Thursday, September 30, 2021

Stargirl Season 2, Episode 4: Summer School: Chapter Four

This week on Stargirl we get yet another stellar episode, as the show just keeps knocking it out of the park. If only all the Arrowverse series were this good (I'm lookin' at you, current seasons of The Flash). 

The highlight of the episode was the return of former ISA members Sportsmaster and Tigress, who I honestly never expected to see again.

Thanks to Star Wars ruiner Rian Johnson, the term "subverted my expectations" gets thrown around a lot these days, to the point where it's practically lost its meaning. But that's just what happened in Summer School: Chapter Four. I was definitely NOT expecting Sportsmaster and Tigress to turn out to be loving parents who selflessly supported and indulged their daughter Artemis.

And yet that's exactly what happened this week. Kudos to the writers, as it would have been all too easy to portray the couple as stereotypical supervillains. Instead they went in a completely unexpected and satisfying direction, which gave Sportsmaster and Tigress a surprising amount of depth, and made them almost sympathetic. Tragic, even. Well done!

Stargirl excels at this subversion of the audience's expectations, as it's been doing it on a weekly basis since it premiered. Which is part of what makes it the best of all the Arrowverse shows.

Also this week, the series continues its ominous subplot in which Dugan and Barb reluctantly decide to keep the horrible truth about Eclipso from the JSA members. 

Lying and keeping secrets is a way of life for the characters of most other Arrowverse shows. Heck, the cast of The Flash does it in virtually every episode, and always with zero consequences. In addition to making the members of Team Flash look like assholes, it's a cheap, obvious and lazy way to generate tension and drama. As well as to drag out the storylines to fill up the season.

Stargirl's characters actually struggle with the decision to keep secrets from one another, as well as worry about the effect their actions will have on the team. Just one more reason why this show's such a breath of fresh air!


The Plot:
Artemis Crock visits her parents (separately) in prison. "Crusher" (aka Sportsmaster) and Paula (aka Tigress) were both incarcerated after being defeated by Stargirl in the Season 1 finale. Artemis says she's nervous about the upcoming football tryouts, as there'll be a scout there. Her parents— who are both wildly supportive and indulgent of her, despite their criminal backgrounds— assure her she's the best in the state and will do fine.

At the Chapel home, Beth's still trying to reactivate the Chuck AI in her goggles. Last week Chuck came to life just long enough to utter the warning "Eclipso," and Beth's determined to find out what he meant.

Beth then awkwardly tries to get her parents back together and stop their impending divorce. Of course her plan fails miserably. Beth works on the goggles again, and manages to bring up a confidential file on Eclipso. She wonders why the JSA would restrict their own files.

Elsewhere, Barb tells Dugan she couldn't sleep after he told her the horrible truth about Eclipso. He wonders if they should tell Courtney about the demon. Just then Courtney walks in and asks what they know about Eclipso. Dugan's dumbfounded, and asks how the hell she knows that name. Courtney says Chuck warned them about him, but didn't say why.

Dugan tells her part of the truth— that Eclipso is pure evil, and lives inside the Black Diamond. He says whoever possesses the diamond has Eclipso's powers, and can control minds and cause hallucinations. Courtney wonders why The Shade's teaming up with Eclipso, and Barb begs her to stay away from both the villains. Courtney assures her that they'll thoroughly research Eclipso before confronting him.

Deep underground in the ISA's HQ, Cindy Burman mourns her stepmother, saying she didn't want her to die. Eclipso creates an illusion of Cindy's BIRTH mother, who begs her not to hurt her. Cindy angrily tells Eclipso to stop, and says if he ever does that to her again she'll throw the diamond into a volcano.

Cindy then looks at the portrait of the defunct ISA, as Eclipso says he only wants what she desires. He causes the figures in the portrait to morph into a NEW ISA, made up of Cindy and the various kids of the old team.

Artemis is driven to school by her horrible foster mother, who can't be bothered to pack her a decent lunch. When Artemis complains, Foster Mom threatens to stop accepting collect calls from her parents. Artemis angrily gets out and storms across the football field.

Cut to Mike picking up papers for his route. He glances at the front page headline, which says Sportsmaster and Tigress have escaped prison. Just then the two of them appear, grab Mike and haul him off.

At the school, Artemis is upset that the cafeteria doesn't sell health foods. Courtney overhears nd hands her an apple as a peace offering to atone for their "misunderstanding" a couple episodes back. Artemis asks why she's being nice, and Courtney says she's sorry about her "situation." Artemis says the Crocks don't forgive, crushes the apple in her hand and stalks off.

Elsewhere, Miss Woods grades another of Rick's tests and says he aced that one as well. She says she's sorry she accused him of cheating, and apologizes for doubting him. He says it's OK, as everyone does.

Isaac Bowin sits alone in the cafeteria like a feral animal. Cindy approaches and says she always admired his musical talents. Isaac's stunned that she even knows who he is, and she tells him she knows what it's like to lose one's parents. He asks Cindy how her parents died, and she gives him a wry smile as she says, "Horribly."

Dugan goes to the Pit Stop, where he sees the lock's been broken. He cautiously enters, and sees Sportsmaster & Tigress holding Mike hostage. They tell him they want to be there for their daughter Artemis' football tryouts, and if he helps them get in and out undetected, they'll willingly return to prison. Naturally Dugan refuses, so Sportsmaster threatens to spill the beans about the JSA and STRIPE. Dugan reluctantly agrees.

For some reason Dugan takes the criminals to his house (!), where Barb quite rightly asks what the hell's going on. Dugan fills her in, and she reminds him that Tigress tried to kill her. He tells her to just "go with it" and they'll be out of their hair soon.

There's lots of awkwardness between the two couples, as Sportsmaster tells Dugan he's "letting himself go," and Tigress is aghast that Barb lets her kids eat processed foods. After a time they warm up a little, as Sportsmaster says the other ISA members were all putzes, and he and Tigress never fit in with them. Barb mentions how Courtney never listens to her, and Tigress says she has the same problem with Artemis. Barb offers her some coffee, and Tigress agrees to try it for the first time (?).

Meanwhile, Courtney, Rick & Beth meet at the diner to discuss Eclipso and the Black Diamond. They're joined by Yolanda, who's apparently started working as a waitress there. Courtney pulls out an old book and says the diamond came from Devil's Island, which no longer appears on modern maps. It was inhabited by two warring tribes, one of which trapped a demon inside the Black Diamond. An explorer named Bruce Gordon (who was referenced in the season premiere) discovered the island, and found everyone there dead. She says there's no other info on Gordon or Eclipso.

Cindy takes Isaac down into the ISA's HQ, where she shows him the portrait. She says his late father was The Fiddler, and presents him with his violin. When Isaac says he doesn't know how to play it, Cindy ominously says he'll learn.

Courtney goes to a used bookstore and asks if there're any volumes on Bruce Gordon. The owner directs her to the explorer section, in a dimly lit corner. There Courtney's confronted by Richard Swift, aka The Shade.

Swift tells her he knows who she is and why she's there. She says she knows he's teaming up with Eclipso, and that he killed the original Dr. Mid-Nite. He denies both accusations, saying she doesn't know what she's talking about. Swift says Eclipso is pure evil, as he once killed Dr. Mid-Nite's ten year old daughter. Swift claims he's looking for the Black Diamond so he can throw it 
into the deepest part of the ocean to prevent the demon from harming anyone ever again. He then promptly disappears ihnto the shadows.

Courtney goes home and asks where Dugan is. Barb fills her in on her "unusual" houseguests, and says Dugan took them to the high school.

At the football field, Dugan sneaks Sportsmaster and Tigress into the stands so they can watch Artemis' tryout. She looks unsure of herself till she spots her parents, and then gains the confidence to make a spectacular play. Her abilities impress the recruiter who's observing the game.

Courtney shows up and sees Dugan sitting with Sportsmaster & Tigress. Just then Cindy sashays into the stands as well, and takes out the Black Diamond. She uses it on Artemis, making her see a squad of police arresting her parents. Instantly she runs and attacks one of the officers, screaming that her parents are innocent. As the other players pull her off, she sees she actually attacked Courtney. Cindy walks away, leaving a very confused Artemis wondering what the hell just happened.

After the tryouts, Sportsmaster & Tigress take a moment to talk to Artemis. They admit to being criminals, and say they never told her because they didn't want to ruin her dreams. They tell her this is goodbye, as they're going back to prison. Dugan & Courtney watch as the family hugs one last time. Courtney asks why she feels bad for them.

Later Courtney asks Dugan if he knew Eclipso killed Dr. Mid-Nite's daughter. He admits he did, but didn't say anything because he didn't want to scare her. She asks if he knows anything else about Eclipso or Bruce Gordon, and he hesitates before saying no. He then leaves to make sure Sportsmaster & Tigress make it back to prison.

Artemis gets a call from the recruiter, who says she's disqualified due to her unprovoked attack on Courtney. She's devastated by the news, and wonders what she's going to do next. Just then Cindy appears, and invites her to join her team.

Later that night, Barb asks Dugan if he told Courtney everything about Eclipso. He admits he didn't, claiming if she and the rest of the JSA ever found out they'd never be the same. Barb agrees they should protect the kids from the awful truth.

Elsewhere, Beth tries to reboot her goggles and fails yet again. Suddenly they come to life, and Chuck asks who she is. She tells him she's his friend Beth, but he doesn't remember her or know anyone named Chuck. He says he's Dr. Charles McNider, and he's been trapped in the "Shadowlands" for years. Beth realizes she's talking to the real Dr. Mid-Nite, who's somehow still alive. 

Cut to the Shadowlands, a dark and harsh realm, as Dr. Mid-Nite wanders through the featureless landscape.

• This is one of the very few episodes of Stargirl that doesn't start with a flashback.

• Back in the season premiere, I wondered where Artemis was living now that her parents are both in the slammer. I assumed she was probably staying with relatives. 

In this episode we find out she's actually living in a foster home. Mystery solved!

• While visiting her incarcerated parents, Artemis tells them, "I can't stay in that foster home anymore. Macaroni and cheese, bunk beds, basic cable... no football Sunday pass!"

I love that in her mind, the lack of a sports cable package constitutes inhuman living condition! Apparently Sportsmaster agrees, because when he hears this shocking news he hisses, "Animals!" Ha!

• During the opening scene, we cut back and forth to Artemis visiting her parents in separate prisons. Kudos to the writers for understanding that there are no co-ed correctional facilities. There are men's and women's prisons near one another, and sometimes on the same property, but the genders are never housed in the same building.

• Beth's goggles uncover a JSA file on Eclipso, but it's locked and labeled confidential. She wonders why the JSA would restrict their own files. Good question!

Obviously something very, very bad happened between the JSA and Eclipso a decade or so ago. Something so horrible that its effects are still being felt to this day. Something so terrible that Dugan's willing to risk his relationship with Courtney and the rest of the kids by keeping it from them. 

I'm guessing Eclipso Likely caused one or more of the adult JSAers to hallucinate and murder one of their teammates. Maybe even their own child!

• In this episode Cindy's still mourning the death of her stepmother Bobbie, who died at the hands of Eclipso last week. Once again I'm surprised by this, since on numerous occasions we saw Cindy being dismissive and openly hostile toward Bobbie.

I assume this is an attempt to give Cindy some depth and show she's not a shallow supervillain. Cindy likely just thought she wanted Bobbie dead, but when it actually happened she realized she had unexpected feelings for her.

• At one point Eclipso causes Cindy to hallucinate her birth mother, an attractive woman of Asian heritage.

Last season in Shiv Part Two we saw that her father Shiro Ito (aka Dragon King) was also Asian (no surprise there, given that name!).

So is... is Cindy supposed to be Asian as well? That's definitely news to me, as she certainly doesn't look it in the least. A quick trip to IMDB confirms that actress Meg DeLacy is half-Asian on her mother's side, so there you go! 

Maybe since they previously established her father as a Japanese man, they should have cast a Caucasian woman as Cindy's mother, to explain her not-very-Asian appearance.

• At one point Cindy stares at the old ISA portrait, which suddenly morphs into her new team. It features Cameron Mahkent, Artemis Crock, Cindy herself, Mike Dugan and Isaac Bowin.

As I said last week, even if she used the Black Diamond to corrupt Mike, I'm still puzzled as to why she'd want him on her team in the first place. Especially since he has zero superpowers— useful or otherwise. Maybe she wants him as the team's comic relief?

• Artemis' horrible foster mom drops her off at school, where she trudges across the football field.

If you'll recall, back in Season 1's Stars And S.T.R.I.P.E. Part 2, the football field opened up and we saw this gigantic antenna array emerge from it. Stargirl ended up destroying it, but I wonder... is that vast chamber still underneath the field? I suppose it'd have to be, as it'd likely cost millions to remove the wreckage and fill in such a massive pit.

I get the feeling the writers are hoping we all forget this ever happened...

• Mike picks up the newspapers for his route, and sees the headline that Sportsmaster and Tigress have escaped from prison. A couple things here:

First of all, at the bottom of the page there's a story about a new bookstore opening in the former location of Ripped City.

That's the name of the gym that was owned by Sportsmaster in Season 1! Nice callback (more about Ripped City a bit later)!

Secondly, right after Mike reads about their escape, Sportsmaster & Tigress suddenly appear and capture him. Take note of their fiendishly clever and cunning disguises, which consist of... a hoodie pulled up over their heads.

Apparently they were influenced by the Marvel Cinematic Universe School Of Disguise. Because as we all know, a hoodie or a baseball cap (and an occasional pair of sunglasses) is all it takes to completely hide a fugitive's identity and prevent anyone from ever recognizing them. Ingenious!

• At one point we see Isaac Bowin eating lunch by himself in the school cafeteria. Man, just look at his posture and overall attitude. He couldn't look more like a psychopath if he tried! Like he's ready to snap and attack someone at any second.

• Mike calls Dugan and says his old friends Sportsmaster & Tigress want to see him. I pointed this out last season, but based on this shot, they're apparently still using flip phones over on Earth-2. Either that or Dugan's like my dad, and refuses to ever part with his ancient phone.

 For a guy who used to be a superhero, Dugan can be remarkably dense when it comes to personal safety. When he arrives at the Pit Stop, the garage door's only halfway up. He then has to awkwardly bend down to skooch under it— which of course leaves him completely vulnerable to lethal attack.

Good thing for him that Sportsmaster & Tigress weren't planning on killing him and just wanted to talk.

 Inside the garage, Dugan sees that the lock to his secret workshop— where he keeps STRIPE— has been busted open.

I dunno... I think if I was a superhero with a secret identity and my own giant mech suit, I might invest in some better security than a hardware store padlock.

• Supervillain Landing!

• Dugan sees Sportsmaster & Tigress have escaped and readies himself for a fight. Sportsmaster says, "Okay, bud. We didn't come back to town for revenge on you and the Scooby Gang."

Heh. Over on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the titular character and her little team often referred to themselves as "The Scooby Gang." Looks like writer Geoff Johns is a fan of Buffy!

• OK, I get that Sportsmaster & Tigress threatened to reveal Dugan's secret identity if he didn't help them, so he was forced to go along with their plan. But why in the name of sanity would he take these two hardened criminals back to his HOME??? Why not just let 'em chill at the Pit Stop till the game started?

Now instead of just his son being in danger, he's involved his wife as well! Barb even points this out when she sees the former ISA-ers in her house, as she reminds Dugan that Tigress tried to kill her last season.

Clearly the writers had Dugan bring Sportsmaster & Tigress home with him for maximum yuks, but I honestly can't think of any logical in-universe reason to do it. It just plain doesn't make any sense!

• Dugan brings the two criminals home with him, much to Barb's dismay and discomfort. A couple things here:

First of all, I loved the scene between Barb and Tigress. The two of them are from completely different backgrounds and have absolutely nothing in common, yet end up bonding over the antics of their respective daughters. That's awesome!

The writers could have easily had the two of them insult one another the whole time, but instead they gave the scene a perfect little twist and had them realize they're not so different after all. That was infinitely more interesting, as it completely and wonderfully subverted our expectations. Well done!

That said, unfortunately the "Crocks Meet The Dugans" scene didn't make a lick of sense. When Dugan first brings Sportsmaster and Tigress home with him, the writers really milk the whole fish out of water angle. The two criminals pick up various knick-knacks and seem completely baffled by them, as if they've never seen a potpourri bowl before. The episode treats them like aliens who've never been in a human home before.

Thing is, at this point they've been living in Blue Valley and posing as a normal everyday couple for over ten years now!

Heck, last season in The Justice Society we even got a glimpse of their home, which looked pretty much identical to Dugan's. So why are they acting like they've never seen a typical suburban house before?

• So suddenly this week Yolanda's working as a waitress at the local diner. I guess she must have got a job there in between episodes, when we weren't watching. I wonder if this was another of her parents' ways to make sure she "doesn't get into trouble?"

• At the diner, Courtney shows the gang an old library book which mentions the Black Diamond. She turns to a map and says it came from "Diablo Island," which is located somewhere in the Pacific. Apparently this is a pretty old map, as it features a continent called "New Holland." At first I though maybe that was an example of Earth-2 geography, but turns out it was the original name for Australia up until 1817.

• Beth finds an even older map that shows the actual location of Diablo Island. Because this is a comic book show, note that the island's shaped like a devil's head.

• Beth says an explorer named Bruce Gordon found Diablo Island, but there's no further info on him or the Black DIamond.

In the comics, Gordon was the original host of Eclipso. It's a long story, but he was a scientist who went to the jungle to observe a solar eclipse. While there he was attacked by a tribal sorcerer, who stabbed him with a mysterious black diamond and threw him off a cliff (!). Gordon somehow survived, and afterward would turn into Eclipso whenever an eclipse occurred.

He was very much a Jekyll & Hyde type character, and was featured in DC's House Of Mystery comic (more on that title in a minute!).

Here on Stargirl, Bruce Gordon showed up as a creepy little boy a few weeks ago in Chapter One. At this time it's unclear if Eclipso's possessing Young Bruce or taking his form.

• I know I keep bringing this up, but I think it's worth a repeat. Ever since Rick found out that Solomon Grundy's hiding out in the woods near his home, he's been buying tons of fast food every day and feeding the behemoth. 
It happens again this week, as Rick orders a whopping twelve cheeseburgers and fries for his Grundy. I can't help but wonder where a jobless high school student is getting the money for this vast amount of food. 

• Cindy brings Isaac to the ISA HQ, and presents him with his father's violin. She insists he learn to play it and become the new Fiddler.

So just how did the original Fiddler's powers work? Was he a metahuman with the ability to turn a violin into a weapon? Or did he use a special instrument that could produce deadly sonic blasts?

I'm guessing it's the latter. Once the original Fiddler disappeared, his wife Anaya Bowin became The Fiddler 2.0, and now that she's dead, Isaac's about to take up the mantle himself. Since it's unlikely that all three of them would have the same metahuman ability, the power clearly lies in the violin itself.

• In order to find info on Bruce Gordon and Eclipso, Courtney pays a visit to House Of Secrets— Blue Valley's newest used bookstore. A couple things here:

Earlier in the episode, we saw a front page newspaper story stating that this bookstore opened in the former location of Ripped City, the gym owned by Sportsmaster.

As Courtney enters the store, we see its front door is at the end of a distinctive recessed entrance.

Turns out that Ripped City had that exact same entrance! The set designers really did use the old Ripped City location for the new bookstore! That's amazing, and some awesome attention to detail. They could have easily used any storefront and hoped the audience wouldn't notice the difference, but they took the trouble to reuse and redress the old location. Kudos!

Also, note the reflection in the window in the image above. Apparently Ripped City was directly across the street from The American Dream building!

Secondly, the bookstore's called The House Of Secrets. If that name sounds familiar to you, that's because DC published a comic of the same name! The House Of Secrets was an anthology series, and ran in one form or another from 1956 to 1998.

The reference is no accident, since as I mentioned above, Eclipso debuted in The House Of Secrets #61 in 1963.

Note that the bookstore's logo, seen above the entrance, is identical to that of the comic! Nice touch!

Lastly, The House Of Secrets had a companion comic called The House Of Mystery. Over on Legends Of Tomorrow, John Constantine's manor is informally known as the "House Of Mystery."

Missed Opportunity: The House Of Secrets comic featured a rotund character named "Abel," who presented the various stories each month (his brother Cain starred in The House Of Mystery book).

Sadly, the owner of The House Of Mystery bookstore is just a bespectacled old man, who doesn't look anything like Abel from the comic. Darn.

• Inside the bookstore, Courtney has an encounter with The Shade. She tells him that Dugan saw him kill the original Dr. Mid-Nite. The Shade says, "It's interesting the things he chooses to tell you and those he doesn't."

He's of course is referring to the fact that Dugan's deliberately hiding the truth about Eclipso from the JSA. Although just how The Shade would know that isn't clear. Maybe he's been hiding in the shadows and eavesdropping in the Dugan home?

• Sportsmaster and Tigress may be terrible people, but damn if they're not excellent parents! I was honestly moved at how loving and supportive they are toward their daughter Artemis. More so than many non-supervillain parents I'll wager!

• All through this episode the characters mention Charles McNider, aka the original Dr. Mid-Nite. Unfortunately whenever they say "Dr. McNider," it comes out sounding like "Dr. Mid-Nighter." Courtney in particular is guilty of this.

This is needlessly confusing, and seems like something the director should have caught and corrected on set.

• In the tag scene we see that the original Dr. Mid-Nite wasn't killed ten years ago by the ISA after all. Instead he's alive and well after apparently being pulled into the Shadowlands, a dark, nightmarish void.

The Shadowlands are from the comics, where they were an extradimensional realm filled with "semi-sentient" shadows. Several DC characters got their powers by accessing the Shadowlands, including The Shade and Obsidian (twin brother of Jennie-Lynn Hayden, aka Jade— who we met in Chapter Two

Saturday, September 25, 2021

May The Cake Be With Him!

Happy Birthday to Mark Hamill, who turns 70 years old today! Yeah, that's right, SEVENTY! Jesus Christ, Luke Freakin' Skywalker is now a whopping seven decades old.

I need to go lie down in a dark room.

The Bridge Of Khazad Tooth

Spotted this establishment recently a few blocks from my house.

"We've had crowns, yes, but what about second cr0wn?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

R.I.P. Norm MacDonald

Well this thoroughly sucks. I just heard that comedian and actor Norm MacDonald has died, at the much too young age of sixty one.

This miserable goddamned world of ours. We truly are living in the darkest timeline.

This one hit hard, as I was a fan of MacDonald and have enjoyed his work for years. His dry, deadpan humor was right up my alley, and I gotta admit he influenced my writing and delivery quite a bit. He'll definitely be missed.

The Canadian-born MacDonald began his career as a standup comedian in Ottawa in the mid 1980s. He enjoyed moderate success there, but things really took off for him when he appeared on Star Search in 1990.

After that he was hired as a writer on Roseanne in 1992. He left after one season to join Saturday Night Live.

It was on SNL that MacDonald really rose to fame, as the anchor of the Weekend Update segment. He relentlessly bashed celebrities like Michael Jackson, labeling him a pedophile, as well as OJ Simpson, who he regularly referred to as a cold-blooded murderer. 

Nervous NBC executives eventually pulled MacDonald from the anchor chair, as they worried his controversial remarks would damage the show's ratings. 

Later on MacDonald starred in a series of Celebrity Jeopardy parody sketches on SNL, in which he did a passable impression of Burt Reynolds (or "Turd Ferguson," as he called himself). Oddly enough, even though the sketches took place in the present day, MacDonald played the 1970s version of Reynolds. His impression was so much fun that I don't think anyone noticed!

Reportedly MacDonald pushes for the Jeopardy sketches solely so he could do his Burt Reynolds impression!

Most recently MacDonald worked on The Orville, where he voiced Yaphit, an alien crewmember who's an amorphous green blob.

According to Orville creator Seth MacFarlane, he cast MacDonald in the part without even auditioning him. He reportedly called MacDonald and asked, "Norm, you want to be a blob?" To which MacDonald replied, "Hell yeah, I'll be a blob." And the rest is sci-fi history!

Unfortunately, due to labor-intensive animation and rendering times, Yaphit's too expensive to include in every episode, so he only appears in a few select scenes. Pity, as MacDonald gives the character quite a bit of personality and emotion. Quite a feat for a blob that doesn't even have a face!

Jesus Christ! It just occurred to me that it's been so long since The Orville last aired (nearly TWO AND A HALF YEARS) that the goddamned cast is starting to die off!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Stargirl Season 2, Episode 3: Summer School: Chapter Three

This week on Stargirl we get a damn fine episode, one that may be the best of the entire series! 

Summer School: Chapter Three has everything you could ever want in an episode and more. It's a fun little romp, is extremely humorous at times and yet also features some genuinely heartfelt and emotional scenes. What more could you ask for?

The highlight of the episode is the long-awaited appearance of the Thunderbolt, a character from the Golden Age of comics. He's realized here through some pretty decent CGI, and is ably voiced by comedian Jim Gaffigan. Based on the end of the episode, it's a sure bet we'll be seeing him again at some point this season.

Also this week, Mike finally gets his big chance to join the JSA. His hopes and dreams are ultimately dashed though, first by his father and then by the unpredictable nature of his newfound powers as well.

My favorite part of the episode were the parallels between Dugan and Mike. Both of them were marginalized due to their lack of powers, and relegated to sidekick status on their respective teams.

Dugan apparently forgot the way the JSA treated him though, as he does the exact same thing to Mike. It finally takes an extradimensional genie to make Dugan see the light, and realize he's been neglecting his own son.  It's a subtle bit of writing that I wouldn't normally expect from an Arrowverse show.

Jonathan Cake continues to be a standout as Shade, giving the character the perfect blend of genteel sophistication and deadly menace. Hopefully they'll continue to feature him all through this season.

Lastly, this week's episode was directed by Lea Thompson. Yeah, THAT Lea Thompson, star of the Back To The Future franchise and critically beloved box office hit Howard The Duck (heh). Apparnetly she's decided to try her hand at directing. This isn't her first Stargirl rodeo, as she also directed last season's Shiv Part One.

Thompson does an amazing job here, giving the episode an equal mix of humor, menace and poignancy. Kudos!


The Plot:
Eleven Years Ago:
It's Xmas Eve, and Dugan's in the Justice Society's garage working on the Rocket Racer. Johnny Thunder bursts in and says he's tired of constantly being benched by his teammates— especially when the Thunderbolt makes him more powerful than all the other members combined.

Just then Wildcat enters and says the Injustice Society has a Hulk, er, I mean has Solomon Grundy, and tells Johnny they need the Thunderbolt's help. Dugan wants to go as well, but Wildcat says that Starman wants him to stay behind. Dugan looks disappointed, and goes back to tinkering with the car.

Present Day:
Mike's on his paper route, flinging papers into birdbaths and bushes. Suddenly he's confronted by three bullies— Devin, Lutz and Marky— who shake him down for money. When he tells 'em to get lost, they give him an old fashioned ass-whoopin.'

Cut to Dugan making breakfast for his family. Courtney gloats that she was right about yet another ISA villain showing up in Blue Valley. Dugan points out that the Shade is highly dangerous, and they need a plan to deal with him. Barb suggests using STRIPE, but Dugan says a giant robot isn't exactly subtle.

Mike enters, looking disheveled and beaten. Sadly, his family doesn't even notice his condition. He overhears them talking about the Shade and asks about their plan to stop him, clearly wanting to be part of the team. Dugan tells him to leave the superheroics to Courtney and the team. Disappointed, Mike slowly trudges up to his room.

Mike's boss calls and adds a new customer to his route. Mike searches for a pen to write down the address, and spots a pink one in Courtney's room. He grabs it and writes down the address, unaware that this is same pink pen that houses the Thunderbolt.

Cut to Mike back on his paper route. Oddly enough he begins noticing the words "So Cool" everywhere he looks. He hits a rock and falls off his bike, sending newspapers scattering. He picks up one and sees the headline reads "So Cool." He says the words out loud, and suddenly a pink electric genie pops out of the pen. He introduces himself as Thunderbolt, and says he used to work with Johnny Thunder as a member of the JSA.

Thunderbolt explains that he's from Bahdnesia, wherever that is, and the word "sowkewl"— which sounds like "So Cool" in English— frees him from the pen 
and allows him to grant the speaker any wish. Intrigued, Mike says he's thirsty and wishes for a drink. He's instantly doused with water, as Thunderbolt tells him his wishes have to be specific.

Mike then wishes he was taller, and seemingly grows a foot or two. He's disappointed when he looks down and sees Thunderbolt just placed him atop a bench. Thunderbolt then lays out even more rules, saying one can't make the same wish twice, nor wish for someone to die or come back from the dead.

Elsewhere, the JSA meets at the Pit Stop. Dugan tells them the Shade is in Blue Valley, and he used to be a member of the ISA before he quit. He tells them Shade's at least a hundred years old, can manipulate and travel through shadows and is highly dangerous. He says he saw him kill Dr. Mid-Nite right in front of him. This angers Beth, who says they need to avenge "Chuck's" death.

Rick asks how they can fight someone who can disappear into shadows. Dugan says the only thing he ever saw that could stop Shade was the Cosmic Staff. Naturally this makes Courtney confident she can beat him. Yolanda asks what they'll do if they do manage to subdue Shade, and Dugan says they'll figure that out later.

Meanwhile at the American Dream building, Barb goes up to the storage room in the clocktower. There she looks through William Zarrick's stuff, curious as to why Richard Swift (aka the Shade) wanted it. Suddenly Swift comes up behind her, saying they can look through the collection together. Barb points out that he's trespassing and asks him to leave.

She fumbles out her phone but sees it's suddenly dead. Swift finds a wooden box and anxiously opens it. He's disappointed when he sees it's empty. He asks if he can have it anyway, and Barb says she can't let him take it. He tells her that's a shame, as the lights instantly go out. When they finally come back on, Swift— and the box— are gone.

Courtney and Yolanda sit in summer school class, bored out of their minds. Suddenly Yolanda winces in pain with a splitting headache (confirming my suspicions about her and Brainwave). She says she won't kill again, and Courtney assures her it won't come to that with the Shade.

Elsewhere, Mike watches the bullies harass a little girl selling Girl Scout Cookies. They steal several boxes, and Mike wishes Thunderbolt would make them stop. Suddenly several stop signs begin dropping from the sky, surrounding the bullies. Unfortunately the signs just keep on coming, and Mike tells Thunderbolt that's enough. He says he's simply following the wish, and can't stop until the bullies do. The three end up running off in different directions.

Courtney & Yolanda see Mike standing near the numerous stop signs, and he introduces Thunderbolt to them. He then says now that he has "powers," he's looking forward to becoming the newest member of the JSA.

Cut to the Pit Stop, where Dugan meets with the team. He says Thunderbolt's dangerous, as no matter how careful they are, their wishes will inevitably bite them in the ass. He orders Mike to give him back the pen. Mike's upset that Dugan thinks he can't handle it, but hands it over to him. The pen instantly vanishes from Dugan's hand and appears back in Mike's.

Dugan sends the others out so he can talk to Thunderbolt alone. Dugan points out that even with all of Thunderbolt's power, Johnny Thunder still ended up dead— a fate he doesn't want for Mike. Thunderbolt says Johnny's last wish was that he find a friend, and he can only do so with someone who feels all alone. This hits Dugan hard, as he realizes he's been neglecting his son.

The JSA tell Dugan they voted and decided Mike can become a member. Dugan says it's not up for voting, and Courtney reminds him that he didn't want her or the others to become superheroes at first either. Realizing he's outnumbered, Dugan agrees to let Mike help them find the Shade, and that's it.

The team then spends hours coming up with an ironclad, foolproof wish that can't possibly be misinterpreted by Thunderbolt, in order to locate the Shade. Mike makes the incredibly detailed wish, and a pink burst of flame ignites on a nearby map of the city. Dugan checks it out and says Shade's hiding in William Zarick's old house.

The team preps to leave, including Mike. Unfortunately Dugan reminds him of their deal, and tells him to stay behind and guard the garage.

Dugan tells Barb about their plan, saying once they capture Shade they're going to use her old tanning bed to negate his powers and hold him till the authorities arrive. Barb's skeptical, but Dugan tells her it'll be fine. Courtney assures Yolanda again that they're just going to capture Shade, not kill him.

At the garage, Mike sits and stares at the pen. Suddenly he gets up and starts writing out a new wish on the whiteboard.

Dugan and the JSA arrive at Zarick's house. Courtney uses the staff to pick the lock, and they burst in. They enter the dining room, where they see the Shade calmly waiting for them. Rather than attack, he unexpectedly invites them to sit down and enjoy some tea. Dugan asks what he's doing in Blue Valley, and Shade dismissively says it's best if they don't know.

Beth accuses Shade of killing the original Dr. Mid-Nite, and he assures her she doesn't know what she's talking about. Once again he asks them to join him, and Dugan tells the others to sit. Stargirl says she won't let Shade hurt the town the way Icicle did. Shade says Jordan was a lunatic, and the two of them were always at odds.

Just then Mike runs in and recites his wish for Thunderbolt to zap Shade. The Thunderbolt appears, but Shade conjures up a series of shadowy tentacles and grabs him, along with all the others. Shade easily knocks them all on their asses and subdues them. One of the tentacles tries to grab Stargirl's Cosmic Staff, but it begins glowing brightly. This causes the tentacles to recoil, and Shade angrily tells them to stay out of his way as he vanishes.

A bit later Mike's pouting on the Zarick home's porch. Yolanda comes out and asks if he's OK. He says he just wanted to help, but ended up blowing it. She asks if he feels bad about killing Icicle, and he says not really, as it was an accident.

That night Dugan and Barb lecture Mike. He tells them he's sorry, and wishes the pen was in better hands. Right on cue, it disappears.

Cut to the home of Mike's friend Jakeem. He's playing video games as his sister comes in and calls him a loser. He sighs and says she's right. Suddenly the pen appears on the desk in front of him.

Elsewhere, Dugan tells Barb what Thunderbolt said— that it chose Mike because he felt all alone. 
They both admit they've been neglecting Mike lately. Barb mentions that Shade took an empty wooden box from Zarick's collection, and asks Dugan if he knows anything about it. He says yes— it housed the Black Diamond, and it's bad news.

Beth's at the Pit Stop tinkering with her goggles. Rick enters and asks if she's OK, and she says she thinks her parents are getting divorced. Just then the goggles activate, and Chuck says, "You're in danger. Eclipso!" Beth asks Chuck what he means, but the goggles shut down.

Elsewhere, Shade stands atop the clock tower of The American Dream building. He opens the wooden box and stares into it as he says, "He's going to kill those children."

• Just a quick note here— some readers may find it odd that I gushed like crazy over this episode in the intro, and then wrote 50,000 words tearing it apart. Despite how it may appear, I really did like the episode quite a bit! 
In fact it may be my favorite of the entire series so far! As I like to point out, it's entirely possible to enjoy something and acknowledge its imperfections at the same time.

• As with most episodes of Stargirl, this one starts with a flashback, this time to eleven years ago (circa 2010).

• I've mentioned it before, but this show has a bizarre interesting timeline. It features characters from the Justice Society Of America, most of which made their comic book debut way back in the 1930s and 1940s. As a result of that, their costumes all look like they came straight out of that era.

But because the show's taking place in the present day, the producers had to bump the characters forward in time by seventy or eighty years. So we end up with characters who look— and in some cases even act— like they're from the 1940s, but are alive and well in the 2010s! 

I don't necessarily see this as a problem, but I gotta admit it's an oddity. You just have to accept it and move on.

• Looks like they still use old school incandescent Xmas tree lights over on Earth-2. Here on Earth Prime, we started using LED Xmas decorations in the late 1990s. 

I guess it's possible the Justice Society just hasn't bought new lights in a long time.

 • If nothing else, I continue to be impressed by Stargirl's fidelity to its source material. Golden Age hero Johnny Thunder makes a brief appearance in this episode, complete with his trademark bright green suit and nerdy bowtie. He looks like he stepped right off the comic page!

In the comics, Johnny Thunder was the seventh son of a seventh son, born at 7am on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. Due to this special birthdate, he was kidnapped by natives of Badhnesia and taken to their island nation. There they gave him the Thunderbolt, and intended to rule the world through him.

Those plans changed when Badhnesia was invaded by a neighboring country and Johnny escaped back to America. There he lived a normal life until the day he casually said the words "Say You" and summoned the Thunderbolt. After learning to control it (sort of), he eventually became a member of the JSA.

• It was great to see the original Wildcat again, if only for a few seconds.

• We get a brief glimpse of Mike's room this week, and see that he's apparently a fan of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots (just under the window)! Cool!

• After Mike finds the pink Thunderbolt pen, he returns to his paper route. Suddenly he begins noticing the words "So Cool" everywhere he looks. Eventually he says the words out loud, which releases the Thunderbolt from the pen.

This is a major change from the original comics. See, back in the 1940s, Johnny Thunder controlled Thunderbolt by uttering the words "Cei-U," which sounded like "Say You." As in, "Say you, what's the big idea?" This made perfect sense eighty years ago, when people actually talked like that.

Nowadays, not so much. When Jakeem replaced Johnny Thunder in the comics, the magic words were changed to a more modern "sowkewl"— pronounced as "So Cool." It appears the show's following this change as well.

Not complaining, mind you, as the change was logical in context. After all, no modern kid's gonna go around hollering, "Say you!"

• Mike asks the Thunderbolt about the magic words that summon him:

Thunderbolt: "It's pronounced sowkewl in my native homeland of Bahdnesia."
Mike: "Bahd-what?"
Thunderbolt: "It's not on the map anymore. Thanks for bringing it up. Sowkewl means 'Set Free The All-Powerful Force Upon The Earth Of The Magical And Awe-Inspiring Thunderbolt!' It's also a synonym for the sound on the chalkboard that drives everyone crazy, but I like that sound."

Looks like the writers did their homework! As I mentioned earlier, in the comics the Thunderbolt was indeed from the fictional island of Bahdnesia. 

There Thunderbolt was a djinn named Yz from the 5th Dimension— a realm with electrical based lifeforms. He has the power to do almost anything, as long as his master makes an exactly-worded wish. It's unclear how he ended up on Earth-2.

• As with Jonny Thunder, the producers did an amazing job of translating the Thunderbolt into live action. The character's instantly recognizable, and looks exactly like he did in the comics. Well done!

If I had one complaint about his live action design (and you knew I would), it'd be with the three jagged bolts of energy jutting from the top of his head. I always assumed it was supposed to look like he had lightning sparking from his noggin.

Apparently the FX team didn't understand that, as they decided to go another way. Instead of cracking energy bolts, it now looks like he has three floppy rabbit ears on top of his head. They even squash & stretch as he moves around, like they're made out of something soft & rubbery! What the hell, guys?

• When I first heard the Thunderbolt speak, I thought he sounded like Patton Oswalt. Eventually I figured out he was voiced by comedian Jim Gaffigan. He did an amazing job, too!

• When Mike finds out he now controls a genie who'll grant him any wish, he immediately asks it to make him taller. This is ironic, as actor Trae Romano has shot up like a weed in the past year, and is visibly taller than he was in Season 1. Puberty ahoy!

• Mike's excitement is dimmed somewhat when he finds out the Thunderbolt's powers are governed by all sorts of rules, and that he interprets wishes literally— to often disastrous effect.

This is how it worked in the comics as well. I get it— the whole literal thing is for maximum comedic yuks. But it makes Thunderbolt seem like... well, an asshole. When someone says, "I wish for a million bucks," he clearly understands they mean money, and don't want to be buried under a huge pile of male deer. As written it seems like he's deliberately looking for loopholes in order to be a dick.

• In the comics, Thunderbolt always came out of his magic pen to grant wishes. Here on the show there are several scenes in which he uses his magic while still INSIDE the pen. I will bet anything that was done to save money on costly CGI. By staying safe & sound in the pen, the FX team only had to add a couple pink sparks, instead of a fully animated humanoid.

To be fair, in the early comics the Thunderbolt would often exit his pen but become invisible, to prevent Johnny Thunder from seeing him.

• Last week when Rick was leaving food in the woods for Grundy, I asked if he was trying to make a pet of the behemoth. This week Dugan scolds Rick for being late to their JSA briefing, and asks what kept him. Rick says he was "feeding his dog." Looks like I called it!

As I mentioned before, there's a precedent for this in the comics, as Infinity, Inc. (which Stargirl borrows heavily from) actually included a "Grundy Becomes An Honorary Member Of The Team" storyline.

• I'm glad the writers are including Barb more this season. It's far more interesting to see her become an active member of the team rather than the worried yet understanding wife and mother.

Last week Richard Swift met with Barb at The American Dream and expressed interest in buying the William Zarick Collection. In this episode we see her rooting around in the building's attic, curious as to why swift was so interested in Zarick's stuff. A couple things here:

First of all, as Barb searches the collection we see numerous magical stage props, including giant oversized playing cards that are three feet tall. This makes perfect sense, as when Zarick wasn't busy trying to take over the world as The Wizard, he was a talented stage magician as well.

We also see one of his campaign posters in the collection. If you'll recall, last season he ran for City Councilman
— right before he was brutally murdered by Jordan Mahkent, aka Icicle.

Secondly, I wondered how and more importantly why the Zarick Collection ended up at The American Dream. They're ostensibly an urban renewal organization, not an auction house or legal trust.

As I thought about it though it actually made sense. The American Dream was Jordan's foundation after all. Once he killed Zarick, he likely boxed up all his magic paraphernalia (both stage and real!) and stashed it in The American Dream's storage space. This had the added advantage of preventing the authorities from getting their hands on it, so they didn't discover Zarick's secret identity or start messing with dangerous magical artifacts.

Also, later in the episode Beth mentions the Zarick house was made an historic home by the city, so that could also explain how The American Dream got ahold of the collection.

• Back in Summer School: Chapter One I predicted that Yolanda would end up "possessed" by Brainwave, as he likely projected his consciousness into her mind as he died (just like Spock did to McCoy in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan).

Welp, it's looking more and more like that's what's happening. This week Yolanda's sitting in class when she practically passes out due to a splitting headache. I'm betting Brainwave's ratting around somewhere in her head, and she'll be completely taken over by him in the season finale.

• At one point Mike makes an errant wish and causes the Thunderbolt to surround a trio of bullies with dozens of stop signs that fall from the sky.

So... just how does Thunderbolt's magic work? Do the objects he conjures vanish after a time, or are they permanent? Let's hope they eventually disappear, otherwise Blue Valley's gonna have a plague of randomly-placed traffic signs!

Also in this scene, Thunderbolt continues to be a dick as he drops a stop sign through the windshield of a random, innocent person's car— long after the bullies had cleared the area! 

• Courtney suggests using Thunderbolt to locate the Shade. Dugan reluctantly agrees, but says they'll need to come up with a "bulletproof" wish. 

We then get a fun montage of the JSA carefully brainstorming a ridiculously specific ironclad wish that the Thunderbolt can't possibly twist or misinterpret.

Mike recites the incredibly lengthy wish, which ends with, "So In conclusion, show us the location of 'The Shade,' not to be confused with a lamp or window shade, but the last known member of the Injustice Society of America, hiding somewhere in Blue Valley, Nebraska, 68060, USA."

I was excited when I heard that zip, as I thought it'd give us a good idea just where Blue Valley's located inside Nebraska. I looked it up, and unfortunately there's no such zip code anywhere in Nebraska or even in America. Whoops!

Technically this might not be a mistake though, as Stargirl takes place on Earth-2, so maybe there they have a 68060 zip in Nebraska!

• The writers reeeally need to resolve Beth's "Broken Goggles" storyline, and fast. She's always been the weakest member of the team, even with the Chuck AI. Without him, she's even worse— a normal, non-superpowered teenaged girl wearing a bulky costume. 

No offense to the character, as I like Beth quite a bit— but at this point she's a liability to the team. Any run-of-the-mill villain could easily capture her, hold her for ransom or even kill her, and there's little or nothing she could do to stop them.

• As I mentioned last week, it appears the show's going with the modern version of the Shade. The one who's morally ambiguous, yet cultured and refined.

Oddly enough it seems he's only in Blue Valley to find the Black Diamond, and has absolutely zero interest in opposing or defeating the JSA. In fact when he's forced to fight them, he uses his powers in a purely defensive manner, as he clearly doesn't want to kill a bunch of teens. This makes for a MUCH more nuanced and interesting character, and I'm enjoying his scenes quite a bit.

• There's a fun little exchange at the Zarick house between Dugan and Swift, that's also a callback to their previous meeting. Last week Dugan "subtly" checked out Swift in the diner:

Dugan: "Actually noticed a, uh, '65 Jaguar out on the curb. It's a real beauty."
Swift: (condescendingly) "It's a '67."
Dugan: "'67, huh?"

The implication here is that Dugan knew the Shade had a 1967 Jag, and was testing Swift to make sure it was really him.

When they meet again this week, Dugan says:

Dugan: "By the way, I knew that was a 1967 Jag, right? You know that?
Swift: "Well of course I do, Stripesy."

Ha! Dugan couldn't stand the idea of anyone— even a supervillain— thinking he didn't know his cars. Put away your male ego, Dugan! This is no time for a pissing contest between you and Shade!

• At one point Mike rushes in and wishes for Thunderbolt to capture Shade. Surprisingly Shade's able to easily overpower the genie. The JSA then attacks Shade as we get a brief but cool setpiece battle.

Note that Shade uses his shadowy powers to form grabby little hands that try and yank Stargirl's staff away from her. Fortunately they're apparently susceptible to light, and can't get a good grip on the luminous staff. It's a pretty cool effect. Kudos to the FX Team!

• Still reeling with guilt after killing Brainwave, Yolanda sees a potential kindred spirit in Mike— who murdered Icicle in the Season 1 finale. She asks him how he deals with the constant feelings of remorse, hoping to find an answer that'll help. Unfortunately for her, Mike says Icicle's death was just an accident, and he doesn't have any feelings of regret over it. D'oh! 

Maybe Yolanda should stop asking fourteen year olds for psychiatric advice and go see an actual therapist!

• At the end of Chapter One, we saw Cindy staring at photos of potential recruits for her new ISA. Among them was a snapshot of Mike. I then made the following prediction:

At some point Mike's gonna find the pen, become the Thunderbolt's new master and demand to become a member of the new JSA. But something will happen to give control of Thunderbolt to his friend Jakeem, which would align with the comics.

I'm betting this will send Mike into a spiral of anger and resentment, and make him vulnerable to Cindy's recruitment drive— especially if she's got the Eclipso diamond to help manipulate his emotions. Again, stay tuned to see if I'm right.

Wow! I got the first part of that prediction exactly right! Mike did indeed find and control the Thunderbolt for a little while, before it was handed over to Jakeem.

As for the second half of my prediction, eh, I dunno. Mike was most definitely disappointed when he lost the Thunderbolt and his place on the team. But he didn't seem upset enough about it to turn evil and join a supervillain group bent on his former teammates' destruction.

Plus as I said in Chapter One, there's no way Cindy could possibly know about Mike's feelings of abandonment and his failed attempt to join the JSA, so she'd have no reason to believe he'd want to join her merry band. I think she's simply gonna use the Black Diamond to cloud his judgement and recruit him.

Lastly, why does Cindy want Mike at all? He doesn't have ANY powers whatsoever that she could exploit. Does she want him as the team's plucky comic relief?

I have to assume she's most likely trying to enlist him in order to get back at Courtney.

• After almost getting the JSA killed, Mike wishes he'd never found the pen, which inadvertently gifts it to his friend Jakeem.

He's only onscreen for a minute or so, but the Jakeem seen here is quite different from the comic version. TV Jakeem is a timid, self-described loser, while his comic counterpart was confident and wisecracking.

In the comics, Jakeem was from Keystone City (home of the Golden Age Flash) and lived with his mother. After she died be was taken in by an aunt, and became a tough, foul-mouthed street kid. 

When the now elderly Johnny Thunder developed Alzheimer's (comics are fun, kids!), he absentmindedly stored Thunderbolt inside an ink pen. The pen was eventually passed to Jakeem, who learned to control the genie inside it. He ended up working with the JSA, and even cured Johnny's condition.

• Jakeem's snarky sister seems like a pleasant person, as she taunts him for having no friends and straight up calls him a loser.

Her name's never mentioned in this episode, but a quick trip to IMDB reveals she's Jenny Williams.

Believe it or not Jenny's actually been on the show before. She showed up in Pilot, where she was Cindy Burman's bestie. At the time it seemed like she was going to be a major character, but she pretty much vanished after that, appearing in just a handful of episodes.

• At the end of the episode, Beth opens up to Rick and tells him she found her parents' divorce papers. He gently consoles her and says she should talk to them about the situation.

Based on their interaction here, it looks like they're setting up a romance between Rick & Beth.

• Thanks to Beth's semi-functioning goggles, we now know that Rick's 5' 10", weighs 186 pounds and has a heart rate of 82 beats per minute! Oh, and the goggles somehow know Dugan's propane tank is 23% full.
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