Saturday, October 9, 2021

Stargirl Season 2, Episode Five: Summer School: Chapter Five

This week on Stargirl we get yet another awesome episode, as the JSA finally meets Eclipso. Well, sort of.

Seems a bit odd to me that we're nearly halfway through the season, and we've still not seen this year's Big Bad yet. I get that the writers are laying the groundwork and attempting to ramp up the audience's anticipation for Eclipso, but it feels like it's high time he put in an appearance.

He kind of shows up this week, in the form of a possessed Mr. Deisginger, and as a blob of concentrated evil or paint or... something. It's not a very satisfying debut, and I sincerely hope this isn't what he's going to look like for the rest of the season. Stargirl's always done an amazing job of translating DC characters into live action, so... bring us Comic Book Eclipso!

On most Arrowverse shows, the writers come up with two or three story arcs and stretch them out over the course of the entire season— with predictably dull and disastrous results. 

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Stargirl may have too many plotlines going on right now! We've got the whole Eclipso arc, the appearance of The Shade, Dugan hiding an unpleasant truth about the original JSA from Courtney, Yolanda's crisis of conscience, Yolanda's mysterious headaches, Rick's relationship with Grundy, Beth's attempt to restore Chuck, Beth's connection with Dr. McNider, Beth's parents getting divorced, Courtney and Cameron's relationship, Artemis Crock dealing with her incarcerated parents, Cindy Burman using Eclipso to manipulate others, Cindy forming a new ISA, Mike feeling neglected and left out, Jennie becoming the new Green Lantern or Jade or whatever they're doing with her, Jennie's search for her brother Todd, the mystery of young Bruce Gordon and finally, the inevitable return of Sylvester Pemberton, the original Starman. 

Whew! That's a LOT of plotlines! And those are just off the top of my head! There are probably a few I'm forgetting.

Kudos to the writers for this embarrassment of riches I guess, but... I worry that they're gonna use up all their storylines this season and be left with nothing for future ones.


The Plot:
Farmersville, California, Ten Years Ago:
A young girl wakes from a horrible nightmare. Her mother rushes in to comfort her, and the girl says she dreamed her father returned and wanted to change her. The mother assures the girl that her father's far away and will never find them. After her mother tucks her in and leaves, we realize the girl is a young Cindy Burman. 
Suddenly Eclipso emerges from the shadows, and Cindy screams again.

Present Day:
Cindy stares at Cameron Mahkent as he's painting a mural on the side of a building. She smiles, intending to seduce him into joining her new Injustice Society. Suddenly Cam's grandma Lily appears behind her. Lily tells her to stay away from her grandson, but Cindy says she can talk to whoever she wants.

Lily hisses that Dragon King was a monster and so is Cindy. Cindy says Jordan Mahkent was an even bigger monster, which prompts Lily to slowly exhale a visible breath of super-chilled air. Cindy gets the message and walks off.

That night Stargirl returns from patrol. She flies into her room, where Dugan's waiting for her. He points out it's past curfew, and Courtney says she was looking for The Shade. When he asks why, she mentions their run-in at the bookstore last week. She says The Shade was more honest with her than he was, and she wants to team up with the villain to find Eclipso.

Dugan says that's a terrible idea, and claims he knows where Eclipso is. He says the demon's evil doesn't just affect people, but the weather as well, and the recent dark clouds looming over Blue Valley imply he's somewhere in town. Courtney wonders if Dugan's hiding any other info, and he lies and says no.

The next day at school, Cameron runs into his art teacher Paul Deisinger and drops his sketchbook. Paul picks it up and notices it contains numerous drawings of Courtney. He tells him it looks like he's found his muse, and urges Cameron to show her the drawings.

Cameron goes to the art studio, where he's surprised to see Cindy waiting for him. She compliments his work and tells him she was sorry to hear about his father. Fortunately he doesn't buy her line of crap and says she's never been sorry about anything. She extends one of shivs behind her back, apparently intent on killing him (!). Thankfully she's interrupted when Paul walks in. Cindy brushes against Paul as she leaves, and somehow he becomes possessed by Eclipso.

Elsewhere, Barb enters her office at The American Dream and is startled to see Richard Swift (aka The Shade) waiting for her. He tells her she reminds him of someone he knew long ago, and she points out that she's a married woman. He urges her to stop Courtney from interfering in his affairs, and to forget all about finding the Black Diamond. He says the new JSA isn't ready to face the horrors within it. When Barb asks why he cares, he says to contact him if Courtney learns of the Diamond's location.

Rick takes more food to Solomon Grundy, and remembers the night his parents were killed by the behemoth. He drives into town and sees Cameron working on the mural, which features the giant face of Jordan Mahkent. Cameron asks if he wants something, and Rick sneers and drives off.

At the Pit Stop, Beth tries to tell Dugan she thinks Dr. Charles McNider (the original Dr. Mid-Nite) is still alive. Dugan's skeptical, but Rick sticks up for her and says what if she's right? Dugan says if McNider's still alive they'll do everything they can to save him, but first they need to find the Black Diamond.

Meanwhile, Courtney & Yolanda sit in Paul's history class. He begins coughing uncontrollably, and eventually ends class early. He rushes into the art studio, where he begins violently vomiting up various colors of paint. His eyes glow purple with Eclipso's influence.

Dugan and Barb arrive at Zeek's junkyard, where he's informed them that Mike's trying to buy an old car from him. They ask Mike what he thinks he's doing, and he says he wants to be part of the JSA, and wanted to get a cool getaway car.

Dugan tells Mike he understands his frustration, as he knows what it's like to sit on the JSA's sidelines. In an attempt to include Mike, Dugan suggests the two of them work on a small JSA project together.

Courtney walks home and sees Cameron working on the mural. She goes over to talk with him and admires his work. She's a little weirded out when she realizes the mural features Jordan though. He tells her he has something to show her, and hands her the sketchbook. She smiles when she sees the drawings of herself.

Back at the school, Paul stares at a blank canvas on the wall. Eclipso's voice asks him what he sees, as his eyes become multicolored. He says he sees "everything," and Eclipso tells him to share his vision with the world. Paul starts mixing paint and savagely smears it on the canvas.

Cameron takes Courtney to his home and shows her the elaborate garden his late mother loved so much. He leans in to kiss her, but just then she gets a text from Beth about JSA business. She reluctantly tells him she has to go. Quite rightly, Cameron asks what the hell, pointing out that Courtney's always running out on him. She promises this'll be the last time and dashes out. Lily watches disapprovingly from a window as she goes.

Courtney meets with the JSA at the school and asks what was so important. Beth says she's pinpointed the epicenter of the bad weather to the school. Courtney spots Paul's care, and wonders why he's there so late. They decide to enter the school and investigate. 

They move cautiously through the halls, and see flashing lights coming from the art room. Inside they see paint splattered everywhere, along with a large painting of a diamond on the wall, and numerous others scattered elsewhere. Unfortunately there's no sign of Paul.

Suddenly a face begins protruding from the painting on the wall, as an evil darkness spreads across the room. The group tries to exit, but the door's locked. Hourman punches it open, and they run into the hall. Locker doors are ripped from their hinges and zoom past them. Stargirl manages to deflect the doors with her Cosmic Staff.

The JSA then begin seeing horrific paintings illustrating their worst fears. Wildcat sees paintings of Brainwave, which begin taunting her. Hourman sees visions of Grundy killing his parents. Dr. Mid-Nite sees a torn up portrait of her mother & father, and frantically tries to put it back together.

The darkness spreads into the hallway, and Stargirl hears Paul screaming. She follows his voice and rounds a corner, where she see he's covered by Eclipso's darkness. She asks if he has the Black Diamond, but he replies that all he can see is darkness.

The darkness reaches out for Stargirl, so she blasts it with her staff. It's touch and go for a while, as Eclipso's darkness battles her light. Eventually Paul painfully reaches out and touches the tip of the Staff. There's a massive explosion, as the darkness retreats.

The others instantly snap out of their trances, and wonder what just happened. They rush over to Paul, who says he's lost his muse.

Later at the Pit Stop, Dugan tells the JSA that Paul's undergoing psychiatric evaluation. He warns them that Eclipso's power is evidently growing stronger.

The next day Beth takes Rick's advice and confronts her parents about the divorce papers she found. They tell her they haven't made a final decision yet. Her parents suggest they all sit down to discuss the situation. Just then her mother gets a page, and has to rush off to the hospital. Beth realizes their talk's never going to happen.

Back in the ISA HQ, Cindy tells Isaac and Artemis they don't need Cameron, as he's more trouble than he's worth. She says there's one more member they need to recruit, as she shows them a photo of Mike.

Downtown, Cameron's working on his mural. Suddenly he winces in pain as he drops his brush. He looks down and sees it's coated in ice.

• As with virtually every episode of Stargirl, this one begins with a flashback to ten years ago.

Gotta love DC Comics and their generic city names. Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, National City, Smallville, Blue Valley and now Farmersville.

• In the flashback we see Young Cindy Burman being comforted by her mom after having a nightmare. A couple things here:

First of all, Young Cindy screams for her mom, and they have the following conversation:

Young Cindy's Mom: "What is it?"
Young Cindy: "I saw Daddy! He wants to change me. I don't want to be like him!" 
Young Cindy's Mom: Baby, it's OK now. Daddy is far, far away. And he won't find us, all right?"

Clearly Cindy's mom was wrong, and Dragon King did indeed find them again. And apparently he experimented on Cindy and mutated her not long after this scene takes place— giving her advanced strength, accelerated healing and implanted blades in her wrists.

Additionally, Young Cindy seems like a sweet, innocent little girl here. It's a good bet that Dragon King's experiments were so traumatic they caused a complete personality shift in her, turning her to the dark side.

Secondly, last week I noted that both of Cindy's natural parents were Asian (most likely Japanese), but she doesn't appear to be. Oddly enough, the young version of Cindy we see here is most definitely very much Asian. 

Maybe when Dragon King altered Cindy's DNA to give her superpowers, he inadvertently whitened her up a bit? I just got cancel-cultured for saying that, didn't I?

• Godammit, Cameron! 

A few weeks back in Chapter One, we saw Cam staring at the iconic Blue Valley Tires sign on the side of a building. Courtney asked what he was doing and he said, "I thought it could use a makeover— for my Dad."

I predicted that he'd cover it up the mural with one of his horrible, sappy paintings— complete with his trademark hackneyed flowers. Just like he did to Yolanda's locker back in Season 1's Icicle.

Sure enough, my prediction came true in this episode, as we see he did indeed cover up the tire sign.

Bonus points to me as well, as he added his insipid flowers, right on schedule.

I hate seeing them cover up this sign! I loved its retro advertising look, along with the way the Stargirl Art Department made it look like it's been there for fifty years. Feh!

• Way to go, Lily! 

At one point she spots Cindy Burman leering suggestively at Cameron. She threatens Cindy, telling her to take a hike and leave her grandson alone. When Cindy balks, Lily threatens her by exhaling a breath of frigid air.

Looks like Lily's got cold powers too, just like her son Jordan Mahkent (aka Icicle). We've seen that Cameron's beginning to develop the same abilities as well, implying that ice powers run in the Mahkent family.

• Courtney informs Dugan that she met with The Shade, and he told her about Eclipso killing the original Dr. Mid-Nite's daughter. She angrily points out that a supervaillain was more honest with her than her own stepfather.

On most Arrowverse series, the plotlines are fueled by the fact that the various characters constantly lie or withhold information from one another. The shows literally wouldn't be possible without this well-worn trope.

They're doing it here on Stargirl this season of course, but this time it's different. Here, Dugan lying to protect Courtney is presented as an exception and not business as usual. It's a refreshing change from most of the other shows. And I have a feeling his lies will have real and tragic consequences when they're eventually found out.

• Mr. Deisinger's been showing up the past few episodes, and plays a major role this week. Check out his horrifically ugly shirt, that looks not unlike a drop cloth.

That's clearly an homage to Deisinger's character in the comics, where he was a supervillain known as Paintball. He debuted in Issue #2 of Stars And S.T.R.I.P.E., which Stargirl's based on.

Paintball cavorted around in a garish, multicolored costume, very similar to Deisinger's shirt. Oddly enough the comic version of Paintball is very vague and ill-defined. There's no indication as to where or how he got his powers, or even what they are. He seems to have the ability to spray blasts of paint or a paint-like substance at his enemies, and that's about it.

• Cindy shows up in the high school art studio to try and recruit Cameron for her new ISA. When he angrily rejects her cheap and obvious advances, she actually extends one of her wrist shivs.

Wow! Was Cindy seriously intending to kill Cameron just because he didn't want to join her little team? Ruthless!

• When The Shade meets with Barb at The American Dream, he tells her she reminds him of someone he knew long ago— which handily explains his creepy attraction to her. Looks like they're pulling out the old "Immortal Villain Meets A Character Who Looks Just Like His Long-Dead Lover" storyline. It's a standard plot in horror and fantasy films, often popping up in Mummy movies.

Note that this is now the SECOND time in as many seasons that the main supervillain has fallen for Barb.

• Not a nitpick, but an observation: The Shade consistently refers to Barb as "Ms. Whitmore." So I guess she didn't take Dugan's name when they got married. This isn't all that uncommon, as many women who've worked their way up the corporate ladder are reluctant to suddenly change their recognizable name. I just thought it was worth noting.

• When The Shade visits Barb, he causes his phone number to magically appear on his business card. Note that his number features a 402 area code. Here on Earth-Prime, 402 covers a good chunk of the eastern half of Nebraska. Thanks to this card we know have confirmation that Blue Valley's somewhere in that area!

One last thing about the business card: When The Shade burns his phone number into it, it gives off a surprisingly huge amount of smoke for ten little numbers!

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but whatever. At one point we see Rick tooling along in his '66 yellow Mustang, listening to the radio. The DJ says, "Welcome back to The Lady Bob And Steve Show," here on WWPX radio!"

Yeah, about that— all radio stations in Nebraska have call letters that start with K, not W. Whoops!

See, back in 1921 the government set up the call letter system, assigning stations in the west a K prefix, and eastern stations a W. The original border was an imaginary north/south line along the western edge of Nebraska. Later in 1923 the border was moved to the Mississippi River, where it remains to this day.

That means there's a loophole here. If the station Rick's listening to started up before 1923, then it's entirely possible it could have a W prefix.

Do I think the producers knew about this obscure bit of radio call letter trivia? No. No I do not. But I'm willing to give 'em this one on a technicality.

• I just realized something strange about Rick this week. Ten years or so ago, the ISA targeted his parents, and they were savagely killed by Solomon Grundy. In the Season 1 finale, he got his revenge by beating Grundy to a pulp, but stopped just short of killing him. Now he's feeding the behemoth like a stray pup.

Doesn't it seem odd that he's suddenly become so compassionate toward his parents' killer? Is it a psychological thing, and he sees Grundy as the last living link to his late parents?

• What the hell was up with the Rick/Cameron scene? Rick pulls up in his car and glares at Cameron as he's painting his mural. Cam asks if he can he needs help, Rick says, "Not from you" and roars off. Wha...?

I can understand Rick having a problem with Cameron, as he's the son of the JSA's deadliest foe. And he's currently painting a monument to that same supervillain on the side of a building.

I'm not sure why Cameron's so hostile toward Rick though. He doesn't know his secret identity, or that Rick's part of the team that killed his father. Maybe it's a class thing. Cam's grown up in a world of wealth and privilege , while Rick's a "bad boy" from the wrong side of the tracks.

• Beth tells Dugan that she believes the original Dr. McNider is still alive. Dugan dismisses her claim, saying they need to focus on finding and stopping Eclipso. Rick then takes Beth's side and says he believes her, convincing Dugan to change his mind.

Yep, the writers are definitely cooking up a romance plotline between Rick & Beth.

• After Cindy "infects" Mr. Deisinger with Eclipso, he begins violently vomiting up various colors of paint.

According to the producers, they used old school practical effects here, as actor Randy Havens spit out mouthfuls of colored yogurt to simulate the paint. Well done, as it definitely looked real!

By the way, I was gonna make an animated gif here to better illustrate this scene, but then I decided I didn't want to watch Deisinger vomit over and over.

• Nice callback: At one point Dugan and Barb arrive at Zeek's junkyard, where we see he's selling a pile of discarded stop signs.

Back in Summer School: Chapter Three, Mike wished the Thunderbolt would make his bullies stop harassing people. Because Thunderbolt's an asshole who's deliberately obsequious, he caused dozens of stop signs to fall from the sky and surround the bullies.

At the time I wondered just how Thunderbolt's magic works, and if the things he conjures up vanish after a time or are permanent. Looks like we got an answer this week!

• There seems to be a large and inexplicable time jump in the third act of this episode. When Courtney's hanging out at Cameron's house, we see it's late afternoon. She gets a text from Beth, telling her to hightail it to the school, and hurriedly excuses herself.

Seconds later we cut to her meeting up with the JSA outside the school, and suddenly it's nighttime. Clearly several hours have passed, as Stargil sees Deisinger's car and wonders why he's at school so late. 

So where'd the missing time go? Did it really take Courtney three or four hours to get from Cam's house to the school?

• The JSA looks for Deisinger in the school's art room, where they find dozens of paintings of the Black Diamond. Stargirl's horrified when Eclipso's face eerily emerges from one of the paintings.

This is clearly an homage to A Nightmare On Elm Street, in which Freddy Kruger did the exact same thing by coming out of Nancy Thompson's bedroom wall.

• Eclipso seems to have a weird art fetish in this episode, and makes the JSA members hallucinate various ghastly paintings that represent their greatest fears.

Wildcat sees paintings of her ex boyfriend Henry Jr., along with Brainwave— the supervillain she killed last season.

Hourman sees an image of Solomon Grundy, the beast who murdered his parents. And who he's now currently feeding like a lost dog.

And Dr. Mid-Nite sees a rendering of her parents, which tears in half— symbolizing their pending divorce.

I don't know who painted these images, but I love the look of them. They're very well done, and have a frenetic, unsettling style.

• When Eclipso manifests himself, he appears to be a bubbling, formless mass of concentrated evil... or something. 

Eh, I'm not a fan of that blobby look, and I hope it's not going to be his actual form for the rest of the season. It looks a little too CGI, and reminds me of the awful Bloodwork villain over on Season Five of The Flash.

• Although I don't like this particular design for Eclipso, I'm impressed that the FX Team took the time to add his blubbery reflection/shadow to the floor. Well done!

Symbolism Alert! Eclipso possesses Deisinger, and Stargirl tries to save him by telling him to "reach for the light." He then struggles mightily against the demon as he struggles to touch the tip of the Cosmic Staff.

Hmm... this shot reminds me of something, but I can't quite figure out what. Something I saw painted on ceiling once...

• The possessed Deisinger touches the Cosmic Staff, which fills him with light and burns Eclipso from his body.

Remember when trump famously asked a team of doctors and scientists if it'd be possible to cure Covid by somehow "shining a light inside the body?" I can't help but wonder if he had something like this image in mind when those words spewed from his foul orifice of a mouth.

• Beth's parents aren't as bad as Yolanda's, but they're still world class assholes. 

At the end of the episode, Beth confronts her parents and says she found their divorce papers and asks what's going on. She's quite obviously upset, confused and hurting, and needs her parents now more than ever. One would think they'd take this opportunity to finally sit down and talk about the situation with her. Instead her mother gets a call from the hospital, says she has to go and promises "they'll talk later." 

Jesus Christ! Are you fraking kidding me? Dollars to donuts that talk never happens. The Chapels are terrible, terrible parents who clearly have no clue what their actions are doing to their daughter.

• At the end of the episode, Cameron's frosty powers unexpectedly kick in as the brush he's holding becomes coated in ice.

This isn't the first time this has happened, as we got a faint hint that his powers were beginning to manifest back in Season 1's The Justice Society. In that episode, Cameron blew out a candle on a piece of cake, and we briefly saw a puff of his super-chilled breath.

Now that his powers are developing, I'm hoping Cameron won't join Cindy's merry little band of misfits. He seems like a genuinely nice person who's nothing like his father, and I'd hate to see him corrupted.

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