I love a story that sits at the intersection of superheroes and teens. These characters are at a time in their lives when they’re trying to figure out who they are as a person and what they want out of the world, while also juggling the responsibility of powers, fighting dangerous foes, and protecting those around them. The CW’s Stargirl is a great example of this. Currently on Season 2, which is smartly dubbed Stargirl: Summer School, the show follows the new Justice Society of America (JSA), whose members include Courtney Whitmore (Stargirl), Yolanda Montez (Wildcat), Beth Chapel (Doctor Mid-Nite), and Rick Tyler (Hourman). With the help of their mentor Pat Dugan (S.T.R.I.P.E.), they defeated the Injustice Society of America (ISA) and saved their town, Blue Valley. But this battle has repercussions on their normal teen lives. Seeing ISA threats that aren’t there, Courtney ends up failing a class. Both she and Yolanda—who is being haunted by the guilt of killing the supervillain Brainwave—land in summer school. And instead of enjoying a chill summer, the JSA soon realize there’s a new threat: Eclipso, an ancient entity of corruption and vengeance.
In the first season, we watched the JSA come together as a team. In Season 2, we’re watching the team being torn apart by a villain whose expertise is in pulling out the worst in ourselves: fear, rage, insecurity, hate, and so on. By the end of Episode 7, Yolanda quits being Wildcat after the guilt of killing Brainwave becomes too overwhelming, thanks to the prodding of Eclipso. By the end of episode eight, Rick is in the back of a cop car after beating his uncle nearly to death when he thought he was beating up Solomon Grundy. As someone who put the team together, Courtney is riddled with guilt and self-doubt as she watches her friends fall apart. But there’s one member of the team that I haven’t yet mentioned because their journey fascinates me the most: Anjelika Washington’s Beth Chapel.
Beth is the bubbly and nerdy Black girl at the predominantly white Blue Valley High. She’s dealing with the loss of her closest friend — the A.I. in her Doctor Mid-Nite goggles, Chuck, who was destroyed after the events of Season 1 — and now her parents are getting a divorce. In the same episode that saw the downfall of Rick, Beth fights her own battle against Eclipso himself. He at first creates an illusion where Beth’s parents blame her for their failed marriage. After seeing maggots in her sandwich, she flees the upsetting scene with her goggles — but instead of isolating herself, she seeks help from Courtney. In response to that, Eclipso pivots and changes the illusion so that Beth “arrives” to a dark and empty home where Courtney and her family are nowhere to be seen. It’s there that Beth meets Eclipso’s human disguise sitting on the stairs: a white little boy named Bruce. Bruce steals her goggles and proceeds to run around the house, calling her a thief and a liar because of how she came across the goggles in season one. He says again and again, “Stealing, that’s what you people do,” referring to a clearly racist stereotype of Black people as delinquents. He prods at her by saying that she isn’t smart and can’t be trusted with the goggles.
Finally, Beth realizes that she’s actually dealing with Eclipso and in response, he doubles down by taunting her even more. “The staff chose Courtney; Courtney chose Yolanda; Rick’s dad [the previous Hourman] chose him. But no one chose you,” Eclipso as Bruce says to her. “That’s because you’re no fighter. I thought you people were athletic. I guess some of the stereotypes are wrong.”
Beth responds by yelling, “Racist!” which leads to Bruce/Eclipso literally hissing back in response — like a true Karen. This pushes Beth into the closet and into a new illusion at the original JSA headquarters. It’s there that she sees Starman, the original Wildcat and the original Hourman—all of whom are white men. They all ask why she’s there, how she got in, if she’s lost, and even go as far to say that she doesn’t belong there. Then Eclipso/Bruce reappears to hammer it home: she doesn’t fit. She’s not the right age, the right gender, nor the right colour to be a member of this iconic superhero team.
Upset, Beth chases him back into Courtney’s home where he says, as a disembodied voice, that she’s afraid and hiding it. It’s something he brought up earlier in the episode: that she hides behind a smile. But Beth firmly states to Eclipso that he doesn’t know her in the slightest. In fact, she goads him by saying that if she’s the one who’s scared, then why is he the one hiding? What’s he afraid of? He responds, “Nothing!” and reveals his true form.
It’s clear that his approach with the others isn’t working on Beth, so he attempts a last-ditch effort to get her to succumb to her worst fears and anxieties. He tells her directly to give in to her envy and rage. He tells her that she forced her way into the group like she does with everything else in her life. He tells her that no one chose her.
But Beth resists. “That’s what you need me to do? Give into my worst fear? That I’m an outsider? I won’t,” she tells him. “I’m strong, proud, and I chose myself to be Doctor Mid-Nite. I choose me! Oh, yeah, and I love being Black.”
In that moment, when Beth doesn’t give Eclipso what he needs, she gets her opportunity to retrieve the goggles. By putting them on, she’s able to cut through Eclipso’s illusion and find herself back at her home, where it’s revealed she’s always been. Compared to the rest of the JSA, Beth emerges triumphant, in more ways than one.
I’ve enjoyed every episode of Stargirl and see these teen characters as kids I want to protect, advocate for, and cheer on. However, this episode is probably the most emotional I’ve felt watching the series. Eclipso said Beth was the weakest link in the group and if you were to ask any viewer, I’m sure they’d think the same. Unlike the others, she isn’t physically strong, agile, or have a magical staff that can make her fly. She’s not seen as useful in a traditional superhero narrative where big action scenes and final fights are the main attraction. Yet, the traditionally “stronger” characters are the ones that were undone by Eclipso’s mental games. Their physicality meant nothing in the face of their own self-loathing, self-doubt, and helplessness.
Again, our characters are teens dealing with incredibly big feelings on top of big external threats. But what makes Beth’s one-on-one mental battle with Eclipso fantastic to watch is that as a Black girl, she’s had to deal with all these fears of otherness her whole life. That’s not to say she’s immune to the feelings Eclipso conjures up. But she’s had a long time to build up a stronger sense of herself, and that’s ultimately what resonated with me. You learn to constantly live with all these varying negative feelings of self and of those around you, but hope that your confidence in who you are isn’t shaken enough to let those feelings win.
I also found it interesting that Eclipso, an ancient being, resorts to racism in order to mentally break Beth. It’s purposeful that he takes on the form of a little white boy. It allows him access to spaces more easily and worm his way into people’s lives without them giving him a second thought. The racist things he says to Beth, all parading as a child, makes his words all the more insidious. He absolutely knows what he’s doing. More than anyone else, his interactions with Beth say a lot about the kind of villain Eclipso is, and how he sees racism as a useful tool.
Beth is someone who is experienced with being on the margins because of her race, but she’s grown up with self-love in spite of it. As a grown Black woman, watching Beth Chapel declare that she loves being Black is more powerful than super strength any day. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds with some of the JSA members out of commission and Beth’s discovery that her goggles can see through Eclipso’s illusions. I’m particularly interested to know what Pat and Courtney’s mother are hiding since they know more about Eclipso than they’re letting on to Courtney and the gang. I’m not a fan of parents withholding information that could actually help their children. Whatever happens in the rest of season two, I hope the show continues to do the excellent job of explore these teen’s sense of self within the context of being newly minted superheroes. I also want to see more of Beth being the kick-ass Black girl that she knows she is.