As Courtney is faced with the truth about the Justice Society of America, Eclipso is trying to bend reality around her, and it threatens to tear her family to pieces. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 2, Episode 9, “Summer School: Chapter Nine.”
“Summer School: Chapter Nine”
For mind tricks and hallucinations to work, they have to be plausible–requirement number one. Unless you fulfill that, the whole idea falls apart. A character saw someone die, saw them crushed under a thousand tons of cement? It doesn’t make sense for them to come back–the character is going to know this person is dead. In a season dependent on illusions and mind tricks, Stargirl has done a killer job in making sure that its illusions are totally believable in the context of the world, and that makes the rest of the show that much more effective.
Having incapacitated Rick and Yolanda completely and dug Beth into a hole, Eclipso turns his attention to the core of the JSA, the Whitmore-Dugan family. The storm over Blue Valley is whipping into a frenzy, and the power is out all over, giving him a ripe opportunity to isolate three of the four members of the family, trapping them in dangerous illusions.
The episode spans decades, beginning with Bruce Gordon, the reluctant first semi-modern host of Eclipso. It jumps forward to the JSA’s battle against the god of wrath and vengeance, and then to the Whitmore-Dugan home.
While many of the superhero shows out there like to play around in the “origin” space, Stargirl is doing something else. It is Courtney’s Stargirl origin, but she’s not the source of all superheroes like The Flash, or the first vigilante like Green Arrow or Daredevil. She’s picking up a baton lost by its previous carriers.
We’ve seen very little of the first JSA so far, and this episode changes that. While the focus is still on Courtney, this episode gives us a longer look at the original team than ever before, including screentime with Joel McHale’s Starman, Lou Ferrigno Jr.’s Hourman and, most importantly, John Wesley Shipp as Jay Garrick, the Flash of this earth.
This show has generally had really good performances–Trae Romano is the only actor I can remember complaining about, and even his character has come into his own this season. Weirdly, though, McHale’s Starman left me really cold. Starman comes across as a jerk, and McHale’s performance doesn’t sell him at all for me. I loved McHale on NBC’s Community, and I know he’s a capable actor, so this seems unusual for him. It’s also a minute here and there–he’s hardly getting the chance to flex his dramatic muscles.
On the other hand, I’m always thrilled to see John Wesley Shipp suit up as Jay Garrick. Who could’ve guessed that after playing Barry Allen on CBS’ short-lived The Flash TV show, he’d find a career renaissance playing Jay Garrick on The Flash, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and now Stargirl. He has this Dad Energy that few other actors in these shows can even approach. He brings gravitas to every scene he’s in, and I hope we get to see him interact with Courtney at some point.
Meanwhile, in the modern-day, Eclipso‘s focus is on Barbara and Mike, the two “outsiders” of the family–the ones without powers or genius-level skills. He traps Barbara in her car during the growing storm, and finds Mike in the family kitchen. For Barbara, the hallucination comes in the form of Jordan Mahkent, Icicle. We saw him die. But he was made out of ice–couldn’t he turn to water and re-form? That’s what makes this exchange so perfect. Both we and Barbara know that Jordan died, but the explanation he provides for his presence is just plausible enough to both her and us that it raises doubt.
The same thing goes for Mike’s hallucination–Jordan’s son, Cameron. Cameron and Courtney have been flirting since almost the first episode of the show and the storm outside is going wild–it’s not unreasonable that he might show up there to take shelter from the storm. If he learned how his father actually died, he might even hold a strong grudge against the family. Even the limited time we’ve had with Cameron serves the story here, because we don’t know exactly what he knows, how he feels about it, or what he’s capable of. Just that everything happening is possible.
It’s not until the illusions start to get really twisted that we can discard that doubt, and that makes them frightening in a way that these kinds of scenes usually aren’t. They’re usually lit weirdly, or the illusory characters behave erratically. Here, it’s an illusion that’s behaving normally. Just as with Beth’s parents last week, it’s hard to spot and is more effective as a result.
These two elements–the history of the JSA and the fear sown by Eclipso come together in the episode’s final moments as Courtney harangues Pat and Barbara about their decision not to tell her crucial information. She’s rightly mad that information concealed from her has led almost directly to members of the new JSA being broken by Eclipso’s influence.
I so often find myself frustrated when superhero or ensemble genre shows like this split up the team and break them down like this. With Stargirl, I’m finding myself totally engaged. The writing, editing, and performances are coming together to make it all feel real despite how cheesy the JSA can be and how bright the show usually is.
With just a few episodes left, I’m eagerly anticipating seeing this chapter of Stargirl through.