Trae Romano is Super

Not every superhero wears a cape. It is a sentiment that is used often, highlighting the everyday person who goes above and beyond to help others. DC’s Stargirl takes this sentiment with a bit of a twist. Not everyone superhero has superpowers.

First illustrated by Luke Wilson’s Pat Dugan at the start of the series, Trae Romano’s Mike Dugan really exemplifies that message in season two.

The second season premiered on The CW on August 10th and provided a jaw-dropping ending that left audiences worried for their favorite supers. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched.

The end of the season two premiere showcased Cindy’s [Meg DeLacy] villainous return in fabulous fashion. The JSA — Justice Society of America — believing her dead after the destruction of the Injustice Society’s brainwashing satellite dish in the season one finale, Cindy secretly makes her way to the villain’s lair and is seen considering candidates to join the Injustice Society. Her obvious choices for recruits include Artemis Crock, Cameron Mahkent, Isaac Bowin, and, surprisingly, Mike Dugan – Stargirl/Courtney’s younger stepbrother.

“Season two of Stargirl is definitely a lot darker than season one,” Trae says. “Number one, the big concept and the big thing that they really cover in season two is kind of blurring the lines between good and evil.” He explains the show does this by questioning if this person they see as a bad guy really is one. “Is he really that evil compared to some of the stuff that even the JSA has done in the past? You know, once we figured out that Yolanda and Rick and all these people who have done bad things [are also] in the JSA, maybe they’re not the only ones; maybe we should dive into what else the JSA has done in the past? So they really dive into a lot of these different backstories that we haven’t really looked into.”

That leads to Trae’s second point of how the new season sets itself apart from the first. “Every character has their own episode; every character, throughout the season, has a centric episode on themselves. It’s really quite interesting, quite cool, because you really get to see what makes these characters how they are,” the actor says.

Photo Credit: Orion Bustamante (@shotbyorion)

He continues that while season one did have a few episodes dedicated to exploring character backstories, it was still more of an ensemble. “But this season, they’re really diving into the individuality of the characters. For example, episode three is Mike’s. Episode four, I’m pretty sure, is Artemis Crock and Sportsmaster and Tigress, and so on and so forth as the episodes go on,” he explains. “It’s just a really interesting take on it because I don’t know that a lot of superhero shows have done that. That’s what makes Stargirl so special – that you can be in a position to literally do whatever you want.”

Part of this particular storytelling decision was due to Covid-19. One of few Warner Brothers productions working during the pandemic, the limited cast allowed the show to go in-depth with its pre-existing character list. “That’s just amazing that in this second season, we’re going to have every episode focus around a different character, and it just makes it really fun to watch because it always gives the audience something new.”

One storyline in particular will give viewers a dynamic they haven’t really experienced before.

In the season one finale, audiences watched as Yolanda slashed and killed Brainwave and Mike hit Icicle with the family car, killing him. The season two premiere featured Yolanda struggling to come to grips with her actions and it’s an inner conflict that she’s not alone in experiencing.

“Mike brings up his personal guilt to Yolanda because he knows that she’s the only person that really knows how he feels,” Trae says of the two. Expanding on what to expect from their dynamic, he says, “There’s a few great scenes between Mike and Yolanda actually just about that very subject. Mike always tries to play everything cool, but sometimes he’s just not okay which, you know, is normal because killing someone or doing anything like that in general – that haunts you forever, especially just the overwhelming guilt you must feel. It’s the same with Yolanda. Both of them really, I guess, find each other in some way, and they have a few really beautiful scenes.”

Trae teases of Mike’s own guilt, “It’s really interesting because you look into how Mike deals with his own sadness, like at first he’s trying to cover it up. At first, he’s trying to make it seem like it wasn’t his fault and it was an accident. It just puts you in Mike’s state of mind: ‘Hey, I could kill someone and I don’t know how to deal with it.’ So it’s really interesting because that’s one of the big things that Mike deals with for season two and they explain it quite well.” He reiterates, “Like I said, it gets dark. It gets dark in the sense that when you explore all these different characters, you’re also exploring all of their mindsets and they’re all very different. A lot of times, you know, honestly, it’s depressing.”

They really dive into a lot of these different backstories that we haven’t really looked into.

Furthermore, Trae brings up a major part of Mike’s storyline this season by mentioning Jim Gaffigan playing Thunderbolt.

“There’s two major things that happen in this season for Mike. You know, Mike’s always wanted to join the JSA and he finally feels like he’s getting closer to that role and taking on that position. The Thunderbolt almost acts as a catalyst, just to get him into JSA. Also, on the contrary, it leads him to his friend Jakeem because in the comics, as we all know, Jakeem Thunder eventually has control of the Thunderbolt. I don’t even want to say [there’s] jealousy; it’s just a really cool dynamic [and] Jakeem and Mike become really close and they’re best friends.”

He explains how Mike steps up to show Jakeem the ropes of superhero life, enthusiastic about the great scenes they share together. Trae laughs when he recalls Geoff Johns telling him that Mike was always pissing off everyone in the show and now is getting a taste of his own medicine with Jakeem pissing off Mike and Mike telling him what to do. “It’s a completely different side to Mike that we haven’t seen whatsoever, and that’s really explored a lot,” he says.

The same can be said of the relationship between Courtney and Mike, with season two exploring a completely new side to their dynamic. “It goes from jealousy to complete admiration and respect for each other, which is really interesting because Mike’s character is in the position that Courtney’s character was in in season one. She completely understands and she wants the best for Mike, which is really sweet.”

While Trae does admit there will be some tension between Mike and Jakeem at first when he realizes that, once again, he was overlooked and this special item chose someone else again, it doesn’t reach the level of jealousy that he once held towards Courtney. The actor describes how once Mike realizes Thunderbolt chose his friend, he has an epiphany.

“‘Okay, I can create my own legacy. I don’t have to be tied down to one of those things. I don’t have to be tied down to the staff or S.T.R.I.P.E. or Thunderbolt. I can literally create my own legacy and I could do my own thing,’” he says of what Mike’s mindset is at that point. “It is kind of like an epiphany and you see Thunderbolt is his last straw, to be honest.”

He continues, “There’s just so many things that have gone against him and then finally, he feels like he has this power and this authority and it just completely escapes him. So it really does make him look inwardly.”

Trae admits that when he does this hard look at himself, it might not be the best time for his character. “He’s probably not in the best mental state, but he does realize that he can accomplish something that no one else has.”

His aspirations to be a hero and to not have to follow the legacy of others, instead making his own, is what sets him apart from his father. In the past, Pat, though eager to take up the mantle of Starman if he was needed to, instead was content to stay in the shadows as a sidekick. However, he finds through his relationship with Jakeem that he understands his father more than he thought.

“Mike takes on the father role with Jakeem, which is kind of funny because they literally switch places. Jakeem is Mike and Mike is Pat, because you can see them always having the same conversations,” Trae says with a laugh when asked about how the Mike and Jakeem dynamic reflects the Mike and Pat dynamic. “It’s really funny actually because sometimes in these scenes where there’s some heated arguments between Mike and Jakeem, the way that Geoff and the writers room [write], it literally sounds like some of the stuff that Pat would say. It’s hysterical because I’m reading the sides and I’m like, This sounds like Pat.”

He offers an example of one scene where his character is pacing around the room and yelling his head off, according to the actor. “I’m like, ‘You can’t do this. And you have to do this and you have more responsibility than you know how to handle.’ The roles are just completely switched.” He goes on to say, “The thing with Pat, though, is that he’s warned Mike as much as he possibly can. At this point, Mike is like, ‘Okay, I’m on my own.’ He almost does realize that. ‘I realize that you’ve wanted to help me. But at this point I’ve seen too much and I’ve done too much and now I’m going to be involved no matter what.’ And Pat’s like, ‘Okay, but I literally can’t help you. You’re on your own.’”

It’s a completely different side to Mike that we haven’t seen whatsoever, and that’s really explored a lot.

Trae ponders on the relationship between the two for a moment. Mike and Pat have a growing tension, with Mike falling into the role that Courtney had in season one, with so much enthusiasm and drive to be involved in this superhero life and Pat trying to reign him in and make him understand what exactly he’s getting himself into.

He admits of the tense relationship, “I don’t know if that’s what either of them wanted. I know that’s not what Pat wanted. I know Mike wanted to be involved but now it’s almost like a lose-lose situation at this point because he’s going to be alone in this world of chaos. That’s essentially what happened.”

With Mike’s relationship with his father fraught with tension and hard conversations, Trae reflects on his character’s relationship with his stepmother Barbara.

Both outsiders to the secret world of superheroes their family members are involved in, they only found out at the end of season one and right when their lives were in danger. Trae says that the relationship between the two hasn’t changed much but he does relay that they understand each other and there’s deeper care between them now.

“That’s like the one stable thing in Mike’s life, honestly, is Barbara,” the actor says. “It’s almost like having a traveling businessman as a husband – that’s what you can really equate it to with Barbara because Pat’s gone most of the time. She doesn’t know where he is; she’s worried about him. Mike, nine times out of ten, is right beside her. It’s really sweet.”

He says of developing this relationship opposite his on-screen mother Amy Smart, “We had a few great scenes just about stuff like that later in the season. When everyone’s out doing stuff and when things are really falling apart, we’re literally just stuck at home left to wonder what’s happening.”

Trae repeats his sentiment of sweetness when it comes to their relationship but adds that there’s sadness to it as well. “Both of them really have no idea what’s happening to their family or their friends ever,” he explains.

“I think they care about each other more in general – yes, I completely agree with that. It’s definitely a complete mother-and-son relationship now. I think [the writers] really expand on a lot of stuff they touched on in season one and just made it better.”

While his strengthening familial relationships are a relief to hear about, the number one concern on the minds of so many viewers is if Mike would sellout Courtney and the rest of the JSA to Cindy. As seen at the end of the season two premiere, Cindy has her eyes on bringing Mike to the Injustice Society.

Asking Trae just how vulnerable is Mike to being swayed by Cindy, he laughs. “That’s a good question…”

He continues, “Mike has a lot of respectful for himself, I feel, and it is touched on I think in episode six. – Meg and I actually had a great time doing that episode, it was just a really fun episode. – But there definitely is a run-in with Cindy and Mike and there definitely is some inner conflict with Mike.” Trae explains, “He’s like, ‘Okay, well, this person’s offering me a spot on their team when I couldn’t be offered a spot on my own sister’s team. What do I do?’ Then he quickly realizes that Cindy is not offering a spot on the team; he’s simply just being used by her as leverage.”

I know Mike wanted to be involved but now it’s almost like a lose-lose situation at this point because he’s going to be alone in this world of chaos.

That knowledge makes Mike more appreciative of his stance in the JSA, according to the actor. “It’s not that he’s not in the JSA – I feel like he is at this point but it’s this unorthodox kind of half-in, half-out position that he’s in.” He laughs as he sums up the entire situation, “I think it just makes him appreciate his stance in the JSA a lot more and how psycho Cindy is.”

Everything that Mike goes through in the beginning of season two really brings him to a point where he becomes much more serious about the superhero life than he once was. His overwhelming enthusiasm and brush-off of the dangers it presents instead slips away into a hardened Mike who has been through and seen things he didn’t think of before.

“That goes away very quickly, honestly,” Trae says with a quick laugh as he thinks of Mike’s previous excitement. “That leads back to what I was saying about Pat and Mike when Pat was like, ‘Hey, I’ve warned you about this before and right now, you can only save yourself. I can’t help you anymore.’ Actually, episode three to probably episode six are the real turning points for Mike because there’s some stuff that happens that really almost traumatizes him and he’s just not the same anymore. It really does take a turn for the darker halfway through.”

Photo Credit: Orion Bustamante (@shotbyorion)

He says that episode three in particular really describes everything about Mike that audiences need to know. “Episode three through episode six really just break down what Mike is going to be like for the rest of the season. You can even see it in how it’s written and how it’s shot and everything, that it just continually keeps getting darker and darker because Mike realizes that this isn’t like a game anymore – it’s real and he could get killed and so could his friends. That’s a lot of the stuff he always talks about with Jakeem later on.”

In fact, the Mike that hangs out with Jakeem in season two has lost his innocence in a sense. “When I say he and Jakeem have a relationship, it’s not like kiddie, ambitious and excited. It’s a weathered and kind of newly hardened Mike [when] that friendship comes in. So it’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re going to love it! It’s going to be great!’ He’s literally almost shying away from it. He’s like, ‘Dude, this sucks. You’re going to have a lot of responsibility. You’re going to have a lot of this, you’re going to have a lot of that, and you have to be ready for it.’ And it’s a completely different side of Mike that we haven’t seen.”

That, in large part, is because of what happens to his character early on in the season. When asked to expand on what exactly traumatizes Mike, Trae offers, “Honestly, the whole season. Like the end of season one and all throughout season two is just traumatizing in general because of stuff that he’s exposed to.”

Though, as audiences witnessed in season one with Icicle, Mike does have his hand directly in some traumatizing events, Trae explains that it’s slightly different in season two.

It’s like a whirlwind for Mike.

“A lot of things that are the most traumatizing for Mike is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not even necessarily anything happening to him; a lot of stuff does happen to him like in episode four and episode six. But a lot of the stuff that happens to Mike that traumatizes him is just things that he sees and things that he hears. It’s really kind of like his whole world is crashing down around him. It’s like wrong place at the wrong time, but he shows up. He shows up to try to help fight a villain and it goes terribly wrong. He tries to help the JSA somehow and it doesn’t end up working.”

Trae shares that his character continually has things happen that show him how hard the superhero life is and how he’s not really cut out for it. In addition, he notes that being used as a pawn by both the superheroes and the supervillains traumatizes him as well.

“He’s literally being used as a pawn by both sides, the JSA and the villains, because the villains see him as this kind of token, this trophy that they can use. It’s like, ‘Hey if we get Mike, we can use him as leverage, and if we do this, we can…’ So it’s like he’s literally just being completely used all season.” He laughs for a moment, feeling for his character as he laments, “That’s ridiculous.” He sobers up then and adds, “It’s like a whirlwind for Mike.”

Although he has been thrust into this new world of superheroes and villains, Mike doesn’t need a superpower to be a hero. However, just for the fun of it, TEENPLICITY asked Trae what power he would give Mike if he could.

“I think Mike would be really good at a really strategic kind of superpower. Not something blatant like Rick’s strength or power, but something that’s more, I don’t know, sophisticated,” Trae ponders. “I think Mike would almost be really powerful with Brainwave’s superpower, or something like that – something that’s really mental, completely. Yeah, I think that’s honestly probably what Mike’s best superhero power would be.”

DC’s Stargirl airs Tuesday nights at 8PM ET on The CW!

For all things Trae Romano, be sure to follow him on Instagram!

*Interview edited for clarity

25. Television and radio production graduate. || I think some people underestimate the range and variety of things that interest younger generations. I'm determined not to.

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