I never expected that an episode of Stargirl would leave me speechless, but here we are. As the credits rolled on episode 10 of Stargirl, I was messaging our Editor-in-Chief Sean, telling him that I can’t wait until he watches this latest episode. The first few episodes of this show left me cold, but it just might be finding its footing. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 1, Episode 10, “Brainwave Jr.”
This week’s episode of Stargirl might be my favorite yet. It’s packed with character development and action in the best possible way. Last week ended on a hell of a cliffhanger: Barbara Whitmore, Courtney Whitmore’s mother, finding her daughter and her husband talking while a glowing staff hummed away next to them.
Barbara is understandably furious. From her perspective, Pat has been lying to her since they met and has talked her daughter into participating in his lies. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that Barbara has no knowledge of Starman being Courtney’s father, suggesting that he, in fact, isn’t her father at all, or that he kept Barbara completely in the dark. The blowout ends with Pat sleeping at the garage, with his son, Mike, going with him, and Courtney balled up in her room, frustrated and alone.
Across town, another family seems to be mending. Brainwave–Henry King Sr., has awoken and has no memories of the last decade and, seemingly, no hate in his heart. Henry Jr.’s outlook on the world changes quickly when he sees how different his father is simply from forgetting the things he’s done. Henry Jr. seems to change in real-time as his opinion on his father changes. He learns an important part of his family history here, too. His mother, it seems, was Starman’s sister. If Courtney is Starman’s daughter, that makes the two of them cousins.
What ultimately brings the two together are the Cosmic Staff and Icicle.
The staff wakes up and tries to get Courtney to go out with it. There’s an unintentionally hilarious scene in here where the Staff pokes into Courtney’s room like “hey champ, whatcha doin’?” It seems obvious that someone is holding the staff from just outside the door, and it’s at once admirably practical and very funny. When Courtney won’t go with, though, the staff goes out on its own. This part is weird and interesting. First, it goes to the garage so that it can… I guess… look at Icicle’s picture on the whiteboard? This part is pure visual exposition to tell us what the staff is going to do since it can’t talk, but it still comes across as weird. Then it goes to attack Icicle on its own without Courtney.
The staff finds Icicle in Henry King Sr.’s hospital room where Henry Jr. is just outside, hiding. The staff attacks the two villains, but they quickly subdue it, with Icicle freezing the staff until it drops from the air. The implication here is that the staff is an entirely sentient being on its own. It works with Courtney because it chooses to. This decision by the staff to go fight Icicle suggests to me more than ever that Courtney’s lineage has nothing to do with the staff selecting her as Stargirl. Her genetics have absolutely nothing to do with the staff lighting up.
Henry now knows how the two are connected and needs Courtney’s help–and knows how to help her. He goes to Courtney and tells her about their theoretical relationship, and she hugs him like her life depends on it. It’s very cute and shows how willing Courtney is to assume the best of someone. They go to the other JSA members and, unfortunately, they aren’t so willing. Courtney’s willingness to trust Henry causes a rift between her and Yolanda.
The team goes to the ISA’s base via Cindy’s house, which is now disturbingly vacant and find their way into the tunnels beneath Blue Valley. The party of five splits into two; Beth and Rick–Dr. Mid-Nite and Hourman–go one way. Courtney, Yolanda, and Henry–Stargirl, Wildcat, and Brainwave Jr.–go the other. It’s the latter group that finds Henry’s father and Courtney’s staff. Henry’s father is strapped to a bed in his Brainwave garb while the cosmic staff lies dormant in a cage above them.
The fight that follows is awesome. Henry, Courtney, and Yolanda are all powered up and fighting. Courtney is without her staff, but her gymnastic and martial arts training come into play here, and I like this moment. We see the staff operating without Courtney and Courtney without the staff. They aren’t a hero and her weapon, but rather two separate beings working in concert. That gives all kinds of room for both to develop as interesting characters and for them to work together–or disagree–and have that change the way they interact in battle.
Courtney fights with one of the Dragon King’s staves and holds her own against his minions while Henry is throwing guys around with his mind and Yolanda is slicing guys up, complete with a bit of blood spray. The kids handle themselves incredibly well, but they don’t have the experience that the ISA does and soon they’re on the run.
While all that was going on, Rick and Beth found Solomon Grundy in his holding cell, where Rick decides he’s going to fight Grundy instead of the already formidable fighters they’re likely to encounter, putting Rick’s immaturity on display. In a single episode, Henry takes more control over his life than Rick has in five episodes, and does more to take responsibility for his emotions. I hoped last week that Henry would get a bit more agency, and this week is all about that–letting this character act on everything he’s learned.
The group reunites, but the restored Brainwave comes after them. The four heroes end up separated from Henry by bars apparently held in place by Brainwave’s abilities. The father and son fight with words, Henry trying to persuade his father that there is good in him and that that good is worth saving. Brainwave, though, with his memories back, is unrepentantly evil. This isn’t a Luke and Darth Vader scene. Brainwave, without hesitation, drops the ceiling on his uncooperative son, seemingly instantly killing him.
And it’s devastating.
The kids are rightfully terrified, angry, and heartbroken. Moments before being crushed, Henry begs Courtney not to lose hope in the good of people and tells Yolanda he’s truly sorry. After the awesome action and Henry’s redemption, this scene is gutwrenching. Superhero shows can often be toothless, preserving characters in hopes of wringing more out of them rather than using their deaths to tell a story. Taking Henry out of the picture is going to have a lasting effect on many of these characters.
While all this is happening, Barbara becomes curious about everything going on. She starts to snoop, curious about Starman and about the possibility that Jordan Mahkent, the warm family man she knows as a boss, could be a villain. Despite her understandable anger at the new developments, the show has always written Barbara as smart and assertive, and I’m glad that doesn’t change here.
Barbara emails “skurtis61.” This would seem to suggest that Courtney’s birth father Sam Kurtis, is still alive. We haven’t seen him yet except in a super blurry picture in a locket. The evidence against Courtney being Starman’s daughter sure is stacking up fast. In the comics, Sam Kurtis is indeed Courtney’s dad, and he’s not Starman. He’s a thug, which matches Barbara’s description of Sam Kurtis.
But then, when Jordan visits Barbara with his parents, she records them talking in Norwegian, and she and Pat listen to the translation. Not only does it prove to Barbara that something is going on, but it’s also creepy. The parents seemingly have designs on Barbara being their son’s new wife. That’s gross, dude. There’s also a moment where Mike expresses how ostracized he feels by all the time Courtney is spending with his dad and how comparatively little trust she seems to have in him. Both of these scenes leave me curious about what their roles will be moving forward. The emphasis on family seems to suggest that, if Courtney is to continue being Stargirl, Mike will have to be in on it and Barbara will have to approve.
There’s so much I enjoyed about this episode. The centerpiece of the episode, the huge battle, is truly impressive. Courtney’s acrobatics continue to be a high point of combat, but seeing things like Yolanda’s superhuman leaps and Dragon King’s terrifying reptilian visage only add to how exciting this battle is. The changes we see for Henry and Barbara are especially huge, and now the heroes have enough information to be very afraid and enough skill to conceivably do something about it. With three more episodes left, I’m excited for what’s yet to come.