Stargirl: Stars and STRIPE, Part One

Stargirl’s first season is almost over, although season two has been confirmed. It will be airing on the CW, leaving DC Universe, the future of which is very much in doubt. But for now, Stargirl and her ragged team of ex-sidekicks, amnesiac heroes, and fledgling newbies have to face a force that is more powerful, better organized (although that’s not hard), and that has a concrete plan and the utter ruthlessness to carry it out. The finale is so big it needs two episodes, as we start off with “Stars and STRIPE, Part One.”

Down in the labyrinth of tunnels below Blue Valley (seriously, how the town hasn’t been swallowed by a sinkhole yet I have no idea), the restored Brainwave is in full blown villain mode. Icicle seems a bit less eager to commit mayhem, but goes along with it, swayed by his own beliefs and Brainwave’s enthusiasm. We hear more details of the plan as we learn what roles will be played by Gambler, Tigress, and Sportsmaster. Whatever hope there was for Icicle having a change of his cold heart vanishes as he gives Brainwave orders on his way out. Back at the Whitmore-Dugan home, Barbara and Courtney are packing and continuing to try and find a new dynamic as Barbara tries to adapt to what she’s learned about her daughter and husband. At the garage, things go less smoothly as Mike and Pat argue, Mike too busy being mad to realize what Pat’s trying to tell him. They get interrupted by the very unwelcome appearance of Sportsmaster, who is more than Pat’s match in a straight up fight.

Back home, it’s ladies’ night as Tigress shows up to kill Courtney and Barbara. They do a great job of Barbara not being a helpless damsel in distress, but also not improbably kicking ass against a clearly superior foe. Courtney returns with the staff, and there’s a major fight that’s going to leave a lot of work around the house for Pat if they make it through this night. Pat is a game foe, but out of his depth, and Sportsmaster sadistically enjoys his advantage. There’s just enough time for a stereotype villain revealing some of the big plan before there’s some very unexpected teamwork as Mike turns an annoying habit into something useful. Barbara manages to be both useful and awed by the skill her daughter has gained, which is a great scene. With some luck and a bit of teamwork, the good guys survive, which is ironic, as this same pair of villains stomped all over the neo-JSA a while back, also thanks to teamwork.

Next up, we get a pair of really twisted family meetings. Jordan Mahkent gets some words of wisdom from his parents, and is urged to bring his son Cameron in on the big secret. As Jordan gets some bad news, we move over to Principal Bowin. She deals with a phone call and then is surprised to find her son Isaac in her office. She hears his tale of bullying and responds with something you really don’t expect from either a principal or a parent, but Isaac seems ready to listen. The fleeing family arrives at a big cabin in the woods, which is remarkably nice looking and very lit up. One of my earlier concerns is dealt with as we see the rest of the JSA already there. Where this cabin came from and how everyone knew how to find it, I have no idea. They get surprised by two more arrivals, one with food and one with firepower, and the good guys are assembled. I will say that, with the stakes so high, they really should have made more of an effort to contact other heroes for help. Surely Pat’s knowledge of who’s out there combined with the Chuck AI in Beth’s goggles would have been able to find some of them?

In another section of the tunnels, Brainwave seeks out Dr. Ito and gets a scene with Cindy instead. Brainwave is in no mood to deal with the whining brat, and pulls no punches in their argument. Ignoring Cindy’s anguished cries, Ito and Brainwave move to another location and a really impressive, “this must be the James Bond villain’s doomsday gadget” kind of room. There are faint, but darker, echoes of the X-Men’s Cerebro as Ito explains what’s going to happen and the risks. I’ll say this: Brainwave is no coward and is very committed to the cause. The villains’ plans move forward while various combinations of characters talk about their host of issues out at the cabin. They’re not exactly a cohesive team yet. I’ll also point out that one character’s obsession really seems like it should have been handed off to someone else with better tools. One scene that’s really tense but well-executed is a talk between Courtney and Mike out on the porch.

Sportsmaster and Tigress regroup after their less-than-successful efforts. They get a visit from someone who is overconfident and cocky. After some arguing, things take a shocking turn that will probably make things easier for the good guys. Pat and Barbara also have a bit of a talk, worried about their future and Pat recounting some of the many losses he’s dealt with up to this point. Moving on from this talk, Pat manages to help Rick with something, and this, in turn, lets the Beth/Chuck team give them some vital information. Between them, they figure out a good bit of the master plan, and assign tasks and teams to do their best to stop the villains.

Things start off well, although one of the group notices a very important difference from earlier experiences. The counterstrike begins, and then things go ugly. There are multiple surprises, none of them good, and we see just how far ahead of the game the bad guys are. Things look worse and worse for the heroes, and the episode ends on a nasty enough cliffhanger that it could have been the season finale right there, instead of just the first part.

What I liked: Just about everything. The action was great, the story moved well, the little scenes with smaller groups of the characters were nicely done. Sportsmaster and Tigress are entertainingly evil, and sometimes it’s nice to have a flat-out bad guy to root against. I really liked the early scene with Barbara and Courtney. The interesting, and very different, family dynamics among the different groups contrasted well. The bad guys being ahead made a lot of sense, as does the Gambler’s role now that we know more about it.

What I didn’t: I can only think of two complaints, really. As I mentioned above, they really should be trying harder to call for help. And one of the characters has a costume that’s actually useful and we’ve seen no signs of it.

I’m really enjoying this series and the finale is starting off with some serious high stakes. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5. On to part two!