Stargirl has its ups and downs over its run so far, but when they give themselves time, they do some good characterization work. We see some of that from a few unexpected directions this week. Old foes come back, new ones show new facets, and a new team is forming. There’s a lot going on in “Summer School, Chapter 4.”
Things are not going well for Artemis Crock. Her parents are in prison for their crimes as supervillains, Artemis is convinced they’re innocent, and she’s not doing well in her temporary foster home. Her parents do their best to offer encouragement from behind the glass in the visitation rooms. There’s also the stereotype of the sadistic, cruel for no reason prison guard to make things worse. At her house, Beth is trying to fix a lot of things and failing on every front. The Dr. Midnight goggles are still not behaving correctly, and she can’t get the AI to work for any length of time. She’s also dropping as many hints as she can manage about ways to fix her parents’ marriage, or at least stave off their divorce, and getting nothing good back in return. I really do feel bad for her. Of course, in the comics, Beth Chapel was an adult with an actual medical degree and protégé of Charles McNider, the original Dr. Midnight, before she got sucked into the world of superheroes, so she had more experience to draw off and handle things better. Beth also finds out that there are restricted JSA files that she can’t access no matter what she tries.
Pat is trying to fix the damage to the kitchen from Courtney and Jennie’s big fight as he and Barbara fret over things Pat shared. There’s apparently a lot of nasty history between the JSA and Eclipso, and we’ve only heard some of it. Courtney wanders in as this is going on, and there’s a lot of confusion as everyone tries to sort out what the others know. Pat talks a bit about what Eclipso can do, and calls him pure evil, which is impressive coming from someone as nice as Pat. Courtney tries to get a rundown on what the villain’s powers are, and promises she’s changed and isn’t as impulsive as she used to be. That was what, last week? Cindy wanders the old ISA tunnels beneath Blue Valley, and gets a demonstration of what Eclipso can do. The evil being offers a hint at what he’s steering her towards, and it’s not really good news for anyone.
Artemis has been dealt a bad hand, and we see more of that as her foster mother drops her off at school. The woman is a real piece of work and just waiting to become part of someone’s villain origin story. Mike is having equally bad luck with his paper route, which this time leaves him in the hands of Crusher Crock and his wife Paula Brooks, AKA Sportsmaster and Tigress. Artemis continues to have a bad day in the cafeteria. Courtney tries to patch things up, but Artemis is just not in the mood, snapping at both Courtney and Yolanda before doing something dumb that goes against what she was complaining about earlier. Elsewhere, Rick proves a point to a teacher and apparently gets at least one problem hanging over his head resolved.
The cafeteria is just not a good place to be today. Isaac Bowin sits alone, sulks, and eats a very unappetizing lunch. He’s the son of the late principal, and another ISA kid. Cindy pops up and makes a recruitment pitch that’s pretty much tailored to get the kid to go with her. Pat is driving down the road, and he gets a disturbing voicemail from Mike. Reaching the Pit Stop, Pat finds some very unwelcome visitors who know far too much about him. Considering how dire the situation is, their demands are actually… not all that bad, and make a twisted kind of sense. This leads to a very entertaining scene at the Dugan-Whitmore home with some really awkward conversation and a great bit of accidental bonding that might be my favorite scene of the episode. Pat doesn’t lose the opportunity to try and get a little information, but what he learns doesn’t help him at all. The JSA meets up at the diner, where Yolanda has apparently gotten a job. There’s a scene vaguely reminiscent of something from early in Friends, and the team shares what they’ve learned about Eclipso, which isn’t much. They finally decide to split up and attend to a few things, such as more research and buying a ridiculous amount of food. I kind of wonder where Rick is getting his money.
Down in the tunnels, Cindy furthers her plans, and a new villain is pushed in the wrong direction. Truly running out of leads, Courtney goes to the used book store for more research. The shop itself is a nice nod to a DC title, and inside, Courtney has a surprising encounter with the Shade. He offers her a few hints and warnings as she hurls accusations at him. What she really should be taking away from this is that the Shade is far more powerful than she is, especially with her staff at home, and all he does is talk. There’s a clue that you might be in the wrong about a few things, Courtney. He drops some clues about what Pat has told her, and what he hasn’t, and then disappears.
Wanting answers, Courtney goes home to talk to Pat. Instead, she finds a worried Barbara. I guess they don’t have cell phones? Although we saw Pat with one, so I guess Courtney is one of the only teen girls in American without one? At the school, Pat and his unwanted companions exchange odd conversational barbs while Artemis does her best to impress a recruiter for a college team. Artemis even wins Pat’s grudging approval before Cindy shows up and uses her newfound powers to mess with Artemis’ future and steer her in a different direction. Not all diamonds are a girl’s best friend, it seems. Afterwards, Artemis learns some unpleasant truths, Courtney presses for more information, and finds out something shocking. She and Pat follow the Crocks to see if they keep their word, and Cindy takes advantage of her earlier mischief to get another member for her team.
As is often the case, the last few scenes set up for what’s to come. Courtney puts on her costume and, after arguing with the staff, flies off to see about getting more information. I partially blame Pat for that one. We know he’s not telling her things, and Courtney doesn’t do well with “no.” Beth keeps trying with the Dr. Midnight goggles, and ends up finding out something that utterly stuns her and I suspect is going to be another quest for the team soon. And the final scene appears to confirm yet another survivor of the JSA vs ISA massacre.
What I liked: Jonathan Cake is giving a great performance as Shade, and I’m really enjoying it. This is the later version of the character, reworked by James Robinson, as opposed the bland supervillain of the Golden Age. The Sportsmaster/Tigress/Pat scenes were great, and Paula with Barbara in the kitchen was just fantastic. Eclipso is a great puppet master, pulling a lot of strings and about to make life really ugly for our heroes, and even some of our villains. The writers are doing a great job of making me feel bad for Beth. The twist at the end I didn’t see coming at all.
What I didn’t: I’m told there was pronunciation issue, and while it sounded several times like Courtney said “Dr. Midnighter” she was actually saying “Dr. McNider,” which is the hero’s real name. Either way, the director (or someone) needed to step in and fix that. It was really glaring and threw me out of the story a few times. I keep hoping Jennie will come back, and now that Jakeem will play a bigger part. Maybe near the end of the season. I really don’t agree with Pat and Barbara’s choices to keep things from Courtney and the team. This is going to blow up in everyone’s faces before the season ends. We saw hints a while ago that the original Starman was alive and looking for Pat. Why is it taking him so long to get here?
I thought this was a pretty good episode. I’ll give this a 3.5 out of 5. I really want more Shade as we go.