Teenagers have a lot on their plates as they try to navigate the complexities of school, friendships, and relationships while they try to grow up and prepare for high-pressure futures that lie ahead of them. When a new complication comes up in Courtney’s life, it’s no surprise that even she feels the need to put one of the plates she’s spinning down. Unfortunately, the plate she’s going with is the one labeled “JSA.” Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 3, Episode 5, “Frenemies: Chapter Five: The Thief.”
As Courtney (Brec Bassinger) continues to secretly help Cameron (Hunter Sansone), the team notices she’s pulling away from her role as the JSA leader. Mike (Trae Romano) and Jakeem (Alkoya Brunson) approach Cindy (Meg DeLacy) with a proposition. Finally, Yolanda’s (Yvette Monreal) decision to follow her intuition leads her to make a shocking discovery.
The earliest episodes of Stargirl painted a complex picture of Courtney Whitmore as someone who will go relentlessly after the goals she’s interested in–pursuing things like gymnastics and karate with passion–while letting the stuff she isn’t as interested in fall to the wayside. Her source of conflict has often been that some of the things she cares about the most aren’t at the top of a high-school student’s list of priorities. We’re usually on her side, though, because she cares about the stuff that matters. Superhero stuff.
It feels strange, then, to watch as she makes such a huge mistake, even if it makes sense in the abstract. Despite how it might look from my reviews of Stargirl and the times I’ve written about shows like Riverdale and Nancy Drew for various sites, I actually don’t watch a ton of teen drama, so I don’t know just how well or poorly other shows out there handle relationships like the one forming between Courtney and Cameron, which has the potential to be full of abuse and secrets.
Despite the ongoing mystery in Blue Valley, Courtney’s been waiting two and a half seasons to get more than a few words in with the seemingly gentle artist, so she jumps at the chance when it shows up. We quickly learn, though, that for every secret Courtney has, Cameron has one as well. He doesn’t know about her alter-ego, which is partially responsible for the death of his father–a dangerous supervillain who had planned to kill Courtney’s stepfather so that he could marry her mother.
But Courtney doesn’t know about Cameron’s history of anger management issues. We had an inkling after seeing Cameron’s outburst in the art room and his vengeful flattening of Rick’s tires, but the truth really comes out when Cindy presses him about it, in her standard is-she-evil-or-just-kinda-mean way. Courtney also doesn’t know about Cameron’s evil Norwegian grandparents (this might be the first time a show has put my ancestral people in the villain’s chair) and how they want to see him follow in his father’s footsteps.
Despite the secrets she holds, Courtney has it in her head that she can help Cameron control his powers in a positive way–from her view, she’s trying to fix him before he realizes he’s broken. This distracts Courtney from the JSA, and we see the way her absence starts affecting the other members almost immediately, especially when Sylvester starts to make well-intentioned but poor decisions with the kids.
Don’t be like me, kids
Rick struggles to fix the hourglass that gives him his super strength, and Sylvester mentions that it’s probably the limiter that’s causing issues with the duration, leading Rick to remove the limiter entirely. Sylvester contacts Beth while she’s in class to get her to hack open a door. Somehow the teacher doesn’t see her wearing the goggles or whispering to Sylvester, but in the process of helping, she accidentally glances down at her test and the goggles start solving all of the answers–a big no-no for someone like Beth. Later, he tells Beth about his sister’s fate, causing her to tell her parents to stop trying to help her with her superheroics. Finally, when Yolanda brings up her suspicions, he tells her to follow her gut, which leads her to break into Cindy’s house.
None of these things are constructive for the team. Beth ends up isolated, Rick is toying with power that he’s not mature enough to limit himself, and Yolanda confirms her suspicions when she finds Cindy’s laptop, which will likely cause her to jump to some dangerous conclusions.
Good, but not Nice
My working theory with regard to Cindy is that she stole the laptop so that she could find out more about the metamorphosis she seems to be undergoing, as revealed in the previous episode. If she is being genuine, then that transformation is probably a terrifying surprise. With her father definitely evil and probably dead, she has no one to ask about it–so she’s forced to seek out answers on her own. I think she went to the Gambler initially to ask him for help, only to find the place blasted out; she knew that the other JSA members would accuse her, so she tried to reframe things.
We’ll see if that’s actually true. Cindy could be playing a really long game. But I like the path of redemption that she’s been following much more, trying hard to be a good guy but doing it on her own terms. If she is really going for redemption, then this episode has two great examples of how she plans to go about being good her own way.
When Cindy talks to Cameron about his secret anger issues, it looks like she’s planning to blackmail him, but then she straight-up tells Courtney about what happened, and it seems clear that she really was trying to push him to see if she could get a rise out of him. When she sees seniors bullying Mike and Jakeem, she doesn’t hesitate to put the bullies on the floor with a very clear, actionable threat, even though she laughed at Mike’s invitation to join his superhero team earlier that day. This version of Cindy isn’t a nice person, but she does seem to be trying to be a good person, and it’s making her into one of the most interesting characters on the show.
Meanwhile, Sylvester continues to be difficult to read, with his actions ranging from that of a former superhero with regrets to those of an unhinged man with more power than he can handle. He’s creepy, but in a way that’s really hard to pin down. Again, it seems like there’s room for me to be misreading this, but if I’m understanding to correctly it’ll be a lot more fun, and give Joel McHale more to do with the role.
Cindy, Sylvester, and Courtney are all in really interesting spots. Watching Courtney be so irresponsible is heartbreaking, but we know she’ll find her way back home. With the other two, it’s much harder to tell. It would be interesting to have Sylvester and Cindy on either side of Courtney as different versions of redemption stories, and Stargirl has thus far done well with tying its characters and stories together to build on season-long themes, so I’m hopeful about the direction things are moving in.