NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Stargirl”, including a major character death, are present in this review
With the new Justice Society fully formed, and the Injustice Society’s plans mere hours away from execution, Stargirl kicks off the first half of its two-part season finale storyline this week, one that puts all of Earth-2’s United States in its crosshairs! “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One” begins with the ISA taking the fight more aggressively than ever to the heroes, now being extra determined to prevent their plans for Project New America from falling apart. This forces Courtney and Pat to separately fend off Tigress and Sportsmaster, respectively, before having to rally everyone together for a decisive last stand against the ISA.
In terms of excitement, this first half for Stargirl’s season finale storyline definitely delivers. This week’s episode hits the ground running with the Tigress/Sportsmaster attack, which presents some especially brutal battling for both Courtney and Pat, as they struggle to defend their other family members. Fortunately, the ego of Tigress and Sportsmaster also helps to somewhat spare the two heroes, particularly in Pat’s case, as Sportsmaster’s taunting eventually leaves him prone to getting a drill in the back, courtesy of Mike, thus allowing Pat to knock out Sportsmaster!… And then just leave him there. In fact, Courtney does the same thing, blasting Tigress out of a window in the end, before not checking if she’s alive, or making any effort to restrain her, nor alert the authorities (yes, they might be in the ISA’s pocket, but this hasn’t necessarily been proven!), which, needless to say, feels incredibly contrived.
This is the main source of frustration with what’s otherwise a pretty engaging episode, namely some elements of the storyline having to awkwardly be forced into place, due to the ISA’s arrogance, or the heroes’ negligence. Tigress and Sportsmaster are obviously the biggest examples here, with Pat inexplicably making no effort to restrain Sportsmaster, even after he’s rendered fully unconscious just a few feet away, which is even more egregious than Courtney failing to check on the fate of Tigress. This in turn allows the ISA’s two thugs to eventually have a heated confrontation with Principal Bowin as well, fresh off of consoling her conveniently bullied son, who is only now coming into the picture! Principal Bowin wisely brings up the potential strategy of simply immobilizing the new JSA with her Fiddler powers at this point, thus allowing them to be easily taken out, but after she inexplicably provokes her ISA cohorts, Tigress fires a crossbow bolt into Principal Bowin’s chest, and kills her. WHAT?!
Okay, I know this isn’t necessarily out of character for Tigress and Sportsmaster, who really are arrogant as all hell, and clearly aren’t afraid to kill people over what they perceive as slights to their character. Still, even considering that, it seems impossible to believe that these two would be so stupid and negligent as to kill their best means of stopping the new JSA, after she spells out exactly how to do it! Moreover, the rest of the ISA’s ultimate plan feels a little… Arbitrary. There’s an inexplicably long countdown between Brainwave’s test run, and his actual use of the synaptic manipulation machine, all while Gambler and his superhuman hacking capabilities seem to conveniently shut down any obstacle in the ISA’s path. This climactic storyline for Stargirl’s first season just doesn’t feel like it’s unfolding very organically. Instead, key events appear to be executed as the plot demands, with no real nuance or cleverness, and that’s really annoying, especially when the rest of this episode otherwise does a pretty good job of keeping the excitement and tension high.
Nonetheless, even that excitement eventually gets ruined to some extent, when Stargirl’s executive producers, Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter pull out a particularly tired cliche from their numerous DC shows, namely that the villains are actually trying to save humanity from themselves, or so they claim. Project New America is about brainwashing every adult in the U.S. (and only adults, apparently, not children or teenagers, which definitely feels like a contrived way to keep Stargirl and her friends in the game when they logically should have been defeated early), to forcibly accept things like wind and solar energy, an end to systemic racism, and universal health care. This could have been an interesting twist for the ISA’s ultimate motivations, had Berlanti and Schechter not already trotted it out on other DC shows such as The CW’s Supergirl, where arch-villains like Non, Reign and Gamemnae all had similar motivations of saving the world by either killing humanity, or taking away humanity’s free will. Except, on Stargirl, this twist is even stupider, because the ISA’s mind machine inexplicably doesn’t work on teenagers (which suggests that the ISA are literally allowing the new JSA to stop them, unhindered, when their machine could be easily modified!), and is being perpetuated by blatantly psychotic people who have even callously murdered teenagers as well, having up to this point demonstrated that they don’t give a frog’s fat ass about human life! This just doesn’t fit!
We can see what happens next week, of course, but the motivations behind the ISA are no longer novel, and just feel annoyingly trite in the umpteenth Berlanti/Schechter-produced DC show. Fortunately, Stargirl does at least finally bring Mike up to speed this week, at long last, after he intervenes and saves Pat, during his brief scrap with Sportsmaster. It’s about time that Mike finally learned the truth about his father’s and stepsister’s activities, even though he’s still predictably being left on the bench at this point. The JSA’s branching operation against the ISA carries some decent promise for next week too, as Yolanda, Rick and Justin head into the ISA’s tunnels to stop the machine, Beth and Barbara try to hack the rest of the ISA’s plan from Jordan’s office, and Courtney and Pat try to attack the ISA’s tunnels from another front. It’s quite fitting that the ISA’s machine ends up taking control of Pat when the mission is underway as well, pitting Stargirl against S.T.R.I.P.E. as this episode ends, and setting up another great tease for next week, when this storyline, and Stargirl’s debut season, concludes.
Ultimately, I’m torn on this week’s kick-off to Stargirl’s season finale storyline. It does keep the pacing and excitement strong, though at the cost of some of the most frustrating writing that the season has delivered thus far. “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One” gives a non-sensical and frustrating agenda to Project New America, while filling the ISA’s actual plot with so many holes that you have to wonder whether they’re actively trying to be stopped! At least this episode’s kick-off battle with Tigress and Sportsmaster is plenty fun though, despite Courtney and Pat refusing to secure them for no reason. The implication of the JSA being divided right as the ISA’s mind machine is activated is also fairly promising, especially when it pits Courtney directly against Pat. There is still time to salvage some of the annoying story turns that this week delivered, thankfully, but Stargirl had better have some much better plot elements waiting in the wings next week! This debut season for Stargirl has been pretty solid overall, and it doesn’t deserve to faceplant at the finish line!
- Exciting kick-off battle with Tigress and Sportsmaster
- Mike finally learning the truth about the new JSA
- Courtney being pitted against Pat, while away from her team
- Courtney and Pat inexplicably allowing Tigress and Sportsmaster to escape
- Tigress inexplicably killing Principal Bowin on a whim
- Too many arbitrary, contrived elements to Project New America