Stargirl Season 1 Episode 9 “Brainwave”
Director: Tamra Davis
Starring: Brec Bassinger, Yvette Monreal, Anjelika Washington, Cameron Gellman, Trae Romano, Amy Smart, Luke Wilson, Neil Jackson, Neil Hopkins, Joy Osmanski
Runtime: 45 minutes
Secret identities are sometimes treated more like hindrances than interesting parts of the story by recent superhero tales. Most of the Arrowverse shows, for instance, have improved as more members of their supporting casts are let in on the heroes’ secrets. But Stargirl has recognized the drama that can be created by having different characters privy to different information at different times. That recognition has already resulted in some great scenes, like Cindy and Courtney’s chat in the last episode and it also gives this one its best sequence. “Brainwave” might predictably shine more spotlight on the Kings but it’s the Mahkents’ surprise dinner with the Whitmore/Dugans that’s most enjoyable.
Part of that is because the show’s approach to developing Henry Jr., who is now a more central player, is still not entirely successful. Yes, his discovery of his heritage and more direct involvement in the JSA/ISA conflict allows the show to explore some more ambiguous ideas on morality than it usually does but Henry’s reactions to them just aren’t that compelling or even active. His father is presented in much more interesting ways even though, until the very end when he finally wakes up, the only times we see him do anything are in more of the VHS tapes Jr. discovered in his lair. It’s revealed that after his powers developed Henry Sr. became more and more disgusted by the abhorrent thoughts he found in others’ minds and this is what caused him to become Brainwave, in the hopes of making a “better” world. It’s nice to see another member of the ISA who shares Jordan/Icicle’s belief that they’re acting towards a greater good (as fun as Sportsmaster, Tigress, and Dragon King are they’re all very much villains of the mustache-twirling variety) and Christopher James Baker does a very good job portraying a man who is simply done with humanity. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the show can’t make the similar arc Jr. undergoes that interesting. The character’s actions and reactions alternate from somewhat sympathetic (his clear feelings of guilt when confronted by Yolanda) and villainous (murdering his father’s lawyer after he says that Jordan must be taken off life support) without much rhyme or reason. The show wants the character to seem at least somewhat decent while also ominously hinting at him becoming more plainly evil but doesn’t commit enough to either sentiment and he’s bland as a result. Jake Austin Walker still hasn’t been given the room to flesh the character out or portray many emotions beyond confused and overwhelmed.
Speaking of Yolanda, the episode’s handling of her is another problem. She’s understandably outraged by Courtney’s idea of bringing Henry onto the team, even gearing up as Wildcat to threaten Henry to stay away from her friends or she’ll kill him, but her screen time is so limited and the scenes handled in such a matter of fact manner that her appearance lacks the weight her storyline deserves.
But, while the episode mostly disappoints with its handling of the supporting characters it focuses on, it shines when the main heroes (and villain) are back at the center of attention. Courtney and Pat are debating whether or not to tell Barbara about their double lives (Pat wants to, Courtney doesn’t) but they have to put that to the side when Cameron, his father, and grandparents show up for dinner, as Jordan takes Barbara up on a friendly offer. The ensuing sequence is rivetingly tense even though neither Jordan no Courtney or Pat know who the others really are for half of it. Luke Wilson and Neil Jackson do solid work of establishing a dynamic that on the surface is polite but is also full of tension. Jackson in particular shows how this is a crucial attempt at social outreach for Jordan. It’s clear that he has feelings for Barbara (and his parents’ subtitled comments make it even more so) but he also seems at least somewhat genuine in his attempts to befriend Pat, despite the inevitable jealousy. But things hit an even higher gear when Courtney puts two and two together about who her mom’s friend is. I’m with Pat, the logic that Jordan has to be Icicle because he didn’t burn his hand on a hot plate is thin at best but hey, it got her to the right conclusion. Brec Bassinger is excellent at displaying the confused anxiety Courtney feels from then on, which is exacerbated when Jordan tells her the real reason he came was to meet the girl his son is so interested in. Again, the budding Courtney/Cameron romance has really become a thing absurdly fast (they only had one on-screen interaction prior to him asking her out) but the actors make it compelling and the idea of a Romeo and Juliet approach is interesting.
But her potential boyfriend’s villainous relations aren’t even the biggest issue Courtney has to deal with by the end of the episode. Before she and Pat can agree on whether or not she should follow Jordan to surveil him, Barbara walks into the basement and is shocked to see the Cosmic Staff, glowing and floating. As much fun as the show has had with keeping Courtney’s identity tightly guarded, this seems like the right move at the right time as it brings the household drama to the forefront and ties it directly to the superhero storylines. Hopefully, the show can maintain the same level of tension and intrigue even though things are more out in the open.
- When Courtney is telling Pat about witnessing Henry use his powers Pat is more concerned with Beth’s discovery of Cindy’s photo of Dr. Ito, who he had fought while he and Sylvester were members of the Seven Soldiers of Victory prior to joining the JSA. The other members were Shining Knight (all but certainly the secret identity of Justin the Janitor), Vigilante, the Crimson Avenger, and the Stargirl universe’s versions of Green Arrow and Speedy. I’m not sure which, if any, of the Soldiers beyond the ones we’ve already met might appear but Green Arrow seems particularly unlikely given that Arrow, which Stargirl shares loose connections with, just came to a very successful end. And yes, Courtney points out that there are eight Soldiers. Maybe Pat and Speedy weren’t counted as full members? That seems rude.
- Dr. Ito is keeping Cindy locked in a cell in his lair.
- Speaking of Ito, he and the ISA discuss their ultimate plan, which is now to use Henry Jr.’s telepathic powers (in place of his father’s) and a special machine to take mental control of the nearest six states to make their “New America”. While it’s nice to have villains who don’t want to take control of the entire world for once this seems like an arbitrary focus area, at least barring any additional info.
Stargirl Season 1 Episode 9
The Brainwaves aren't as interesting as the show thinks but Stargirl still manages to entertain by having Courtney and Jordan share a meal.