Comic book villains are, by and large, pretty stupid. As parodies have pointed out time and time again, writers love it when villains monologue to heroes about their plans. It was shocking in Watchmen when Ozymandias revealed that his plan had gone off successfully even before Dr. Manhattan and the other heroes had even made it to him. This is necessary, by and large, because comics are meant to be an ongoing thing. Villains think big, and if their plans work out, continuity can get real heavy. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 1, Episode 12, “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One.”
“Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One”
We’re in true finale territory this week. The villains are about to execute their plan, and they know the heroes’ secret identities. The Whitmore-Dugan clan is split up as Pat collects his things at the garage and Courtney at home. The ISA, an organization not known to waste time, sends Sportsmaster and Tigress after the split party.
Divide and Conquer
Tigress’ attack on Courtney and Barbara is one of my favorite scenes in the episode. Tigress breaks in and misses Barbara with a shot. It seems intentional–she doesn’t want prey that isn’t terrified, so a quiet kill isn’t her style. That means that Courtney hears her, though, and the fight is on. We get this acrobatic, close-quarters fight between the two with Barbara dodging out of the way or helping as she can. I’ve almost universally enjoyed the fights that have Courtney wielding the Cosmic Staff, and this one is no different. They wreck the house in the process, and Barbara finds herself impressed by Courtney’s fighting skills. That’s the moment she seems to buy into this new life her daughter has chosen.
Over at the garage, Pat fights with his son, Mike, now the only member of the family continually left in the dark about his new sister, the JSA, the ISA, and the city of Blue Valley. In other words, Mike has no reason not to act like a petulant 13-year-old and run off after their argument. Incredibly, this doesn’t result in him being kidnapped! Instead, Sportsmaster catches Pat at his garage and beats the tar out of him, only for Mike to sneak up behind him and literally drill him in the kidney.
This episode seems to reveal just how limited Sportsmaster and Tigress are. I don’t think that’s a bad thing–the ISA is huge. But Pat gets a few licks in on Sportsmaster, and Courtney does a fine job taking on Tigress. It seems like they’re little more than sadistic psychopaths with some intense skills. They don’t have any powers or any vision; they’re attack dogs. I like it.
Retreat and Regroup
The whole crew gets together at a cabin that Pat has far out of the city where Mike, finally in on the secret, is feeling like any kid would feel when he finds out that his dad and his stepsister are superheroes–left out. Poor kid. He wonders if the staff might’ve picked him if he’d found it first, Courtney lets him pick it up. It doesn’t respond, of course, and it’s heartbreaking to watch.
Back in Blue Valley, the ISA is continuing to prepare, and they finally show off the device they’ve been working on, the Synaptic Amplifier. It’s a huge, ominous device, as promised, and a pretty convincing piece of CG, something Stargirl has done a pretty good job with throughout the first season. I can’t help but wonder if that’ll change with season 2 when it switches fully over to the CW (it probably will).
Plan and Execute
I believe all of the ISA gets some screentime this week. Jordan seems to be doubting the plan and making decisions out of habit. The Gambler hacks things. Brainwave tests out the Synaptic Amplifer with his new-and-improved powers, stolen when he murdered his own son. Even the fiddler, Anaya Bowin gets some screentime.
Anaya’s segment of the episode is the weirdest, perhaps. When we meet Anaya, she’s talking to her son. The boy, in a marching band uniform, tells his mother about how he’s being bullied by someone. She tells him that his father stopped his own bullies by jamming the bow for his fiddle into ears. We’ve never met this kid before–why now?
And then her next scene has her appearing at the Whitmore house where Tigress and Sportsmaster are still recovering. Anaya is to use her fiddle to help them get the advantage on the JSA, but she insults the lethal helicopter parents and they respond by killing her. So we meet her son for the first time in the two-part finale, and then one scene later she dies. She used her special ability exactly once. It all seems really weird–Stargirl didn’t need the character at all, and that feels like a waste of the actress.
Evil Dads, Inc.
One particularly chilling moment has Brainwave stopping by Cindy Burman’s cell. She asks him to let him out, and they argue, with Brainwave pulling no punches before slamming the peephole shut on her. Of the young ISA members, she seems the most committed, and yet has the most reason to turn traitor and lend her talents to the JSA. We’ve seen neither hide nor hair of Cameron, Jordan’s son, since the tense dinner episode.
The team finally cracks Rex Tyler’s coded book. The team cobbles together a plan that, of course, leaves Mike at the cabin with the dog. I’ve seen people online theorize that Mike could get so frustrated by being left out of the superheroics that he’d join the ISA. That seems absolutely wild. Do I think he’ll do something dumb and get in trouble? Probably. Do I think he’ll betray his entire family? There’s nothing here to support that, and it took Star Wars 11 seasons of animated series to justify Anakin’s turn. He’s 13 and frustrated. That ain’t happening.
The crew splits into three groups–Barbara and Beth/Dr. Mid-Nite to do some hacking from the American Dream HQ; Courtney and Pat to go in from another side; and Rick/Hourman, Yolanda/Wildcat, and Justin/Shining Knight.
We learned earlier in the episode that the Synaptic Accelerator only affects fully-developed minds–meaning, adults–and that it will kill roughly 25% of those minds as Brainwave reprograms them. But as the episode closes out, something I never expected happens: the ISA reveals that the 30-minute countdown is for when Brainwave’s mass reprogramming finishes, not begins. Pat, Barbara, Justin, and every other adult in the central United States is frozen in place as Brainwave reprograms them. Stargirl doesn’t hint at this, but I can’t help but wonder if it’ll go into the kind of carnage that would come with disabling all the people driving cars, airplanes, and buses, operating heavy machinery, and whatever else all at once.
The ISA don’t mess around
The other effect of this is a bit more interesting. Now, the kids are on their own. It feels like the Ozymandias moment in Watchmen that I talked about before. Of course, in this case, the kids will almost certainly prevail, but they’re left on their own and with little experience to do it themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing how the kids eke out a win, even if it’s only partial. This is a pretty awesome cliffhanger, and not one I expected. But the Injustice Society has proven patient and effective. They defeated the original Justice Society and then worked for ten full years on their next plan. They actually seem smart compared to so many other supervillains.
I never thought I would be excited about Stargirl, but I’m really looking forward to the second part of this two-part finale. I want to see how the kids win and what happens to the world; I hope the story tangles with some of the side effects of the ISA’s plan, and I’d love to see the kids flourish as they fight. Other than Stargirl, the other JSA members are a little bit underdeveloped, and this is a great chance to show them as heroes.