Stargirl 2×11, “Summer School: Chapter Eleven,” trades all Blue Valley’s charm for a desolate alternative with the Shadowlands. This transformation ups the bar of what Stargirl is capable of presenting on screen. Moreover, the dimension’s existence pushes characters to new grounds, elevating the final two episodes’ potential.
Aspects of “Summer School: Chapter Eleven” leave plenty to be desired because they spotlight the uneven focus on key members of the ensemble. This fault results from Stargirl‘s incorporation of a technique often used in comics where characters weave in out of each other’s stories, not needing to be present all of the time.
The Endurance of Friendship
This route usually creates enough engagement and intrigue to sustain itself, like with Sylvester and Jakeem. However, it doesn’t work with characters like Yolanda and Rick, who grapple with substantial life changes without proper screentime. It’s becoming increasingly worrisome that Stargirl won’t be able to stick its superhero landing regarding Yolanda and Rick.
The confirmation of a Season 3 does soften the frustration of that possibility, but it doesn’t negate that Season 2 needs more of those characters. It’s disheartening The Shade has a distinguished arc, as represented on screen, this season than Rick, who has been in a jail cell for a handful of episodes. It’s not to say The Shade shouldn’t get this arc because Jonathan Cake is simply magnificent in this role.
Every scene peels another layer of this character back and illuminates an entirely new side of him. His one-liners are smart and fun. His capacity to care for others in the face of the role he must play is so complicated that it’s alluring. The friendship between The Shade and the JSA is teased through the dialogue and flashbacks, but it’s quite moving to watch it play out during “Summer School: Chapter Eleven.”
Cake allows so many emotions to wash over The Shade upon learning about McNider’s fate. It’s stunning to watch. There’s joy, guilt, regret, and sadness in one fell swoop. The Shade’s more rapid passing is a side effect of saving his friend, Courtney, and Cindy. While I am not convinced The Shade is indeed dead, the missed opportunity for two friends to reunite and share a drink makes the lack of interaction between Stargirl‘s core four unmistakable.
The use of Yolanda and Rick in the Shadowlands is a unique way to show that Courtney’s conscience is worried about her friends, but that was never in doubt. Courtney’s internal struggle is one of the most finely represented on the show. Stargirl did a good at representing Yolanda’s perspective at the start of the season, but there has been no substantial follow-up.
Rick is a special case because he always holds his cards close to his chest, which is a reason enough for Stargirl to spend significant time with him while he is in jail. Both Rick and Yolanda are experiencing a kind of solitude that causes deep introspection. Let us see that to fall in love with these characters even more. The Shadowlands are filled with visions based on fears. But there has to be some truth in its depictions of Yolanda and Rick, right?
The general composition of the Shadowlands as the gray area between black and white is so creative and well-executed on screen. It’s the proper levels of disorienting and spooky. It’s ominous and tense at every turn. Regardless of Eclipso thriving off of it, obviously, Courtney would admit to the hatred within her in such a place. The Shadowlands is the perfect place for fears to become a living nightmare. Courtney’s fear of her darkness overshadowing her light is natural, notwithstanding the setting.
Turning Away from the Darkness
That tension within Courtney makes pairing her up with Cindy in “Summer School: Chapter Eleven” utterly genius. Courtney’s survival technique is choosing the light of the darkness, and Cindy’s is the exact opposite. It’s incredible to watch them realize that uniting their methods could be the secret weapon Eclipso never sees coming. Obviously, Eclipso’s initial plans are to pit the two girls against each other, but they end up side by side at the end of the episode.
It’s unlikely Cindy flipped a switch and chose the light forever because Courtney saved her. Honestly, that wouldn’t be as fun to watch as Cindy battling the two sides she’s so capable of balancing. Meg DeLacy‘s talent is more than capable of expressing that range with Cindy, so it would be an unfortunate turn for Cindy to immediately be a black and white hero after expressing the importance of the gray.
Stargirl is so good at the gray, and Cindy is one of its finest examples. It’s more likely that Courtney will learn more about the gray from this experience with Cindy. Because of that, Courtney can extend a new level of understanding to Pat, the JSA, Yolanda, and herself. If anyone can emerge from this dark and twisty season and learn to treat themselves with a little more kindness, then Eclipso hasn’t entirely won.
The Power of a Mother’s Love
Do you know who are the winners of “Summer School: Chapter Eleven?” Amy Smart and Luna Tieu. They deliver unforgettable performances that harness the power of a mother’s love. This episode delves deep into the trenches of a location that isn’t easy to ground the characters in. Their performances, alongside the amazing Brec Bassinger and DeLacy, anchor each side of the Shadowlands.
It’s utterly shocking that Stargirl has yet to give Barbara Whitmore a storyline of her own (that doesn’t directly correlate with the arc of a male villain) because Amy Smart is outstanding. She takes your breath away mere minutes into the episode when that staff rounds the door in someone else’s hands than Courtney’s. That emotional tether stays alive for the rest of the hour — even when Courtney is back in her arms.
Smart’s ability to harness Barbara’s despair and rage in equal measure is admirable and incredibly moving to watch. The fire that burns in Barbara’s heart deserves more attention as the series progresses. It’s too magnetic to keep getting brushed aside until moments like these. There are so many more opportunities to expand the intricacies of Barbara, and, unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Suzanne Ito. That said, Luna Tieu leaves a mark with only minutes of screentime in an ambitious hour.
Unsurprisingly but tragically, Cindy accidentally killed her mother. That fact makes the reunions at the end of the episode simply heartbreaking. Cindy is still alone, mourning her mother, who never stopped loving her. Grief is one of the main themes of this season, let alone the entire show, and Cindy (and Dr. McNider) experienced some of the most traumatic events of her life on loop in the Shadowlands.
Stargirl will be able to prolong the lasting effects of something like that as Courtney, Cindy, and Dr. McNider race to stop Eclipso, but once everything slows down, all of those unresolved emotions will come back to the surface. Cindy will still be without her mother, and Courtney will still have hers. Maybe there’s a world where Barbara and Suzanne would get along, and Courtney and Cindy could be friends. The former is impossible now, but there is still a chance for the latter. There’s still hope. There’s always hope.
Other Spark-tacular Moments:
- I love the way this show finds creative ways to bring back old faces.
- Isaac Bowin only saying, “I miss my tuba,” is the funniest thing that’s ever happend on Stargirl.
- Courtney telling Cindy, “Okay, that’s psychotic,” made me giggle.
- Mike wanting to do anything he can to help Courtney warmed my heart.
- But Beth crying on Jennie’s shoulder broke my heart.
What did you think of Stargirl 2×11, “Summer School: Chapter Eleven”? Let us know in the comments below!
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.