This STARGIRL review contains spoilers.
Stargirl Episode 3
After spending its first two installments setting up the basics of its universe and introducing its characters, Stargirl settles in for an episode that feels a bit more representative of what the show will look like going forward. And if that’s the case, it feels like we’re all going to be in for a real treat this summer.
Stargirl is hardly the first series to use its genre setting to explore the challenges of high school and the pitfalls of growing up. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville say hi from several decades ago.) But it is the first DC TV series to really tackle these kinds of stories – which Is something that’s been long overdue if you ask me – and as such, it manages to make this very familiar story feel new all over again.
Sure, Courtney Whitmore is Stargirl, and she and her stepdad are busy trying to determine whether the Injustice Society of America is reconstituting itself in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska. But she’s also a teenage girl who has to navigate life in a new school, with all the vicious, horrifying and often embarrassing things that frequently go on there. And it matters that this is a show that takes the time to show us her being as heroic in that setting as she is while wearing a super suit.
Her discovery of an icy, star-shaped message for Stargirl from Icicle is shocking, but no less so than our realization that Courtney’s got a crush on his son, Cameron, and that they’re the sort of instantly adorable together that means something deeply star-crossed between them is doubtless headed our way.
From her decision to push back against the most popular girls in her class for slut-shaming a fellow student to her kindhearted choice to lie about the success of Joey’s Zarick’s magic trick, Stargirl repeatedly emphasizes that it’s Courtney’s character – the things that make her herself, and not her ability to control the Cosmic Staff – that really matters.
It’s also interesting that she appears to recognize that her position as a white, blonde outsider allows her to stand up for some of the more vulnerable students at her school in ways that they aren’t allowed to stand up for themselves. Her repeated, uncomfortable attempts to help Yolanda are quietly laying some believable groundwork for their inevitable friendship, and the growing tension between her and mean girl Cindy Burman means Courtney will have plenty of battles to fight that have nothing to do with superpowers.
The dichotomy between Courtney’s high school-centered adventures and the dark scheming of the very creepy, very adult, and very male Injustice Society of America members remains more than a bit weird. But Icicle is the sort of nondescript yet vaguely attractive head villain I’m always here for, and he’s already more complex and interesting than Brainwave was. That villain, by the way, is still conveniently languishing in a coma until the story needs him – and his knowledge of Courtney’s secret identity – again.
Icicle is calculating and threatening in a way that, for all his bluster and telekinesis, Brainwave is not, and there’s something truly frightening about a villain willing to kill a child to further his own ends. The unfortunate death of poor Joey immediately establishes that Stargirl is a series with real stakes, and that the youth of the show’s protagonist will not necessarily be enough to keep her friends or those she cares about safe. As if our heroine didn’t have enough reason to hate the Injustice Society, just thinking they murdered her maybe-dad.
Once again, however, the best scene in the episode is a heart-to-heart between Pat and Courtney. This time, he takes his stepdaughter to the former hall of the Justice Society of America, where the group’s gear has been kept in what feels like a museum display, right down to the apparently immortal owl that still hangs out there. (How old is that thing??)
On the surface, the sequence is a perfect mix of nostalgia and excitement, providing plenty of exposition about the old JSA, its members and their abilities for fans to geek out about. Doctor Fate! Ted Grant! That owl! Some version of The Flash that is not the CW’s Barry Allen! But it also acknowledges the very real pain Pat still carries around with him over all their deaths, rather than just Starman’s, which is where the series often focuses his grief. (His brief, offhand story about Wildcat and the key chain is the best example of this.) They were his friends, after all, in addition to superheroes and it’s to Stargirl’s credit that the show seems determined to honor that even as it embraces Courtney’s formation of the next generation of the group.
Which, by the way, is clearly where we heading next week, and it’s honestly impossible not to feel a thrill as Courtney stuffs Justice Society gear in her backpack with a determined promise to start recruiting. (Sorry Pat, I guess?) The DC TV universe has really needed a teen series for a long time, and I’m looking forward to seeing Courtney get some friends her own age, as well as how Stargirl will continue to navigate the everyday issues they’ll all face in terms of balancing fighting the ISA with keeping their secret lives separate from their real ones.
One has to assume this is how Courtney’s mother will fit into the story, as she continues to advance at Jordan Mahkent’s company, even as her daughter and her friends battle his evil alter ego. Or at least, I hope that’s what happens because at the moment, Barbara is the one character on this canvas whose story feels a bit superfluous. The show desperately need to give her something more substantial to do than just be painfully ignorant of the secret lives the rest of her family’s living.
In short: Bring on the new Justice Society of America. We’re ready.