Stargirl continues to best itself with 2×03, “Summer School: Chapter Three.” This episode picks up the season at full momentum as all the puzzle pieces start to fall in place. The characters’ dynamics deepen as The Shade pushes the JSA together after being separate for much of the season so far. As the JSA continues to work through their trauma, Stargirl explores the depths of their grief and passion for heroism by continuing to explore what it means to be a superhero. All the while, the show maintains an interest in The Shade. This sets him up as a villain with more depth than the shadows he manipulates.
Will History Repeat Itself?
Stargirl strikes an emotional balance with its JSA flashbacks that know how to set the tone for the episode. Sometimes the original JSA can feel so far in the past that it’s hard to remember who the JSA is avenging now. By starting “Summer School: Chapter Three” with the flashback, we are put right back in Pat’s shoes more than a decade ago. It’s those same shoes that his son will find himself in later in the episode. It reveals The Thunderbolt’s ties to the JSA. Most importantly, though, it reminds us why Pat keeps his guard up.
Those flashbacks feel like a long time ago to us and the JSA, but to Pat, those wounds are fresh. He lost all of his friends, his fellow heroes, in one fell swoop. That’s not something someone can easily recover from. It’s a traumatizing event that influences everything Pat does after the fact. He and Barbara are the best parents in Blue Valley, but they’re also becoming the resident Mom and Dad of a group of teenage superheroes. That kind of responsibility is unfathomable considering the danger the JSA steps into without second thought.
Beyond that, it’s undeniable that this has to be triggering for Pat as he continues to find himself walking familiar paths with heroes in familiar suits who aren’t his friends he fought alongside. The fear of the past repeating itself must be unbearable at times. The flashbacks to the OG JSA inform the episode’s larger story, but they’re also a reminder of everything Pat lost. It lets us into his decision-making process when he calls the shots, like asking Mike to stay put just as Wildcat did to Stripe a decade prior.
This also raises the question that Pat’s overwhelming fear that history will repeat itself could make him overly cautious and leave room for mistakes far greater than assuming Mike’s curiosity wouldn’t get the better of him.
Being Aware of Others’ Feelings Is a Superpower
One of the best parts of “Summer School: Chapter Three” are the small ways the JSA acknowledges each other’s feelings. Even Yolanda questioning Rick’s dog excuse is a sign that this group of friends knows when something is up. The best representations of this come through the pairings of Courtney and Yolanda and then Beth and Rick. Even when they aren’t suited up and hyper-aware of their surroundings, they are hyper-aware of each other.
It’s one thing for Courtney to acknowledge Yolanda’s entirely visible headache. It’s another thing for Courtney to take a beat before their confrontation with The Shade to assure her best friend that history won’t repeat itself. By doing so, Courtney protects Yolanda from more pain. The two teenagers stick close to each other during the scenes that follow, suggesting that Courtney is more than willing to be a buffer when Yolanda needs her to be. There is a connection there that goes well beyond friendship and extends to a deeper sisterhood.
Courtney knows from Yolanda’s slightest movements what is going on in her head. That’s a superpower that implies a level of empathy and selflessness that makes sense coming from a beacon of light like Stargirl. Alternatively, Rick Tyler is someone who still holds his vulnerability close to his chest, except he lets his guard slip around Beth. There are moments like their one at the end of “Summer School: Chapter Three” in the first season. That foundation of their friendship is strong, and one that deserves to be explored more thoroughly this season.
Rick telling Beth, “Pretend I’m Chuck,” is a sign of his growth because last season Rick would’ve kept to himself. Now, Rick is prepared to push his identity aside if it means that Beth can take some of the weight off her shoulders. It’s the small ways the JSA shows they care about each other that instill a belief that Stargirl could go on for many more seasons. These teenagers care about each other. They show up for each other when it matters. That bond will always make them a compelling group of heroes to watch.
A Villain with a Conscious
The Shade isn’t a villain I expected to care much about prior to “Summer School: Chapter Three.” It’s predictable that he is looking for Eclipso. It’s far more shocking than it appears The Shade has a heart underneath all that darkness. His desire for violence is very low on the spectrum as of now. He literally set up a tea party to warn the JSA that he isn’t the one they need to be worried about.
The fact that The Shade separated himself from the ISA at one point in time does bode well in his favor. However, the blood on his hands isn’t invisible. His allegiances and past align with his villain status, but there’s something else at play under the surface that makes him fascinating. He doesn’t hurt the JSA. He stops them from fighting him, which in turn prevents them from getting hurt.
The Shade doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for sparing them. But it does raise some questions about his motives going forward. Does he have an ulterior motive involving the JSA? Probably. That said, Jonathan Cake‘s delivery of “He’s gonna kill those children” has a lot of emotion behind it. It doesn’t come across as someone who wants that to happen but the opposite.
It’s not that I imagine a long-lasting alliance between the new JSA and The Shade. It’s only that Stargirl is really great at muddying the water by making its villains reside in the grey. While Eclipso shows no signs of leaving the far side of the spectrum, it’s fun to think of where the show will take The Shade.
Anyone Can Be a Superhero
The new JSA is a group of teenagers coming of age while they become superheroes, and Mike is not exempt from that experience. Not anymore, that is. After killing Icicle, Mike is ready to join the JSA. The weird thing that no one cares to admit, not even Mike, is that he’s already a hero. Whether he has the pink pen possessing The Thunderbolt or not, Mike is a hero. Whether he is in the JSA or not, Mike is a hero.
Mike’s lack of confidence is not an unfamiliar phenomenon for anyone but especially young people. To pair that up with a superhero origin story about a kid finding his own voice and friendship through superherodom is excellent storytelling. The Thunderbolt is the spark that Mike needs to remember that he’s capable of being a hero. It’s going to be so much fun to see the moment when Mike realizes that he’s worthy of being a hero even though The Thunderbolt isn’t granting his wishes anymore.
Mike’s scene with Yolanda discourages him from calling himself a hero because hitting Icicle was an accident. Intent matters and Mike showed up with the intent to help his family and save the day. The Icicle part of that situation may have been an accident but the rest of it wasn’t. The rest of his conversation with Yolanda is proof that Mike is already deep in the side effects of being a hero — of shouldering the grief that comes with having a conscience.
The similarities between Courtney and Mike’s experiences are uncanny as they both are eager to step into the life of a superhero. Pat’s words to Mike are almost identical to the ones he told Courtney just last season. Mike’s journey is his own but it parallels Courtney’s in a way that connects them even more. It allows us to have scenes where Courtney takes up for Mike and cites her own experience as an example of what could go right if Mike joined the team.
In an episode where the JSA shows up for each other, Courtney and Mike do that for each other time and time again. Sure, they’re family, but so is the JSA at this point. Barbara has to remind Pat that they’re all a part of this now, for better and for worse. Having Mike around all of this will let Pat and Barbara be more aware of what Mike’s going through. It’ll open the door to more heart-to-heart conversations. It’ll expand their family dynamic in a whole new way. And what kind of heroes would the JSA be if they didn’t help one of their own feel a little less alone? There’s no way that Mike can go back to his paper route after all of this.
Other Spark-tacular Moments:
- Jim Gaffigan was amazing as The Thunderbolt!
- Pat and his car have a special connection that spans decades. I love that for them.
- Johnny Thunder!
- Ted Grant!
- Rick’s face when he saw how happy Beth was to hear from Chuck
- Johnny’s last wish was that The Thunderbolt would find a new friend.
- “By the way, I knew that was a 1976 Jag.” – Pat Dugan
- The Thunderbolt saying that Starman would like S.T.R.I.P.E. made me so happy.
- The Whitman-Dugan family dog is a main character. And that’s that on that.
- Barb is right S.T.R.I.P.E. should have a setting to be both silent and invisible.
What did you think of Stargirl 2×03 “Summer School: Chapter Two”? Let us know in the comments below!
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.