This article contains Stargirl spoilers.
Stargirl is the sort of superhero show that has no right to be as good as it is. A story about a teenager discovering a glowing, sentient staff and fighting supervillains with names like “The Gambler” in a costume that’s little more than a midriff-baring Captain America rip-off should, in all honesty, be a joke. Therefore, the fact that it’s actually one the best DC television series currently on the air may come as a surprise to many, but this little show has proven over the course of its first season that there’s basically nothing it can’t do.
A perfect mix of heartfelt optimism and deep cut fan service, Stargirl soars because it trusts both its characters and its audience. This is a show that encourages its viewers to embrace complexity and to hold often competing concepts together in the same moment for maximum narrative impact. Stargirl itself exists in a similar duality, a show with a classic comic book feel and bright tone, but whose youthful verve and risky storytelling points the way to the exciting and different things this genre is still capable of doing.
And there’s no better example of this than Cindy Burman, who is simultaneously a monster and a horribly lost teenage girl.
When we first meet Blue Valley High HBIC Cindy she appears to be little more than your average mean girl. A less interesting Cheryl Blossom-type, her only goal seems to be to make herself the center of attention at all times, whether that means sabotaging another student’s election as class president, winning the school talent contest with subversive-for-Nebraska dance moves or simply being rude to new students. Entertaining, yes – but probably not that important to the overall story that Stargirl was telling.
This is an assumption that turns out to be the furthest thing from the truth.
Because Cindy is a character – much like Stargirl itself – that’s much more complex and nuanced then she appears at first glance. The DC TV universe’s first teen supervillain, Cindy is vicious, dark, and deadly by turns. Yet, even as Stargirl acknowledges her evil nature, it also takes pains to make sure she remains at least somewhat relatable, allowing Cindy to occupy an intriguing liminal space within the narrative. She’s a teenager who knows too much to enjoy her status as a high school queen bee, but who is still seen as too young to have a proper seat at the Injustice Society’s table. She’s both the Dragon King’s daughter and someone who was likely one of his very first victims. And she’s both determined not to need anyone, and miserably lonely at the same time.
In the “Shiv” two-parter that essentially serves as Cindy’s origin story, we see a girl who is condescending and cruel, but who also desperately wants to find someone who can understand what she’s going through. She repeatedly tells her father how frustrated she is by being “all alone up there” in the world of Blue Valley, forced to date a boy that she doesn’t even like that much in order to monitor him for the Injustice Society and unable to tell the truth about herself to any of her supposed friends. The Dragon King – like so many fathers of teens before him, supervillain or no – refuses to see her for who she is, offhandedly recommending she fix her problems by going shopping or throwing another party.
Both the show and actress Meg DeLacy do a great job making Cindy sympathetic without undermining or trying to justify just how truly terrible she is. She’s a girl who hides deep insecurities behind a performative bitchy persona, but who also has no problem casually murdering her father’s brainwashed lackeys (for what is apparently not even close to the first time). It certainly makes sense that Cindy might be drawn to Courtney Whitmore, a new girl with a forthright attitude and little respect for the established way things work in Blue Valley. Who better, after all, to truly see you than someone who doesn’t know you at all?
It would be easy for Stargirl to insist that Cindy and Courtney are destined to be enemies because Starman and Dragon King were, their vendettas predetermined long before these girls even knew who the other was. But like so many other tropes this series has tackled this season, the show isn’t content with anything so basic. Instead, when it pulls out the traditional “we’re not so different, you and I” speech that often passes between a hero and a villain, the conversation lands differently – because Stargirl has taken the time to show us long before this moment that it’s a cliché that’s actually mostly true in this case.
In a different world, it’s pretty easy to imagine how these girls could have ended up in each other’s places, through accidents of birth or circumstance. In this one, it’s still not completely outside the realm of possibility to envision them as a sort of uneasy frenemies at some point in the (distant) future.. The Cindy who visits Courtney’s bedroom to taunt her and threaten her friends is also there because she’s literally never had anyone she could talk to about this whole superhero and/or supervillain lifestyle before, and that’s a true gamechanger for her.
Stargirl has already hinted there’s still more to Cindy than we viewers know. According to Beth, she used to be nice before her mother died, and it wasn’t until afterward that she became the “scariest kid in fourth grade”. Given that the show has repeatedly hinted that she somehow caused her mother’s death, that seems as though it’s probably when her father started experimenting on her, and we’ve yet to truly see the extent of how that’s affected her.
Yet, despite the Dragon King’s repeated abusive and cruel behavior, Cindy remains convinced her father loves her. She even still covets his good opinion – or, at least, she does right up until the moment she stabs him through the chest. Much like everything else involving this character, CIndy’s murder of her father is a complicated decision, an act that appears to be as driven by pain as much as it is by fury.
(No matter how messed up she is, hearing that her father – and all his supervillain friends – considered her a failed experiment has to hurt.)
And though Cindy doubtless mourns her father in her own way (if he’s even actually dead for real), she’s also eager to establish herself in his place as the new de facto head of the next generation of the Injustice Society. Though Cindy is knocked out by Courtney during the battle in the season finale, we see her retrieve a jewel from what is presumably her father’s vast archive of unlabeled evil materials.
Before the screen goes dark, she addresses it as “Eclipso,” indicating that she’s well on her way to building her own version of the Injustice Society (surely Cameron Mahkent or Isaiah Bowin might have some legacy anger issues to work out next season?). But what that will ultimately look like is anyone’s guess – particularly since this show has already proven that it’s both willing and eager to take the road less traveled, narratively speaking.
Will Stargirl and Shiv somehow become besties who do one another’s nails and have sleepovers? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for something else between them, either. Particularly since they’ve both moved out from under the shadows of the men they once called their fathers and are forging their own paths.
After all, Stargirl is a show that’s strengthened by the familiar ground of comic book clichés, rather than weakened by them – and all because it doesn’t count on vague tropes to do its heavy narrative lifting. Instead, it leans into these familiar aspects, sharpening their edges and allowing the familiar bones of old stories to light our path to new ones.