Stargirl = Henry King Jr./Brainwave Jr.
Stargirl -- "Brainwave" -- Image Number: STG109c_0060r.jpg -- Pictured: Jake Austin Walker as Henry King -- Photo: Mark Hill/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Any Justice League fan knows that having a telepath like Martian Manhunter on your side makes the job of superhero-ing a heck of a lot easier. Courtney Whitmore may be wildly inexperienced, but even as a teenager she figures this out right away after she realizes Henry King Jr. is a powerful psychic just like his father. She opens her golden heart and tries to recruit the enemy’s son to be a member of the JSA. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 1, Episode 9, “Brainwave.”

“Brainwave”

Many of the episodes of Stargirl this season have focused on a particular character or family. This week follows that pattern with just a few diversions. The episode begins, as so many comic-book origins do, with a doctor scrambling in a laboratory. A much-younger Brainwave is suffering from the same splitting headaches as his son will decades later. 40-something actor Christopher James Baker does his best to look 19-plus years younger in these scenes, but is victim of one of the worst wigs ever to appear on a CW show–and I’m including Oliver Queen’s wigs on Arrow.

We, and Henry King Jr., learn about his father’s origins. A scientist with questionable methods, King struck out on his own to expand human consciousness. He ended up giving himself telekinetic powers and the power to both read and project thoughts telepathically. Young Henry watches his father’s tapes, learning about his powers one VHS recording at a time. The previously-distressed teenager slowly starts to get ahold of his powers, but like his father, he’s alone as he does it. His father’s recordings talk about the corruption and evil among every day men, about the vile thoughts that fill their heads.

And soon, Henry is looking for–and finding–exactly those thoughts. He goes to see his father in the hospital and is awash in the toxic thoughts he finds by searching in a building full of sick and tired people.

It’s a no-brainer.

Brec Bassinger as Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl

Meanwhile, Courtney has decided she wants to recruit him. As I said above, a psychic seems like a no-brainer on a superhero team. You have your very own undetectable spy. By the time Courtney reaches him, he’s already in agony from the thoughts swimming around him, having not yet been able to learn how to filter out thoughts he’s not looking for. Henry’s gone from surly to dangerously bitter in an afternoon.

Courtney begs him to look past the negative thoughts to try to find positive ones. Henry is on a razor’s edge; he’s tormented by negative thoughts, but he doesn’t have many arguments for Courtney’s points. When she points out that he’s at his father’s bedside despite what he’s endured, Henry doesn’t have a comeback.

Courtney talked to the other JSA members about the idea, but the teens have a bunch of trust issues with letting the school bully into their ranks–not to mention Yolanda’s painful past with Henry. After Courtney visits Henry, Yolanda shows up in full Wildcat garb and threatens Henry before diving out the window. A lawyer shows up at the Dragon King’s behest to get Henry to sign away his father’s life, only for Henry to psychically murder the man the same way his father did in the parking lot at the beginning of the episode.

Give Henry something to do

Stargirl, Hour Man, Wildcat, and Dr. Mid-Nite of the Justice Society of America

Henry has been a pretty one-note character so far. He mostly exists to be in pain or to be manipulated by his father and girlfriend. Henry has had almost no agency throughout the show so far. He’s ostensibly a popular kid, but he’s mostly forwarded other peoples’ stories–Yolanda, Cindy, and his father. I’m interested, whichever way the show goes, for him to start making some moves on his own.

There are two complicating factors. First, the ISA plans to continue manipulating him, as they need his psychic powers to execute their plan, which we now know about. More on that later. Second, Henry’s father wakes up. He only says a few words, but they’re not “ahh yes, my son is also an evil murderer.” Courtney’s impromptu brain surgery may have crippled Brainwave while leaving Dr. King intact. There’s a lot of potential here if the show uses him correctly, and I’m excited to see what the writers have in store for the character.

My Dinner with Icicle

Amy Smart as Barbara Whitmore

The other major event this week comes when Barbara invites her extremely nice boss, Jordan Mahkent, to bring his family over to her house for dinner. I love the dynamics at play during this sequence. I think that Barbara and Jordan are genuine. Jordan seems to want the best for the town and his country, but believes that the people in the country don’t know what the best is. He thinks he’s right. Barbara admires him. He admires her purity. I could be wrong about this, but if Jordan knows, the show isn’t foreshadowing that at all.

While those two are in the dark, though, there’s a lot of other stuff going on. Courtney puts down a scalding hot plate near Jordan and he lifts it without flinching, tipping Courtney off. Courtney becomes increasingly antsy and argumentative throughout dinner, causing Jordan’s parents to say that they don’t like her (in Norwegian). Courtney’s little brother, Mike, is meanwhile perplexed by the whole event. Cameron, Courtney’s prom date, only has eyes for her.

The whole sequence feels like one of those scenes where the enemy soldiers stop by the home of a family in the city they’re occupying and the family has to be on tiptoes and careful the whole time. Only not all the soldiers know they’re in the house of the enemy and not all of the family members realize how much danger they’re in.

So, mom, uh, I can explain

The biggest revelation of the episode comes when Barbara walks downstairs after the family dinner… to see Patrick and Courtney talking while a glowing staff floats next to them. It reminded me of the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Only I don’t think Barbara is going to be as keen on the whole thing as Aunt May is.

Two other moments stick out. We catch up with Cindy briefly to find out that her father has her imprisoned in a cell in his underground base, and when she won’t settle down, he gasses her to put her to sleep. I see one of two futures for her. Either she ends up hypnotized/reconditioned by her father and forced into battle, or she betrays the ISA and becomes a Cool Girl instead of a Mean Girl. And finally, we get another scene with the Irish janitor who saved Courtney. He has a vision where his broomstick turns into Courtney’s cosmic staff. Nothing about this guy exudes evil, and I’m super curious about him.

I’m invested

Brainwave Jr. meets Stargirl

Finally, we now know about the ISA’s plan. They have a psychic amplifier, with which they plan to enslave the central United States, turning it into an ISA-approved nation. At least they’re not drilling a hole, like on Arrow, Runaways, AND Daredevil.

Despite the show’s questionable start, I’m finding myself curious about where most of these characters are headed. The show has to make good on that, but we’re off to a good start. We’re on episode 9 of 13, which is enough time to let the JSA face off against the ISA in some minor way. With the show already approved for a second season, I’m ready to get invested in the show.

Stargirl is airing on The CW and DC Universe.

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