Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s ice cold villain ups the show’s stakes
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Courtney Whitmore is a good person. She’s also phenomenally reckless. “Icicle” takes great pains to show us both sides of her personality. At school, she stands up against bullies and smooths over an awkward moment where her nerdy classmate Joey Zarick (Wil Deusner) messes up his magic trick. Yet her desire to take on more superhero responsibility than she’s ready for also inadvertently leads to Joey’s death. Icicle is the one who actually causes the car crash that kills Joey, but it was Courtney’s impulsive decision to fight her icy foe that put Joey in jeopardy in the first place.

Advertisement

The actual scene of Joey’s death is a bit like Stargirl itself—cheesy but self-aware enough that it gets away with it. A falling playing card stands in for the horror of the fatal crash. Instead, the most terrifying moment of the episode is a husband silently communicating to his wife that their son is dead. That worst-case scenario is always so present in a parent’s mind that the Zaricks don’t even need words to confirm it’s actually happened. More than anything, Stargirl is a show about parents and children. So the story of a parent losing their child resonates especially deeply in this world.

Advertisement

Joey’s death accomplishes two things for Stargirl’s nascent first season. It gives Courtney a check on her heroic hotstreak—something that was much needed after she largely lucked into winning the day in her first big fight against Brainwave. And it also deepens the complexities of our central villains. Joey is the son of Councilman William Zarick a.k.a. Wizard (Joe Knezevich), who we briefly met last week. William seems to have functioned as a voice of reason and de-escalation within the Injustice Society during their years in hiding, something that pisses Jordan off when he returns to town. But losing his son sends William frantically running for his magic wand and right to his icy demise.

Of the Zarick family deaths in this episode, William’s is the bigger shock. For one thing, it demonstrates just how ruthless Jordan actually is. I thought he was killing Joey in order to pin the blame on Stargirl and manipulate William into taking her down for him. Instead, it turns out he just wanted his former ally to suffer before he killed him as well. William’s death also demonstrates that Stargirl is willing to play around with comics continuity when it comes to the Injustice Society. The ominous shot of a grieving Denise Zarick (Cynthia Evans) implies that even though Wizard is dead, there might be someone else around to pick up his wand. (Oh how I wish the gadgets on this show didn’t all sound like double entendres.)

Advertisement

Of course, if anyone understands the power of grief, it’s Jordan. The episode opens with a flashback to eight years ago, when Jordan sat by his wife’s deathbed as she whispered her final words: “If anyone tries to stop you, destroy them.” Since then, he’s been hunting down those responsible for his wife’s environmental toxin-related death and working on something called Project: New America. Though he claims he wants to magnanimously rebuild the forgotten communities of America, he clearly believes the ends justify the murderous means. And the loyalty Jordan feels towards his dead wife, his Eastern European immigrant parents, and his teenage son apparently doesn’t extend to his Injustice Society colleagues.

Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s ice cold villain ups the show’s stakes
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)
Advertisement

“Icicle” is a great example of why casting is so important. On the page, Brainwave and Icicle are similarly intense characters with protective parental streaks. But Neil Jackson has a certain innate magnetism that makes Jordan a much more compelling Big Bad. Whether he’s tensely hashing things out with William or warmly listening to Barbara’s ideas about downtown revitalization, Jordan exudes a sense of control. And Jackson’s performance commands the screen as much as his character commands a room.

While “Icicle” establishes that Stargirl cares about its villains as much as its heroes, Joey’s death is obviously a major game-changer for Courtney too. It’s clear from the broken way Brec Bassinger delivers the line that avenging Joey is a whole lot more painful than avenging a long-lost superhero who may or may not have been the father she never really knew. So Pat (who proves how great a parent he is by giving his stepdaughter space to process her emotions rather than focusing on whatever guilt or sadness he feels about Joey’s death) brings Courtney to visit the old JSA headquarters. He hopes that seeing big banners of fallen heroes like Starman, Doctor Fate, Hourman, The Flash, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Wildcat will cool her desire to be a superhero. Instead, she decides that what she really needs to do is rebuild the JSA.

Advertisement

It’s here where the episode hits a potential stumbling block. In isolation, the scene of Courtney gathering up old mementos (and a live owl!) from the JSA headquarters and setting out to find a new generation of heroes is a whole lot of fun. But it’s also a rather odd note to end this somber episode on. If we’re meant to believe that empathy fuels Courtney as much as impulsiveness, the show’s going to need to be careful in how it has her go about recruiting teen heroes immediately after watching a classmate die.

The fact that Pat isn’t in on the plan—and in fact, actively forbids Courtney from doing any more superhero-ing for a while—gives me hope that Stargirl knows Courtney is being way too reckless here. The show has so far walked a confident line between the sunnier aims of The CW’s Arrowverse and the darker tone of DC Universe’s other streaming series. Now that it’s introduced a major death to its high school world, it’ll have to tread that line even more carefully.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • Another actor who really pops despite limited screentime is Hunter Sansone as Cameron. The reveal that he’s Jordan’s son isn’t exactly the shock this episode thinks it is (the flower drawing thing kind of gave it away), but I’m very excited to see what the show does with him going forward.
  • I thought the implication in the last episode was that Courtney and Pat brought Brainwave to the hospital, but apparently they just left his comatose body in the middle of a parking lot and fled?
  • Given that Barbara doesn’t recognize Jordan, he’s out as a potential contender for Courtney’s dad. But my new contender is the ominous school janitor. That terrible fake beard is definitely hiding something.
  • I’d watch a full hour of Luke Wilson monologuing about video games and oldies radio stations.
  • Are you even a superhero if you haven’t saved a bus full of kids hanging off a bridge?
  • Other developments in this episode: Mike gets a paper route! Riveting.
Advertisement

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.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter