Starman’s bloodlust leads him to hunt down and battle Paula and Crusher in the middle of a supermarket. It’s a bombastic, impressive battle, but it also brings to light a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes in Starman’s head and with the Crock family behind doors. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 3, Episode 3, “Frenemies: Chapter Three: The Blackmail.”
Courtney (Brec Bassinger) and the JSA receive an anonymous tip that could help in their murder investigation. Meanwhile, after being told to find balance, Sylvester (Joel McHale) looks into potential jobs in Blue Valley, while also trying to figure out who he is without his Starman identity.
An important part of getting a whodunit right is making sure there are lots of suspects with valid motives, and that we’re left constantly questioning who the culprit is while the possible answers are slowly whittled down. Right now, Stargirl is nailing it. Sticking the landing will be key to making all of this work, but for now it feels like a classic, old-school comic book murder mystery.
So many suspects
We have all of these possible suspects–Sylvester, the Shade, Paula and Crusher, Cindy, Cameron Mahkent–and it’s still hard to tell just who is allied where exactly. Cindy, for example, seems to be playing both sides when she tells Sylvester that the Gambler was blackmailing Paula and Crusher, but then appears totally sincere when she tells Courtney that she was doing it to get approval from Sylvester and, thus, the JSA. That matches with her spoken motives thus far, and the show doesn’t give in to the temptation to cut away to her smirking or twirling her metaphorical mustache.
While that is happening, we see Cameron Mahkent struggling to contain his anger, taking it out first on a teacher and then on Rick’s car, as his grandparents–the scariest characters in the show, honestly–run around doing who-knows-what in the background.
Sylvester has seemed increasingly unhinged, which culminates in a late-night supermarket battle between him and the Crock family. It’s an exciting, acrobatic battle with lots of explosions and it’s a blast to watch, and it also serves to bring a bunch of different things to light. Pat is no longer content to let Sylvester run the show, and has grown enough to stand up to him and push back. The Crock family seems, more and more, to be on the up and up. They’re weird and dangerous… but honest. The final moments of the episode seem to remove him from the suspect list, though, without actually solving the totally separate mystery of why he’s even alive in the first place.
But the show isn’t forgetting to develop characters while all of the murder mystery stuff is going on. Beth and Rick have both taken notice of the way the others’ family is responding to their new life. Rick’s uncle is entirely absent, while Beth’s parents are constantly calling her with new ideas, theories, and costume suggestions. Paula continues to try to find a life after supervilliany, working actively to join the community and earn Barbara’s friendship. Can someone be creepy and sweet? Because that’s the vibe I’m getting from Paula right now.
One storyline I’m especially enjoying is how fatherhood plays into Courtney’s life and worldview. Pat Dugan is a steady, genuine source of support for her, but she sees all of these potential fathers around her and the way they interact with their children. Starman’s violent tendencies have been frustrating and disappointing for her, while the back-and-forth of the Gambler’s potential villainy has been a sort of whiplash for her. Across the street, Paula and Crusher are constantly under suspicion but prove over and over that providing a good life for their daughter is the most important thing to them.
This helps reinforce these ideas of legacy and generations that the show has been toying with since the beginning. All around the main characters are these symbols of the past and possibilities for the future, and they have to decipher which symbols are worth remembering and which possibilities to pursue.
The sins of our fathers and mothers
This reminds me somewhat of the first season of Riverdale, where the show was interested mostly in how the parents’ laundry list of bad decisions kept affecting their kids. That was before an organ harvester flew into space. Riverdale got weird. Out in the real world, we’re at this pivot point between the decisions of the Boomer generation and its after effects, which are pressing especially hard on millennials and younger people, and many young people are having to look back at the way their parents behaved and think about what that means for the future.
Stargirl rides a line between cheesy fun and modern sensibilities, but the themes of the show are a good reminder that Stargirl is being made right now, for today’s younger viewers, as it digs into the issues that we’re dealing with right now. The show sneaks in with its bright facade and fun characters, but the writers are doing a great job of putting some real weight on it that makes it stick around in my mind each week.