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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stargirl rushes to introduce its Wildcat

Illustration for article titled emStargirl /emrushes to introduce its Wildcat
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)
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The death of a student is the sort of thing that can hang over a high school for weeks. And losing a peer in a gruesome way in front of a bus full of fellow students is the sort of thing that would likely hang over a school for the rest of the year. But other than a brief subplot involving Pat, Joey’s death is a bizarre nonentity in this episode. Instead of hallway tributes, memorial assemblies, and traumatized students, Blue Valley High gets right back to normal—complete with boisterous halls and catty school bullies.

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I worried the upbeat montage that ended “Icicle” was an indication that Stargirl planned to brush off last week’s seemingly game-changing death. And “Wildcat” brings all those fears to life. Courtney is her same old plucky, confident self, and—despite Pat’s warnings—she doesn’t have any qualms about recruiting a fellow teen into a dangerous life of fighting adult supervillains. Taken on its own terms, “Wildcat” isn’t a bad episode, exactly, but it makes for a strange, incongruous follow-up to last week.

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The benefit of Stargirl’s “Courtney rebuilds the JSA!” premise is that it offers plenty of opportunities for superhero origin stories, which are one of the most satisfying elements of the genre. But there’s a danger of making things too repetitive too. Watching Yolanda inherit some fancy hand-me-down JSA equipment and learn to adapt her natural athleticism into superheroing feels really similar to what we saw Courtney do in the pilot. And it doesn’t help that Stargirl struggles to make Yolanda’s Wildcat abilities look as cool as Courtney’s initial Cosmic Staff gymnastics routine.

The upside is that Yolanda herself is an intriguing character and “Wildcat” puts her front and center. An opening montage set to Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself” depicts Yolanda’s once picture-perfect high school life. She had a supportive family, an adoring football player boyfriend, and a successful run as her school’s beloved student politician. And then some nude photos sent her whole world crashing down. The boy she put her faith and love in betrayed her in the cruelest way. And while mean girl Cindy (Meg Delacy) clearly played a major role in distributing the photos as well, the scene in the premiere where Henry Jr. taunts Yolanda over her nudes is even more horrific in retrospect.

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One of the most poignant moments in “Wildcat” comes when Yolanda tells Courtney, “I never should have sent him those,” to which Courtney shoots back, “He never should have shared them.” The look on Yolanda’s face suggests it’s the first time anyone has offered that point of view—that she’s a victim of harassment and exploitation, not a bad person who deserves her punishment. Considering how much of the condemnation and shame comes directly from Yolanda’s own family, it’s no wonder she’s willing to trust a new girl who at least has her back.

Brec Bassinger and Yvette Monreal are great together, and I love the idea of two teen girls bonding over a night of super sleuthing in the way they might bond at a sleepover. But it takes a whole lot of compartmentalization to enjoy Courtney and Yolanda’s reckless evening of heroism in an episode that also feature Joey’s mom Denise struggling to hold in her grief. Though Courtney at least pulls back on the idea of Yolanda jumping off a roof to test the superpowered (and form-adjusting) Wildcat suit, she goes as far as taking her up there in the first place. Considering what happened the last time Courtney leapt into action without a plan, it’s not a great look.

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To its credit, “Wildcat” features a genuinely hilarious moment where Yolanda realizes with horror that she’s been following the orders of a superhero who’s been doing this for about week with absolutely no training. But why even introduce Joey’s death only to ignore the fallout from it? There are a million things that could’ve given Courtney the idea to rebuild the JSA without making her seem this reckless in how she goes about it. Indeed, it might’ve been more effective if Stargirl had held off on Joey’s death until later in the season and spent last week building up Courtney and Yolanda’s prickly dynamic so that their blossoming friendship felt even more satisfying here.

Illustration for article titled emStargirl /emrushes to introduce its Wildcat
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)
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After three relatively focused episodes, “Wildcat” is Stargirl’s most scattered hour yet, with Courtney and Yolanda’s hospital break-in making for a fun but not particularly impactful superhero setpiece. Pat and Jordan mostly take a backseat this week, although we do get to meet Injustice Society member Dr. Ito (Nelson Lee)—a hooded lizard man whose over-the-top comic book design Stargirl fully leans into. Elsewhere, Pat discovers that Denise has mysteriously gone missing during her attempt to flee Blue Valley after all but confessing to him that her late husband was Wizard. And Courtney and Yolanda also watch as Principal Bowin performs a strange violin performance at Brainwave’s bedside, which would seem to imply she’s also got Injustice Society connections.

Taken altogether, “Wildcat” feels like an interesting outline for an episode that doesn’t quite gel into a fully successful hour. Courtney is right that Pat’s plan to report the Injustice Society to the authorities is pretty naive in a world where they could very well be the authorities. (A timely bit of social commentary there.) But Stargirl is rushing more than it needs to, both in having Courtney so quickly recruit her new JSA and in having Yolanda accept, reject, and then re-accept the superhero call all in one episode. Still, the heartbreaking scene where Yolanda asks for her family’s forgiveness only to be met with cold condemnation speaks to Stargirl’s ability to blend superhero fun with meaningful teen drama. “Wildcat” doesn’t get the balance quite right, but the potential is still there.

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Stray observations

  • I’ve got some pretty big questions about how famous the JSA were and how the world has been coping without them, but the scene of Courtney reading up on Wildcat’s abilities on Wikipedia is a fun meta gag.
  • Having Yolanda test her new claws on the family toaster really doesn’t speak well to Courtney’s long-term planning abilities. Nor does throwing the all-powerful Thunderbolt in with her other pens.
  • While the Cosmic Staff is often an instigator of Courtney’s recklessness, I’m glad it at least draws the line at shutting off the power at a hospital filled with patients on life support.
  • Beth continues to be a comedic delight, but, again, it feels like Joey’s death should’ve had a much bigger impact on her—especially given that he was one of the few people at Blue Valley High that she was on friendly terms with. Maybe it’ll come up more now that she’s glimpsed Courtney and Yolanda in action.
  • This week’s Luke Wilson Scene I Could Watch For An Hour: Pat bantering with junkyard owner Zeke about what he’s building. (Also, is he going to build a time machine?!? That seemed like a suspicious thing to bring up out of nowhere.)
  • Feels like a bit of a hazard for Courtney and Yolanda to keep their hair long and free-flowing while in costume. They need Harley Quinn to show up and pass them a hair tie.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

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