Stargirl Season 1X10, “Brainwave Jr.” is the show’s best episode yet. It doesn’t hold back the punches, both emotional and physical. It shakes up dynamics and serves as a beautifully tragic redemption for Henry Jr. It’s hard to believe there are still three episodes left in the season because so much happened during “Brainwave Jr.” Stargirl keeps getting better and better, and part of its appeal is that it’s difficult to nail down what the show will do next. It continues to shock and amaze, in all the best ways.
The Heroics of Brainwave Jr.
Henry Jr.’s redemption works because it is earned. Henry’s arc reminds me why I love superhero shows so much. I watch superhero shows because I like to believe there’s goodness worth fighting for and rooting for the underdog isn’t a wasted cause. Henry’s last words are a reflection of some of a hero’s best qualities: someone who is flawed, yet brave. Henry wasn’t the best guy, but he was on the road to becoming one. In spite of his past, he died a hero, proving he could be so much more than the problematic jock. This makes it all the more difficult to accept that his redemption comes just before his untimely death. Stargirl carefully and strategically gave hints of Henry’s goodness over the course of the season, like his dedication to his father and his vulnerability around Cindy and Yolanda in the early days of both relationships.
There is nothing more stunning than his repeated apologies to Yolanda during the episode. They’re unprompted moments of genuine regret. What makes his apologies most effective is the way Stargirl doesn’t force Yolanda to forgive Henry in his last moments, and Henry doesn’t expect forgiveness either. Henry’s actions are rightly inexcusable, and he knows that. Proper closure can only come with time, and Henry doesn’t have that. But Yolanda does, and that’s something she’ll have to work through on her own. Well, I hope the JSA will be by her side, but, ultimately it’s her decision.
Henry Jr.’s nuance is so beautifully portrayed by Jake Austin Walker that it’s hard not to be in tears when he reminds Courtney to keep fighting and to always see the good in people. Henry’s entire journey culminates to a moment of heroism, where he fights and dies for the goodness of humanity, and it’s one of Stargirl’s greatest accomplishments.
Not only does it remind the characters and Stargirl’s viewers that anyone can be a hero, it also reestablishes the dangers of being one. Pat does everything he can to remind the young JSA that life as a superhero isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Joey Zarick’s death and Courtney’s injuries from her fight with Shiv are two examples of Pat’s warnings. However, Henry’s death feels like the most tangible proof that will stick with these teenagers forever. It seems like there’s always one big death in a TV show’s first season that completely shifts the rest of the season, and sometimes the entire series, on its axis. Henry Jr. is that death for Stargirl. There is no bouncing from this. Courtney’s optimism can’t save them from the pain and reality of their unfortunate loss.
Since this is a superhero show and Stargirl is returning for Season 2, there’s a possibility that Henry can return with a vengeance next season. Maybe he survives somehow, and the ISA uses him as a weapon in a similar way to how they use Cindy. This is all speculation since we don’t ever see Henry’s body after his own father kills him. Until then, we have to believe Henry’s actually gone, which means that the JSA has to reckon with the fact that they’re not as invincible as they believe.
That being said, “Brainwave Jr.” proves that Brainwave is more dangerous than he initially appeared to be on Stargirl Season 1 Episode 2, “S.T.R.I.P.E.” The entire ISA is scheming and terrifying, but Henry Sr. killing his own son and wife, who just so happens to be Starman’s sister, solidifies that he is a major villain in this story. There’s no redeeming him.
Anger Isn’t Always the Answer
It’s also unfortunate that we won’t get to see more of Henry and Rick’s dynamic. At first, it is a bit too much toxic masculinity for my liking, but the duo work together to save their team by the end of the hour. However, Rick’s development pails in the face of Henry’s journey. Henry is the one to step up and help Rick, not the other way around. In fact, for much of the large-scale, epic fight sequence, Rick is off literally fighting his own monsters. Rick continues to risk the rest of the JSA by prioritizing his own anger and belittling his team’s feelings.
I don’t know how many more times I can write about Rick’s anger not doing Stargirl any favors. Rick isn’t the only person in the JSA who has experienced trauma, though his emotional superiority says otherwise. Yolanda has to stand by an ex-boyfriend and ex-friend who betrayed her, but she does it for the betterment of the team. She makes it clear where she stands, but she doesn’t let it interfere with the mission. Rick is incapable of doing that, and it’s becoming a major setback for the series. It wouldn’t be an issue if Stargirl actually spends more time with Rick and proves there’s more nuance there than meets the eye. I will give Stargirl the benefit of the doubt this week, since they spend the majority of “Brainwave Jr.” putting a bow on Henry’s excellent arc. Here’s to hoping next week they give Rick a little more to work with than his standard setting.
Barbara for the Win
On the other hand, Stargirl finally gives me the Pat and Barbara screen time I’ve begged for since the beginning. While it isn’t as much as I want, I will take any and all footage of Pat and Barbara falling in love over a shared banana split. This moment becomes a stunning parallel because Pat and Barbara find themselves at a crossroads in their relationship at the same table they sat at two years prior.
Beyond that, this episode finally gives Barbara the attention she deserves. Barbara is rightfully enraged by the secrets her husband and daughter have kept from her. Barbara’s desire to leave Blue Valley is the opposite of a desperate act out of fear. Barbara steps in to be the hero her daughter needs and vows to take Courtney away from the danger. I can’t blame her for making that decision. It’s also really nice that Pat doesn’t stand between Barbara and Courtney when Barbara disciplines Courtney. He knows that Barbara is doing what he should’ve done a long time ago. Not once does Pat step on Barbara’s toes or try to defend his actions.
Just like I anticipated in my review of Stargirl Season 1 Episode 9, “Brainwave,” Barbara makes a great secret spy. Instead of having Barbara spend the episode packing her things off screen, she becomes an integral part of the action. Without Barbara, Pat wouldn’t have a hint at what the ISA is up to because Barbara is the one who recorded Jonathan’s parents. This doesn’t mean that she fully condones Pat and Courtney’s double life. It does suggest that Barbara won’t be pushed to the side anymore. It also confirms my suspicions that Jordan has feelings for Barbara, and I’m not a big fan of that. Although, it could be a good way for Barbara to get an upper hand on Jordan. She is the last person he would suspect of doing anything nefarious. I’m still hoping to see Barbara and Pat work together eventually, and this scene feels like the makings of that. Seriously, imagine how powerful they’d be in the field together. I’m going to keep saying it until I manifest it.
The most realistic part of this tension is that it isn’t resolved by the end of “Brainwave Jr.” Mike’s anger towards Courtney feels like an honest reaction to the way things are unfolding. Again, this makes Henry’s death all the more tragic. It only takes a second for Courtney to run into Henry’s arms and accept him as family. It’s so sad because Courtney is looking for refuge now that her home life isn’t as steady. Both Henry and Courtney needed someone, and they could’ve been that person for each other. Now we’ll never know. Although, Courtney not having Henry as a family member to lean on could push her to try and bring peace to her family sooner rather than later. It’ll be interesting to see what the JSA is willing to risk moving forward to make sure they don’t lose anyone else.
Other Sparkling Moments:
- I am so glad Stargirl didn’t forget about Cindy. It’s oddly comical to watch her yell from her cell.
- We’re finally getting answers about Courtney’s dad!
- The way Pat turned the desktop around when Jordan came into Barbara’s office is fantastic.
- Yolanda and Courtney screaming when they see Dr. Ito’s true face is a whole mood.
What did you think of this week’s episode of Stargirl? Let us know in the comments below!
Stargirl is new Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.