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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stargirl’s finale closes some doors and opens even more windows

Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s finale closes some doors and opens even more windows
Photo: Stargirl/The CW
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Stargirl’s impressive debut season has had two big things going for it: A sense of surprise and a welcome commitment to making its villains actually villainous. Ever since the opening flashback to the original JSA’s defeat, the Injustice Society has felt like a truly unstoppable threat. Heading into this finale, I was excited to see how the fledging JSA 2.0 could possibly find a crack in the armor of their far more advanced foes. Instead, they manage to defeat them not only roundly but almost easily. Maybe the season’s big twist is that the original JSA kind of sucked as superheroes?

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“Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E Part Two” is a tricky episode to evaluate. It’s an hour I really enjoyed on a scene-to-scene basis, but one I’m not sure totally works as a capper to this season. The bulk of this finale is an extended battle sequence with top notch CGI and exhilarating action choreography. (I particularly love how Courtney’s gymnastic abilities are woven into her fighting style.) Yet there’s something strange about watching the JSA earn such a decisive victory when the season has devoted so little time to building them up as a team.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, this finale does better by the JSA as individuals than as a unit. Beth gets to prove her quick-thinking mettle as she comes up with her own plan to de-brainwash Pat and Justin, rather than just deferring to Chuck. Meanwhile, Cameron Gellman turns in his best performance of the season as Rick decides to spare a cowering Solomon Grundy instead of murderously avenging his parents. After playing coy with Grundy all season, Stargirl finally gives the hulking zombie his day in the sun (er, well, torch light), and his design doesn’t disappoint. Again, however, you kind of just have to go with the idea that an untrained, newbie Hourman can take down Grundy where both the original JSA and S.T.R.I.P.E failed. (Which is especially hard coming off that genuinely terrifying scene where Grundy rips S.T.R.I.P.E apart.)

Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s finale closes some doors and opens even more windows
Photo: Mark Hill/The CW

While Rick unexpectedly spares a member of the Injustice Society, Yolanda unexpectedly kills one. By far the most shocking moment of the episode is when Yolanda slashes Brainwave’s throat after seeing through his Henry Jr. disguise. It’s also the closest this finale comes to a thesis about its villains: They lose because they underestimate the intelligence and brutality of their teenage opponents. Yet that’s not a theme Stargirl explores as deeply as it could. And the idea of Rick and Yolanda flipping their positions on the ethics of murder would be more compelling if Yolanda’s anti-killing stance hadn’t just been introduced this episode.

For a season that’s often put more focus on the Injustice Society than the JSA (we’ve spent virtually no time in Yolanda’s headspace since Henry Jr.’s death, for instance), it’s curious that “Part Two” dispatches with so many of its baddies almost like they’re perfunctory threats. As with the Yolanda/Brainwave murder, Cindy stabbing her own dad is a fun surprise that could’ve used a bit more follow up. Jordan at least gets a big character-centric moment as he kidnaps Barbara and makes one last pitch for Project: New America. Yet his death is ultimately presented as a comedic hero moment for Mike—a curious ending for the most three-dimensional villain of the season, not to mention a weird way to treat murder after the heaviness of the Yolanda/Brainwave scene. (I did laugh though.)

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Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s finale closes some doors and opens even more windows
Screenshot: Stargirl/The CW

Of course, there’s also a lingering question about how many of these deaths will actually stick. As this episode’s final scene demonstrates, no one’s ever really dead in a comic book universe. We already know Dr. Ito is basically immortal, and Jordan shatters in a way that feels like it could be reversible if the show wants it to be. But regardless of who may or may not return in the future, the Injustice Society’s defeat just doesn’t quite have the thematic depth to match its thrilling, visceral visuals.

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In a weird way, this finale is both more definitive and more open-ended than I expected it to be. Rather than checking back in on Stargirl’s many dangling threads—like all those Injustice Society legacy kids or the Thunderbolt pen—“Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E Part Two” ends with new teases for Eclipso and The Shade instead. (The former is a diamond-trapped creature Cindy finds in William Zarick’s basement; the latter is the Injustice Society member who once betrayed Jordan.) Plus, in the biggest twist of all, we learn that Sylvester Pemberton is alive and searching for Pat.

Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s finale closes some doors and opens even more windows
Screenshot: Stargirl/The CW
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It’s a fun tease that certainly gives fans plenty to speculate about during the off-season: Is this actually the real Sylvester? If so, will he expect Courtney to return his Cosmic Staff? And just how did he manage to cheat death? But I’m also nervous about the series piling on new additions when so many of its main players are still so wildly underdeveloped. (What ever happened to Yolanda, Rick, and Beth’s complicated relationships to their parents/guardians?)

Unsurprisingly, the most successful emotional throughline of this finale belongs to Courtney and Pat. Though it’s a shame that Barbara mostly winds up functioning as a damsel in distress here, it’s almost worth it for this exchange:

Pat: I’m here to protect my wife.

Jordan: With what, exactly?

Pat: Our daughter.

Elsewhere, we get the no-less-sweet-for-being-expected scene where Courtney gives Pat the “World’s Best Dad” mug she intended to gift Sam all those years ago. (It’s a nice touch that Barbara is using a “World’s Best Mom” mug with the same design.) The cozy Whitmore-Dugan Christmas party is a welcome celebration of the blended/found family throughline of the season. And Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E’s flight through a snowy forest is a lovely little grace note ahead of Geoff Johns’ dedication to his late sister, Courtney Elizabeth Johns, who inspired the Stargirl character.

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Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s finale closes some doors and opens even more windows
Screenshot: Stargirl/The CW

After a season spent bouncing back and forth between expected and subversive teen superhero storytelling, Stargirl ultimately ends with a more conventionally victorious happy ending than I would’ve liked. But “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E Part Two” also offers glimmers of Stargirl at its funny, moving, surprising best. Hopefully the show will be able to recapture (and maybe even revamp) that magic as it heads towards a second season on The CW.

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Stray observations

  • Looking back, I think Shining Knight/Janitor Justin is a thread the show should’ve saved for season two. As Justin himself admits, he doesn’t wind up being particularly useful in this finale, and I still don’t really understand anything about his backstory. (It would’ve been helpful to have a flashback to his early days with Pat to get a better sense of what his “normal” was before the Injustice Society messed with his mind.) Still, get your Seven Soldiers of Victory fan castings ready!
  • Courtney needs a winter version of her Stargirl costume. She must’ve been freezing up on that water tower!
  • Maybe I’m heartless, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Chuck’s “death” in the way this episode clearly wanted me too.
  • Are we ever going to learn what was going on with Cindy’s weird stepmom?
  • I’d watch a buddy comedy where the Dugan’s dog Max and Gambler’s cat Juniper go a quest to find Dr. Mid-Nite’s owl—another player who disappeared in the back half of the season.
  • It’s strange that this finale doesn’t check in on Courtney and Cameron’s relationship after it was positioned as a somewhat major element of the season. Did Pat and Barbara just leave him to be raised by his evil grandparents? Is Courtney still trying to date him even though she helped murder his dad?
  • “Where are you going?” / “To help kill these children.” At least Brainwave goes out with an all-time great villain line.
  • Thanks so much for following along with this season of reviews! If you’d like to chat more about Stargirl during the off-season, you can find me on Twitter.
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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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