The JSA keeps their enemies close and their frenemies closer in Stargirl 3×01, “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder.” After Season 2’s series of dark turns spearheaded by Eclipso, Season 3 leans into the show’s lighter side. Still, different dynamics and familiar faces rock Blue Valley’s “new normal” as a tale of trust, heartache, and murder begins.
The season premiere uses fascinating framing techniques in The Gambler’s voiceover and the reveal of a camera in the Whitmore-Dugans’ living room at the end of the first act. The setup seeds suspicion throughout an episode that relies on its attempts to subvert that — most notably, the extra-long teaser set to Neil Diamond’s “America.”
It’s undeniably fun to see the Crocks start anew across the street from the Whitmore-Dugans. For example, Paula hilariously chokes on the words “Justice Society of America” when telling Barbara that Artemis wants to join the team. Similarly, Cindy expectedly debates whether she should help an older woman with her groceries.
The internal struggle is real for the former supervillains — as is the struggle to accept whether they have changed. Unfortunately for The Gambler, his absence from Stargirl after Season 1 and his lack of ties to other characters reduce his relevance to the story and any credibility he may have by coming back to Blue Valley to make amends.
Stargirl never makes a justifiable case in his favor, despite what Courtney may want to see. So, it’s simple to deduce that Steve Sharpe would meet his demise by the end of the season premiere. “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder” makes his death relevant in the buildup to it by leaning into the established investment in Blue Valley’s other characters.
Cindy holding, presumably, the murder weapon over The Gambler’s body is incriminating evidence that adds stakes to a story that didn’t really have them before.
Moreover, Cindy Burman’s track record confirms that if she did kill The Gambler, she would have said so or covered her tracks. That knowledge reframes Cindy’s status as a suspect and could directly impact her role in the JSA. That conflict compounds dramatically with how the latter is already in question because of Yolanda’s justifiable distrust of Cindy.
Stargirl still has a ways to go to unpack Cindy and Yolanda’s tumultuous history, but the show’s acknowledgment of its existence bodes well that it has plans to do so. However, the seasons premiere’s struggle to balance an ensemble — an issue last season faced, too — doesn’t establish much faith that it can make a superhero landing in that regard.
Beth, Rick, and Yolanda fade into Stargirl‘s background once again as Sylvester Pemberton steps back onto the scene. “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder” throws in tidbits like the JSA’s group chat, Rick’s inability to bury Grundy, and Beth refusing to wear Rick’s colors (!!!), but it’s not enough from a team that is supposed to be central to the show.
Not to mention, Jakeem and Mike are barely present in the episode after their imperative involvement in Season 2’s final battle. All of which becomes odder when considering how Stargirl uses Richard Swift more sparingly than last season, but effectively, nonetheless. His reactions to a poorly made cup of tea and a powerset change are all this episode needs.
Sincerely, Jonathan Cake remains utterly delightful in the role of The Shade, and Stargirl is wise to keep him in Blue Valley’s orbit. Likewise, Sylvester Pemberton is perfectly cast in Joel McHale. A lesser performer would lose balance on the tightrope McHale walks in Sylvester’s shoes.
Stargirl‘s tone and Courtney’s outlook act as diversions from the walking dead that is Starman, and Sylvester uses that to his advantage. McHale’s ability to hone a sharp wit and follow it up with a heartfelt performance makes Sylvester’s distractions compelling. It’s clever writing because the audience gets caught up in his allure alongside the characters.
It’s only when Sylvester takes a beat before shifting gears that the realization of his tactics becomes crystal clear, especially when it comes to scenes with Pat Dugan. For example, Sylvester preemptively shuts down Pat’s opposition to Sylvester getting the staff by pulling at Pat’s heartstrings with a speech about how he feels happy and at home.
Sylvester and Pat’s history speaks to the former’s ability to manipulate the latter, and their history dares to repeat itself in their final scene in “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder.” Sylvester plays on Courtney’s kindness to regain partial custody of Cosmo to resume his tenure as Starman, and he regresses to old patterns in the process.
Despite seeing how Pat’s relevance in the superhero scene has improved and expanded, Sylvester reverts Pat to sidekick status — a toxic cycle that Sylvester doesn’t seem inclined to break. He has a vice grip on the past, which is understandable regarding former ISA members. It becomes contradictory when he acknowledges Courtney as the future to her face.
Stargirl could use that tension as a launchpad for Sylvester’s exploration of The Dark Knight‘s line, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Sylvester’s death is a traumatic event that he somehow survived. No one ever returns from something like that unphased, so the show has an opportunity for deep character work.
Stargirl is a great comic book show because it embraces the source material’s storytelling format. For instance, the Season 3 premiere proves that characters like The Gambler and The Shade can come and go as the narrative needs them, and it doesn’t disrupt the series. Stargirl has a toolbox filled with dynamic characters it uses when necessary.
Even Neil Hopkins‘ criminally underrated performance as Larry “Crusher” Crock is minimal, yet perfectly woven into “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder.”
The hope is that Stargirl will strike a balance between Sylvester’s heavy-hitter story and the future that he struggles to accept in the new members of the JSA. “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder” establishes a sturdy platform for the season to stand on, but it still needs to invest more into the ensemble that makes it up.
Other Sparktacular Moments:
- Kentucky Fried Felon
- Rick thinking The Shade is pranking him with Grundy’s burial
- Pat and Sylvester playing with Cosmo and S.T.R.I.P.E. in the sky
- Larry Crock breaking into the Whitmore-Dugan house at 5:30 am only to make Pat a smoothie
- Artemis proving herself to the JSA in a “tryout”
- Every facial expression Richard Swift makes when Maria gives him a bad cup of tea
- Beth’s parents trying way more than they have the last two seasons
- The Whitmore-Dugans’ Yellowstone trip and matching shirts
- Pat Dugan’s mustache
What did you think of Stargirl 3×01, “Frenemies – Chapter One: The Murder?” Let us know in the comments below!
Stargirl airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.