Every so often, Stargirl feels like a movie stretched into a TV show.
This is generally a good thing. The pace from episodes 8-11, for example, had a wonderful cinematic breeziness to them as events unfolded. Then Episode 12 arrived last week with a curious sense of pushing pause on the story. And now, Episode 13 served as a pretty satisfactory conclusion to the ideas presented this year — even if certain scenes felt smaller than they might’ve been in a Stargirl feature.
Which is odd considering just how big this episode really was. Between the fight in Dr. Ito’s (Nelson Lee) lair, Courtney (Brec Bassinger) battling with the satellite dish, and the drag-out fight between S.T.R.I.P.E. and Solomon Grundy, the episode was jammed backed with expensive looking scenes and definitely made up for last week’s strange pause. Nevertheless, the two episodes combined still left us wanting for a few things.
Our key problem: Project New America’s goals. It’s a pretty valid platform and the threat circled around Icicle (Neil Jackson) willingness to kill hundreds of thousands of people to make the survivors believe in it. For some reason, that stake fell flat for us — maybe because it was so easy to release Pat (Luke Wilson) and Justin (Mark Ashworth) from Brainwave’s (Christopher James Baker) mind control. Or maybe because it never turned as nakedly villainous as it should for a comic book show. Sure, letting half a million people die is monstrous, but it’s such an abstract number in the realm of fiction that it somehow lacks for dramatic weight. More immediate is the threat Icicle ultimately presents to Barbara (Amy Smart) once his plan crumbles.
Then again, the ISA’s long game plot should be something easily undone once the Dugans (and the JSA) adopt a sense of family — which is really the point of this conclusion. Everything had been building to the moment Courtney addressed herself as Pat’s daughter. It saves her from Brainwave and pays off so well later when Pat himself says she’s his daughter. In fact, we can easily imagine executive producer and episode writer Geoff Johns always seeing that moment in the underground passageway as the emotional climax of his dream Stargirl film.
And it was definitely an effective moment.
Looking back over the first season, the relationship between Courtney and Pat wasn’t just crucial, but a delight to watch unfold each week. If we assume Johns wrote a Stargirl screenplay sometime in the past, it’s easy to imagine most of it centered on their becoming family. Sure, it’s an obvious route for the characters — particularly if you ever read Johns’s Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. — but seeing it realized in live action illustrates that the obvious story is sometimes the best one to write. Bassinger ended up a likeable Courtney (a genuine first for live action television) and Wilson was born to play Pat. His natural “awe shucks” charm proved to be a great source of comedy and emotion.
But if there is one place where this feeling of a film script limits the show, it’s with the supporting players. We’ve talked about it before, but it is underscored in this last episode thanks to a good swerve: Yolanda (Yvette Monreal) taking revenge instead of Rick (Cameron Gellman). That he was able to see some humanity in Grundy’s eyes offered more insight into the character than the show has had any time to offer — even his introductory episodes. Meanwhile, Yolanda’s willingness to murder Brainwave seemed out of left field, even if she admonished Rick earlier about his willingness to kill. But both characters are victims of the limited screentime available to the other JSAers and the show’s entirely justified focus on Courtney and Pat. Therefore, their choices are just partially earned here and speak more to where the characters might go next season than who they are now.
Nevertheless, Yolanda’s choice seems doubly strange as Mike (Trae Romano) also kills someone, but his murder is treated with a much lighter tone. In terms of comic book justice, both were in their moral rights to take a life, but Yolanda’s vengeance does not appear to be something the show actually condones. It will be interesting to see if the show follows up on that next season and if, ultimately, Mike will also feel the remorse Yolanda already seems to display.
And speaking of Season 2, Stargirl teased a lot of plots for next year at the end of the episode. The Shade! Eclipso! An unlikely old friend back from the dead!? First and foremost, we cannot wait to see The Shade do his thing. Whether friend or foe, we imagine producer James Robinson has already pitched a “Times Past” episode to explain the former ISA member and why he’s returned. We definitely hope he’s here to mentor the new JSA, but we’ll also accept an “anti-villain” take on the character as well. Beyond that, transforming Shiv (Meg DeLacy) into Eclipso is a fantastic twist. The dark entity has never had much of a foothold on TV despite a truly intriguing ability and a sharp graphic presentation. If he and an eclipsed Shiv turn out to be the main foes next year, there will definitely be a strong through-line for the season.
We’ll withhold any speculation about a certain hero’s return for the moment, though.
Strong teases aside, Stargirl did the key thing it needed to do through the first year: get you to care. Thanks to the emphasis on the emerging father/daughter dynamic between Courtney and Pat and some strong initial moments for the supporting characters, it is easy to get invested with this world and what it might do next. It’ll be far too long before we can visit the Blue Valley of Earth-2 again, but we look forward to it.
Stargirl will return on The CW.