This STARGIRL review contains spoilers.
Stargirl Episode 12
The Injustice Society of America’s plan to brainwash and take control over 100 million Americans across a dozen states finally kicked off in the penultimate episode of Stargirl’s first season. After last week’s emotional outing, it’s hard not to feel like “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One” is kind of a letdown, precisely because so much of the hour serves as little more than table setting for the big season-ending battle to come.
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that, as viewers, we’re simply inclined to look past this installment toward the finale. This isn’t a bad episode by any means, and it actually does provide us with some long-awaited character moments. (Mike! Finally! Finds! Out!) The dual fight sequence that opens the hour is extremely well done, and there’s a nice symmetry to the fact that both Pat and Barbara are saved by their respective kids.
We also get to see Sportsmaster and Tigress in action again, the show finally jettisons the deadweight that is Principal Bowin, and Barbara officially gets to take part in a mission for once. The hour even sort of hints that some piece of Henry King, Jr. might live on, in the energy his father absorbed.
“Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One” gives us our most detailed look yet at the ISA’s evil plan for world domination which is basically…a cheap knock-off Cerebro from the X-Men franchise. The machine will apparently allow Brainwave to control and rewrite the minds of all the adults in the middle of America, forming their own new country. Which, by the way, will be fully powered by solar and wind energy, ban discrimination in all forms, and provide its residents with universal healthcare.
Um, who are the bad guys here, again?
Just kidding, the ISA is going to thoughtlessly murder 25 million innocent people to achieve this goal. And also take over the minds of those who survive, which is really the kind of violation that I don’t think our teen heroes fully understand until the hour’s final moments when all the adults suddenly turned into braindead zombies. And with just thirty minutes to go until the changes in their minds become permanent, the Justice Society kids have their work cut out for them in the season finale.
Despite the fact that much of this episode’s main plot is devoted to setting things up for next week’s episode, we nevertheless get some great small moments in this one, as well.
Mike Dugan finally finds out that the rest of his family is living that superhero lifestyle and immediately wants to be part of it, only neither his father or his step-sister will let him. (Though Courtney is definitely kinder about it, and I certainly don’t hate the ideas of them as partners of some sort in future.)
Perhaps now that Mike is fully aware of everything that’s going on, he’ll be a little less generally unbearable. And, to be fair, the moment where he decides he can still help fight evil without powers – Because that’s what Pat does! My heart! – is extremely well done. But the odds still seem high that he’ll one day find that pink pen in his sister’s room and become the new Johnny Thunder.
Barbara gets the chance to see her daughter in action and chooses to be proud of her abilities, rather than afraid of them. She even hints that she’s trying to forgive Pat for all the lies he’s told – though, let’s be real, that little speech about how he’s lost everyone who ever knew his sidekick secret would probably melt the hardest of hearts. Pat is honestly the best, y’all.
Elsewhere, for the first time in weeks Cindy – or Cynthia as Brainwave insists on creepily calling her – gets more than a single line. We haven’t seen much of this character since the “Shiv” two-parter, but as her confrontation with her dead boyfriend’s supervillain father proves, there’s still a lot more to explore here. Cindy’s insistence that her father – the man who has kept her in a cage for weeks – loves her, despite the fact Brainwave’s revelation that he and the rest of the ISA view her as a failed experiment is both sad and disturbing.
Though, there’s certainly something exciting about her willingness to stand up to Henry, Sr., and to call out how badly he treated the son he claims to be so sad about having to kill. I realize I’m biased here, but man I’d like the chance to see them face off for real. Stargirl has certainly taken its time introducing the kids of the ISA, and this episode only hints at how Cameron Mahkent and Isaiah Bowin might fit into things in the future. But the show’s continued complex presentation of Cindy certainly makes the prospect of their increased inclusion an exciting one.
“Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E Part One” ends with the new JSA discovering that their plan to stop the Dragon King’s machine has more than a few flaws – Brainwave’s brainwashing has already begun and all the adults are now under his control, including both Justin and Pat in the S.T.R.I.P.E robot. The only people who can now stop the ISA are Courtney and her friends, which we probably all expected from the very beginning.
But it’s truly a testament to the general high quality of Stargirl’s storytelling and the many twists it’s thrown us over the course of this season that it’s really not at all clear how this will all shake out in the finale. Do I think the JSA will eventually be victorious or at least fight the ISA to a draw? Of course! But how? And at what cost?