Parents and family have been at the core of every storyline of Stargirl. Whether it’s Courtney relationship with her stepfather, Henry’s tumultuous path with his villainous father, or Rick’s quest for revenge for his, every character is seeking or fueled by their parents. The first of these relationships comes to a head this week when Courtney meets her farther–and it doesn’t go quite like she expected. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 1, episode 11, “Shining Knight.”
Along with the theme of family and parents, this week deals a lot with identity. Lots of characters discover the identities of lots of other characters, and it sets the stage for the final confrontation of the season between the ISA and JSA.
We’d suspected previously that Stargirl would take the path of the comics with regard to Courtney’s parental lineage. In the comics, Courtney operates for a while on the belief that her father was Starman and that her role of Stargirl is one of lineage. She finds out, though, that her father is little more than a petty crook and a classic deadbeat dad, not a martyred superhero.
When we once again meet Courtney, she’s in agony from her most recent loss. She watched Henry King Jr., who she believed at the time was her cousin, die at the hands of his own father. As if on cue, there’s a knock at the door. Barbara had emailed him as she struggled to understand the revelations of her husband’s past and her daughter’s present, and he decided to show up.
The story here fits the trope of a character meeting a parent or figure they’ve dreamed about and built up in their head. Brec Bassinger shines here as she goes through the stages of denial, grief, hope, and disappointment that come with this. Kurtis doesn’t appear to be quite as bad as he is in the comics, but he’s no good, and he ends up on his back when Pat Dugan punches him out in the middle of the street and walks away.
Bassinger has to go through a bunch of emotions this week, and she delivers on all of them. I have to give credit to the casting director who picked her. While I’m watching the show, I really believe in the character, and I’m engaged with the story thanks to her.
The actual Shining Knight
While Courtney is struggling with the truth of her lineage, another character is trying to remember. The janitor that saved Courtney and saw himself holding the Cosmic Staff takes center stage this week. At first, I thought this character might be the Fiddler. Stargirl introduced him shortly after telling us that the Fiddler was an Irishman, not the American woman (whose actress is of Pakistani descent) named Anaya Bowin. We heard a few syllables of his voice, and he had a definitively Western European accent.
But no, this man is no Fiddler. We find him at the beginning of the episode, wandering around the farmlands surrounding Blue Valley, looking for his horse, Victory. We get a good look at his Janitorial nametag: Justin. Justin’s memory is gone, with bits and pieces that don’t quite fit together remaining. As his head throbs, he remembers Pat Dugan, in full Stripesy regalia.
It turns out that Justin is the Shining Knight, one of the eight members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, a literal knight of the round table who wields what is apparently Excalibur. He doesn’t get to do much this week other than hold his head, but he’s proof yet again that Stargirl isn’t afraid to reach way back into the silliness of DC history for its characters and to treat them simultaneously as the ridiculous artifacts they are and as very seriously real.
The boy, too
While that’s going on, it’s important to remember that Brainwave got his memory back last week, including his knowledge of Stargirl’s true identity. And he is indeed a supervillain. We thought Cindy gave Courtney a reprieve when she promised to keep her identity secret–even if it’s for her own purposes. Once Brainwave recovers, though, he immediately lets Icicle in on his secret. Brainwave has no remorse about his decision to kill his son, but Icicle seems conflicted. Despite being the posterboy for good American morals, it seems Jordan Mahkent has fallen in love with another man’s wife, Barbara Whitmore.
While some of the villains, like Sportsmaster and Tigress, have been pretty silly, Brainwave and Icicle are impressively complex characters. Brainwave is an unabashed villain. He’s not the hero in his story, but rather the villain who knows they’re the villain and who absolutely believes in their quest. Icicle, meanwhile, believes himself the hero who is willing to do what others won’t. He lived for his deceased wife for a decade, and upon accomplishing his mission, opened himself to having feelings again. When faced with having to eliminate the Whitmore-Dugan family, he’s conflicted. He has feelings for Barbara, and his son has feelings for Courtney. I don’t see him turning, but his hesitation will one of the factors in Stargirl’s victory, I think.
Am I Stargirl?
Another way the show tangles with identity comes from the fallout of Courtney discovering that she’s not the daughter of Starman, just a cheap Starman knockoff. As an aside, was the casting call to get someone who “looks like Joel McHale if the picture is blurry?” If so, kudos on the casting of Sam Kurtis.
With the revelation that Starman’s blood is not flowing through her veins, Courtney can no longer treat her role as Stargirl as one of destiny. It becomes a crisis of conscience and identity as she doubts herself and, consequently, loses connection with the Cosmic Staff.
The show takes a different route here, though, than it so often does with these moments. Often, the hero has to see that they can be super without their special weapon or superpower, and an entire episode is devoted to them trying to get their supermojo back. Instead, though, Courtney asks her parents to be with her as she tries to communicate with the Staff. She’s uniting her past and her present–her mother, and the man she truly sees as her father, rather than the fantasy image she once hung onto–to find her future. The staff glows brightly.
Two Episodes Left
Stargirl season one is 13 episodes long. So far, Stargirl has made good use of its time. Every episode introduces a character or dives deep on an existing one. Every storyline ties back into the show’s main theme of family. I don’t feel like the show is spending bunches of time getting distracted by side stories. In fact, I think if anything a few characters have been underserved by the short length.
This episode is no different in that respect. Courtney learning the true identity of her father, right on the heels of a devastating loss, is a huge moment for the character that will let her ultimately become a better hero and a more interesting character. She can’t say “but my dad, Starman” in response to every question.
I was ready for Stargirl to bore me, but it’s become something I look forward to each week this summer. I think it could get lost among the other many hero shows on the CW, but as a summer show it feels just about perfect.