This STARGIRL review contains spoilers.
Stargirl Episode 11
The idea that heroes can come from anywhere isn’t exactly a new theme in comic book movies and television. We can all wear the mask, right? Or wield the sword. Or the staff, or the hammer, if we’re worthy of it.
Stargirl has vaguely touched on this theme already – after all, it’s not like Yolanda or Beth are exactly legacy heroes or anything, and Henry King still chose the light in spite of who his father is. But the trope has never played out so directly and so heart-wrenchingly as it does in “Shining Knight,” an emotional hour that sees Courtney meet her father, who isn’t Starman.
Instead, Sam Kurtis is a run-of-the-mill deadbeat, a man who pays lip service to the idea of finally getting to know the daughter he abandoned, but only until he manages to coax her into surrendering her beloved antique locket, which he wants to sell. Sam tells Courtney it’ll help him establish his life in Los Angeles so that she can come to visit – but we all know there’s little chance she’ll ever see him again. It’s the way of men like this, after all: She has nothing else of value left to give him, and therefore she likely has no value to him.
For Courtney, the revelation of her father’s identity is devastating. At least if her dad was Starman, it gives a meaning to the gaping hole that the absence of her father left in her life, as well to everything she’s doing right now. She’s not putting on a costume and risking the lives of her friends for fun, she’s honoring the legacy of the father she never knew and trying to get justice for his death. If her true dad is just some random who didn’t care enough to stick around because he was lazy or bored, then that’s an entirely different story. It means he just didn’t love her enough to stay.
Thank goodness for Pat Dugan, who offers himself up as a convenient target for Courtney’s rage and disappointment over Sam’s general existence, only to find that what she needs from him is simply what he’s always offered: His pure, unfettered belief in her. And a really big hug.
Confession time: I cried during this episode, and I’m not ashamed. Perhaps it’s partly because I’m also the daughter of a disappointing man like Sam, so Courtney’s complex reaction to him felt brutally realistic to me. But it’s also because we so rarely get to see men like Pat on television, particularly on superhero shows like this. He’s not particularly strong or tough. He’s not a great fighter, and even though he’s built a giant robot out of car parts he’s always going to be a sidekick instead of a leader. But he’s still a hero anyway – because of what’s in his heart.
Also, watching Pat punch Sam in the face was one of the most utterly satisfying moments of this entire season, and it had nothing to do with the Justice Society or deep cut supervillains. (Honestly, I only wish he’d taken the locket back too.)
Brec Bassinger and Luke Wilson have always been the emotional center of this show, but as the storylines of Stargirl’s first season have gotten more complicated, we’ve had less time for their relationship, or even for scenes that just feature the two of them together. But despite that, the pair knock this episode out of the park together. Bassinger seems to contain a dozen conflicting emotions at once: Anger, despair, desperation, fear. Who is she if she’s not Stargirl? If she’s not Starman’s daughter? Why would the Cosmic Staff ever choose her, when her own father didn’t?
Bassinger’s teary delivery of “It doesn’t want me anymore” here is heartbreakingly good, as is Wilson’s calm, level-headed certainty that Courtney has always been worthy despite her mistakes. That the staff itself responds – choosing Courtney by glowing brightly enough to blow the lights out in her basement and bring a knight to her side – is a moment that’s only possible in the best kind of comic book adaptation. This is why we watch this stuff, folks. This, right here.
For all that this is an episode named “Shining Knight,” Justin the Janitor is largely an afterthought in it. Sure, Stargirl finally confirms out loud what many viewers have known for weeks – that Justin is Shining Knight, one of the Seven Soldiers of Victory who used to fight alongside Pat and Starman before the advent of the original Justice Society. Now, his memory is fuzzy and full of gaps, but his story about how he arrived in Blue Valley references dragons enough times that it seems like a likely guess that whatever has happened to him is tied to Dr. Ito’s brainwashing methods. Will Courtney’s staff be able to help him reclaim his lost time?
Stargirl also deserves bonus points for folding Barbara so seamlessly into the story here. Whereas last week she was ready to bolt from Blue Valley for good, she now seems more conflicted. Your mileage may vary on whether or not it’s a moral good for a mother to consider letting her teenager fight a deadly group of grown men just because a special staff glows for her, but the fact that the show is actually allowing the character to wrestle with this issue is a good thing. Barbara isn’t an obstacle to Courtney’s superhero journey – or she shouldn’t be, at least – and the story works better with her as a real and meaningful part of it. (Now, if only the same could be said for Mike….)