Stargirl Season 1 Episode 7 “Shiv Part One”
Director: Lea Thompson
Starring: Brec Bassinger, Yvette Monreal, Anjelika Washington, Cameron Gellman, Trae Romano, Amy Smart, Luke Wilson, Neil Jackson, Neil Hopkins, Joy Osmanski
Runtime: 45 minutes
Stargirl picked itself out of the rut it had gotten into last week and this episode is another one of encouraging quality. “Shiv Part One” is centered around revealing the backstory of Cindy Burman, before she truly embraces the titular villain role in the final few minutes. But there’s also a lot more going on throughout the episode, which continues to critique Courtney, develop Mike’s feelings of isolation, and set up yet another new superhero, among other things. While “Wildcat” and “Hourman and Dr. Mid-Nite” raised doubts about the show’s ability to juggle so many different storylines the first half of this two-parter works because of how many different things it has on its mind. The number of different storylines being progressed here means all the material is, by necessity, concise and quick, in addition to simply being well written and performed.
As the major focus of the episode, let’s talk about Cindy first. Stargirl sticks very close to the Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. source material with Courtney’s archenemy, presenting Cindy as a gleeful participant in her father, the still-mysterious Dr. Ito/Dragon King’s, plans. Ito experimented on his daughter to give her superhuman abilities (which seem to consist of basic strength, speed, and agility) and this abusive treatment (even if Cindy doesn’t see it that way) has unsuprisingly made her dangerously unstable, to the point where it’s heavily implied that she killed her mother, before doing the same to the string of modified surrogates Ito has enlisted, the latest of which is the Stepfordish and justifiably anxious Bobbie (Lesa Wilson). While the attitude is very much real, everything else we’ve learned about Cindy prior to this episode is a front. Her queen bee act is just that; truthfully she couldn’t care less about her life in Blue Valley and is only dating Henry because Ito ordered her to stay close to him to monitor for signs that he’s inherited his father’s abilities. What makes Cindy a unique villain, though, is that she doesn’t seek to escape her hellish life: she embraces it. She longs for the day when she can have a seat at the ISA’s table beside her father and only begins to act out against him when he refuses to let her act as a more active supervillain agent. She seems like a personification of pure evil, but, thankfully, Stargirl is a smart enough show to recognize if that was really all there was to her she’d be very one-note. Instead, the episode features several instances in which the pain Cindy is in becomes obvious, even though she’s not consciously aware of it, and Meg DeLacy does a very good job of adding the necessary dashes of vulnerability to her otherwise sneeringly villainous performance.
“Shiv Part One” is also notable for the ways in which it draws parallels between Courtney and her emerging nemesis. Reading the above you may have noticed that Cindy’s story is like a dark reflection of Courtney’s. Both young women are passionate, determined, and ambitious but both are also extremely headstrong, and their desires to play more active parts in their respective father figure’s superhero/supervillain activities often cross over into recklessness and have negative consequences for their families (and in Courtney’s case, friends). With the young JSA fully assembled and Pat reluctantly willing to provide training the super-team seems ready to start making more concrete progress in its hunt for the ISA until Courtney’s impetuousness rears its ugly head. She dismisses the necessity of training for herself and with the Cosmic Staff wrecks Pat’s training course of homemade ISA dummies (which, to be honest, does seem pretty useless) before ignoring his orders to wait before making a further move to investigate the new Fiddler, the school’s principal, who she follows at the homecoming football game before being attacked by Cindy, who has likewise disobeyed Ito’s orders and donned her “graduation present”, a suit of high tech armor that comes complete with a fire-breathing staff, completing her transformation into the villainous Shiv.
But before that comes the episode’s most interesting surprise, namely formation of a short-lived near-friendship between Courtney and Cindy. The two girls reluctantly partner together for a science lab when there are no other options before discovering that they actually somewhat enjoy one another’s company. Cindy asks Courtney to hang out with her on Saturday night rather than attend the homecoming dance, which a surprised Courtney agrees to. That is until, after getting some surprisingly decent romantic advice from his father, Cameron asks Courtney out to the dance (Brec Bassinger and Hunter Sansone have adorable chemistry in this scene). She explains the change in plans to Cindy but hopes to reschedule but the other girl is not having it. Having even a slight complication introduced into her desperate attempt at something resembling a normal life snaps something in Cindy and while it’s caused by Courtney, it’s Stargirl that takes the brunt of the ensuing rage.
The fight between Stargirl and Shiv is another spectacularly staged action scene with this week’s mind-blowing stunt coming when Courtney dives straight off the Cosmic Staff to tackle Cindy. Her over-confidence may get her into a lot of trouble but it’s hard to deny Courtney has a talent for this superhero thing. Still, raw skill is rarely a match for experience and the implication is that Cindy has been training her whole life with pretty much the sole purpose of killing crime-fighters. After injuring Courtney’s hands with her daggers, she gets an advantage and our heroine would have been a goner if not for the timely intervention of Justin the Janitor, who knocks out Shiv with the medieval sword he’s revealed to keep in his closet. This all but confirms that Justin is really the superhero Shining Knight, as is the case in the comics. The Staff heads out and manages to bring Pat back to the gymnasium where the fight ended without drawing any other attention but Pat winds up accidentally causing another grave threat. His concerned cries of Courtney’s name are seemingly heard by the groggy Cindy and just like that, the ISA is one step away from learning the identities of their new opponents. It’s a nice way to maintain the tension that makes this episode so thrilling going forward but the way the reveal is delivered makes Pat seem less competent than he is (seriously, the guy was a superhero sidekick for years, he knows the importance of secret identities).
The main focus is on Courtney and Cindy’s parallel journeys but one of the best things about “Shiv Part One” is how it simultaneously progresses its peripheral storylines. There’s the aforementioned stuff with the Mahkents and also some important developments in the Whitmore/Dugan household. After fobbing off an overheard discussion about “training” as referring to driving lessons for Courtney, Pat gets in trouble with Barbara for starting such an important activity without telling her. It’s a relatively innocuous interaction but it helps makes the point also illustrated by Barbara leaving for an out of town business trip, that being that Pat and Courtney’s secret partnership is causing them to drift away from the rest of their family and Barbara is doing the same in return, even if they’re all doing so subconsciously. Mike is feeling similarly ignored and he at least musters up the courage to confront Courtney about it, even if he can’t quite do so with Pat yet. His reminder that Pat is only really his dad and order for her to stop trying to steal him is potentially hurtful but Courtney at least is seemingly perceptive enough to realize he doesn’t wholeheartedly mean everything he says. Mike has become one of the strongest parts of the show pretty much overnight and Trae Romano captures his confused, volatile mix of emotions well.
There’s still roughly half a season for me to be proven wrong but after some growing pains, Stargirl seems to have found its footing and become a well-rounded, immensely enjoyable show. It’s capable of constantly expanding its world without losing sight of its key characters, relationships, and themes and I can’t wait to see what it does next in the conclusion of this two-parter and beyond.
- After saving Courtney, Justin hides behind some bleachers and sees Pat enter the gym, uttering “Stripesy!?” in confusion, indicating that the two have a history, again just like the comics.
- The reveals about Cindy’s real intentions indirectly connect Yolanda’s sexting scandal to the activities of the ISA, which is potentially a nice way to tie her motivations more directly to the central conflict.
- He’s had very little screentime so far but Hunter Sansone is so likable that I really don’t want to see Cameron follow in his father’s footsteps and become a villain.
Stargirl Season 1 Episode 7
Stargirl kicks off its first two-parter with an exhilarating villain origin story.