Eclipso isn’t your garden-variety supervillain. He doesn’t lust for riches or power, he doesn’t aspire to world domination. Eclipso is hatred, vengeance, evil, once calcified into a glittering gem, now loosed upon Blue Valley to wreak all kinds of havoc. Eclipso is elemental, a demon, exactly the kind of supernatural nemesis this neophyte Justice Society has never faced before. Naturally, he’s the perfect foil for someone as perpetually upbeat as Courtney Whitmore, and even more so pitted against someone as spiritual and steadfast as Yolanda Montez, who, up until the events of “Summer School: Chapter Seven,” was the taloned Wildcat, a formidable fighter and a founding member of JSA 2.0.
After last week’s seismic plot twist, where Cindy Burman’s Stargirl Revenge Squad was laid low by Eclipso’s betrayal and subsequent rebirth, Courtney’s Justice Society has been shaken to its core. Death may be no stranger to Courtney, or her stepfather Pat, or even her increasingly not-so-little step brother Mikey, who once smashed last season’s primary baddie, The Icicle, into a million shards with a truck and a smile. (“It was an accident,” he told his family before the credits ran this week. Sure, Mikey.) Juggling grief in the face of adversity is just part of that superhero life; Pat Dugan, formerly the JSA sidekick Stripsey, has imparted this wisdom onto Courtney, who often puts her best face forward as Stargirl. But what about Beth, the neo-Dr. Mid-Nite, or Rick, aka Hourman II—or, most crucially this week, Yolanda, Ted Grant’s successor to the Wildcat mantle? How does someone completely new to the superhero game endure the inevitable tragedies that come with it?
“Chapter Seven” is a stress test for Yolanda, more than the rest of the JSA or even Courtney, who has taken her first substantial defeat at the hands of Eclipso and turned it into an opportunity to indulge in a bit of civilian me-time instead of tackling her superhero duties. (It’s okay; her cosmic staff has been temporarily shorted out.) Courtney decorates the main drag of Blue Valley with her would-be beau, Cameron (son of the now-departed Icicle) for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration, even as her Nebraskan burg undergoes unseasonably cold weather. The leaves have left the trees just as July is kicking into gear—surely this is the work of Eclipso? Probably, but Courtney’s got a Cameron-shaped hole in her heart. For now, Eclipso will keep. (Only he doesn’t, but more on that in a moment.)
It’s striking how “Chapter Seven,” directed by Sheelin Choksey and written by Robbie Hyne, brazenly pits itself against the dreary Arrowverse formula and largely comes out on top. Stargirl is notable in how it often breaks from that CW/DC formula in subtle ways (chief amongst them: how characters learn not to lie to each other, and then keep at it), steering away from filler episodes and keeping its central melodramas laser-focused on reaching a thrilling and satisfying climax. This week, populated by surreal mind-benders and twisted torments, Stargirl steps up to standard Arrowverse fare and subverts it: this is that episode in the middle of a season, that big exhale where the central cast recovers after some major calamity is wrought by some big bad before the season picks up steam once more and barrels towards its finale. “Chapter Seven” even sports the Arrowverse’s memetic hallway pep talk scene, where Courtney attempts to talk Yolanda down after a severe fright, but then the episode swerves away from formula in the scene’s final moments and sends Yolanda careening towards tragedy.
It’s Yolanda’s guilt over Brainwave’s violent death last season that makes her a perfect target for Eclipso, who’s morphed back into the cherubic form of young Bruce, the little boy who likely murdered the original Dr. Mid-Nite’s daughter years and years ago. Without realizing it, Yolanda is made witness to Eclipso’s latest exercise in demented play: he infiltrates Yolanda’s diner job and silently corrupts a fellow waitress into pouring hot coffee on an abusive customer. Then comes the deeply unsettling twist: he receives a sucker from Yolanda for his troubles. (The flavor? Blue raspberry.) Eclipso’s grip over Blue Valley has only grown over the course of this season, and now it appears his hold over Yolanda has become absolute. Penitence seems to be Eclipso’s preferred appetizer before he finally moves in for the main course.
That demented diner sequence isn’t near the end of Yolanda’s troubles. After admitting her guilt over Brainwave’s death (she calls it murder) to the JSA, Yolanda discovers that her fellow junior superheroes might not have it in them to put the kibosh on Eclipso when the time comes. It’s here where things take an even darker turn, somehow: Yolanda tries on a martyr complex for size and ditches her teammates, set in the belief that killing Eclipso is her sole responsibility, another burden that she will bear for the rest of her days. Once Eclipso’s Brainwave gambit takes demonic form in the episode’s disturbing church finale, Yolanda has given up—on Courtney, on her team, on her future as Wildcat. “I quit,” says the person who outright refused to give up her mantle just a few episodes ago. Eclipso doesn’t simply shatter her confidence, he dismantles her very sense of self.
It’s all there in Yolanda’s hallucination, which at its most pitched bleeds into Courtney’s mind and brings both heroes to their knees. (Could Courtney’s concern for her friends be manipulated by Eclipso the same way Yolanda’s guilt was? It’s possible.) What makes the conclusion to “Chapter Seven” even more diabolical is how it places enough doubt in our own minds as to whether or not it’s actually Eclipso’s fault that the JSA has, for now, lost its bravest fighter. Christopher James Baker, who played Brainwave in season one, makes a cameo appearance here, as does Brainwave Jr. (Jake Austin Walker). Is this an elaborate ruse by the braintrust behind Stargirl to make the audience doubt their own instincts? It’s starting to work on me. (“You’ve been drowning your own self-loathing,” Brainwave tells Yolanda, which he says has given him strength as he’s hidden inside her mind. Sounds like some Eclipso subterfuge to me.)
With Yolanda out of the picture for the moment, Eclipso has moved on to his next target: Beth Chapel, arguably the most good-natured of the JSA (it’s stiff competition, I know), who is presently grappling with the imminent divorce of her neglectful parents and has been searching for the artificial intelligence of the original Dr. Mid-Nite, one of her dearest friends. Outside Beth’s home stands Bruce, enjoying the last of Yolanda’s blue raspberry sucker with an evil look about him. It’s time for a new victim. The devil is real, and he’s in Blue Valley.
- Hello! As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now I am not, in fact, Caroline Siede. Caroline trusted the Stargirl beat to me this week, and I hope I did right by her/you.
- Can we take a moment and heap some praise on Yvette Monreal, who plays Yolanda/Wildcat, and has been absolutely terrific these past two seasons? “Summer School: Chapter Seven” was an especially challenging episode for her character, and Yvette met it head-on. (The way she loses her breath when she admits her crime to the JSA: “I used my claw—,” she begins, then stops.)
- Of course, the one Stargirl episode I recap doesn’t feature Jonathan Cake’s terrific Richard Swift, a.k.a. The Shade. I could see Swift settling in Stargirl as the series’ own resident Harrison Wells, I really could.
- Pat and Mikey notice the severed S.T.R.I.P.E. hand is rocking devil horns. “Did you do that, or did they?” Wild moment, so good.
- Speaking of Pat, and to pay tribute to Caroline, this week’s Luke Wilson Scene I Could Watch For An Hour: Pat helping Mike piece together the stripped and otherwise busted S.T.R.I.P.E. armor suit. “Wax on, wax off,” he tried to impart on Gen-Z Mikey, who breezed right by his Karate Kid reference as though it never happened.
- Interesting wrinkle this week: Mike feels called to the shards of the Eclipso gem. It’s felt like the show has been setting him up for a villainous turn, so now that Eclipso’s on the loose and Thunderbolt is in the wind, is this back on the docket? “Cool,” he says, playing with the gem. No, not cool, Mike.
- Mrs. Montez tells Courtney to stop calling Yolanda at the end of the episode, and she uses the word “corrupted” in her demands. Has Eclipso eclipsed Yolanda’s mother, as well?
- So what do you think? Is Eclipso solely responsible for Yolanda’s fall from grace, or is Brainwave set up for a comeback? Has Rick been keeping up with Solomon Grundy’s feeding schedule? Is Sylvester still waiting on a coffee refill from Alicia Witt? Sound off in the comments below.