Stargirl 2×04 Review – They’re bad guys, but they’re not bad guys

DC's Stargirl -- "Summer School: Chapter Four" -- Image Number: STG204fg_0019r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Stella Smith as Artemis -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

One of the things that made the ISA interesting in Stargirl Season 1 was that while not all of them got time to be individuals, it was clear that they each had their own goals alongside the ultimate goal of mind-controlling a nation. This season we’re seeing more detail just how divided the villain team-up really was. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 2, Episode 4, “Summer School: Chapter Four.”

“Summer School: Chapter Four”

What separates the JSA and ISA from other clashes in the Arrowverse is that these characters have families and that those families are integral to each of their stories. They aren’t chess pieces that the writers move around to justify a characters actions, but rather inseparable parts of each of their lives. The way that works is quite obvious for Courtney and her step-dad Pat, but the consequences of the dangerous lives these characters lead aren’t quite as obvious for some of the others.

This week focuses on Artemis Crock, one of Courtney’s classmates and the daughter of jailed ISA members Sportsmaster and Tigress–also known as Larry Crock and Paula Brooks. Artemis doesn’t know a thing about her parents’ other lives, and from her perspective, living in a foster home where she doesn’t get access to the same nutrition she’s used to, her parents were innocent and wrongly jailed. She’s carrying a chip on her shoulder about it as she approaches football tryouts.

Her parents, meanwhile, will support her at any cost. Pat finds the two ex-villains holding poor Mike Dugan hostage at his garage, asking only one thing: let them see their daughter’s football tryouts, and then they’ll go back to jail themselves.

Villains in the House

And so we end up with the super tense situation of these two people in Pat and Barbara’s home. The last time they were there, they literally tried to kill everyone who lives in that house.  And yet, the two overly-athletic weirdoes seem to have broken out of prison for the right reasons. They’re amicable if a bit intense, but it’s not long before Barbara and Paula are seeing the deep similarities in their daughters, both in the aspects they’re proud of and the ones that frustrate them.

The parents go to see their daughter play and when they do, she’s over the moon to see them. Things go wrong–we’ll talk about that later–but they tell Artemis that they were arrested for real reasons and head back to prison without incident. Are they bad people who tried to kill a family? Absolutely. But they’re also parents first, and Artemis’ very existence has significantly complicated their lives. After their defeat, it’s clear that they’re seeing their priorities a bit differently.

Meanwhile, the kids are still looking into the Shade, and that leads Courtney to an intense encounter with the mysterious dandy where he tells her that his goal in obtaining the black diamond that contains Eclipso is to drop it into the deepest part of the ocean he can find–and that while he himself might be bad, he’s not evil.

He has absolutely no love for most of the ISA, and he doesn’t spare them any of his venom.

They’re people, actually

While last season’s Brainwave and Dragon King were unabashedly evil, most of these characters are more than that, and that alone makes them more interesting and makes me more curious to learn about them.

While this is going on, Cindy Burman is visiting the teenagers affected by the clash of the ISA and JSA, starting with the Fiddler’s outcast son and Artemis. She’s battling mentally with Eclipso, wrongly thinking she has any amount of control over the being as she abuses his power. She’s unhappy that the evil force disintegrated her stepmother, but she also uses the gem to ruin Artemis’ football tryouts by making her hallucinate a SWAT team closing in on her parents. Artemis ends up not making the cut despite her athletic skills, and it’s heartbreaking.

In this episode, she learned that her parents made (huge) mistakes and were doing the right thing about them, and Courtney reached out to her to try to befriend her. She was a hair away from heading down a better path, and Cindy took that away from her.

Making Friends

And again, one of the best parts of Stargirl is the way it constantly highlights little pieces of these characters’ lives. Rick is proving himself to his teacher. Beth is splitting her attention between trying to get Chuck back and trying to nudge her parents toward reconciliation. Yolanda has a part-time job as waitstaff at a diner in town. So often it feels like these elements are used only as reasons for story events to happen–Barry and Iris’ relationship is a victim of this. Their relationship really only matters when it’s part of the plot.

In Stargirl, these elements can play into plotlines, but they’re also important for telling us who these people are. Rick is a surly kid and he’s used to being doubted, but he’s also trying to do better as a direct result of the friends he’s made in the JSA. Despite Beth’s desire to be involved, loneliness ultimately fuels many of her decisions, including her focus on regaining access to Chuck and working on her parents. These aren’t just moments to prep the characters for a villain’s betrayal.

Stargirl is an unabashedly campy, silly show, but it has a big heart beating at the middle of it, and that’s keeping it from dimming.