I’ve been enjoying the Stargirl series since it started. It’s off on its own Earth, and has a lot of nods to the Golden Age heroes, which is something I always appreciate. Last season left them facing the menace of Eclipso, the return of Starman, and a few losses along the way. Now, the new JSA has different challenges to face, dissension in the ranks, and a new theme for the season. The new season kicks off with “Frenemies: Chapter One: The Murder.”
The episode opens with a dramatic, noir feel, a voiceover playing over some swirling fog, and a few hints that bad things are coming. Then there’s a rapid mood change, as we see scenes from all over Blue Valley, where it seems to be a great day and everything is going well. JJ, still in possession of the Thunderbolt, does his paper route, and we see that at least one of his customers is the Shade. I’ve enjoyed that character since James Robinson reworked him and gave him some depth (fittingly, in the Starman comic), really liked his portrayal by Jonathan Cake last season, and am very glad to see he’s still around. Although I admit I’m bemused that such a man as he seems to be is living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Other introductory scenes include a change in the Chapel household, Rick on a mission of his own, Yolanda not being in a forgiving mood, Cindy doing a good deed clearly in spite of herself, and the Crock family going running together. Blue Valley was never really a normal town, but they have more than their share of odd residents these days. True to form, the cinema marquis is a nod to a lesser-known DC Comics character.
At the Dugan-Whitmore home, we see assorted postcards, newspaper articles laid out that strongly suggest what at least a few of the family have been up to, and the kitchen being cleaned very thoroughly. The family arrives home, and there are a few interesting things all at once. What they’re wearing is a nod to the Earth Prime story that featured Stargirl and friends that was published over the summer, Mike is still not big on family vacations, and Sylvester, it turns out, has been keeping himself quite busy in their absence. Barbara is thrilled that the damage that had been lingering through most of last season has been repaired, although Pat obviously has some mixed feelings about this. Sylvester has done a lot of work around the place, and is clearly not taking being a guest of the family lightly. Courtney and Sylvester get a scene alone in the basement, and we learn a bit about the hero’s return, his new outlook on life, and what he might be up to next.
A bit later, Pat joins Courtney on the porch. They talk about Sylvester, and Pat brings up all the older hero could teach Courtney about the Cosmic Staff, or Cosmo as Courtney named it. As they talk, the pair get a bit weirded out by their new neighbors, and go back inside. Pat and Courtney have a disagreement about the front door and some wildly differing philosophies about it, Courtney is being incredibly optimistic, while Pat is urging a bit more caution. Their discussion gets interrupted by the doorbell, and they receive a very unexpected visitor: Steven Sharpe, the Gambler, formerly of the Injustice Society. Sharpe, very much playing the role of the Southern Gentleman, explains that he’s changed, and why. He mentions discovering he has a daughter, and wants to change for her. Whether calculated or not, it’s an approach that is certain to get Courtney’s sympathies, given her own lack of a relationship with her father.
A quick note about Gambler’s daughter. In the comics, she’s named Rebecca Sharpe, and is the villain Hazard. Here, too, she’s named Rebecca, or Becky. This character has actually appeared, and died, in the Arrowverse some time ago, but considering that was both on another Earth and before the Crisis, there’s a good chance this one hasn’t suffered the same fate. Or has had her fate rewritten.
In the morning, the family gets a visit from an aggressively friendly neighbor in a somewhat surreal scene. Pat is very confused by the whole thing, and Courtney shuffles in, equally confused. Apparently the non-superheroes (and the resurrected one) sleep more soundly. Their visitor departs, giving Pat a chance for an amusing line, and we shift scenes to the diner. The Shade is attempting to instruct waitress Maria about how to make a proper cup of tea, and while she’s not getting it, both are being very polite and understanding about the whole thing. This entertaining scene gets cut short when Sharpe arrives, once again talking about changing for his daughter. Shade is much less credulous and forgiving than Courtney, and eventually chases the man off with a display of power that seems to unsettle both of them. The Shade examines something in the aftermath and appears to be both puzzled and worried. The man just can not catch a break.
Tensions flare among the young heroes at school the next day. Beth is trying to handle the changes in her parents, and ends up with, among other things, a nod to one of her character’s comic book costumes. Courtney is continuing her program of supervillain reform, and both Yolanda and Rick aren’t happy about it. Yolanda is a lot different than she was at the start of the series, and Rick’s mood isn’t being improved by his side quest not working out. I’m also wondering where Rick is living. Last season, he beat the hell out of his uncle, who I imagine would still be in the hospital at this point, or at least in physical therapy. The uncle never cared for Rick to start with, and the beating likely didn’t help. Is Rick out on the farm alone? At any rate, matters aren’t helped by Cindy coming by. Cindy working with the team is a very divisive issue, and Cindy’s attitude is doing nothing to help that. Cindy makes things worse, Artemis comes by to make things confusing, and Courtney’s attempt at a team meeting goes down in flames. Also, having a team meeting with people who have secret identities in the school cafeteria is probably not the best idea, Court.
The adults aren’t having the smoothest day, either. Pat takes Sylvester to the Pit Stop and shows him STRIPE, and Sylvester is very impressed. Pat’s pleasure at the praise fades a bit when Sylvester makes a suggestion, but Pat goes with it, whether because it’s tempting to him on the face of it or from habit from back in the days when Pat was Sylvester’s sidekick isn’t clear. Maybe a combination? Barbara, who still has her job at the company Icicle was using to reshape the country (I do wonder what they’re doing now, as a corporation) gets a surprise visit. Paula drops by and makes a very strong appeal for her daughter. Barbara is clearly not comfortable (I wouldn’t be, either), tries to explain a few things, but Paula isn’t listening and stalks off with some veiled threats. We see where the Gambler is living, and it isn’t that impressive, especially given the circles he used to move in. The man is clearly uneasy about something, and ends up pulling his signature weapon to check something out. However, looking at his daughter’s picture, he discards the weapon.
Sylvester and Pat get some buddy time in, granted in a somewhat unique way, and then later arrive home in a great mood, and recount what they’ve been up to. Barbara and Courtney are less than thrilled, while Mike just seems displeased every time we see him this episode. Sylvester is very apologetic for any bad feelings he created, and retreats to his bed in the basement. For all the work he did on the rest of the house, Sylvester didn’t put much effort into his living situation. Courtney comes down and the two of them have a long talk that touches on, among other things, Sylvester’s family life and a possible arrangement for the staff. It’s a very generous offer on Courtney’s part, but the touching scene gets interrupted by an alarm from Beth.
The team, including Cindy, go after the No Limits Gang, some minor thugs that, among other things, have a tie to one of the supposedly reformed villains in Blue Valley. Rick is more than willing to believe the bad guy is reverting to type, while Courtney is much more optimistic. They don’t really get a chance to question the gang, as a new arrival shows up, drops all the bad guys impressively quickly, and then makes a dramatic exit, leaving behind a surprised team of young heroes.
While the Gambler narrates a letter to his daughter, the team regroups at the Pit Stop. Cindy is utterly unimpressed with the place, and kicks off a few different debates when she makes them an offer, then leaves when they don’t take her up on it. At least some of the others are more than ready to ask the Gambler some pointed questions about what he’s been up to, and believe Courtney has been far too trusting in her attempts at reforming former foes.
Out on the porch, Pat and Sylvester drink some beers and talk about how things are changing. Sylvester, like many of the new JSA members, has some doubts about villains truly reforming, but doesn’t really argue with Pat over it. Pat stands up for Courtney’s instincts, and Sylvester offers a few surprises with both a compliment and an observation about what his return means. Pat is thrilled with one of these things, and less so with the other. Sharpe, the Gambler, finishes his letter and then hears something. Turning to his computer, he discovers several video feeds that surprise him. He goes outside to deal with one of them, and does the classic “getting surprised by something just offscreen” bit. The JSA shows up to question the man, and instead make a pair of startling discoveries, finding some serious property damage and a claim of innocence. This isn’t going to go over well with some segments of the team.
What I Liked: I was a big fan of Shade last season, and I’m glad he’s back. The bit with the Thunderbolt was fun, and a nice reminder he’s still around. Sylvester seems a bit too good to be true, but he’s definitely making an effort to help out the family. Courtney has matured a lot from when we first met her. While I don’t like seeing the team divided, I see both sides as far as accepting Cindy or trusting the other villains. I was amused by the various scenes with the Crocks.
What I Didn’t: I know it was a busy episode and not everyone got screen time, but Mike seemed to be very one-note each time he appeared. Courtney’s meeting in the cafeteria was a bad idea even before the personality conflicts started. The end scene was a bit heavy on the cliché side of things.
I have really enjoyed this series so far, and this was a fun episode. I’ll give it a solid 3.5 out of 5, and am already trying to figure out the big mystery they’ve presented us with.