Sunday, October 17, 2021

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

This week on Stargirl, we get some much needed action as the JSA goes head to head with Cindy Burman and her newly-formed Injustice Society, in an awesome and impressive setpiece battle. 

More importantly though, Summer School: Chapter Six gives us the long-awaited debut of Eclipso, who finally appears in the flesh. 

So did he live up to all the hype and buildup? Absolutely! Most TV comic book villains are duds, but Eclipso was honestly terrifying. Everything clicked with him, from his comic-influenced design to the makeup and costuming. The CW did an amazing job bringing him to life.

On the down side, I've been waiting all season for STRIPE to do something besides stand motionless like a statue in Dugan's garage. Alas, this week the ISA completely dismantles him, eliminating any hope of seeing him in action.

Clearly this is a budgetary decision disguised as a plot point. I was worried that something like this would happen when Stargirl moved from DC Universe to The CW. They've always been notoriously cheap and underfunded, and I feared the show would suffer due to a smaller budget. Sucks to be right all the time!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Isaac Bowin enters the diner where Yolanda's working. She cautiously approaches and asks if she can take his order. He says he saw the photos she sexted last season, and she angrily asks him what he wants. He says he knows what she & her friends did to his mother and father, and storms out.

Beth brings lunch to her dad at The American Dream, and awkwardly mentions romantic getaways in a desperate effort to keep her parents together. Her father assures her they'll discuss the matter later and sends her on her way.

Beth tries to call Rick to talk, but suddenly Artemis Crock appears and knocks her phone from her hand. She says it's Beth's fault that her parents are in prison, and threatens to give her a royal beatdown before she runs off. A shaken Beth picks up her phone and sees the screen's shattered.

At the high school, Courtney & Dugan survey the damage Eclipso did to the art studio last week. Cameron enters and wants to know why they're there. Courtney covers by saying they volunteered to clean up after Mr. Deisinger's "episode." Cameron asks why bad things keep happening to good people in Blue Valley.

Dugan spots one of Deisinger's frantic painting, featuring Cindy Burman holding the Black Diamond to her eye. Cameron mentions that Cindy came to the studio to talk with him the previous day. Dugan & Courtney realize that not only is Cindy back in town, but she was trying to recruit Cameron. They leave to mobilize the JSA.

Elsewhere, Mike's hanging out at Zeek's junkyard. Zeek mentions he's building a chainsaw attachment for STRIPE, and tells Mike he can help. Mike roots through the garage, looking for more parts. Suddenly Cindy appears before him, and he tells her to stay away. She coos that she's putting together her own team, and needs Mike's help. Mike defiantly says he'd never join her team, and Cindy throws her head back and laughs her evil laugh. She says she wants him as bait.

Dugan enters the Pit Stop and activates STRIPE. Suddenly he hears a terrible screeching sound, and clutches his head as he doubles over in pain. Isaac Bowin, aka The Fiddler 3.0, steps out of the shadows playing his father's violin. He plays a couple more chords, incapacitating Dugan with sonic blasts.

Dugan painfully makes his way up to the balcony, where Artemis Crock, aka Sportsmaster 2.0, attacks him. She knocks him off the balcony and he lands hard on the floor, where The Fiddler 3.0 starts to finish him off. Sportsmaster 2.0 stops him, saying they're there for STRIPE. The two begin dismantling the giant robot.

Sometime later we see Dugan lying unconscious in a hospital bed, as Barb and Courtney sit beside him. Courtney tries calling Mike, but gets no answer. She says Dugan's condition is her fault.

Rick enters the Pit Stop, where he sees Yolanda and Beth surveying the wreckage of STRIPE. They figure Cindy and her crew are the main suspects.

Elsewhere, Cindy uses Mike's phone to call Courtney. She says she's gonna make Courtney suffer by destroying her friends and family first, and then finish by ripping her heart out. She tells her to meet her in the school cafeteria in an hour or Mike dies.

As Cindy hangs up, she hears Eclipso's voice tell her to leave Courtney for him, so he can feed on her soul.

Courtney says she's not sure she can take on Cindy again without STRIPE. Barb gives her a Patented The CW Pep Talk© and tells her to go kick Cindy's ass.

After Courtney leaves, Barb pulls out Richard Swift's business card and calls him. Suddenly he appears behind her, and she tells him what's happened. Swift isn't interested until Barb mentions that Cindy has the Black Diamond.

The JSA arrive at the cafeteria, where Cindy, aka Shiv, Sportsmaster 2.0 and The Fiddler 3.0 are waiting for them. Shiv tells Stargirl she got bored and already killed Mike. This enrages Stargirl, who attacks her. We're then treated to an epic setpiece battle between the two groups.

During the battle, Sportsmaster 2.0 throws Hourman through a wall, revealing Mike tied up in a storage room. Dr. Mid-Nite then rushes in and unties him.

Sportsmaster 2.0 takes out a hockey puck bomb and attaches it to Hourman's chest. Fortunately his hourglass gives him limited invulnerability and he survives. Stargirl manages to take down Shiv, and then goes after the other two villains. Just then Shiv rallies and pins Stargirl to the ground. Just as she's about to finish her off, Mike appears and clocks her in the head with a toaster (?).

Shiv shakes it off and says she's had enough. She takes out the Black Diamond, and an inky darkness issues from it, enveloping the entire cafeteria. Suddenly The Shade appears, and dissipates the darkness with a wave of his hand. He warns Shiv that she doesn't understand the Diamond or the danger she's in. He urges her to hand it over to him.

Shiv sneers and says she knows exactly what she's doing. Just then Eclipso makes his move, and possesses Shiv. He then blasts The Shade with his darkness. Shade fires back, and for a minute the two blast away at one another, evenly matched.

Stargirl flies into the fray and touches the Black Diamond with the tip of the Cosmic Staff. Surprisingly, the Diamond shatters in a burst of energy, knocking everyone on their collective asses.

All over town, the residents of Blue Valley stare upward at an odd-looking lunar eclipse.

Back in the cafeteria, the two teams come to, and see a shadowy figure standing in the middle of the room. He turns and they see it's Eclipso in the flesh, freed at last from the Diamond. Shiv hisses that he betrayed her and attacks him. He easily grabs her and lifts her off the ground, tearing one of the blades from her wrist.

Eclipso hurls the blade at The Fiddler 3.0 and tosses Shiv across the room. Isaac falls the the floor, clutching at the blade sticking from his chest. Eclipso reaches out and absorbs Isaac's soul, causing the teen's body to disintegrate. Sportsmaster 2.0 wisely takes off and nopes the hell out of the school.

Cindy tells Eclipso that he owes her for all she's done for him (?). He disagrees, and picks up a shard of the Diamond. He tosses it onto the floor, where it liquifies into a black puddle. Cindy's then pulled into it, as if it's a portal Courtney runs over and tries to pull her out, but the puddle's too strong and Cindy's sucked into it. The puddle then vanishes.

The Shade tells Eclipso it's pathetic that he's stooped to feeding on children, and blasts him with a wave of shadow. Eclipso walks through the shadow, telling The Shade his powers come from HIS own realm. He then grabs The Shade and tosses him aside.

Stargirl attacks Eclipso with the Cosmic Staff. He grabs it, and after a brief struggle the Staff goes dark. Eclipso waltzes out of the school and disappears, and the lunar eclipse ends as well. The injured Shade teleports away.

Courtney and Mike go to the hospital, where Dugan's now awake. They tell him and Barb what happened, and Dugan realizes that Eclipso was using Cindy to free himself from the Diamond. Courtney says the Staff's gone dark, and Mike says he wants to build his own version of STRIPE.

Elsewhere, Eclipso wanders through an alley. He morphs into young Bruce Gordon and laughs evilly and he walks down Main Street.

Thoughts: 
• Back in Summer School: Chapter Three, we saw Sylvester Pemberton (aka Starman) show up at a diner in Nevada. There he grilled a woman who appeared to be Dugan's ex-wife, wanting to know where he could find his old sidekick Stripesy.

That was three episodes ago, and Sylvester still hasn't shown up in Blue Valley. Granted, it's unclear just how much time has passed on the show since Chapter Three, but it seems like it's taking an inordinately long amount of time for Sylvester to drive from Nevada to Nebraska. The two states are about a thousand miles apart— a distance easily drivable in three or four days.

I suppose it's possible Dugan's ex either didn't know or lied about where he's living, so Sylvester's still searching for him. Maybe they don't have Google over on Earth-2.

• The episode begins with an establishing shot of the diner where Yolanda works, with the movie theater visible next door.

These businesses are located on Main Street in the tiny burgh of Dallas, Georgia, where Stargirl's filmed. Note that this shot of them on Google Street View was taken in January 2019, shortly before the series began filming. Looks like Richie's Diner was a defunct antique store before the production moved in and renovated the place.

Also, in this shot of the diner's interior, you can see a distinctive red brick building through the window behind Yolanda.

Turns out that building is actually right across the street from the diner in real life. That means the producers didn't just construct a fa├žade of the diner, they built a fully functional set inside it as well. That's a rarity in TV and movies, as interior and exterior sets are rarely integrated like that.

• When Maria the waitress appeared a few weeks back in Summer School: Chapter Two, I assumed she was a brand new character.

Nope! Turns out she made her debut back in Season 1's The Justice Society, where she waited on Jordan and Cameron Mahkent. She showed up in Brainwave Jr. and Shining Knight as well.

• There's a very cool shot near the beginning of the episode in which Beth waits for her father in The American Dream building. As she sits in the lobby, she sees a portrait of Jordan Mahkent (aka Icicle) on the wall beside her. Unnerved by the sight of him, she turns her back on the portrait. It then looms larger and larger behind her, till it practically fills up the frame. It's very effective, and executed so subtly that I didn't even notice it the first time I saw it. Kudos! 

I'm trying to figure out just how they shot this effect. I'm betting they sat Anjelika Washington on the camera dolly and slowly moved it toward the background, which made the portrait appear to grow. Either that or they used a form of the "Hitchcock Zoom."

Symbolism Alert! Artemis bullies Beth and knocks her phone to the ground. When Beth picks it up, she's saddened to see the screen's completely shattered. Gosh, I wonder what the writers are trying to say here? Could it be they're attempting to draw a parallel between the screen and Beth's equally broken life?

• Courtney and Dugan examine the high school's art room after it was trashed by Eclipso last week. Cameron enters and asks if they know what happened to Paul Designer, his art teacher. Dugan says he heard he'd been sent to a psychiatric hospital in Lincoln. 

Wow! They actually name-dropped a REAL city in Nebraska, rather than a made up comic book one like Farmersville or Smallville. I think this may be a first for Stargirl!

• When Courtney and Dugan find out Cindy's back in town, they immediately spring into action. Courtney says she'll get her staff and round up the JSA, while Dugan says he'll fire up STRIPE. 

I love this scene, as it shows just how far the two of them have come in the past year or so, when they were constantly at odds over Courtney becoming Stargirl and forming a new JSA. It's nice to see them completely in synch, working together like a well-oiled machine.

Callback Alert! Last week we saw that Zeek was selling all the stop signs conjured up by the Thunderbolt in Summer School: Chapter Three. In this episode we see poor Zeek just can't seem to get rid of the things. He's marked 'em down to three bucks each and they're still not selling!

• Callback Alert 2! Mike roots around Zeek's junkyard, looking for something he can turn into a weapon for STRIPE. At one point he picks up a toaster with four distinctive slashes in its side, stares at it for a second in mild recognition and then tosses it aside.

Believe it or not we've seen that toaster before! It belonged to the Dugan's, and Courtney used it to test out Yolanda's claws after she first donned the Wildcat costume.

Apparently after it was slashed, Barb must have thrown it out and Zeek either collected the Dugan's garbage or rooted through it looking for stuff to sell.

• A few episodes back, Cindy was in her lair looking through photos of her peers that she intended to recruit for her new ISA. Among them was one of Mike. I wondered why the heck she wanted him on her team, considering he isn't evil and has absolutely zero superpowers. Her interest in him was a mystery to me.

Welp, this week we find out that she didn't want him to sign him up after all, and simply wanted to use him as bait! That makes MUCH more sense. Although it doesn't change the fact that the writers deliberately misled the audience by making it seem like Cindy wanted him for her team.

• Back in Summer School: Chapter Four, Cindy presented Isaac with his father's violin, urging him to learn to play it and become the new Fiddler.

At the time I wondered just how all this worked. Was the original Fiddler a metahuman with the very specific ability to turn the violin into a deadly sonic weapon? Or did the power lie in the instrument itself?

Apparently it's the latter. In this episode we see Isaac expertly using his father's fiddle to fire sonic blasts at the JSA. There's no one around who could have trained him, so he must be using a superpowered violin. We get further evidence of this during the battle in the high school, when Isaac stops and turns a dial on the violin, ramping up its power level.

• As I mentioned in the plot description, Isaac Bowin is apparently now The Fiddler 3.0, as both his father and mother previously held the title. And Artemis Crock has followed in her dad's footsteps and become Sportsmaster 2.0 (rather than Tigress 2.0).

• After beating the living crap out of Dugan, Sportsmaster 2.0 and The Fiddler 3.0 dismantle and destroy STRIPE. Obviously they do this to weaken the JSA and prevent them from using the robot against Cindy's team.

That's the in-universe excuse for STRIPE's destruction. The real-world reason for it is the save the show's budget by not having to produce costly CGI animated robot scenes.

 Cindy calls Courtney and tells her she's going to hurt her, starting with her friends, then her family and then finish with her. 

But at this point she's already had Dugan beaten to a pulp, and is planning on killing Mike— all before ever laying a finger on Yolanda, Rick & Beth. Apparently Cindy's having trouble following her own revenge plot! 

• I know that's a butterfly bandaid on Dugan's lip, but in this shot it looks for all the world like he's got a pair of novelty buck teeth in his mouth.

• The JSA races to the high school in order to rescue Mike. Once they arrive, they realize they've been lured into a trap, as the ISA appears and takes a moment to strike a dramatic pose. Hourman sees them and quips, "And you call US losers?"

He's not wrong— the ISA looks pretty underwhelming here. They've got a skinny Goth kid who plays the violin, a sociopathic cross-trained athlete and a Mean Girl with knives in her wrists! Sure, they end up being somewhat formidable, but you gotta admit they don't look very impressive. Heck, the Cosmic Staff could probably take them all out by itself!

• Holy Boob Armor, Batman!

OK, I know full well why TV shows and movies continue to design costumes like this— because sex sells and all that. But in real life, boob armor is a terrible, terrible idea that's guaranteed to get the wearer injured or even killed.

Chest armor serves two basic purposes— to protect from injury and to divert blows away from the torso. If you've ever seen a real suit of armor, the chest plate is usually convex, and gives the wearer an almost potbellied appearance. That's to deflect a sword or lance harmlessly to the side.

Having chest armor with two big mounds built in to it completely negates the latter function. The metal boob covers expertly channel any weapon between them, right to the thinnest and weakest point of the armor— where it's sure to be penetrated.

There's also the fact that a hard blow to form-fitting boob armor would likely rupture the wearer's sternum as well. 

• The most amazing thing about this episode is that it somehow managed to take a silly character like The Fiddler and turn him into a legitimate and lethal supervillain!

• The highlight of this week's episode had to be the big setpiece battle between the JSA and the newly-formed ISA. It definitely didn't disappoint, as the stunt work was awesome. They clearly were saving up for a while to spend their budget on this scene.

The camera work was impressive as well. In particular I liked this sequence in which the JSAers face off against their counterparts. At several points the camera transitions instantly between individual battles, matching the various characters' poses exactly. It's hard to describe, so just watch the gif to see what I mean.

• Apropos of nothing, Sportsmaster 2.0 has a hastily-scrawled "ISA" spray painted on her backpack. Just in case we couldn't tell which team she's on.

• Speaking of Sportsmaster 2.0, does she have super-invulnerability? She gets slammed against brick walls and hurled through cement pillars numerous times during the big setpiece battle— yet she shakes it off and seems completely uninjured.

Similarly, she must have superstrength as well, as she picks up Rick— a teen who likely outweighs her by at least a hundred pounds— at tosses him across the room with ease.

To my knowledge they've never come right out and said she has metahuman powers, but she pretty much has to, as she's clearly performing feats of strength far beyond the scope of a normal teen athlete.

• One last thing about Sportsmaster 2.0 before I move on: During every single one of her fight scenes, she's wearing a mask & hood that completely obscures her face.

There's a reason for that! According to Shawn McBee, Stargirl's graphic designer, that wasn't actress Stella Smith in the Sportsmaster 2.0 costume. Turns out Smith is still underage, and as such wasn't allowed to participate in the potentially dangerous fight scenes. Her stunt double filled in for her, and filmed the battle sequences with a full-face mask on to hide her identity.

• During the battle Shiv gets Stargirl on the ropes, and right as she's about to deliver the killing blow, Mike suddenly appears and clocks her one— with the infamous slashed toaster that we saw earlier in the episode! Jesus Christ, that thing really gets around! At this point it's practically become a character on the show.

Of course I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask how in the name of Stan Lee's Mighty Toupee that Mike actually has it in this scene. 

Earlier in the episode we saw Mike find it in Zeek's junkyard and then toss it aside. The only way he could possibly have it is if he hid it under his shirt when Cindy kidnapped him, then pulled it out after Beth rescued him. Either that or he ran to the junkyard & back after being freed. However you look at it, it doesn't make a lick of sense for him to have it.

• The Shade to the rescue! I'm really liking this version of The Shade, as I've always been a sucker for morally ambiguous characters and villains who reluctantly team up with the heroes. Jonathan Cake does an amazing job too, playing him with the perfect blend of menace and charm.

I don't think I've pointed this out yet, but Cake is actually the second person to play The Shade. The character popped up for a few quick seconds in the Season 1's 
Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part Two  , where he was clearly played by someone else, whose profile and voice are completely different. Apparently they hadn't settled on anyone for The Shade at that point, and used an uncredited actor for the brief cameo.

• After six episodes of buildup, Eclipso FINALLY appears! Was he worth the wait? Most definitely! It's not often a TV series can create a villain who feels like a genuine threat, but Stargirl managed it here. 
Eclipso was legitimately TERRIFYING! He was scary in a way I've not seen on TV in a long, long time.

Even batter, Eclipso looked EXACTLY like he does in the comics, which is always a plus. Stargirl consistently does an amazing job with its costume designs, as the characters are all extremely faithful to the source material and look like they stepped right off the printed page. Well done, guys!

Congrats as well to actor Nick Tarabay, who plays Eclipso. I can't say enough good things about his creepy and menacing performance!

• At one point Eclipso has enough of Shiv's crap, so he grabs her by the neck, hoists her off her feet and rips one of her shivs right out of her wrist! Yikes! Remember, those things aren't just strapped to her wrist— they're cybernetic implants and part of her body! Brutal!

• "Mr. Stark, I don't feel so good!"

Eclipso demonstrates his terrifying powers by absorbing Isaac Bowin's soul and turning him to dust, Thanos-style. I guess it's time to start hunting for The Fiddler 4.0 now.

• Eclipso then seemingly kills Shiv by conjuring a gooey puddle in the floor which sucks her into it!

Note that I say seemingly kills her, because her demise was quite different from Isaac's. Cindy didn't have her soul sucked from her body, and she didn't disintegrate like Isaac did. 

There's no doubt in my mind that she's still alive somewhere, most likely in some other dimension. Possibly even the Shadowlands, where Dr. McNider's currently trapped.

• While sitting with Dugan at the hospital, Barb glances out the window and sees a strange lunar eclipse (coinciding with Eclipso's appearance. A bit later the astral phenomenon disappears, and Barb says, "There was an eclipse in the sky, but it's gone."

Yeah, Barb, that's how eclipses work. They generally only last a few minutes as the Earth and Moon briefly align.

• After being severely wounded by Eclipso, The Shade vanishes and reforms in the top of The American Dream building. Again with The American Dream! What's his connection to that place? He's popped up inside it in every episode in which he's appeared. Why's he so enamored of it? Because Barb works there?

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