. Whatever it is, there’s little chance it won’t paint them in a less than flattering light and make them appear even guiltier of the murder, and when it comes out that they were hiding it will only compound the issue. Realistically, we’re not much closer to an answer than we were at this point last week, but the character work put in to get us here more than makes up for it.
“The Suspects” is a sedate but engaging commencement to the murder investigation and demonstrates that the simplest solutions to a mystery are rarely correct. The season still struggles with its opening issue of finding something for all of its expansive cast to do, but with most of them approaching the same goal from different angles it shouldn’t be long before things become more streamlined.
- The ambiguity over the suspects’ motives
- Barbara and Tigress’ developing dynamic
- comedic character moments relieving the tension
- Sylvester receiving some long-needed characterisation
- Cindy’s character growth
- Rick having problems with the hourglass
- Gambler’s gang invoked without meaning or significance
- Sylvester trying to re-establish his and Pat’s hero/sidekick dynamic
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