It’s one of the reasons Stargirl has soared while other Arrowverse shows have stuttered: Heroes tell each other the truth, no matter how painful it might be. Open honesty from starring characters means that superhero series have to mine drama from other sources, and Stargirl has proven that this makes pretty compelling television. (See also: Superman & Lois.)
In season one, Barbara Whitmore was denied the truth about her daughter Courtney’s ascent to superherodom by her husband, Pat. Naturally that truth nearly destroyed their family, but when the Injustice Society came bearing down on them and threatened to take away everything they ever held dear, that truth ultimately made them stronger. And they promised never to keep secrets from each other ever again! What a family.
Only that hasn’t continued to be the case, as we discovered during the final moments of last week’s stirring episode. Pat Dugan, formerly Stripesy of the JSA, has been keeping a whopper of a secret hidden underneath the hood of his cherry 1956 Buick Roadmaster: Courtney’s legendary heroes—Wildcat, Hourman, The Flash, and Starman—were complicit in the murder of the last possessed vessel for Eclipso, Bruce Gordon. (Killing Eclipso’s human host, it seems, is one of the only ways to defeat the villain.) Pat kept this secret from Courtney and, as we found out this week, so did Barbara.
It’s not just a secret that changes the way Courtney looks at Pat—it does, which isn’t great for the chemistry between the two best characters on the show—it changes the way she looks at the storied legacy of the Justice Society Of America.
With Beth continuing her search for the lost Dr. McNider (and putting her wishy-washy parents on notice: “Why don’t you figure out your own lives? Let me know when you do!”) and Rick cooling his heels in jail after a cruel, brutal ruse courtesy of Eclipso, Courtney’s shaken trust in Pat has all but put the kibosh on this neo-JSA. This week, wracked with feelings of betrayal and guilt (respectively), Courtney and Pat take an awkward road trip to Civic City, the location of the original JSA’s headquarters and the location of Pat’s sleek superhero garage hangout. (On the radio? Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry”.)
This is where the JSA’s fateful decision to whack Gordon took place; it’s also where Pat and his own personal hero, Starman, got a chance to clear the air soon afterwards. (Joel McHale, it should be noted, is surprisingly deft at handling the heavy melodrama of this show.) Starman calls what the JSA did to Bruce Gordon murder—which is good, because it is—and they toast a brewski (“to chosen families”), attempting to move on as a team even though we find out later that the Justice Society would never be the same again. Looks like history is repeating itself.
Pat and Courtney’s sojourn to Civic City is prompted by the return of Jonathan Cake’s utterly delightful heavy, The Shade, who falls right in the middle of the great Whitmore-Dugan dustup burdened with serious injuries (delivered by Eclipso, we’re led to believe) and crucial information about Eclipso’s few weaknesses: turns out the shattered black diamond, which broke into pieces when the blue-raspberried villain made his lethal debut in episode six, can be fused back together and used to ensnare him all over again. All it will take is an intense use of light energy—and since Cosmo, Court’s burnt-out cosmic staff, isn’t up to the task, the Green Lantern ring that belongs to Jennie-Lynn Scott (Ysa Penarejo) becomes the JSA’s only hope.
The Civic City visit also takes us to the Helix Institute For Youth Rehabilitation, which is not only where Jennie’s brother Todd should be, it opens up a big ol’ can of worms as far as deep DC lore goes (see Stray Observations). It’s at Helix where Pat and Courtney find Jennie, who’s had a hell of a time keeping her green-flamed fury at bay during her futile search for her brother (she burns down her former orphanage home offscreen), and after a bit of forgiveness and understanding on the part of Pat and Courtney (funny, that), Jennie puts her Green Lantern ring to work. Things would be going to plan, if not for the cunning of The Shade.
Naturally, The Shade is lying to get what he wants. And it’s strange that amid their own family row brought about by mistrust Courtney and Barbara are willing to give The Shade—of all people—the benefit of the doubt. (Pat’s not so trusting, and neither is Mikey; he leaves the family’s English bulldog, Buddy, on watch.) It’s here where an overstuffed episode rides the line between info-dumping and solid character work: as The Shade convalesces on the Whitmore’s couch, Beth’s tinkering has strengthened her connection with Dr. Charles McNider, trapped in what he calls “the shadowlands.”
Chuck gives Beth the skinny on The Shade’s dubious origins as a charlatan centuries in the making, and barely 15 feet away the sly devil awakens in a fevered state and makes like Barbara is his long lost sister, Emily. (Cake’s performance during this scene, however, especially in the delivery of the line “I lied… and cheated my way to oblivion,” is terrific.) So Courtney and Pat, standing precisely where the JSA truly lost its way, discover that they’ve been rooked; when Jennie fuses the black diamond together, it’s not hope that they feel—it’s betrayal. And fear.
The second season of Stargirl has been a particularly dark outing, rife with deceit and death and long stretches of quiet where Courtney Whitmore and her Justice Society have had ample time to truly weigh the gravity of despair. Eclipso has been loosed upon Blue Valley, and first on the ancient demon’s docket is dismantling Courtney’s new JSA into tiny, trembling pieces. His plan has been working like a charm, largely because the fissures that have long existed in the lives of the JSA are finally ready for total collapse. All Eclipso had to do was push. This week he did just that; now Courtney is lost to the Shadowlands.
- Hello! Caroline Siede has trusted me with Stargirl once again. I’m back, with even more useless comic book trivia than before! Let’s get to it.
- “You’re my brother,” Starman tells Stripesy, which likely means that Sylvester doesn’t have any children or spouses hanging around in the series’ periphery.
- “Hop Harrigan,” as anachronistic a name as has ever been uttered on Stargirl, is a deep, deep DC cut. Hop was a biplane pilot and first appeared in 1939’s All-American Comics #1. And from all accounts, Hop wasn’t marauding around, snatching young boys’ wristwatches.
- Mikey calls The Shade “Benedict Cumberbatch,” when The Shade is clearly more of a Ralph Fiennes. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
- Beth’s POV shot of her parents, seen through her refurbished Mid-Nite goggles, showed them looking askance instead of directly at their daughter.
- Solomon Grundy might have been born on a Monday, but he knows how to return a favor when it’s appropriate: he tosses Rick some apples while he awaits his fate in the Blue Valley jail. Aw.
- Civic City, the comics-accurate location of the JSA’s headquarters, is actually located in Pennsylvania. Did… Pat… drive from Nebraska to Pennsylvania?
- I like how Courtney’s kitchen is still burnt up after her scrape with Jessie earlier this season. Fam’s been too busy to retile, folks.
- Among the framed headlines in Stripesy’s garage: “Green Arrow And Speedy Stop The Spider”; “The Vigilante Retires!”; “The Shining Knight Defeats Deathbolt”; “The Star-Spangled Kid Has Grown Up—Enter Starman!”; “Where Are The Seven Soldiers Of Victory?”.
- Mikey, working on S.T.R.I.P.E.: “I thought robots would be more like Legos; I guess not.” Later, he puts on the robot’s radio and hears a report about pink lightning. Quite the coincidence, that.
- Todd Rice is indeed Jennie’s brother (her twin brother!), known in the comics as the hero Obsidian. Todd made his debut in All-Star Squadron #25 in 1983, the same debut year as *cough* me.
- This also isn’t Todd’s first Arrowverse rodeo (Arrodeo?): Lance Henriksen portrayed the hero in the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow.
- So what’s up with the Helix Institute for Youth Rehabilitation? Well, we know it’s run by one Mr. Bones, who—if Stargirl maintains its dedication for comics detail—will have an actual skull head and may also inevitably end up leading the sinister supervillain team, Helix, which are the notorious adversaries of the superheroic Infinity, Inc. Included in Infinity’s comic book ranks: Jennie, Todd—and Stripesy.
- Dunno if they used the wrong wide shot of that scene with Jennie at the Helix institute, but Luke Wilson was looking rather fidgety: he scratched his arm, put his hands behind his back, then shoved them in his pockets. I don’t know why I zero in on these kind of things, but I do.
- Jennie: “Are there ghosts?” Courtney: “There is, in fact, a Gentleman Ghost.” And there is! James Craddock, aka Gentleman Ghost, first appeared in 1947’s Flash Comics #88. He has a top hat and a floating monocle (his body is invisible but you can make out his phosphorescent tuxedo), and he’s kinda cool.
- So what do you think, group? What awaits Courtney in the Shadowlands? Will we finally meet the original Dr. Mid-Nite (possibly in his season one Henry Thomas form)? Will it be as much a cursed-Pleasantville kinda deal like it looks in the promos? And who asked Thunderbolt for that gingerbread house? Speculate away in the comments below.