Stargirl is back with its second season, and this premiere does not slow down for a second. Even when Pat begs Courtney to take a breather, the show ignores Pat’s warnings and catapults the characters into a whole new host of issues. Stargirl Season 2 Episode 1, “Summer School: Chapter One,” finds the JSA grappling with the traumatic events of Season 1. Though the good guys did win last season, there are lasting effects for everyone.
That harsh reality check comes in the form of a slight yet noticeable shift in the show’s tone. That subtle shift does not include the episode’s opener, which teases Eclipso again because that sequence is ripped straight out of a horror movie. It’s after that chilling opening that shadows linger around Blue Valley. Even Courtney’s cheery demeanor can’t distract the characters or us from the genuinely haunting vibes of “Summer School: Chapter One.”
Living with Ghosts
Yvette Monreal delivers a stellar performance that makes me ecstatic to see where Yolanda will go this season. So often, superhero shows can veer away from the lasting effects of such violence, like killing Brainwave, in favor of serving a larger story that doesn’t cater to that specific character. There’s also the fact that, unfortunately, too many people still believe that seeing heroes grapple with the choices they make in such vulnerable ways makes them less heroic. Thankfully, Stargirl subverts those embedded expectation by presenting a story that will not resolve overnight, as it shouldn’t.
Yolanda did what she believes is best, and now she has to live with that decision. It’s not that simple, though, and Stargirl will be better for exploring the grey in her decision. There are plenty of aspects of Yolanda’s life that intersect with her discomfort surrounding her decision. Whether it be her duty as a hero, picking up the mantle from another, her faith, or her own conscious, Yolanda is up against a lot this season. Brainwave haunting Yolanda also ties perfectly into the darker themes of this season.
Stargirl has the opportunity to show one of its core heroes in one of her darkest phases yet. By doing so, the show can explore the ways heroes can do the right thing and still lose. They can fall from grace in their own eyes, regardless of what the public may think of them. Yolanda can’t control how others perceive her, but she can control her perception of herself. It’s one thing for Courtney to lift up her best friend and remind her that she’s still good. It’s a whole different battle for Yolanda to believe that of herself again.
“Summer School: Chapter One” looks like it’s teeing up a compelling arc for Yolanda about grief and self-acceptance. Hopefully, this means the show will navigate it so that it feels unique to this character and doesn’t fade into the background to make more room for the big, overarching plot.
The (Failed) Parent Trap
Beth Chapel deserves everything good in this world. We all know this, but somehow, her parents don’t. They’re so disconnected from Beth’s everyday life that they have no idea it’s her last day of school or which finals she has left to take. It’s so disheartening to watch someone so full of joy be met with two brick walls that are supposed to love her the most. For that reason, it’s not unreasonable to believe they wouldn’t know she’s a freaking superhero in her free time. It’s also unfortunate to watch Beth make meals for her parents, despite standing up to them last season.
Her parents’ impending divorce is unfortunate for everyone involved. It’s never ideal to see a family break apart like that, especially after Beth lost Chuck. Unfortunately, their divorce isn’t entirely unexpected. The fact that it is so shocking to Beth puts her in a fascinating spot this season. Beth is whipsmart. Chuck’s unlimited knowledge only elevates Beth’s talents rather than being entirely powered by it. It’s a punch in the gut to see the most intelligent woman in the room not anticipate her parents’ divorce.
Like Yolanda, this puts Beth in a position of questioning herself and everything she once knew to be true. Summer vacations are usually transformative times to reflect and grow. The JSA will do so by grappling with the ghosts of the past. This persistence of loss is already no stranger to Season 2, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. The way that Anjelika Washington delivers the line, “Please don’t forget about me, Chuck,” is enough to make anyone’s heart break.
Beth is learning in one of the most brutal ways possible that sometimes good things fall apart. But sometimes, it’s for the best that it happens that way. She is an equally capable hero in her own right, without the help of Chuck. It’ll be so rewarding to watch Beth find that strength in herself. Ideally, Stargirl will continue to develop the JSA’s dynamics so that Beth knows she’s not forgotten and that her team sees her as only a found family can.
Rick Tyler is still the JSA member I find most challenging to connect with out of the bunch. It doesn’t help that he has so few scenes in this episode. Rick has a laundry list of rightful reasons to be angry about the cards life dealt him. It’s difficult to shake the way he treated his team for the bulk of last season, though. Stargirl doesn’t provide any good faith because he has a single scene with the other JSA members. It’s not that I expect Rick to spill his deepest, darkest thoughts magically to his team at once. I want Stargirl to explore a different range of Rick’s emotions than we have seen up til now.
It appears as though the show is teasing as much with Grundy, but that’s not enough. It’s unlikely that Rick’s entire arc this season will center on him forgiving the monster that killed his parents. That’s an intriguing place to start his journey this season because it does show the cracks in his armor. It gives us the briefest of glimpses at a fuller version of this character. It’s difficult to imagine that Grundy will always be around to show that side of Rick, so hopefully, Stargirl lets the JSA see that side of him before it’s too late.
That said, “Summer School: Chapter One” does add another reason for Rick to be angry to that already long list. It’s absurd for his teacher to assume that he cheated because he got the answers right. Why think the worst when you can believe a student is succeeding? Regardless of that, Rick is right to be frustrated that no one knows he saved everyone. It’s not even that Rick is looking for special treatment in the classroom because of his heroism. Instead, he wants people to regard him with the respect no one has ever given him, cape or not.
It would be fantastic if Rick giving Grundy a second chance paralleled Blue Valley giving Rick one, cape or not.
Adjusting to a New Normal
Oh, how I missed the Whitmore-Dugan family! “Summer School: Chapter One” delivers on all the family dynamics we missed during a nearly year-long hiatus. Pat Dugan is still the best dad ever. Barbara is as supportive as ever. Mike is coming into his own, already feeling like a more dynamic character than before. Courtney is struggling to let her Stargirl guard down long enough to let everything else in. Pat delivers the line of the episode when he tells her, “Being a superhero doesn’t mean the rest of your life takes a back seat.”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this new JSA consists of teenagers. Pat knows the OG JSA’s mistakes as adults, missing milestones and choosing the superhero life above all else. At that moment, Pat speaks with the perspective of both a concerned parent and a member of the JSA. Courtney is lucky to have someone with such wisdom in her corner. She needs someone to remind her that constantly being on the defense will only lead her to a place with more enemies than allies.
Courtney faces that hard truth when she battles Green Lantern’s daughter (!!!) Jade at the end of the episode. Stargirl is putting Courtney in a position where she won’t have to reflect on everything that happened last season if she doesn’t take a break from being Stargirl. Rick reminds her at the beginning that the ISA is dead, but Courtney’s resistance to believing that all the bad guys are gone is more than her wanting to keep Blue Valley safe.
It’s more than likely that Courtney knows she’s running from the same ghosts that haunt her friends. So why else wouldn’t Courtney head Yoland’s advice and let Cameron be? She was a part of that big fight, and it’s affecting her differently than it is them. Courtney doesn’t see hanging up the suit as an option like they do. Because if Stargirl lets her guard down, what’ll happen to Courtney Whitmore?
This balance won’t be easy for Courtney to find, but she has a loving family in both the Whitmore-Dugans and the JSA. With Shiv, Eclipso, and Shade hiding in the shadows, the JSA is going to need each other more than to watch their backs in a fight. They’re going to need each other when everything is said and done, too. Win or lose.
Other Spark-tacular Moments:
- There are lots of refrences to time travel, which makes me think there may be some tie to Crisis on Infinite Earths coming.
- We love a Jakeem shoutout!
- Of course their dog would get a vote in the Dugan-Whitmore house.
- Pat wearing blue, Barbara wearing red, and Courtney wearing both is a super small detail that I love a whole lot.
- I like that this Sylvester Pemberton mystery is going to be gradual.
- Cindy enterting the episode to Charli XCX’s “Break the Rules” is as perfect as the reveal that she wants to recruit Mike to the new ISA.
What did you think of the season premiere of Stargirl? Let us know in the comments below!
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.