Well hot damn! It turns out the reason Stargirl was a little light on action lately is because it was saving it up for this episode. “Chapter Six” is the sort of explosive hour that TV shows usually save for a season finale. Beyond its truly impressive fight scenes, the thing that really shines about this episode is its sense of surprise. Every time I thought I had a sense of just how far “Chapter Six” was going to escalate, it somehow managed to top itself, delivering twist after twist right up until its very last shot. It’s impressive stuff, and it retroactively rewards the patience of this season’s slow-burn approach.
“Chapter Six” initially seems like it’s just going to be a preliminary JSA vs. ISA 2.0 battle—the kind we saw in last season’s sixth episode, “The Justice Society.” Isaac gets an incredibly creepy scene where he taunts Yolanda over her nude photos, Artemis challenges Beth to a “jock vs. nerd” match-up, and Cindy reveals that her plan was never to recruit Mike but to kidnap him to use as bait. (A reveal that, in retrospect, seems pretty obvious, although kudos to the show for still managing to pull it off as something of a twist.) The early scene of Isaac and Artemis teaming up to take down Pat and destroy STRIPE is a fantastic fight in its own right, one that makes great use of space, geography, and the characters’ power dynamics. Watching Pat get brutally defeated dramatically raises the stakes for the cafeteria battle that’s to come—and gives Barbara a welcome chance to be her daughter’s cheerleader for once: “And honey? Kick that girl’s ass.”
Indeed, the JSA vs. ISA match-up is so good that if this episode had just delivered that alone, it still would’ve been a stellar Stargirl entry. The sequence is filled with wide shots and long takes that show off the impressive fight choreography and talented stunt performers. Clever parallel images and matching action make the various splinter fights feel unified as one big battle. And everyone gets a chance to show off their unique abilities—from Yolanda’s feline acrobatics to Rick’s brutal strength to Artemis’ manic athleticism. Plus any hour of TV that can make a kid playing a superpowered violin seem genuinely scary deserves major props in my book.
Even more importantly, the fight is rooted in character. Though we haven’t seen a ton of scenes of the JSA training together, it’s clear from the way they fight here that they’ve really ramped up their ability to work as a team, like when Rick gives Yolanda a speed boost as she leaps towards Cindy. Though the ISA are impressive foes in their own right, it feels right that the JSA are ultimately able to defeat them—much more so than when the young heroes beat the adult ISA last season. It’s even sweet that Mike is the one who helps turn the tide as he gets his own little hero moment for the team.
And then the episode just goes ahead and tops itself twice over. First when the Shade shows up looking fan-fucking-tastic in his top hat and sunglasses, which is a great payoff for his slow-burn storyline with Barbara, who enlists him as an ally for Courtney and her friends. And then when Eclipso himself unexpectedly breaks out of his black diamond prison, looking like a cross between an orc and a glam rocker, and played with ghoulish delight by Spartacus’ Nick E. Tarabay. It’s a real “all bets are off” moment that pivots the entire thrust of the season in a bold new direction.
Faced with the embodiment of pure evil, the JSA vs. ISA struggle really does seem like a “trivial teenage gang fight,” to quote the Shade. The moment Eclipso murders Isaac (with the dagger he pulled from Cindy’s arm) is genuinely shocking. And Stargirl manages to get an unexpected amount of emotional resonance out of the moment Cindy starts to sink into a puddle of evil black goo. Courtney’s impulse to help her enemy is a great tribute to her innate heroism. And Cindy’s genuine panic is a reminder that beneath her icy exterior she’s much more of a scared teenage girl than she lets on. (“Don’t let go, Courtney, please help me!”) Cindy’s fatal flaw was thinking she could use Eclipso without being used in return. But her comeuppance doesn’t feel deserved, it feels brutal—and not just because I don’t want the show to lose Cindy as a villain.
Given the nebulous nature of her “death,” I suspect we haven’t actually seen the last of our dear Miss Burman. But as far as Courtney and co. know, Cindy and Isaac are both dead, Artemis and the Shade are on the run, and Eclipso could be anywhere. (And they don’t even know he has the ability to disguise himself as the peppy little boy Bruce we saw manipulate Doctor Mid-Nite’s daughter back in the season’s opening prologue.) With Pat injured, STRIPE destroyed, and the Cosmic Staff mysteriously de-powered, the JSA are the lowest we’ve ever seen them—and not just in the stereotypical “lose to the villains in the second act to beat them in the third” way that so many superhero stories deploy. “Chapter Six” delivers an impressive storytelling shift that still builds seamlessly on everything that’s come before. If the first half of the season was about Stargirl getting all its pieces onto the board, I can’t wait to watch what happens now that it’s free to move them around.
- I feel like they’ve aged up Mike a bit to match Trae Romano’s real-life age, which was probably the right call. Also Zeek guessing he was about 22 or 23 really made me laugh.
- Artemis not killing Pat because he’s friends with her dad is a great character moment and a fantastic use of the show’s long-term continuity.
- Issac is so, so creepy in that opening diner scene with Yolanda. It makes her decision not to seriously hurt him in their fight even more impactful.
- We learn that the Shade’s powers come from Eclipso’s home.
- The props and production design departments are killing it with the callbacks this season. One of the things Mike finds in the junkyard (and that he eventually uses to bludgeon Cindy) is the toaster that Yolanda scratched up way back in the first season episode “Wildcat.”