This STARGIRL review contains spoilers.
Stargirl Episode 13
Stargirl’s first season, on the whole, is one of the strongest ever attempted in the DC television universe. There’s so much to love about this series, from its sunny, optimistic vibe and charming characters to its willingness to push boundaries, trust its audience, and make bold storytelling decisions. That its Season 1 finale doesn’t entirely stick the landing is probably expected – honestly, most of the Arrowverse shows never do finales terribly well anyway – but the emotional moments are as top-notch as ever, and “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part Two” does a decent enough job of tying up loose ends and putting some intriguing new pieces in place for Season 2.
The sudden return of Joel McHale’s Sylvester Pemberton will probably drive the bulk of conversation following this episode – whether he’s the real Starman, back from the (presumed) dead, a brainwashed clone or something else entirely – but, honestly, all I want to do is talk about the emotional impact from those scenes in which Courtney refers to herself as Pat’s daughter and it breaks through his Brainwave-conditioning.
Stargirl’s first season is Courtney Whitmore’s superhero origin story, but it’s also Pat Dugan’s too. And that moment is so darn earned and so satisfying and just, everything it needed to be. Again, this is the kind of thing that makes watching superhero stories so worth it, and why we stick with this genre even when it can sometimes feel like it does nothing but churn out clunkers. (See also: Yolanda’s sudden turn to the dark side, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
To be fair, I’d probably be more interested in Sylvester’s apparent return if it had happened before Courtney realized Starman wasn’t her father. But there’s an equally interesting emotional tug-of-war in the offing for Pat, who will doubtless have to choose between the life – and BFF – he had before, and his new status as a simultaneous sidekick and dad.
The finale picks up right where “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E Part One” left off, with the adults of Blue Valley paralyzed by Brainwave’s rip-off Cerebro machine. Thanks to some clever hacking by Beth, they free Pat and Justin from the mind control just in time for the much-hyped face-off between the new Justice Society and the old Injustice Society that we’ve been waiting all season to see. As such, the fight scene between both groups is honestly great, feeling both epic and immediate all at the same time. The show pulls out all the stops for this final confrontation, unleashing Solomon Grundy, putting Jordan Mahkent in the middle of the action for the first time, and giving Justin the chance to get medieval on the Dragon King.
Though, in the most entertaining surprise of the show, it’s Cindy who offs her father, stabbing him through the chest as payback for keeping her in an underground dungeon for the past few episodes. To say I am excited for her rise as the new leader of the ISA next season is perhaps the understatement of the year.
Here’s hoping she fares better than Jordan, who gets the most ignominious supervillain ending possible, shattered into pieces in his ice form by none other than…Mike Dugan, driving Justin’s truck. The show’s sudden dedication to clearing the board of the ISA parents is interesting, as it looks as though Cindy, Isaiah, and probably Cameron now that he’s a vengeance legacy himself will be stepping into the supervillain void their parents have left behind. There’s something to be said for giving the teen JSA some rivals that are closer to their age group – the optics of Brainwave’s treatment of Courtney have always been fairly gross – but the show will certainly miss Neil Jackson, who was its most skilled performer at making his ISA leader feel both wildly evil and fully human.
In other news, it’s possible that Yolanda Montez has suddenly become Stargirl’s most controversial hero, slitting the throat of a boy who looked like the one she used to love, all the while knowing he was actually his supervillain father, Brainwave. Her decision is certainly understandable – Brainwave was a monster who killed his own child, planned to aid in the murder of millions more, and certainly would have done the same to her and all her friends if given the chance. But watching Yolanda mercilessly kill someone who looked like Henry was incredibly jarring, and definitely seems like the kind of character shift that will – or should, at least – have lasting ramifications for her going forward.
Particularly given the fact that something like four scenes prior, we saw her telling Rick how wrong it was to kill in the name of vengeance. Yolanda, it must be noted, it also the only member of the JSA that appears to be demonstrably religious, which adds another layer to her decision to commit an act she would clearly view as a grievous sin. Will she tell Courtney and her friends what really happened to Brainwave? Or will it fester insider her until she makes some sort of dramatic and dangerous error?
The Yolanda twist is even more interesting when contrasted against Rick’s decision to spare Solomon Grundy after weeks of insisting he’d kill him as soon as he got the chance. It’s the first moment where he’s truly behaved like a hero, and swallowed the rage that’s powered him through virtually every other moment of the season. It’s a choice that, for once, actually made Rick feel interesting, even if it’s not entirely clear that the show did the work necessary to get his character to this point. To be fair, the same could possibly be said of Yolanda, but at least we’ve seen her struggling with her grief over Henry’s death and her guilt and anger over how their relationship ended.
Where Stargirl goes from here is anyone’s guess – the show is headed to The CW exclusively for its second season, which may or may not have the budget to pull off some of the extended fight and special effects sequences we saw this year. (Though, truly, The Flash pulls off some stuff that can look comparable when it tries.) But whether or not that’s the case doesn’t really matter – the wonder of Stargirl isn’t its fight sequences, it’s its heart. Bring on Season 2.