This article contains Stargirl spoilers.
Stargirl Season 2 Episode 8
Summer has been no fun for the kids of Stargirl. The newest season has seen them lose teammates and classmates as well as taking on Eclipso, their most terrifying foe yet. After the shocking events of episode seven which saw Yolanda Montez abandon the mantle of Wildcat for her own sanity, episode eight focuses on Rick Tyler’s Hourman, who’s having issues of his own. It’s one of Stargirl‘s most powerful episodes yet, anchored by an incredible performance by Cameron Gellman. In the wake of the tragic events that occurred this week, we chat to Gellman about vulnerability, where Rick’s at, and where he’s headed.
Rick has long been one of Blue Valley’s most traumatized children. His parents were killed by Solomon Grundy and he’s been raised by his abusive Uncle Matt. But despite that he’s found a new family in the Justice Society of America, which is why Yolanda leaving has put him so on edge as we enter episode eight.
“I think he’s super aware that one of his strongest teammates just got totally wiped out,” Gellman explains. “If she’s capable of being flipped upside down with that much ease, then he is as well. He has just as many insecurities, fears, and nightmares as she does, if not more. So I think he’s thinking, ‘It’s just a matter of time.'”
Rick’s worries aren’t unfounded as we saw in gruesome form. But before things take that awful turn, we learn something beautiful about Rick. In secret he’s been helping and feeding Grundy, the creature who killed his parents who he let live last season. It’s a stunning act of forgiveness and kindness, and as Gellman tells us it’s Rick’s way of trying to heal.
“It’s healing for him to give love and understanding to this misunderstood, scared, and lost creature the way that he feels scared, lost, and misunderstood himself,” Gellman says. “In that way, it’s a way of giving love to himself. But then it’s also a way of stepping into the man he knows he can be. The man that he knows his father would have taught him to be if he hadn’t been killed. He’s trying really hard to be the best version of himself, and knows that when you give love to something that’s lost, it flourishes. That’s true for Rick who now has the JSA and it should be true for Grundy as well.”
The pair are more similar than anyone might realize. The haunted child, pushed into a life of violence whose only power comes from his fists, and the monstrous creation utilized by the Injustice Society to kill and maim. In Gellman’s eyes Rick sees that similarity and it draws him to Grundy.
“I think there’s a real wisdom and grace in trying to see yourself, or trying to see someone else that’s outwardly so callous and rough around the edges, as just needing a little bit more attention,” he says. “We are a product of our circumstances, and the town and Matt have shaped Rick just as much as the ISA shaped Grundy. Rick thinks all the time about who he’d be if his father raised him instead of Matt, so who would Grundy be if he was in the right circumstances as opposed to being raised and abused by the ISA?”
It’s a big question and the kind that clearly drives Gellman. From the first season of Stargirl, his performance as Rick has been starkly impressive and emotionally driven. So how does he get into the mindset of a character who’s suffered such loss and familial abuse? For Gellman, it’s all about embodying Rick’s absolute exhaustion and emotional strain as a way of channeling what he’s been through.
“We don’t see Rick at home very much,” Gellman says. “There’s a lot of characters in this show who have a lot going on, and so a lot of what we know about them is just what’s been said or what’s been touched on. So with that I think it becomes important to carry the weight of where he sleeps at night when he comes into the environment we do see him in. Someone that’s always in a mode of having to defend themselves and fight, who’s dealing with that level of frustration and that exhaustion, I think that just becomes a part of someone’s body, a part of their shoulders, a part of their energy that they walk around with.”
It’s just as important for Gellman to put himself in the mind of Rick too, as it’s vital that he understands a character that he cares about so much.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about his life, thinking as though I’m him. What does he think when the world is quiet? When there’s no more distractions and you’re alone with yourself and your ugly thoughts. What are those? What are those sadnesses? Those speculations? What is it like to miss your parents that much? What is it like to have so much pressure on you to be this amazing superhero when you barely know how to take care of yourself? Just letting those things occur to me and letting them sit in my body, that’s kind of how I deal with Rick.”
His passion for the character comes through, not just in his thoughtful approach to playing him but also in the literal way he expresses himself.
“I have so much love for him,” Gellman enthuses. “And so much empathy for his circumstances, I just feel like I got lucky to be able to play him, so I try to bring as much honesty to that as possible.”
That exploration of male vulnerability is one of Stargirl‘s biggest strengths. Rick’s story is the kind we rarely get to see portrayed on TV, and even in the world of Stargirl it’s not the only one. In season one we saw the dynamic and tragic story of Henry Jr. (Jake Austin Walker), the son of Brainwave. His heartfelt and tragic performance was one of the series’ standouts and did a brilliant job paving the way for Rick to truly explore his trauma. And Gellman shares that Jake did the same for him.
“Jake Austin Walker is such an amazing human being and an amazing guy, he led the way,” Gellman tells us. “I was still really trying to figure out how to do this thoughtfully, how to do this honestly, how to do it with confidence. He was always in that big brother role, I think for everybody on set, where he’s been working his whole life. The example that he set for me and the conversations that we were able to have about the way that we approach the work really informed a lot of me stepping into my own life.”
It’s a relationship and lesson that clearly inspired the actor, and one that he’s taking with him and offering up to the next generation.
“I feel so honored that I got to do that with him last season. I feel like I now get to do that with Trey Romano and the work he’s doing with Mike. I love that kid to pieces. I think that’s the beautiful thing about what we do is, you get given little gifts and gems and then maybe you can pass them along.”
Gellman clearly took that passion and craft to heart as episode eight gives him his most emotionally devastating moment yet. After spending time caring for Grundy, Rick tries to protect him against bear hunters only to be shown that Grundy has killed a young girl. It’s a dark twist on the iconic moment from Frankenstein and it throws Rick over the edge. To Gellman, it’s one trauma too many for Rick, and he can barely process it before he acts.
“I don’t even think that he can process it in the moment,” he says. “I think it’s a split second of Rick maybe even seeing himself or his parents on the ground. He’s thinking, ‘I gave him a chance and that means that his actions, from the moment I didn’t kill him, are on me. And now, that thing has ripped another human being out of the world.'”
The discovery sends Rick after Grundy in a brutal fashion, but it is of course just another trick by Eclipso. Grundy never killed anyone, and the person that Rick thinks is Grundy is actually his abusive Uncle Matt. Using his powers and the Hourglass, Rick almost kills Matt, beating him to a pulp before being stopped by Courtney (Brec Bassinger) and her family. As he awakens and sees the truth, Rick cannot face what he’s done.
“You have this great power and you’re supposed to use it right,” Gellman explains. “I imagine my father always used it right, but all I do with it is put my team in jeopardy, using the anger and the impulsivity wrong. Look at your own bloody hands and see your family, blood all over them and all over you. It’s such a total failure. And how are you supposed to trust yourself? You think you know what’s going on and then it changes like that? You’re never in control. That confirms Rick’s greatest fear that he’s not in control of his powers and is essentially a piece of white trash. Also, in a really messed up way, Matt is the last living connection that Rick had with parents, even if he’s awful. That’s still his blood, that’s still his family on this Earth. And to have almost killed him, it’s just way too much.”
As Rick is driven away in a police car, fans are understandably worried about Eclipso’s latest victim. As Gellman tells us, “They should be! You’re seeing him at his absolute worst in total isolation. People like Rick that are struggling as much as they are, all of that gets amplified when they’re by themselves. We leave Rick in a place that’s as low as he can possibly be, where he’s going to have to deal with himself and deal with what’s happened to him.”
Stargirl airs on The CW every Tuesday at 8PM