Stargirl Season 1, Episode 2 - Brec Bassinger
DC's Stargirl -- "S.T.R.I.P.E." -- Image Number: STG102c_0043b.jpg -- Pictured: Brec Bassinger as Courtney Whitmore -- Photo: Jace Downs/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

What if your new stepdad had a huge muscle car-themed mech suit? Underneath all the superhero stuff, there are themes of loss and of found family woven throughout Stargirl. This week dives into how both of these affect Courtney and her family as it also begins to develop the villains Courtney will be fighting.  Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 1, Episode 2, “S.T.R.I.P.E.”

“S.T.R.I.P.E.”

Courtney’s mom has remarried and she has a new brother and stepdad to get to know. She’s alone in a new town trying to make friends, and she’ll soon be assembling a new Justice Society to fight the Injustice Society lurking in Blue Valley. A lot of time is spent in this episode on Courtney and her stepdad, Pat, navigating the superheroic secret they now share.

Both Pat and Courtney have suffered the loss of who Courtney believes to be the same person: her father, and Starman. For Pat, coping with that loss means trying to keep everybody in his inner circle away from that life so that they don’t suffer the same fate as his long-dead friend. For Courtney, coping means running headlong toward the last scrap of what might be her father’s legacy so that she can believe he was a good man with a higher calling instead of an absentee father.

Robots are never not the answer

After her encounter with Brainwave, Pat finds Courtney and takes her back to the garage where he’s been working on his mech; her hands are shaking. She nearly died, and she’s barely even started her life as a superhero. Courtney quickly figures out that Pat and his mech aren’t in the same town as the Injustice Society by pure happenstance. He encourages other people to move on, but can’t do it himself. The well-meaning stepdad tries to discourage Courtney by telling her that her identity is in danger and that superheroes had costumes for a reason.

Both characters want badly to do good, to help, and to avenge Starman for their own reasons, and despite Pat’s discouragement, both of them work on their superhero personas. Pat goes to work on his mech, which even has an anime-style launching fist. The whole scene is done as a montage that’s actually pretty funny and shows off how much more expensive the VFX are for Stargirl than for the Arrowverse shows. The show seems to be trying to show off its effects rather than use them to fill in spaces between shots of human characters.

Brace yourself, cosplay experts

The next day, the two have to awkwardly explain why they both have bumps and bruises while Courtney’s super-weird 90s-sitcom little brother makes cartoonish eyes at the two of them until Pat cleverly bores them all by going into full dad-mode. But Courtney has something else on her mind, and before she leaves for school, she slips Starman’s costume into her backpack so that she can take it to school.

There, she tries to work on the costume, struggling with the material. It’s apparently so durable and thick that fabric shears can’t cut it, but still earthly enough that a paper cutter works; it’s impenetrable enough to break down all eight sewing machines in the room, too, and when Courtney leaves the room is a wreck.

As we’ll learn later, though, despite having insufficient tools, this teenager has somehow crafted herself a costume that fits perfectly on the first try. It makes me wonder why so many of the other heroes on these shows need scientists or magical powers to make their costumes when it’s this easy to make a professional-grade outfit. I’ve watched my friends work on cosplay just enough to know that there should be a lot more crying, swearing, and injury in this scene, and that the result should be satisfactory but not impressive. I also wouldn’t have minded if Courtney had gone through a few more iterations of her outfit before finding her iconic one.

At Home with Brainwave

The rest of the episode is surprisingly full, including spending some time with the villains outside of their costumes. Brainwave interrogates his son at home about the identity of the person who wrecked his car. Brainwave–Dr. Henry King–lives with his family in a mansion complete with housekeepers. His son is the very essence of affluenza. It’s hard to tell whether Junior likes his father or not.

In one tense moment, Brainwave asks his son to tell him what he’s thinking. This interaction is surprisingly subtle because to the son it looks like his dad is trying to teach him a lesson in knowing how to behave. But the look on his face says that Brainwave is hoping his son will exhibit evidence of the same abilities he has, and when his son doesn’t even try his look of disappointment is hard to miss, but also not overplayed at all.

Even these scenes reinforce how the idea of family is built into every character and storyline of this show so far. Dominic Toretto would be proud.

Pat ends up going to the gym owned by the guy he met last week, Larry “Crusher” Crock, who is definitely so intense that he absolutely has to be a villain with a very silly name. For now, though, Larry is just intense and a little silly rather than menacing in the same way that Brainwave is.

Showdown at Blue Valley High

Stargirl 1x02 - Dr. Henry King / Brainwave

Later, Courtney and Pat and Brainwave all end up at the school’s open house night with the intent to find each other, and of course, they do, and Courtney ends up facing off against Brainwave in an empty side hallway of the school.

The real fight comes later, though, when Pat tries to confront Brainwave on his own. Despite knowing Brainwave’s abilities, Pat goes to fight him in his mech and quickly ends up on his back. It’s only the intervention of Stargirl that saves him.

The fight between Brainwave and Stargirl is exciting and acrobatic, and I’ll reiterate again how much work Courtney’s acrobatics are going to do to keep the fights between Stargirl and the Injustice Society exciting. There are lots of great fights on Arrowverse shows, but most of them revolve around ground-based fighting or superhero punches. Courtney’s history as a gymnast gives room for some more Spider-Man-like movement as she dodges between projectiles.

Brainwave gets the upper hand, though, and then it’s Pat who saves Courtney. Afterward, Courtney takes that to mean that the two need to partner up as Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E. to survive. Again, that idea of found family comes in. At its most basic, the story here is about a stepchild and stepfather trying to get to know each other and finding out they have a lot in common. Everything loops back to family, and that will ultimately be what holds the disparate parts of the show together if anything can.

Stargirl is airing on The CW and DC Universe.