This Stargirl review contains spoilers.
Stargirl Episode 10
At this point, we should all really feel sorry for people who aren’t watching Stargirl. It doesn’t seem as though it should be possible for a show about a teenage girl with a glowing staff and a knockoff Captain America costume to be the consistently best superhero series on the air and, yet, here we are.
“Brainwave Jr” doesn’t just manage to pull off a truly shocking final scene, it also rehabilitates its most problematic character, shake-up life at the Whitmore-Dugan household forever, fully establishes Brainwave as the most terrifying villain on this show, and gives us the series’ best group fight sequence to date. Whew.
If you’d told me after last week’s installment, which featured Henry watching creepy videos of his dad detailing his weirdo science experiments for the better part of the hour, that I’d be crying over the same character by the end of this episode, I’d have laughed in your face. And, yet, tears. Henry’s decision to sacrifice himself to protect the Justice Society is genuinely shocking, as is the fact that it appears as though his father really has killed him.
True, we don’t actually see young Henry’s dead body, and characters in comic book shows have certainly come back hale and hearty from worse fates than having a ceiling collapse on them. None of us would probably be that shocked if he turned up with an edgy scar and a big vendetta in Season 2. But Stargirl plays the moment straight, at least for right now, so it seem that we’re meant to assume this is a permanent ending for Henry’s character. The episode also gives him a redemption that is painfully brief but still manages to feel earned – from his last-second decision to repeat his apology to Yolanda, as well as his insistence to Courtney that people, in general, are good and still worth saving.
“Brainwave Jr” is a showcase for both the younger Henry King and for actor Jake Austin Walker, as he discovers the man his father used to be, and dares to dream of a world where their relationship could be something different than the one he’s grown up knowing. It’s easy to wonder what might have happened if we’d had an amnesiac Brainwave for a few more episodes, both for Henry Jr.’s sake and the fact that there was some great tension to be had in him knowing but not knowing right now who Stargirl is. We can pretty much guess what’s going to happen as soon as he and Jordan talk, and that’s only if Icicle hasn’t figured it out on his own yet.
That Henry’s ultimately forced to acknowledge the fact that his father will always choose the ISA over anything else in his life is heartbreaking. But his truly heroic efforts to make sure Courtney and her friends – even Rick who tried to physically fight him earlier in the episode – get to safety while he holds off his father who is determined to kill them all? Man, that’s the kind of thing we all watch superhero shows for, isn’t it? Henry, I’m sorry I doubted you, kid.
Elsewhere, Pat and Courtney attempt to manage the fallout from Barbara finding out the truth about the heroic extracurricular activities they’ve been engaging in since the family arrived in Blue Valley. Amy Smart finally gets some material that’s worthy of her, knocking Barbara’s rage, disbelief, and sense of betrayal out of the park. Thankfully, Stargirl is smart enough not to try and tie this issue up in a bow in just one episode – when the hour ends, Barbara is still furious with both her husband and daughter, Pat’s sleeping at the garage and Mike’s angry at Courtney for not trusting him enough to let him in on whatever’s going on.
Just because Barbara’s understandably curious about what Jordan Mahkent is truly up to – told you that his weird parents that speak Norwegian all the time would be a problem for him – that doesn’t mean she’s ready to co-sign her daughter’s secret superhero identity, either. Stargirl leaves the door open for this narrative – and all these relationships – to go in any number of ways, and the fact that things aren’t resolved immediately feels like a realistic way to tackle what’s happening in their family.
Sadly, it’s Rick that remains the show’s weakest link, as he continues to treat his supposed teammates like dirt, blatantly disregard plans or orders he doesn’t like, and tries to take on a literal monster with his bare hands. Granted, his desire to punish Solomon Grundy is understandable, and possibly even admirable. But he’s hardly the only person in the JSA who’s lost a loved one, and his constant insistence that his pain matters more than anyone else’s is beyond tiresome. Even more so because literally every other character is presented with more nuance than he is. (Look at Yolanda in this very episode, who also lashes out at Courtney’s plan.)
The fact that Rick keeps being narratively paired off with Beth is likely some indication that her sweet and caring personality is supposed to somehow temper his constant murder rage or teach him a better way to deal with it. But mostly I just keep thinking she’d be better off far away from him because Rick is a mess that it is not her job to fix, and I’d rather watch Beth do pretty much anything else. Like, maybe learn to fight a little bit? Order a taser off of Amazon? It seems unfortunate that her only role in the group scenes this week was to be the Rick whisperer and shout about how her goggles weren’t working.
The big group fight sequence in Dr. Ito’s lair is incredible both in terms of scope and action – seeing Courtney and Yolanda fighting side by side together will always warm my heart. And Cindy shrieking repeatedly from her prison cell, begging for her father to let her be the one to kill Stargirl was honestly hilarious. We even got to see the Dragon King’s reptilian face. (Gross, by the way.)
How the fledgling JSA will react to witnessing Henry’s death – or seeing the true scope of Brainwave’s abilities for themselves – is anyone’s guess. While Courtney knows what really happened to poor Joey Zarick, this is the first time that Yolanda, Rick and Beth are seeing the true danger of their new superhero lifestyle play out before their eyes. They’re putting their lives – and the lives of others – on the line every time they suit up, and I’m not sure that some of them actually believed that until right now.