Stargirl 2×08, “Summer School: Chapter Eight,” is yet another tense episode in a string of episodes that take the show into even darker territory than the ones before it. It sees the season’s main villain Eclipso prove himself to be the epitome of evil and darkness. It breaks the JSA up more than ever before. It’s all extremely intense, and there is still enough time for the season to take even more unexpected turns.
The seemingly unbeatable darkness of this season so finely juxtaposes the overwhelming optimism of the first season. The addition of Eclipso is a clever way to make even Courtney, the strongest advocate of choosing the high road, start to see no way out. It’s even more fascinating to consider how the JSA’s general uncertainty about what’s real and what isn’t extended to us as viewers, too.
The Hournite Parallels
The best parts of “Summer School: Chapter Eight” are the ones that draw connections between the characters that don’t entirely exist between them just yet. Namely, this episode does an excellent job setting up a strong future where Rick Tyler and Beth Chapel will always be opposite sides of the same coin. The way those two characters orbit around each other, almost like magnets, is so compelling to watch.
There are smaller beats when they share a glance or a smile that suggests something is building between them — even if it is just a stronger friendship. It would be better, for now, if it is a stronger friendship. That’s a strong foundation for everything good. Plus, it would feel a little disingenuous for Stargirl to shoehorn a romance in for these characters when they’re still so clearly struggling.
It’s more than enough to rely on the paralleled storytelling of Beth and Rick balancing each other so acutely that it’s undeniable there is some future there. They don’t share a single scene during the episode, and they don’t need to feel the connection between them. There is no reason to believe Stargirl isn’t intentionally pairing their stories up. The show did this in its first season with “Hourman and Dr. Mid-Nite.”
It’s pretty rich to see how their arcs in this specific episode juxtapose each other. Beth chooses to step into her power, overcome her greatest fears, and become the new Dr. Mid-Nite. Rick finds himself in the lowest spot we’ve ever seen him in, succumbing to his greatest fears and shattering Hourman’s hourglass. This development simultaneously makes the JSA stronger and weaker because their arcs are so intrinsically connected.
The Disconnect with the JSA
It’s ironic because that inherent connection is evident between Beth and Rick and then with Courtney and Yolanda, but it’s a bit disjointed when it comes to them as a unit. There’s a point during “Summer School: Chapter Eight” when Courtney expresses genuine confusion as to why Rick kept Grundy’s location from the team. Is it that shocking, though? The scene between the four of them in “Summer School: Chapter Seven” is the most they’ve talked about something other than Eclipso in a while.
There aren’t that many scenes where the JSA are together and get to be together. The team-building moments are usually just beats or montages to catch everyone up before the next fight. Hopefully, Courtney’s awareness about the lack of disclosure between the JSA will prove that they will work far better as a team if they become greater friends. They’re all rightfully concerned with their struggles that it’s only making their disconnection stronger.
That could be a tactic to drive the team apart to let Eclipso get ahead, but it makes the few meaningful moments feel lacking. Courtney and Pat being unaware that Rick has been feeding Grundy points out how infrequently they interact. However, the final scene with Barbara and Mike points a giant spotlight at how necessary meaningful character-driven moments like that are to this dark season. Like Beth and Rick, Barbara and Mike share a few glances and lines that prove Barbara sees and hears Mike when he feels invisible.
That’s important, but Mike calling Barbara “Mom” doesn’t quite have the same payoff as Courtney calling Pat “Dad.” I wish that it did. Beth and Rick’s paralleled arcs are compelling because the show has already done it before last season. If Stargirl wanted to parallel Pat/Courtney and Barbara/Mike, it should have spent more time developing Mike’s trust in Barbara on-screen. Barbara and Mike’s dynamic differs from the former’s because Mike isn’t as resistant to Barbara as Courtney was to Pat. Still, there feels like scenes are missing that would have made this one all the better.
Rick and the Complexities of Second Chances
No one in Blue Valley can catch a break right now. It’s incredibly challenging to find a time where anyone gave Rick Tyler a chance since his parents passed. Cameron Gellman delivers a heartbreaking performance as Rick comes to believe that he tarnishes even Hourman’s second chance. His decision to destroy the hourglass is far more rash than Yolanda’s agonizing journey to give up the Wildcat mantle, but that aligns with Rick’s character.
He always thinks on his feet because he has to keep his guard up at all times. It’s not an unreasonable way to live, considering how his uncle, his teachers, and many of Blue Valley’s residents treat him. While his teacher does at least partially redeem herself, there isn’t a reason to see any good in Rick’s uncle. The tension exists because while we may not see that glimmer in his uncle, Rick appears to see that in people others might not — namely Grundy.
Despite everything Grundy did (on purpose or otherwise), Rick chooses to see the good in him. It’s almost as if Rick’s perception of himself is dependent on whether Grundy can defy expectations. If Grundy can beat what the world believes him to be, then why can’t Rick? That makes the realization that Rick’s anger got the better of him more difficult to watch. It’s even more of a gut punch when factoring in the hourglass’s ability to amplify his rage into a real force.
It’s frightening that it’s still unknown whether Eclipso had anything to do with Rick’s hallucinations or not. Maybe Eclipso can multitask, but he did seem unnervingly focused on insulting Beth Chapel on every level. That means that Rick’s fears got the best of him without any darker influence. Stargirl has the opportunity to tell a story about a teenage boy learning that his worth isn’t dependent on others’ perceptions of him and that he doesn’t have to fall back on anger and toxicity.
It would be so rewarding for Rick to find a way out of this cycle. He deserves to know that second chances aren’t wasted on him as Hourman or Rick because Grundy’s second chance wasn’t a mistake. Rick can see through the expectations set for others, so when will he cut himself some slack?
Beth Steps into Her Power
Can we applaud Anjelika Washington for her incredible performance in “Summer School: Chapter Eight” because WOW. It’s bad enough to go up against a supervillain, but as it turns out, Eclipso is racist too. That does align with his whole purely evil, not even a twinkle of redemption in his eye, thing. There’s a moment where it feels like Stargirl is circling back to Eclipso’s line about The Shade getting his powers from Eclipso’s home, but, nope, he’s just racist.
Stargirl does an excellent job of making Beth’s internal fears external. Eclipso as Bruce is already creepy enough, but the more grounded approaches to psychological horror stand out more. Beth walking into the JSA’s lair and seeing the original team of all white men is such a jarring image. Not only does it reflect the very selective representation in this genre in the past, but it proves that society is still adjusting to having heroes that represent everyone.
Seeing Beth stand up to her fears and Eclipso’s racism is one of the most powerful and memorable moments this season and of the series. Beth doesn’t need someone to choose her to be a hero, to be Dr. Mid-Nite, because anyone can be a hero. Anyone can choose to do the right thing and stand up for what matters. Beth Chapel is that person, and she does it in the face of a being that represents everything wrong with this world.
All of Beth’s scenes are beautifully summarized in her final hit at Eclipso when she says: “I’m strong. Proud. I chose myself to be Dr. Mid-Nite. I choose me. And, oh yeah, I love being Black.” That’s the moment that Beth steps into her power as Beth Chapel and as Dr. Mid-Nite. She doesn’t step away from the fear but leans into it to remind everyone that she matters. Beth reminds everyone that representation matters. She may be the first Black woman in the JSA’s lair, but she won’t be the last.
Beth is a part of a brighter future that celebrates diversity and nontraditional strengths. Beth’s strengths aren’t the same as Courtney, Rick, or Yolanda’s, and she shouldn’t feel less than because of that. Her super strength is her intelligence. She doesn’t need to physically fight Eclipso because she’s already stronger than he’ll ever be. So far, Beth is the only one to beat him. She’s also the only one who knows that he pretends to be Bruce. Eclipso will undoubtedly rue the day he underestimated Beth Chapel because our Dr. Mid-Nite will save the day!
Other Spark-tacular Moments:
- Only Stargirl can make me tear up at a giant CGI monster patting a lost teenage boy on the back to make him feel better.
- I don’t know how but I hope Dr. McNider and Beth get to meet one day.
- Courtney naming the staff Cosmo made my heart so happy.
- But then Courtney calling Cosmo her friend (another one she feels she can’t protect) made me emotional.
- Pat’s flip phone is still my favorite thing ever. I hope he never gets an upgrade.
- I told myself I wasn’t going to freak out at the sight of Joel McHale as Sylvester Pemberton/Starman, and I STILL DID.
- Where did Courtney hide Cosmo when the police showed up? Just curious.
- I knew there was something up with Beth’s parents because they were the ones bringing her food. That would NEVER happen.
What did you think of Stargirl 2×08 “Summer School: Chapter Eight”? Let us know in the comments below!
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.