The death of the Gambler kicked off a huge mess in Blue Valley. While the JSA is investigating, they’re finding that playing detective isn’t as easy as any of them hoped. They really do need a Batman type on this team. As the investigation lurches around, we’re finding assorted other secrets, and an impressive collection of lost souls, for lack of a better term. They don’t really make any progress in the central mystery, but they find some interesting things along they way in “Frenemies: Chapter Three: The Blackmail.”
The episode opens with Sylvester Pemberton wandering through town, trying to figure out what to do with himself. He’s bemused by a lot of the qualities that make Pat love Blue Valley so much, and really seems like Sylvester would be more at home back in California. After a displeasing encounter at a coffee cart, he unknowingly follows in Shade’s footsteps (I’m sure Sylvester would be horrified) and ends up chatting with Yolanda. They talk about Ted Grant and what to do in Blue Valley. Unnoticed, the elder Mahkents pass by, see Sylvester, and take off after a quick debate. Back at the Dugan-Whitmore home, Courtney actually did a good deed which seems to be working out well until the Crocks invade, making things “better.” I think Pat was right a while back; they need to start locking their doors.
Rick and Beth are cruising around in his car, and Beth is still suffering through her parents’ complete reversal about their involvement in her life. Rick seems amused and we learn at least some of what I’ve been wondering about his life. Beth’s goggles get an alert, and the two receive some information that might point them at some suspects in Gambler’s death. While Beth can’t trace the source of the information, we get to see it, and that someone else is playing games and keeping secrets. As someone tries to hack into Gambler’s computer, we get a nice callback to a memorable moment from Jurassic Park.
At school, Courtney and Cindy have another conference in the hallway, which really shows how bad both of them are about the whole secret identity thing. Fortunately, their fellow students seem to be majoring in obliviousness. They talk about blackmail, life balance, and waffles before Courtney sees Cameron and tries to talk to him. That doesn’t go at well, leaving Courtney looking sad. And clearly, this sequence was brought to you by the letter “C.” At work, Barbara gets another visit from Paula, who is freaking out about a fairly mundane task. It’s really amusing seeing the skilled supervillain so thoroughly rattled, and I very much enjoy the Barbara/Paula scenes. I’d be fine with an episode, at the very least, of those two. Barbara’s annoying boss Tim drops by, and continues to be a dick.
Still trying to figure out what to do with himself, Sylvester is hanging out at the Pit Stop, going over the want ads in the local paper. He doesn’t find anything, but gets some interesting advice from both Pat and Zeek, who seems to have taken up residence at the garage/hero headquarters. At lunch, the JSAers meet up and discuss some developments. Courtney has a plan that she shares, and everyone agrees. Elsewhere, Cameron has a run-in with one of his teachers, and, weirdly, Rick sticks up for her. I’m honestly surprised Rick is still going to school at all at this point. Not happy with the encounter, Cameron takes some petty revenge in the parking lot.
Returning to the Dugan-Whitmore house, Sylvester is still contemplating his future when he gets interrupted by Cindy dropping by. She’s up to no-good, or at best moderate-good, but her machinations go awry when Sylvester proves he can be a jerk to just about anyone. He really lets her have it, leaving the supposedly-reforming villainess fuming. After getting rid of her, Sylvester decides to act on her information. There’s a weird scene of Mike listening on all this that seems like it’s going to go somewhere, but it’s never referenced again. Maybe next episode? Although I don’t know what he’d be doing about it. Lawrence and Paula Crock are out shopping when Sylvester confronts them, staff in hand. You know things are getting weird when the alleged bad guys seem more concerned about bystanders than the “hero.” What follows is a really big fight that shows how well two non-powered people can work together against someone who is more powerful than they are. The store doesn’t fare too well in the chaos, although we do get a cameo of Courtney/Stargirl’s stunt double as a cashier. Someone (I guess Mike?) calls Courtney, and STRIPE ends up going to the store, ending the fight, and clearly displeased with everyone.
There’s a sort of debriefing situation back home, as the Crocks share some information they’ve been keeping back. They really do seem determined to reform, both for their daughter and as a matter of dietary principle. The Crocks make some good arguments as to their innocence. Sylvester stalks in, glares at everyone, and goes back to his basement. Pat follows to try and talk some sense into the man. Sylvester is all set to be furious at Pat, and then starts to calm down when Pat shares some of Courtney’s history with him. Sylvester is really not learning a few things that he should have down by now. Sylvester finally seems more ready to listen, and Pat takes a part of Sylvester’s complaints to heart.
In another lunchtime meeting, Courtney points out that it doesn’t really make sense for the Crocks to have been the killers, and the team also rules out the Shade and Solomon Grundy. Yolanda, of course, once again mentions Cindy as a suspect, pursuing her own grudge, if not outright vendetta. Cindy herself shows up and explains her earlier actions, and they do make some degree of sense. Courtney issues a reprimand, Cindy accepts it (as far as we can tell anyway), and Yolanda keeps glaring at her foe. Paula attends to her own task, not starting well but settling down when she gets some moral support from a friend.
The school day finally ends, and Courtney meets up with Cameron. Despite his earlier reaction to Rick’s talk, Cameron seems to have taken at least part of it to heart. He and Courtney have a talk and decide to go for a walk. Downstairs, Sylvester broods, goes over some of the JSA files (with a nice nod to the comics), and decides to revisit the crime scene. He makes what seems like it’s going to be a very fateful choice on his way out.
Courtney and Cameron have a nice walk, passing the town theater which ones again pays tribute to an obscure DC Comics character. Cameron suddenly walks off, but Courtney is more or less ok with his sudden departure. This is, presumably, connected to his grandparents hurriedly getting ready for something or other. Barbara sees Sylvester walk out, but doesn’t pay any mind to it as she reworks her proposal for work. Meanwhile, her boss gets a visit that may change his attitude towards Barbara.
In a quick few wrap-up scenes, we check in on a few characters. Cindy is still on her own, down in the ISA tunnels. With her mother dead and father gone, I do wonder what her home situation is. There’s a troubling glimpse of someone observing the team and at least some of their allies. It looks ominous, but we don’t get to see enough to judge if it’s good or bad. Pat works on a new project, which Mike looks in on for a moment before leaving. And, to end the episode, Sylvester does indeed find something at the crime scene, but it’s not at all what he expected, and is going to make for an interesting start next time.
What I Liked: While it shouldn’t have happened, which I’ll mention below, the fight between Sylvester and the Crocks was really well done. Paula is rapidly becoming a very entertaining character, and working her way up on my list of favorites. I really like her and Barbara’s friendship. I admire Courtney’s optimism, and her calm amid the chaos swirling around her. She’s matured a lot over the course of the series. It might not seem particularly heroic, but Yolanda’s grudge against Cindy makes perfect sense. Zeek was surprisingly insightful.
What I Didn’t: Sylvester is having some serious issues. He always was a bit of a jerk in the flashbacks we’ve seen, but I’m guessing he wasn’t this hot-tempered. I’m presuming it has something to do with his mysterious resurrection. I don’t get why Rick was leaping to the defense of the teacher. That seemed a bit odd. I think Cindy is trying to do better, but she’s going about it badly. I hope Shade comes back; I miss him.
It was an uneven episode, with some ups and downs. I’ll give this a 3 out of 5. It’ll be interesting to see how the case develops.