Sunday, November 14, 2021

Stargirl Season 2, Episode 9: Summer School: Chapter Nine

This week on Stargirl we get another "Eclipso Psychically Attacks The JSA" episode, that seem to be all the rage lately. We also finally find out the horrible secret Dugan's been keeping from Courtney, as we get a series of flashbacks featuring the original JSA in action. Eh, that's a lie, as they don't actually do anything remotely action-packed, but they're present and accounted for.

So far the show's writing is still top notch, and I'm enjoying this Eclipso storyline quite a bit. That said, this season's definitely much darker than last year. I gotta admit I'm starting to miss the sense of fun and upbeat tone of Season 1.

Summer School: Chapter Nine was what we call a slow burn episode. That's showbiz talk for "glacial-paced." There's zero action, as the majority of the episode consists of Dugan staring at mementos from the past and flashing back to his days on the JSA.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! I'm all for a good introspective episode now and then, but we seem to be getting a LOT of them this season. I'm assuming this is a combination of pandemic protocols (which make action scenes difficult or even impossible to film), as well as the move from DC Universe to the perpetually cash-strapped The CW. Hopefully the action will pick up a bit as we near the end of the season.

The highlight of this week's episode were the flashbacks featuring the original Justice League. John Wesley Shipp was the standout, appearing once again as Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. It's always great to see these characters, and as always the producers did an amazing job bringing them to the screen. Their costumes are all spot on, and they look like they stepped right off the comic page.


The Plot:
Decades Ago.
A visibly distressed Bruce Gordon sits drinking in his manor. He takes out the Black Diamond and says he wishes he'd never discovered it, as it destroyed his family and alienated his friends. He hears Eclipso's voice, which says Gordon made his own decisions. Bruce tells the demon to leave him alone, and Eclipso says all he has to do is put down the Diamond. Bruce tries, but can't bring himself to let go of it. He pulls a gun from a drawer and stares at it, contemplating suicide.

Eclipso expertly manipulates Bruce, telling him he can get his estranged wife Mona back if he kills her new husband. Bruce refuses, saying he won't kill. Eclipso says HE'LL do all the murdering if Bruce just lets him take full control of his body. After an internal struggle, Bruce drops the gun and transforms into Eclipso.

The Present.
At The American Dream, James Chapel informs Barb that everyone's being sent home for the day due to a massive approaching storm.

At the Dugan home, everyone's preparing to take shelter in the basement. Courtney tells Dugan that Rick's court hearing was canceled due to the storm. He assures her they'll help Rick once the storm clears. Courtney fears it'll never pass, as Eclipso's getting stronger by the minute. She wants to take Beth and go after the demon. Dugan forbids it, saying they're not prepared. She points out that they've NEVER been prepared enough for him.

As Courtney leaves, Dugan stares at a vase on the counter, containing a single yellow rose. Time for a flashback!

The Past.
The JSA attends the burial of Dr. McNider's daughter Rebecca, who was killed by Eclipso in the season premiere. Jay Garrick, aka the Golden Age Flash, assures the others they'll find and stop the demon. McNider's wife Myra breaks down and shrieks that Rebecca's death was his fault, as he wasn't there to save her. He leads her away as he tries to calm her down.

The Present.
Dugan reaches out to touch the rose and pricks his finger on a thorn. He hears a child giggling and turns to see a coffin in his dining room (!). The coffin disappears, as the child's voice taunts him and calls him a liar.

The temperature drops in the house, as Dugan goes down to the basement. He looks through a box of photos and mementos. Yep, time for another flashback already!

The Past.
After the burial, Dugan asks Sylvester (aka Starman) to let him help find Eclipso. Sylvester reminds him he's just his driver, and isn't really on the team. Just then Sylvester sees The Shade standing in the distance. He tells Dugan to go back to the JSA's garage while he talks to The Shade. Dugan watches as the two men walk behind a tree and seemingly disappear.

The Present.
Barb's driving home when her car unexpectedly dies on a lonely back road. Suddenly the looming storm cuts loose with a torrential downpour.

The Past.
Dugan's tuning up the Racer in the garage. Sylvester enters and says The Shade filled him in on Eclipso, calling him a "spiritual parasite." A man named Bruce Gordon found the demon and became possessed by him. He says according to The Shade, the only way to stop Eclipso is by killing his host— which will force him back into the Black Diamond.

Dugan's shocked that Sylvester's even listening to a villain like The Shade, and says the JSA doesn't kill. Sylvester agrees, and says they'll find another way.

The Present.
Mike wanders through the house as the temperature drops dramatically. He hears a knock at the door, and when he answers it he sees Cameron Mahkent and invites him in. Cameron says he got caught in the storm and didn't know where else to go. He asks if Courtney's home.

Elsewhere, Barb tries to exit the car but the doors are inexplicably locked. She tries to call for help, but of course can't get a signal. Suddenly she hears a voice and is stunned to see Jordan Mahkent in the back seat. He says they have a lot to catch up on, as the temperature drops and snow begins covering the car.

Back at the house, Mike's freezing and builds a fire in the fireplace. He notes that Cameron doesn't seem to notice the cold at all. Cameron ominously begins going on about how he lost both his parents. He menacingly says he knows Mike killed his father Jordan— who's with Barb this very minute. He then blows out the fire with his Icey breath.

Barb figures Eclipso's making her see things, and tells herself Jordan isn't really there. Jordan says he's been reborn, and because she rejected him he plans to hurt her.

Cameron moves toward Mike, intending to freeze him. Buddy the dog runs in to protect Mike, and Cameron freezes him solid. Mike grabs a fireplace poker and swings it Cam, who grabs hold of it. The poker's instantly covered in ice
, as Mike drops it in pain and runs.

Jordan tells Barb that he only wanted to save the country, but she ruined his plan. He then gets all creepy, saying that after he met her he felt love for the first time since his wife died. Suddenly a small part of The Shade materializes in the passenger seat and tells Barb that none of this is real. She starts the car and sees there's nothing wrong with it, as Jordan and the snow disappear. The Shade mumbles something about needing "Emily."

Cut to Cameron forming a tightly-fitting ice collar around Mike's neck. He tells him he's going to kill his father, just like Mike murdered Jordan. Suddenly Courtney enters with the Cosmic Staff, and places Mike's hand on it. He snaps out of it and realizes Cameron was never really there, and sees Buddy's fine.

Dugan's still in the basement, and takes Starman's old costume out of a box. As he looks at it, he notices he has blood on his hands (subtle!). He tries to wash it off, but his hands bleed even harder. Bruce Gordon watches him from the shadows.

The Past.
Dugan's still working in the JSA garage. Flash, Hourman, Wildcat and Starman enter, telling him that even their most powerful members weren't able to take down Eclipso. Wildcat says the only solution is for them to kill Eclipso's host, Bruce Gordon. Dugan objects to this on principle, saying they're talking about murdering an innocent man. Wildcat says he's not a real member of the JSA and his opinion doesn't count. He then calls for a vote.

Wildcat and Hourman vote to kill Eclipso, while Flash says no. Flash asks Dugan to vote, and he says no as well. The vote comes down to Starman, who says Eclipso's threatening his family and he wants to protect them. He votes yes, much to Dugan's horror.

The Present.
Bruce Gordon sees Dugan frantically washing his hands. He tells him the blood will never come off, and his children's blood will be next. He shoots at Dugan, who somehow dodges the bullet and leaps to the floor. Starman, Hourman and Wildcat appear, and Bruce tells Dugan he made a choice and damned himself.

Suddenly Courtney appears and uses the Staff to free Dugan from his hallucination. She asks if he's OK, and wonders what he's not telling her. He decides to finally own up and tell her how the JSA really defeated Eclipso.

The Past.
Dugan & Starman are in the Racer, driving to Bruce Gordon's manor. Dugan starts to get out and go in, but Starman stops him, telling him to stay with the car. He and the other JSA members head for the manor. A short time later Starman returns, and says Dugan was right— the JSA should never take a life. Dugan notices blood on Starman's costume, as he opens a case and looks at the Black Diamond inside.

The Present.
Dugan tells Courtney that killing Bruce Gordon destroyed the JSA, as afterward they all began drifting apart. He says they didn't work together again until the ISA returned. Courtney's hurt that Dugan's been lying to her all this time, allowing Eclipso to hurt her and her friends. She asks what Barb will say when she finds out, and is devastated when Dugan says she already knows.

Cut to the kitchen, where Courtney argues with both Dugan and Barb. Young Bruce Gordon watches from outside and giggles.

• As with nearly every episode of Stargirl, this one begins with a flashback.

This time it's to a vague "Decades Ago," in order to obscure just when it's happening. Based on the items in Bruce Gordon's study, it appears to be taking place in the 1940s.

• At The American Dream, Barb's working away in her office as a massive storm approaches. 
Beth's father James Chapel sticks his head in the door and says, "They're sending us all home." Who's "they?" Barb & James are both executives on the Board Of Directors at The American Dream. There's no one higher up than them.

I suppose I could be generous here and say that the police are advising everyone to head for home, and that's the "they" James is referring to. I suppose I could say that, but I don't see why I should.

• Thanks, Opening Credits, for spoiling the surprise appearance of John Wesley Shipp in this episode. They blabbed that Joel McHale would be stopping by as well.

• So Eclipso's using his power to generate a dangerous storm over Blue Valley. But what kind of storm is it? It's still July on the show, so I assume it's probably a massive thunderstorm. Or maybe a cluster of tornadoes?

Whatever it is, it's apparently so deadly that Dugan's filling a box with supplies and ordering his family down to the basement!

• Courtney gets tired of Dugan's "wait and see" strategy, and says she and Beth are going to try and stop Eclipso themselves. Dugan says they're not prepared, and Courtney quite rightly replies, "When have we ever been prepared enough to make you happy?"

Wow. That's actually an excellent point! It's so excellent in fact that Dugan can't think of a counter-argument, and is instantly thrown into a flashback!

• This show has the weirdest timeline I've ever seen. Especially when it comes to Dugan's past, the many teams he's worked with and his true age.

According to the Official Arrowverse Wiki, Dugan was twenty when he was hired as a driver for the wealthy Pemberton family. He befriended their fifteen year old son Sylvester, who was often ignored and neglected by his parents. One day Sylvester put on a mask and battled criminals who were threatening his parents. Dugan helped him out, and they soon became the crime-fighting duo of the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy.

Sometime later they were recruited by The Seven Soldiers Of Victory. Among their teammates was Shining Knight, who featured prominently in Stargirl Season One. At this point it's unknown just how long he was with this team.

At some point after that, the Star-Spangled Kid found the Cosmic Staff and rebranded himself as Starman. He then joined the Justice Society, and brought Dugan along as his personal driver. Again, it's not know at this time how long they were with the JSA.

Also, somewhere during this period he apparently married and had Mike.

Then ten years ago the JSA members were all seemingly killed by the Injustice Society (which we witnessed in Pilot). Sometime after the team was killed, he met Barb and married her.

It's unclear just how old Dugan's supposed to be in the present day. Actor Luke Wilson is currently fifty, so I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that's Dugan's age as well. That means he became Stripsey and teamed up with Sylvester, joined the Seven Soldiers Of Victory, hung out with the JSA, got hitched & fathered a son, watched the JSA get killed and married Barb— all in the span of just THIRTY short years.

That's a hell of a lot of living to squeeze into three decades! It's not completely impossible, but you gotta admit it seems improbable.

But here's where the timeline gets even more dicey. In Summer School: Chapter One, Dr. McNider's daughter Rebecca was murdered by Eclipso. Based on the fashions and cars in this scene, there's no doubt that it takes place sometime in the late 1950s.

In this episode we see Dugan, Sylvester and the rest of the JSA attend Rebecca's funeral. Even more amazing, they all look exactly like they do in the present day! Wait, what?

The 1950s aesthetic bled over into the early years of the 1960s, which sometimes makes it hard to pinpoint a decade. But even if we're generous and say Rebecca died in 1960, that means Dugan and Sylvester would both be around A HUNDRED YEARS OLD.

I'm pretty sure Dugan's not supposed to be that old. But then why give the flashbacks such a distinctive retro look? That didn't just happen by accident— the producers had to deliberately dress the cast in 1950s clothing, and populate the scene with rare, vintage autos. That undoubtedly cost way more than just shooting a flashback set twenty years ago.

I'm waiting for Courtney to take a long hard look at one of these photos of Dugan, and ask him why the hell he hasn't aged a day in the past twenty or thirty years.

In the comics, the various JSA characters debuted in the 1930s and 1940s, and are still going strong and fighting crime here in the 21st Century. To justify their seemingly eternal youth, JSA writer Roy Thomas came up with a story in which the team fought an evil wizard named Ian Karkull. During the battle the JSAers inadvertently absorbed some of Karkull's magic, which drastically slowed their aging process.

Maybe at some point we'll find out that the same thing happened to Dugan and the JSA here on Stargirl. Until that happens though, the timeline's definitely a mess.

• Dugan flashes back to the funeral of Rebecca McNider, who was murdered by Eclipso back in Summer School: Chapter One. In attendance from left to right are Johnny Thunder, Rex Tyler (aka Hourman), Sylvester Pemberton (aka Starman), Ted Grant (aka Wildcat) and at far left, Dugan (aka Stripesy).

Note that this, and all the flashbacks in this episode have the green Matrix Filter applied to them. I assume the producers did this to sell the idea that the scenes take place in the past.

• It was great to see John Wesley Shipp as the Jay Garrick Flash again—even though he didn't use his powers even once in the entire episode.  

• Once again Rick's dad Rex Tyler is played by Lou Ferrigno Jr. As you can probably guess, his daddy Lou Sr. played the Incredible Hulk on the 1970s TV show of the same name.

• Henry Thomas, of E.T. The Extraterrestrial fame, has played the voice of Chuck/Dr. Charles McNider since the series began. Oddly enough though, whenever McNider actually appears in the flesh he's played by actor Alex Collins. I guess Thomas is too busy to appear onscreen?

Also, note McNider's prominent dark glasses. In the comics, McNider was legally blind in broad daylight, and could only see in total darkness— hence the name Dr. Mid-Nite.

Looks like this version of the character got a high-tech upgrade, as his unassuming dark glasses are very similar to his goggles, featuring computer uplinks and HUD displays. They also apparently allow him to see in daylight.

 So what exactly are the McNider's burying here?

Back in Summer School: Chapter Six, Eclipso killed Isaac Bowin by sucking the life force from his body— leaving him nothing more than a pile of ashes that blew away. If Rebecca suffered the same fate, there'd literally be nothing left to bury. Is there even anything in that casket, or is it a symbolic funeral?

• It was interesting to get a glimpse into the reality of Dugan's past this week. To hear him tell it, he was a valuable and vital member of the JSA, fighting alongside Starman and company. In actuality though, he was NEVER a part of the team, serving only as Sylvester's personal chauffer.

His true relationship with Sylvester was even more shocking. Even though he's five years younger than Dugan, he constantly treated him like a child and inferior. 

This is completely at odds with the way he presents himself to the new JSA, who all see him as their mentor and something of an elder statesman.

Symbolism Alert #1: Sylvester visits the JSA garage, where he tells Dugan the only way to stop Eclipso is to kill his host Bruce Gordon. Naturally Dugan's aghast at the idea, declaring that the JSA doesn't kill.

Note the composition of the shot, which puts the Rocket Racer between Sylvester and Dugan. They're LITERALLY on opposite sides of the issue. One might even say there's a ... GULF between them.

OK, so it's probably a bit too obvious, but I'll allow it.

• Symbolism Alert #2: After stating the JSA has to kill Bruce Gordon, Sylvester stands in front of a display case containing his old Star Spangled Kid costume. The same one he wore as a teen when he teamed up with Stripesy "decades ago."

Again, it's probably a little too overt, but it's still a cool shot. It perfectly illustrates the fact that Sylvester's no longer a child, and things are about to get real as he's forced to make a very adult decision.

• At one point Eclipso targets Barb, causing her car to seemingly stall and her former boss and stalker Jordan Mahkent to appear in the back seat.

I'm impressed the producers went to the trouble to bring back Neil Jackson as Jordan for this brief scene. Oddly enough, the opening credits didn't blab his name, so his appearance truly was a surprise! 

• The Shade pops up twice in this episode, as he's the one who tells Starman how to destroy Eclipso, and later on snaps Barb out of her Eclipso-generated hallucination. 

Strangely enough, even though he plays a major role this week, we never actually SEE him. We see his stand-in from a thousand feet away in the funeral flashback, then he appears as a puff of black smoke in Barb's car. Weird.

• After the big storm hits, Cameron Mahkent inexplicably shows up at the Dugan home and asks Mike if he can take refuge there. Cameron then attacks Mike for killing his father.

Wow, Hunter Sansone, who plays Cameron, can play creepy and menacing reeeeally well! Almost too well!

• Symbolism Alert #3: Earlier in the episode, Dugan hallucinates a yellow rose and pricks his finger on it. The wound refuses to heal, and in the third act his hands are literally covered in blood that won't wash off.

GET IT? By helping the JSA murder Bruce Gordon, Dugan literally has "blood on his hands." It's definitely wayyyy too on the nose, but I loved it anyway and thought it was very well done.

• During one of Dugan's many flashbacks, Hourman says Eclipso's so powerful that he easily defeated JSA powerhouses like Green Lantern, the Spectre, Dr. Fate and the Hawks.

In the comics, the Spectre's one of the most powerful beings in the entire DC Universe. He's basically a god, with the powers to do literally anything. Here in the Arrowverse, Oliver Queen became the new Spectre during Crisis On Infinite Earths and rebooted the entire Multiverse!

That means the Earth-2 Spectre mentioned here on Stargirl must be considerably weaker than his Earth-Prime counterpart— especially if he got his ass whupped by a single demon!

• As I said before, the Flash doesn't actually do anything in this episode, but it's always great to see him in costume again anyway.

So how does this work? There's been a Jay Garrick who's popped up numerous times over on The FlashHe originally lived on Earth-3, but after the Crisis On Infinite Earths he and his wife Joan somehow became residents of Earth-Prime.

Stargirl takes place on the Post-Crisis Earth-2. Meaning this version of Jay is simply a multiversal doppelganger of the one appearing on The Flash.

Eh, not so fast there!

In a recent DC TV Podcast, Shipp was asked to clear up the confusion surrounding Jay Garrick. I won't bore you with all the details, but basically he said the producers explained to him that the Golden Age Flash seen here on Stargirl is the same one who appeared in Season 7 of The Flash. According to Shipp, details as to how this happened are to come.

Eh, I dunno. Seems like they're needlessly complicating what should be a simple explanation. Why not just say that Stargirl features a previously unseen Earth-2 Flash and be done with it? That's the explanation I'm going with in my personal head-cannon.

• I noticed that whenever Hourman speaks, he sounds uncannily like Rick. I don't know if actor Lou Ferrigno Jr. did that on purpose, or if it was just a happy accident. If it was deliberate, then kudos to him!

• Wow, Wildcat seems like a huge jerk in this episode. I wonder how Yolanda would feel if she knew what the boxer she idolized last season was really like?

Speaking of Wildcat, he mentions wanting to protect his son from Eclipso. I wonder... will we eventually see Ted Grant's son on the show?

• Starman, Hourman and Wildcat all vote to kill Bruce Gordon, while Dugan and the Flash both abstain. Starman then tells Dugan to fire up the Racer and drive him to Gordon's house. Dugan refuses, saying he wants no part of it. Starman gets angry and orders Dugan, who eventually agrees

The writers try to make it seem like Dugan was forced into becoming an unwilling accomplice. But there's no reason for him to be involved, and nothing stopping him from telling Starman to go to hell.

Why does Starman need Dugan to take him to Bruce's place anyway? Does he not know how to drive? Even if he doesn't, he's Starman! He's got a freakin' magic staff that allows him to fly, for corn's sake!

It's patently obvious the only reason Dugan was coerced into participating is so he'd be wracked with guilt over the matter, allowing Eclipso to manipulate him in this episode.

• Dugan eventually drives Starman to Bruce Gordon's house and waits outside. A while later Starman returns and solemnly says Gordon's dead.

Did Starman kill Bruce Gordon himself, or did the entire JSA participate? The whole team voted, but we only ever see Starman after the deed's been done. Maybe the rest of them drove separately?

• Back in the present, Dugan hallucinates that Bruce Gordon's shooting at him, as images of the JSA look on menacingly.

So what happens if he gets hit by one of these imaginary bullets? Is this like a Nightmare On Elm Street, and an hallucinatory bullet will kill him in real life? Unfortunately we'll never know, as Courtney uses the Staff to snap him out of it.

• So now we know the original JSA's terrible secret— that the team dedicated to serving and protecting the public killed an innocent man in order to save the world.

The big debate here wasn't if they should kill Eclipso, but whether or not they should murder an innocent man in order to save the world. If Bruce Gordon had been a ruthless, evil dictator trying to conquer the planet, the choice would have been much simpler. Unfortunately he was just an ordinary guy who was accidentally possessed by a demon, and his death was the only solution. THAT'S the moral dilemma that tore the JSA apart.

• When Dugan tells Courtney the JSA killed Bruce Gordon/Eclipso, she gets all pissy and says she can't believe he lied to her all this time.

Not so fast there, Court! Back in Summer School: Chapter Seven, she apologized to the new JSA for lying and telling them that Brainwave died when the ISA's tunnels collapsed in the Season One finale. In my book that makes her just as guilty as Dugan.

• After Dugan tells Courtney the JSA's big secret, she asks him, "What's my Mom going to say when she finds out?"

AWKWARRRRRRRRD! Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, Court, but Barb's been in on it all along as well!

• Once again an episode ends with Young Bruce Gordon staring into a home and giggling joyfully at the chaos he's caused.

Have the writers ever explained just why Eclipso seems to love taking the form of a small boy? It doesn't make a lot of sense, especially since he possessed Bruce when he was a grown ass man.

I know the real world reason why the producers do it— because it's way easier to stand a kid in front of the camera than it is to spend several hours covering an actor in expensive prosthetic makeup. But there doesn't seem to be a good in-universe reason for it, other than maybe Eclipso thinks it'll unnerve his victims if he looks like a creepy child.

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