This Stargirl review contains spoilers.
Stargirl just keeps getting better and better every single week. “Shiv Part One” represents the series’ first foray into multi-part storytelling and it’s a near-perfect hour, giving us everything from Justice Society drama and teenage dating angst to messy Whitmore-Dugan family dynamics. Plus, the episode even manages to make Blue Valley High mean girl Cindy Burman into a multi-faceted character before unleashing her as the series’ first teen supervillain and hinting at even more to come.
It’s difficult to overstate how effective this episode’s handling of Cindy is. She’s been such a monster for virtually every moment of Stargirl to date that it’s likely zero people are surprised that she turns out to be the daughter of one as well. But because “Shiv Part One” also takes the time to show us how lonely and human she is – and how genuinely she seems to want Courtney’s friendship, or at least a real human connection that sees her for who she is – the revelation that she’s also a genetically modified superhuman of some sort lands a lot harder.
I mean, as excited as I was that Cameron got his act together enough to ask Courtney to the Homecoming Dance, I still kind of want to see that episode where she and Cindy do their nails and gossip in the middle of the ghoulish house of horrors this poor girl lives in every day.
As the daughter of Injustice Society of America member Dragon King, there’s apparently a lot more to Cindy than meets the eye. She’s not only aware of her father’s bizarre extracurricular activities, she knows about the Injustice Society of America, its members, and what they can all do. She wants to become part of it, and chafes under her father’s refusal to take her seriously or listen to her.
She also has hidden blades built into the sleeves of her clothes, which is the sort of terrifying backstory nugget that I hope the show is hoping to explain at some point.
The way that Stargirl deftly intersperses the scenes of Courtney pushing back against Pat’s insistence that she’s not ready to fight on her own with a similar moment between Cindy and her father is exceptionally well done and draws intriguing parallels between the two girls that we can only hope the series will explore further as the season goes on.
The fight scene between the two of them is probably the best Stargirl has managed to date, largely because Courtney and Cindy’s fighting styles mirror each other in ways that are eerily similar to their conversations earlier in the episode. (Though, no shade to the Cosmic Staff, which is awesome but holy crap Cindy’s dragon staff literally breathes fire.)
Sure, the fact that Cindy doesn’t wear a mask along with her Shiv costume is…weird. As is her apparent inability to recognize Courtney despite the fact that she may be the only girl at Blue Valley High with that riot of curly blonde hair. But at this point, I’m willing to go with it, because these two make thrilling archenemies/possible pseudo-friends. (I’m keeping this dream alive, don’t spoil it for me yet!)
It was also probably necessary for Courtney to get her butt thoroughly kicked at this point in the story, not only so that she can experience for herself the potential pain and danger of her own hubris, but to drive home Pat’s repeated points about training and teamwork. Courtney’s been fairly headstrong about this whole superhero endeavor regardless of his warnings in the past, so maybe this is the sort of humbling she needs in order to grow.
The other intriguing aspect of “Shiv Part One” is that the weirdo janitor that’s been creeping around Blue Valley High finally gets a purpose in the story. Even if we’re…not quite sure what it is yet. Thus far, Justin the Janitor hasn’t had much to do. We’ve seen him cleaning up various messes around the school and generally lurking in hallways, watching Courtney and Beth. But that’s been pretty much it.
Well, it turns out he also keeps a giant medieval sword in his mop bucket, and he knows how to use it. Janitor Justin arrives just in time to save Courtney’s life, knock Cindy out, and intone a bizarre chant-like saying (“Until death, it is all life”) before vanishing again.
This all basically confirms that Janitor Justin is in fact the DC Comics character known as the Shining Knight, a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory and a friend to the JSA. (Which is obviously how he knows Pat well enough to recognize him as Stripesy.) Without delving into spoilers that may or may not come into play on the show, let’s just say that that comics version of his character has a dark and complex history with the Dragon King, and most likely has some form of amnesia here. (It’s…complicated.)
At any rate, that is surely going to necessitate an awkward conversation whenever Courtney makes it back to school.
As the episode ends, the Cosmic Staff leads Pat to his stepdaughter, badly injured in the gym. Justin disappears, Cindy escapes, and I guess Mike’s still at the football game eating all the snacks in sight. Granted, it’s hard to judge this episode until we see how the story of the two-parter concludes in “Shiv Part Two,” but doesn’t it feel a bit like everything in Blue Valley’s different now? Or at least that it ought to be?