Saturday, October 30, 2021

Stargirl Season 2, Episode 7: Summer School: Chapter Seven

This week on Stargirl we get a Yolanda-centric episode— one that short on action, and lonnnng on the psychobabble.

As I feared, the show's move from the amply-budgeted DC Universe to the perennially cash-strapped The CW is finally starting to show. The series still looks great, the acting's still top notch and the writing is still superb, but it's becoming more and more evident that the production's operating under a smaller budget. 

The fight scenes are now few and far between, and when they do occur they seem truncated and way too short. It's also clear they've also scaled back on the FX as well. Gone are the epic, movie-quality effects of Season 1, as this episode gives us a few brief purple eye flashes and... well, that's about it! I fear we may never see STRIPE in action again!

That's not to say this was a bad episode— far from it in fact. Summer School: Chapter Seven confirmed a suspicion I've had about Yolanda's mysterious and debilitating headaches, as we learn that in the Season 1 finale (SPOILERS!), Brainwave pulled a Wrath Of Khan and placed his mind into Yolanda's head right before he died. I actually predicted that's what happened in the season premiere, so I was somewhat happy to see I was right.

This episode also examined a topic that's generally glossed over in all these The CW shows. For years now I've been saying that murder doesn't seem to be a crime in the Arrowverse— as long as the perpetrator feels bad about it afterward. 

That's certainly always been the case over on The Flash, where the characters are notorious for killing villains without facing any kind of legal ramifications afterward, or suffering any kind of psychological fallout. 

So it was refreshing to finally see a character face some actual consequences for their actions. Granted, Yolanda isn't sent to prison this week for the murder of Brainwave— such real-world punishment for her crime is never gonna happen on a show like this. But she does feel overwhelming guilt and remorse over what she did, the point where she labels herself the JSA's resident killer. Baby steps, I guess. Frankly, I was astonished to see they tackled the subject at all, even in a superficial manner. So well done, producers!


The Plot:
Yolanda goes to confession, where she asks Father Thomas if the Devil is real. She then clutches her head in pain again, as she sees flashes of Brainwave in her mind. She tells Father Thomas the Devil is alive and well and in Blue Valley as she runs from the church.

Meanwhile, Courtney and Dugan are in the basement, staring at the wounded Cosmic Staff. Courtney says it went dark after attacking Eclipso last week, but is slowly getting better. She tells Dugan that Eclipso killed Isaac & Cindy, and maybe even The Shade. She asks why Eclipso's in Blue Valley, and Dugan says he doesn't know, but it can't be for anything good.

Elsewhere, the townspeople are decorating Main Street for the big Fourth Of July parade. At The American Dream, Barb meets with the staff and asks them to help save a sewing machine factory in nearby Oakdale. Her coworker Janet says the foundation barely has enough money to deal with their own town, much less others. Barb says Jordan Mahkent, The American Dream's founder, wouldn't have given up so easily and suggests liquidating their back stock to raise the money. The rest of the staff votes in favor of her idea.

As the others file out of the boardroom, Barb hears a voice croak, "Emily." She turns around, but of course doesn't see anyone. She then notices a shadow on the ceiling that concentrates into a drop of goo, which falls to the floor. She stupidly abandons all reason and touches it.

Meanwhile, Yolanda's working her shift at the diner. Her coworker Maria points out that "Grumpy Joe" is in Yolanda's section, and says she'll take care of him. As Maria starts to pour coffee for Joe, her eyes glow purple. She then pours the scalding hot liquid on Joe's shoulder. He makes way too big a deal over it, and the owner of the diner sends Maria home.

Yolanda then sees Young Bruce Gordon standing nearby, staring intently at the commotion. Thinking the coffee incident upset the child, Yolanda gives him a lollipop. She turns away for a second and when she looks back, Bruce is of course gone.

Courtney walks down Main Street and notices it feels more like Fall than July. Cameron comes up behind her, and she's so startled she instinctively slams him against a wall. She apologizes, and he asks her to help set up July 4th decorations. Just then she gets a phone call, but ignores it and says she'd love to spend time with Cameron.

Yolanda leaves the diner and has another headache attack. She starts to text Courtney, but sees her having fun with Cameron and changes her mind. She runs back to church, where she's shocked to find her horrible mother talking with Father Thomas. Mrs. Montez berates her for dragging Thomas into her problems. Fortunately he tells tells her that Yolanda needs help, not judgement. Just then Yolanda sees what appears to be Brainwave exit the church and she runs after him. Of course he disappears again once she's outside.

Later on at summer school, Courtney sits & scrolls through pics of her and Cameron. Yolanda sees her late boyfriend Henry King Jr. walk by the door. She follows him, as her headaches return. She runs into the cafeteria, where she sees a bloodied Henry staggering toward her. He says he's in a "bad place" because she never forgave him.

Yolanda tells him she's sorry, and Henry transforms into Brainwave— complete with the slashed throat she gave him in the Season 1 finale. He says HE'LL never forgive her, and Yolanda suddenly wakes up back in class. She realizes she was hallucinating and runs out.

Courtney follows her and asks what's wrong. Yolanda tells her, and Courtney says it must be Eclipso messing with her. Yolanda says she's been hallucinating long before Eclipso, and this is her punishment for killing Brainwave. For some reason Courtney suggests telling the entire team about it, saying they'll understand. Yolanda isn't sure, but Courtney insists.

Back at the Pit Stop, Dugan and Mike begin repairing & rebuilding STRIPE, who was destroyed last week by Sportsmaster 2.0 and Fiddler 3.0. Dugan leaves the room for a minute, and Mike sees a cloth bundle on a nearby table. He unwraps it and sees the broken shards of the Black Diamond inside. He picks up a piece and examines it, then sets it back down. The shard then crawls over to the others— as if it's trying to re-form itself.

Suddenly Mike notices his body's covered in leeches (?). He freaks out and starts brushing them off. Just then Dugan returns and asks what's wrong. Mike looks down and sees the leeches are gone, and realizes he was hallucinating. Dugan tells him to leave the Diamond alone. He says it was Eclipso's only weakness in the past, and hopes it still is.

The JSA members meet at Courtney's house, where Yolanda tells the others what happened. She says she slashed Brainwave's throat after he used his powers to disguise himself as Henry. She then stood and watched him die.

Rick says he'd have killed Brainwave himself if he'd had the chance, and Yolanda asks if that's why he didn't kill Grundy. Rick murmurs that his hour of strength was up, which allowed the monster to get away. Yolanda disagrees, saying Rick's clearly a better person than she is. Rick says she did what she had to do.

Beth isn't sure about that, as she's clearly horrified by the fact that Yolanda killed. Yolanda says it's obvious they're gonna have to kill Eclipso, and she's the only one who'll be able to do it. She says she'll be the team's designated killer, and storms out (she does a lot of running out of rooms in this episode).

Yolanda returns to the confessional booth, where Father Thomas once again asks if she's OK. She tells him no, and says she's a murderer. She looks through the screen and is shocked to see Brainwave's face. He tells her He and Henry both died because of her.

Yolanda bursts from the booth, and Brainwave telekinetically pins her to the floor. He says as he felt himself dying, he telepathically placed his mind into Yolanda's head. He said soon he'll take her over completely and live on through her. Yolanda screams.

Just then Stargirl arrives and tells Brainwave to leave Yolanda alone. He then psychically attacks Stargirl. Yolanda looks down and sees she's now in her Wildcat costume. She slashes Brainwave's throat again, causing him to turn into Henry. He tells Yolanda she'll burn with him.

Suddenly Yolanda snaps out of it, and sees she's holding Stargirl's staff. Yolanda asks Courtney why she chose her to be part of the JSA, as she just wanted to be left alone. She says she's quitting the team and walks out.

Later that night, Courtney sits in her room and gazes at photos of her and Yolanda. She tries calling her, but Mrs. Montez answers and says Yolanda doesn't want to take with her ever again.

At the diner, Maria gets a call from Mrs. Montez, informing her that Yolanda's quitting.

Courtney tells Barb and Dugan what happened, and says she wishes she knew how to help Yolanda.

At the vacant Zarick home, The Shade lies on a bed and recuperates after his battle with Eclipso. Bruce Gordon stands outside the home and giggles.

• Another episode that doesn't start with a flashback.

• As she has since the season premiere, Yolanda sits in the confessional booth of her church— hoping to overcome her feelings of guilt after killing Brainwave.

I'm not a Catholic, so my knowledge in this area is sketchy at best. I always assumed the point of the confessional booth was so one could confess their sins anonymously. Are there really little windows in the booths? If so, doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? Why even bother with a privacy booth if both parties can easily see one another?

• According to a helpful onscreen caption, this episode takes place on July 3. At one point we're treated to a swooping drone shot of Blue Valley's Main Street. Hmmm... Take a good look at the trees on either side of the street. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and bet that this episode was not filmed in the middle of the summer.

Later in the episode they actually lampshade the situation by having Beth mention the lack of leaves on the trees, and claim it must be Eclipso's doing. Nice try, producers!

• Looks like Isaac Bowin's still missing. I assume whoever he was living with after his mother was killed must have posted this sign. Based on what happened to him last week, I don't think they're gonna find him anytime soon.

• At The American Dream, the board meets to discuss Barb's plan to bail out a small sewing machine factory in nearby Oakville. Several things here:

An executive named Janet vehemently opposes Barb's idea, stating, "We are going to go broke acting like a charity!" Wait, what? Isn't that what The American Dream is? It's a private foundation formed to provide funds to improve and renew the town of Blue Valley.

Don't believe me? The textbook definition of a private foundation is "an independent legal entity set up for solely charitable purposes. Unlike a public charity, which relies on public fundraising to support its activities, the funding for a private foundation typically comes from a single individual, a family, or a corporation, which receives a tax deduction for donations."

I dunno, Janet... unless I'm way off base here, The American Dream sure sounds like a charity to me!

Secondly, Barb defends her idea by saying, "Jordan Mahkent wouldn't have given up on Oakville." The other board members agree and vote in favor of her plan.

Um... does it seem weird that Barb invokes Jordan Mahkent in order to push her agenda? You know, Jordan Mahkent, the deadly supervillain who aggressively pursued her despite the fact she was married, and then straight up tried to kill her when she spurned his unwanted advances? THAT Jordan Mahkent. It seems like she'd be reluctant to associate herself with his legacy.

Clearly this charity business is a setup for a future storyline— possibly one in which Barb's ideas end up causing the foundation to close up shop. Stay tuned!

• My respect for Barb took a big hit right after the boardroom scene. After everyone clears the room, she hears a disembodied voice call out for "Emily." She then looks up and sees a black shadow form on the ceiling. It contracts into a single drop of black goo, which falls to the floor. Incredibly, she walks over and sticks her finger right in this mystery substance! Jesus Christ! I was honestly surprised she didn't taste it!

OK, it's patently obvious that this black shadow— and the residual goo— is The Shade attempting to reconstitute himself after being attacked by Eclipso last week. But there's no reason for Barb to know that, so why the hell would she stick her finger in this supernatural substance?

• It's looking like they're doing the "Immortal Male Character Meets A Contemporary Woman Who Looks Exactly Like His Old Flame From The Past" plotline with Barb & The Shade. You see this same storyline a lot in Mummy and Dracula movies.

• At the Pit Stop, Dugan and Mike inspect the wreckage of STRIPE, who was disassembled in order to save The CW a ton of money on costly CGI effects, er, I mean dismantled by the ISA a few episodes back. 

At one point Dugan looks at one of STRIPE's disconnected hands, which is posed in the "devil horns" gesture. He asks Mike, "Did you do that or did they?"

I can't prove it, but I'm betting Luke Wilson adlibbed that line.

• Yolanda gets off work at the diner and walks to her church, which, like pretty much everything in Blue Valley, is just a few blocks away from the ever-present The American Dream building. You can see it there in the extreme background at the right.

Oddly enough, the part of St. George Catholic Church is played by the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Georgia!

Sigh... once again, Yolanda's parents prove they're the biggest supervillains on the entire show. This week her horrible, horrible mother shows up at the church and hisses, "How can you drag Father Thomas into your little problems like this?" Um, probably because she ain't getting the support she needs at home, bitch!

To his slight credit, Father Thomas shuts Mrs. Montez's shit right down, telling her that Yolanda needs her love and has had more than enough judgement from her. Good for him! Too bad his priestly oath probably prevented him from delivering a well-deserved punch in the mouth to Yolanda's mom.

• Back at summer school, Yolanda begins hallucinating both Henry Jr. and Brainwave. 

I was surprised they actually went to the trouble to bring back both Jake Austin Walker as Henry and Christopher James Baker as Brainwave. Surprised, but glad.

• Courtney talks Yolanda into telling Rick & Beth that she murdered Brainwave. Rick takes the news fairly well, saying he'd have done the same thing if he had the chance. Yolanda doubts his bravado, pointing out that he could have killed Solomon Grundy in last year's season finale, but couldn't go through with it.

Wait a minute... how does Yolanda know about that? There was no one else around when Rick beat Grundy into submission and then allowed him to escape. There's no way Yolanda or any of the others could have possibly seen what he did unless he told them— which seems unlikely.

• Ah, now it all makes sense now! St. George's confessionals were designed with a see-through screen in them just so we could get this shocking reveal of Brainwave in the next booth!

• Yolanda first began experiencing her crippling headaches way back in Summer School: Chapter One. At the time I made the following prediction:

So what's happening here? Is she simply suffering from PSTD after killing Brainwave? Or is there something more sinister going on here? Brainwave was a powerful telepath with numerous psychic abilities. What if he used his powers to implant his consciousness into Yolanda's head right before he perished? Maybe these visions are Brainwave's mind beginning to assert itself.

I'm betting we're gonna get a Dark Yolanda storyline, in which she's taken over completely by the remnants of Brainwave.

Woohoo! I totally called it! OK, so I was way off on the "Dark Yolanda" storyline, but I got the main prediction exactly right, as Brainwave did indeed pull a Wrath Of Khan and stick his mind into Yolanda's brain right before he died.

That said, I gotta admit I'm a little... underwhelmed by that explanation. I guess I was anticipating something a bit more clever and original— especially from this top notch writing staff. Instead they took the most obvious route possible. I can't believe I'm saying this, but for once I'm disappointed that I was right.

On the other hand... Was I really right?

Did Brainwave really set up shop inside Yolanda's head? Or is Eclipso making her hallucinate that he did? Making her see her dead boyfriend and the man she murdered definitely seems like Eclipso's M.O. After all, for the past few episodes he's been torturing the cast by making them see their worst fears.

But I'm not so sure it's him this time. As I said above, Yolanda's headaches began in the season premiere— long before Eclipso was freed and began affecting Blue Valley. Yolanda herself even says so in this episode. Which is why I'm inclined to believe Yolanda really is possessed by Brainwave's, er, brain.

It does seem mighty odd though that they'd feature TWO villains with similar psychic powers in the same season.

• Brainwave tells Yolanda that he'll soon take over her "weak" mind and live again in her body. OK, that would definitely be preferable to permanent death, but... does he really want to walk around in a teen girl's body? It's gonna make it tough for anyone to take him seriously when he starts spouting his world domination plans.

• Brainwave taunts Yolanda, causing her to hallucinate herself slashing his throat and killing him— for a SECOND time! A couple things here:

So if Brainwave really did put his mind into Yolanda's, did symbolically murdering him again "cure" her? Is he still in there, or did she chase him out? That seems to be what the writers want us to think, but at this point it's literally impossible to tell. We'll have to wait and see if her headaches persist.

Secondly, I wonder if they filmed this scene on a studio set, or if they really shot it inside the Baptist Church in Dallas? If it was the latter, can you imagine the producers having to explain to the church officials what they were gonna do there? "Hello, yes, we'd like to rent out your house of worship so we can film an underage girl in a catsuit murdering a telepathic villain."

• Yolanda says she's never putting on her Wildcat costume again and tells Courtney to leave her alone. Later we see Courtney trying to call her and talk. We get a closeup of her phone, revealing she somehow called Yolanda at least six times in one minute! Jesus Christ, Courtney? I know you're just concerned about your friend, but... stalk much?

• This is some heavy duty nitpicking, but whatever. At the end of the episode, Mrs. Montez calls the diner and tells them that Yolanda's quitting her job there. Maria says they'll miss her, and tells her that Yolanda's job will be waiting for her if she changes her mind.

Wait a minute... earlier in the episode, Eclipso caused Maria to deliberately injure a customer, and the owner of the diner sent her home for the day. Meaning Maria's just an employee. So how does she have the authority to give Yolanda an open invitation to come back?

Told you it was heavy duty!

Also, when Mrs. Montez says Yolanda's quitting, Maria says, "I don't understand. She was doing so well here." Was she though? In literally every scene set in the diner, Yolanda screwed up someone's order in some way, forcing Maria to hastily cover for her.

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