For those of you just joining us, a quick refresher before we dive into the penultimate episode of Stargirl’s surprisingly dark second season.
Cindy Burman, the villainous daughter of the Dragon King, formed her own Injustice Society to enact revenge against Courtney Whitmore and in doing so accidentally freed Eclipso, an evil vengeance demon that devours joy and seeks divine apotheosis. For her trouble, Eclipso tossed Cindy into the Shadowlands, an awful place of despair that has, for the last decade, been the home of Dr. Charles McNider, aka Dr. Mid-Nite I. As for Courtney, in an attempt to repel Eclipso, she soon found herself cast into this purgatory right beside Cindy where things… got emotional. Blue Valley’s inspirational source of light and hope was lost to shadow.
Which brings us to now, where Eclipso’s emotional bulldozing of Courtney’s friends and family has made her new Justice Society a shambles: Rick Tyler is in jail for beating his abusive uncle within an inch of his life; Yolanda Montez has abandoned her role as Wildcat II because of her profound guilt over committing murder last season; Beth Chapel is barely holding things together with her on-the-fritz Mid-Nite goggles; and Courtney’s cosmic staff just hasn’t been itself, keeping quiet inside its crate in the dark of the Whitmore family’s basement where it once shined so bright.
Eclipso is responsible for all of this. Or some of this. It’s complicated, which is a fit word to describe this second season of Stargirl, a horror-tinged slow burn of shocking developments, character complexity, and darkness. So much darkness.
Uncomplicated: Rick was tricked by Eclipso into pummelling his uncle while infused with the golden powers of the Hourman hourglass. Complicated: Rick’s uncle has treated him like garbage ever since his parents’ sudden death. Uncomplicated: Yolanda is indeed guilty of killing a man. Complicated: the circumstances were murky and the country was at stake, but Yolanda unsheathed her claws and did what she did. Uncomplicated: Cindy’s done very bad things in her life. Complicated: she’s the product of abuse and torture at the hands of her supervillain father.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of Mike Dugan’s search for the Thunderbolt genie, whose incalculable power could help turn the tide against Eclipso. This plot point might be less complex (and, besides, it includes a gigantic, presumably very edible, cheeseburger), but the uncertainty of Thunderbolt’s status is still a considerable x-factor in a season rife with them. Plus, it’s fun where a lot of other corners in Stargirl have been a lot more severe.
For being such a tightly-wound series, Stargirl is spinning a lot of plates at a precarious moment. (That might be why it had the grace to offer a recap for its viewers before beginning its march towards an uncertain finale.) Also, there hasn’t been much time for the rosy-cheeked levity we often enjoyed during its first season, what with the surprise deaths—or death fake-outs, such as The Shade’s dodgy bow last week—and hairpin plot developments, like Eclipso’s sudden and terrifying rise to prominence during this season’s midpoint. (This would explain Max The Doggo’s debauched shoe-chompin’ spree set to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” at the beginning of this week’s episode, which may have been the insane idea of episode writer—and comic legend of Starman fame—James Dale Robinson, you never know.) “Summer School: Chapter Twelve” seeks to tie all these plot threads together before Eclipso’s springs his nefarious trap on the JSA. Glimmers of light amid all this oppressive dark.
It’s another strength of Stargirl as a superhero show: balance. After Courtney and Cindy’s miraculous—and costly—return from the Shadowlands last week (with Dr. Mid-Nite in tow), Cindy attempts to mix with the Whitmores after a traumatic couple of days. She glowers over a heartfelt hug between Court and Barbara and later provides this week’s episode one of its biggest laughs as she glowers over Barbara’s generous sandwich lunch. Shifting back to complex villain mode, Cindy later pays Yolanda a visit in her own home, sneaking into her bedroom to talk trash in a Machiavellian bid to get Yolanda to rejoin the JSA. She brings up (one of) Yolanda’s worst day(s) in her life, throws Henry King’s picture in her face, and makes Yolanda honestly believe that Courtney is just fine battling Eclipso without her. Unabashed fun and high-stakes drama. Balance.
“Summer School: Chapter Twelve” is also an episode with a serious(ly lovely) payoff. After two seasons of playing an elaborate game of superhero telephone, Beth finally meets Chuck McNider, who we find out is very much convinced that Beth is primed for the hero life. (Pat: “I don’t know if these kids are ready for this.” Chuck: “You sure? Because what I know of Beth Chapel, she is.”) It’s a wonderful moment in an episode that continues to explore the inner darkness of its heroic cast, which we see play out again once Pat Dugan goes to visit Matt Harris, Rick’s uncle, in the hospital.
After it becomes abundantly clear that Matt is choosing to further Rick’s many torments by pressing charges against him (as he articulates in a hastily-scrawled note: “go to Hell”), Pat, with his aw-shucks good looks and heart made of gold, hardens his gaze at the obstinate man in front of him. “You were supposed to take care of Rick,” he begins, pointing out Matt’s proficiency for hurting people weaker than him, citing grim examples. “You’re a bad guy. And whenever I’ve run into someone like you… when I was growin’ up…” *locks door* “Back in the Army… or today… makes me remember somethin’ about myself: I got some bad in me, too.” And then he pulls the hospital blinds shut.
Pat’s defended the people he cares about with violence before. Remember, he once socked Court’s biological dad in the gob when he came around looking to exploit his estranged daughter. But this sequence felt different, angrier, darker than anything we’ve seen Pat do before. Did Matt have it coming, or is he suffering enough? Eclipso is coming and the JSA needs Hourman II, so is what Pat did to Matt justified? Will Rick accept what happened between his uncle and the man he’s come to know as a mentor when the truth rears its ugly head?
And what about Courtney? What is she prepared to do to stop Eclipso? We know what the original Justice Society felt it had to do the last time this demon ran amok. Does a JSA victory against Eclipso require the darkness within? Cindy thinks so, and her duplicitous antics with Yolanda produced results. According to Cindy, Court better get her hands dirty fast, like Yolanda did with Brainwave, like the old JSA did with Eclipso once before. “You have to fight fire with fire,” she tells Courtney in the Whitmore home. “You have to be bad to fight evil.”
Meanwhile, in the basement, the cosmic staff glows.
- Could the terror of being peed on by a pooch have been what shook Court’s cosmic staff out of its inert state? I wouldn’t rule it out.
- Jennie: (awed by the wrecked cafeteria) “Woah.” Beth: “Yeah, we had a big fight in here last week.”
- How does Eclipso disrupt Jennie’s Green Lantern ring? So far, premonitions seem to be a debilitating side-effect.
- Now playing at the Dallas Theater: Sgt. Rock, 12:40, 4:10, 7:20, 9:50. Created by Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher, Sgt. Rock first appeared in DC’s Our Army at War #83, all the way back in 1959.
- Fun fact: the Dallas’ marquee has been a long-running meta joke featuring some of DC’s more obscure titles, including The Unknown Soldier, Prez, G.I. Combat, and Strange Adventures. I’m just waiting for the season three sequel, Sgt. Rock And The Creature Commandos.
- Blue Valley’s “Summer Of Insanity”, courtesy of Thunderbolt: cotton candy lightning, flying bikes, candy canes the size of cars, colossal cake pops to freeway-blocking french fries, and a beer brat larger than a school bus floating out in the lake. And a big, big ol’ cheeseburger.
- Mike: “You ever hear of the Justice Society of America?” Jakeem: “Is that like the Boy Scouts? Because I am really bad at tying knots.”
- Mike, to Jakeem: “If you want to keep the pen, I get it. But then you have the responsibility that comes with it. You gotta help us save the world.” Just not before the dishes. (Jakeem’s scenes with Mike were fun, but somebody should maybe consider redecorating his bedroom.)
- Eclipso’s mention of Courtney’s “darkness within”, is a call-back to the all-hands-on-deck, Eclipso-centric, DC event series, “The Darkness Within”. It ran across 20 DC annual issues throughout the summer of 1992.
- So where are you at emotionally now that we’re so close to the end, group? Who is going to pay for all those chewed shoes? Who’s gonna eat that giant cheeseburger? Is Sylvester finally gonna pop in and say hello before it’s all over? Let’s prepare for the finale in the comments below.