The Arrowverse as we knew it is all but dead, but Stargirl still has plenty of life left. After beginning life on the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service, Stargirl migrated over to the CW; while it has higher production values (who would’ve imagined Luke Wilson on a CW show?), it is otherwise a much better fit. Last season pitted the JSA against Eclipso, forcing heroes and villains to work together. Now, those same characters are having to deal with the aftermath of their decisions. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 3, Episode 1, “Frenemies: Chapter One: The Murder.”
So many superhero stories are about heroes with secret identities protecting big cities or even entire planets. The heroes and villains only encounter each other in costume, or when they do meet face to face it’s a tense “will they figure it out” moment. Stargirl has messed with the status quo of this since the beginning, pitting teenaged heroes against villains living comfortably in the town of Blue Valley. The gray nature of the relationships between the hero and villain characters has made for a uniquely tense dynamic, as has the power imbalance inherent to being a teenager in a world of adults.
Things pick up right where Stargirl Season 2 left off. The JSA kids are in an uneasy alliance with the kids of the ISA, and the show starts with a montage of everyone living their lives set to a slightly-too-loud “America” by Neil Diamond. The Shade is still living in town. Cindy is going out of her way to help people to show that she’s a good guy.
The whole feel of this episode is really interesting. Joel McHale is now a proper member of the cast as a returned Sylvester Pemberton, a.k.a. Starman, and he’s staying at the Whitmore-Dugan home while they’re out on a family vacation to Yellowstone. While the family was away, he fixed up the house following the violent battles of the Season 2 climax and even built a display case for the Cosmic Staff… right next to his bed.
Courtney is rightly suspicious of the move. I can’t tell if it’s just because I’m used to Joel McHale mugging on The Soup and Community, or if there’s something off about Sylvester. It might be a bit of both; we learn later in the episode that he woke up in his coffin underground and had to dig his way out, and there are these small indications everywhere that there’s something off about him. Even as Courtney tries to trust villains who literally tried to kill her, she can’t help but wonder about his intentions regarding the staff itself.
Reform doesn’t happen overnight
The villains make for some of the most entertaining interactions. The Crock family now lives across the street from Courtney and her family. They’re trying hard to be good people, but they’ve been terrible, and incredibly violent people for years, with all the broken and confused boundaries that come with that. Pat wakes up to find Crusher in his kitchen, but Crusher is making juice in an expensive-looking juicer that he’s straight-up giving to the family.
Paula approaches Barbara in hopes of getting her permission to let her daughter Artemis join the JSA–despite the fact that Barbara has literally no power over who does and doesn’t join. Everything she does has a sinister tone, but doesn’t actually appear to have any ulterior motives. Her daughter just wants to join the superhero team, and she’s trying to help. It’s legitimately funny and sweet. It feels like a weird sort of crossover in tone and writing from Harley Quinn, with its treatment of the villains as people who have lives outside of villainy.
The Gambler returns
The Gambler, who escaped town at the end of Season 1 is back, too. He says he’s trying to make amends because he’s discovered that he has a daughter wants to be someone worthy of her. The show plays with this, making us wonder about his motives–as he leaves, we cut to a hidden camera in Courtney’s house, which seems like a thing he’d definitely do. He’s a creep, right?
But then when we find him, he’s living in a trailer by himself with just a laptop to his name. There’s no lair or wall of supercomputers. He has a picture of his daughter as an infant, and he inputs a search for her before throwing away his very tiny two-shot Derringer pistol. Then, his laptop connects to the camera system and we find out that he wasn’t anymore aware of it than Courtney’s family. Later, when the heroes question his sincerity, she reminds them that he’s making a concerted effort to find his daughter–something her own father never did.
Growing and changing
Stargirl is all about the way our life experiences change us, and we see it in all the main characters. Pat and Sylvester have a race between S.T.R.I.P.E. and the staff, but later Sylvester calls Pat Stripey and acts like Pat is just his sidekick again. Pat has a family, a life, and he’s accomplished incredible things, including building a literal mech and reassembling a team of superheroes. Artemis, who once sought to club the JSA members into a group coma, shows up at a crime scene ahead of them and dismantles the criminals before announcing that she’s trying out for their team, because she cares what her parents think, and she’s also seen how strong the other team is.
Right now, Stargirl is barely concerned about whatever villain the show has in store for the characters this year–it’s way more interested in these tenuous relationships and how the characters navigate them. That’s good, because that’s the show’s strength. While Eclipso was fun, he was even cheesier than Beth’s Dr. Mid-Nite costume. The interactions between Cindy and the JSA, and the Crock and Whitmore-Dugan families, are the best part of this show.