This Stargirl review contains spoilers.
Stargirl Episode 9
After a truly excellent two-parter, Stargirl comes back down to Earth with an hour that’s merely very good, rather than great. Don’t get me wrong, “Brainwave” is propulsive and interesting, answering questions, dropping hints of plot developments to come (Justin!! The!! Janitor!!) and ending on the sort of cliffhanger other series might have taken multiple seasons to reach.
But it’s just not quite as good as the “Shiv” episodes that more fully introduced us to Cindy Burman. And part of the reason for that is Henry King, Jr. just isn’t on Cindy’s level as a character, and thus far lacks many of the intriguing layers she possesses. (Someone better let her out of that cell in her father’s creepy basement, ASAP!)
Hopefully, that will change as Henry becomes a more central part of the story, and we get to know him as something other than a selfish, shallow jock. But for right now, it’s a bit difficult to care about him, even as Stargirl shows us how debilitating his new abilities are and how eager the Injustice Society of America is to selfishly use him for their own ends.
Which involve mentally enslaving the citizens of much of the midwestern United States via psychic amplifier to create a perfect American dream subculture made up of residents that resemble the zombies who serve the Dragon King. As ambitious evil plans go it’s pretty standard – if a bit smaller in scope than I’d originally anticipated. (Though I suppose mind-controlling half a dozen states isn’t something to be sniffed at.)
Given everything she knows about Henry, it seems something of a stretch for Courtney – even with her demonstrably gigantic heart – to try welcome him into the Justice Society of America, though her argument about using his skills to try and stop his father’s friends is understandable. Though, at this point, how many ISA members are really left for them to figure out? I guess Artemis’ parents, maybe? They already know about Dragon King and Brainwave, and have pretty much figured out who Fiddler and Icicle are.
Smartly, the show gives Yolanda her first chance to truly confront Henry since the release of her nudes, channeling her rage into violence through the Wildcat suit in a way that lets us know there’s plenty of trauma there she hasn’t processed yet. Of course, Yolanda is the character who would be most resistant to Courtney’s attempts to recruit Henry to the JSA’s side – she’s experienced the bad things he was capable of long before he got the power to read everyone’s minds.
That said, Stargirl also doesn’t completely give Yolanda the high ground either, clearly coding her desire to do physical harm to – or even murder – her ex as a bridge too far. It also similarly undercuts Rick’s rude anger, which is honestly something I’m going to need the show to delve into in greater detail at some point. Maybe he’s right, and Henry’s the kind of risk that can never be trusted, but there’s no need for him to treat his supposed friends and teammates the way he does.
This is all a fairly valiant attempt to shade the question of whether Henry should join the team with some nuance, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. (Henry really doesn’t appeal to me much as a character, which is probably a big part of my dislike of this idea.) But for all that this installment seems to be intended as an origin story of sorts for this younger version of Brainwave, we don’t actually get to see him do that much beyond watch endless video diaries from his father that detail the various people he’s murdered and vaguely wrestle with that age-old philosophical question of whether humanity is good or bad at its heart.
Courtney, in the episode’s best scene, attempts to convince him to do the right thing, wearing her heart on her sleeve and giving a standard hero speech about the good people can contain within them that really shouldn’t work at all, except that star Brec Bassinger just sells the absolute heck out of it. At this point, it’s entirely possible she could convince Darth Vader to join the JSA, and even Henry looks torn about his loyalties. (It’s interesting that he doesn’t mention his knowledge of Courtney’s superhero identity, but perhaps that’s coming next week.)
The episode ends with Brainwave the elder waking up from his Cosmic Staff-induced coma just as Henry murders a man pretending to be a family lawyer, which probably marks the end of any hope we had of him choosing the path of light. But who knows? This show has certainly surprised me before. Like during the other half of this episode’s cliffhanger, which sees Pat and Courtney’s debate about whether to tell Barbara the truth about their heroic extracurricular activities cut short by her catching them red-handed with the glowing staff.
Hopefully, this will mean Amy Smart finally gets something to do besides attend school parent-teacher conferences and have weird dinners with Jordan Mahkent. She’s much too good of an actress to languish in the strange limbo born of ignorance that superhero wives, girlfriends, and mothers are far too often stuck in within the DC television universe. Plus, her knowledge of Blue Valley and closeness with Jordan really could prove a valuable asset for the JSA.
There’s also something very satisfying about Stargirl’s decision to further entangle the lives of the Mahkents and the Dugan-Whitmores. The family dinner was fun and nerve-wracking by turns, as Courtney flirts with Cameron even as she clues into the fact that his dad is probably the supervillain that killed her classmate. (Everyone also had to be wondering why the weirdo grandparents that barely spoke English were present, right?) And, for what it’s worth, it seems as though Jordan’s desire for connection and friendship is legitimate, which is another great example of the way this show muddies the waters between friends and enemies, heroes and villains, and everything in between. In a different world, what might the relationship between this group of people have been? What might it still grow into now? (And will someone please tell poor Cameron some of this?)