One of the toughest things to pull off in genre television is a telepath.
Like many vampires in supernatural shows, there’s something kind of obvious and samey about them. They lament their condition or they revel in it. The lack of options and nuance often means the characters are off to one side or their powers remain nebulous enough to make them functional on a week-to-week basis. But Stargirl has found a way to make a telepath somewhat compelling: use his soul as the battleground of the overall storyline.
From the moment it became clear that Henry (Jake Austin Walker) was Brainwave Jr., the show has been dedicated to painting him with a whole lot of gray. It is still unclear if he played a part in shaming Yolanda (Yvette Monreal) or if that was Cindy (Meg DeLacy) expediting her position in his life. Then there’s the stated abuse he suffered from his father; himself driven mad from hearing the grotesque thoughts people have almost in passing and genuine wickedness in those with malice in their hearts. Then again, we saw him gleefully fulfill the jock/bully role when Courtney (Brec Bassinger) first arrived in town. Also, his unwillingness to seek Yolanda out after her photo went viral suggests a certain lack of virtue on his part. Nevertheless, there is a lot of mistreatment in his life and their may be some room for redemption. Courtney certainly thinks so. And considering how important the Brainwave power is to Dr. Ito’s (Nelson Lee) machine, it makes sense that Hnery’s fully informed choices will have an impact on what is to come.
It also makes sense that Courtney would try to fight for him and, as she suggested, prove to him that there is more to the human mind than its basest reactions.
Which, we have to say, was the most compelling thing about Brainwave Jr’s awakening in the episode. Like his father, he was awash in those instinctual reactions people have to stimuli. Although there were more considered and pernicious thoughts during his time at the hospital — the man waiting to “collect” his inheritance and the insurance agent in particular — many of the thoughts he overheard, including Courtney’s “why do hospitals smell like this?” are those things everyone thinks because their brain is reacting to the environment in a primal way, then immediately tempers with a more rational, thoughtful observation. We see this with Courtney, who makes the choice to talk to Henry despite her fear of the hospital and what he might do.
And because Courtney is supposed to be such a beacon of light and hope, her notion that people want to love and be loved is, in its way, a warm message. Sure, our troubled times make that feel like little more than a platitude, but it is one to hold on to. Even Henry seems to see things this way when he looks deeper into Yolanda’s rage to see what motivates it. Will it be enough to sway him?
Either way, giving Henry the chance to make up his own mind is something we do not see enough of with telepaths on television. And even if he breaks bad, we at least understand the collection of negative reinforcement in his life and how it led to this. Unless, of course, Dr. Ito’s machine requires the complete sacrifice of one Brainwave or another. That could certainly change things in the final episodes.
In the meantime, we have to laud the episode for a pretty damned effective discovery scene in which Courtney realizes Jordan (Neil Jackson) is Icicle. We have his creepy parents, Barbara (Amy Smart) and Cameron (Hunter Sansone) being none-the-wiser, and a key moment no one but Courtney sees. It’s a great ratcheting of tension and makes Cameron’s innocent attraction to Courtney all the more important. That said, we wish we had more interaction between Courtney and Cameron up to this point. Maybe just a scene or two across the last four episodes to drive home the idea that there’s any sort of connection between them. It would make the moment of revelation more effective when it ultimately occurs. Take a look at Barbara’s reaction to the Cosmic Staff for a clinic on how drawing out the stakes can lead to a satisfying moment. A similar dramatic moment would remind viewers that the ISA put their children in the line fire despite their intentions. But considering the way things are going with Henry, this may yet be the intention.
Stargirl streams Mondays on DC Universe and airs Tuesdays on The CW.