Stargirl’s debut season was so strong that by the time the show got to its somewhat perfunctory action climax, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that season one hadn’t lived up to its full potential. This time around, however, I’m having the opposite reaction. In retrospect, Stargirl’s second season was an overstuffed but underbaked affair that had some impressive high points but never quite coalesced into something greater than the sum of its parts. So it’s smart that this finale prioritizes action-packed excitement over everything else. Though Stargirl doesn’t exactly cut its losses in “Summer School: Chapter Thirteen,” it’s clearly more focused on wowing its audience with superhero razzle dazzle and enticing teases than on putting a neat bow on the season we just watched.
But when that razzle dazzle includes cool fight scenes, dramatic character beats, and the surprise appearance of not only S.T.R.I.P.E., Thunderbolt, and Solomon Grundy, but also the Crock family, The Shade, and Starman himself, it’s hard to mind too much. Intellectually there are all sorts of holes I can punch in this season’s storytelling choices—and I’ll probably spend a lot of this review doing just that. But it’s worth acknowledging that I had an absolute blast watching this episode. “Chapter Thirteen” takes a “throw everything at the wall!” approach to the show’s massive ensemble storytelling. And it’s fun to see what amounts to the Avengers: Endgame final battle done on a DC/CW budget.
The majority of “Chapter Thirteen” centers on the climatic battle against Eclipso. The demon reveals that his masterplan is to take over Courtney’s body, combine her power of light with his power of darkness, merge the Shadowland with Earth, consume all of humanity, and fashion himself as a god. (In other words, just another average Tuesday in Blue Valley.) To break the sunny superheroine’s spirit, Eclipso tortures her friends with their worst fears. Yolanda faces off with a disparaging Ted Grant, Cindy battles her younger self, Pat rumbles with a crueler version of himself, and Beth watches in horror as her parents are emotionally manipulated by one of Eclipso’s visions. Yet it’s only once Pat is physically tortured in front of her that Courtney finally admits she hates Eclipso and gives the demon an opportunity to possess her.
One of the most unexpected choices this finale makes is to anchor the ultimate battle for Courtney’s soul in the character of Sylvester Pemberton, who finally finished up at that diner in Nevada and made his way to Blue Valley just in time for the fireworks show. It’s a testament to Joel McHale’s performance—and to the way the show has depicted Sylvester in this season’s flashbacks—that the moment works even though Courtney and Sylvester have never actually met before. They’re bonded together as the two people the Cosmic Staff trusts. And that allows Sylvester to break through to Courtney’s innate goodness in a visually stunning sequence where they’re floating above the town square.
In fact, of the many, many characters who appear in this finale, Courtney is the only one who really gets a satisfying conclusion to her season-long arc. Last season, Courtney learned to embrace a more nuanced view of herself and her heroism; she could still be a superhero even if her abilities weren’t inherited from her father. This season, Courtney has learned to embrace a more nuanced view of humanity at large. Yes, everyone has the capacity for darkness inside of them, but they also have the capacity for goodness too. Seeing those shades of grey fuels Courtney’s optimism, rather than dulls it. And that’s exactly why Sylvester knows she’s the perfect person to wield the staff—with a few more lessons from him that is.
Sylvester moving into the Whitmore-Dugan household is one of the many exciting teases “Chapter Thirteen” delivers for next season. Elsewhere, the Crocks buy the house next door, Cindy asks Yolanda for a chance to turn over a new leaf by joining the JSA, Mike pitches Jakeem on starting a superhero team of their own, Cameron’s grandparents inform him of his ice powers, and The Shade hints at Solomon Grundy’s return as well as his own decision to stay in Blue Valley (yay!). And that’s not even mentioning the post-credits return to the ominous Helix Institute for Youth Rehabilitation from “Chapter Ten” to set up next season’s big bad, Mister Bones (voiced by Keith David).
Yet all that excitement for the future makes it easy to miss just how much this season bungles some of its own ongoing arcs. The most egregious is Yolanda, who just kind of gets over her debilitating guilt/PTSD and permanently rejoins the JSA after the fight against Eclipso. Cindy’s switch to the good side also feels pretty rushed. And, in retrospect, it’s weird that the first chunk of this season put such a focus on introducing Jennie and Thunderbolt/Jakeem only to sideline those characters for much of its run. Elsewhere, poor Rick ends this season completely powerless and no one even seems to notice. And while Beth, at least, has had a solid and empowering second season, the way this episode awkwardly writes Dr. McNider out of the story by sending him off to Indiana to be with his wife and hitherto unmentioned 10-year-old son is one of the many clunky storytelling choices in this finale.
Still, considering what the show was up against both with filming a season during a global pandemic and handling the shift from a DC Universe budget to a CW one, Stargirl’s second season did an admirable job keeping the ship afloat and adding some compelling new pieces in the process. I’m particularly excited that season three has been subtitled “Frenemies.” From Courtney’s uneasy bond with Cindy to Crusher Crock’s affection for Pat to The Shade’s entire existence, Stargirl has carved out a unique niche as a superhero show that’s as interested in humanizing its villains as its heroes. And while the pure, unfiltered evil of Eclipso made for an interesting change of pace, I suspect a focus on human drama will let Stargirl shine even brighter.
- I don’t know, Beth, I feel like transforming a sentient creature into a piece of burnt toast is basically the equivalent of killing him.
- This week’s Luke Wilson Scene I Could Watch For An Hour: Two Luke Wilsons in one episode?!? Be still my beating heart! As with Pat’s turn toward the dark side with Rick’s uncle last week, I thought Wilson did an excellent job bringing some ominous notes to Pat’s usually sunny demeanor.
- Seeing the new, improved S.T.R.I.P.E. back in action for the first time this season was fun, but watching Zeke calmly take in Thunderbolt’s existence was even better.
- I don’t know if the plan was always to reveal The Shade’s death was just his “flair for the dramatic” or if that was a last minute retcon based on how well he worked as a character, but I’m so glad we’ll be getting more of Jonathan Cake’s stellar performance!
- I teared up at Dr. McNider telling Beth’s parents, “You both should be very proud.” It’ll be a fun subversion to watch Beth have to deal with her uber supportive helicopter parents next season.
- This finale punts all our Sylvester Pemberton questions to next season, but I still want to know what was up with him visiting Pat’s ex-wife at that diner.
- I loved Courtney’s montage of happy memories that remind her she’s loved by her friends and family.
- On behalf of myself and my regular fill-in recapper Jarrod Jones, thank you so much for following along with this season of reviews! See you back here in 2022!