In this week’s intense installment of Shining Girls, Kirby finds the clue to her killer’s identity and Dan dries out long enough to have an epiphany of his own. The only question is, can they stop Harper before he kills again, or fundamentally alters their reality?
The new time-traveling murder mystery on Apple TV+ finally finds it footing in an investigation-heavy fourth installment.
Shining Girls recap: ‘Attribution’
In this week’s episode, entitled “Attribution,” Harper Curtis (played by Jamie Bell) flashes back to the day he attacked Kirby Mazrachi (Elisabeth Moss), who was going by the name “Sharon” then. He didn’t kill her, so she’s still alive — his one big mistake. He tries to use a distraction caused by her hysterical mom (Amy Brenneman) to finish the job, but he’s found out and has to leave.
Meanwhile, back in 1992, reporter Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura) is selling his story to his editor (Erika Alexander) and the rest of the staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. They’re grossed out by the ethical violations. (Kirby stole an answering machine tape with Harper’s voice on it from a victim’s house.) Also, Kirby works at the paper, and so does her husband, Marcus (Chris Chalk). Marcus thus gets to hear from Dan, not his wife, that Kirby’s been swiping evidence and is getting entirely too close to the case. He insists on coming with her to collect some evidence.
They go to an audio technician who’s been transcribing the answering machine tapes Kirby stole. They listen carefully to the audio and come to the conclusion that Harper was playing her own voice back to her almost at the same time as she was speaking the words. How could he have done that? He recorded her, went back in time, and played it for her. Kirby knows Harper because he did it to her once.
This, I have to say, doesn’t make any sense. Why would a woman say, “How are you doing this?,” unprovoked in one timeline, without having “this” — time travel — to react to? I call nonsense. But this does explain why the matchbook left in Kirby’s body after the attack advertises a bar that doesn’t exist. It just hasn’t been built yet.
Whatever … let’s keep going.
Dan figures out that the only real connection between the victims is that Harper is leaving objects inside the bodies of each of them that belonged to the previous victims. A campaign button from one victim winds up in another. A key from one woman’s workplace winds up in another victim’s body.
When they hit upon this, Kirby decides she doesn’t want to remain anonymous anymore. She’s going to let Dan use her real name and be interviewed about the experience. But just before they’re set to go to print, Kirby remembers Jin-Sook (Phillipa Soo), whose stolen key turned up in a murder victim. So she’s next. Harper follows Kirby right to her front door.
I’ve never had any hangups
This might be the strongest episode of Shining Girls yet because it spends a lot less time in the liminal spaces of Kirby’s misfiring memories or her faulty recollections of her own life. I’m sure we’ll see them again, but all the same, it feels like a hat on a hat.
She doesn’t have to have anterograde amnesia — she’s already the victim of a time-traveling serial killer. This is most likely going to be used as justification for her visions in the final act of the episode when Harper finally steps out of the shadows to finish her off.
As Kirby walks back from her interview with Jin-Sook, she sees a laundromat. It’s about to be bulldozed to make way for the bar advertised on the book of matches Harper left inside Kirby when he attacked her all those years ago.
The trouble with time travel
Harper follows Kirby into the bar and starts attacking her. With every blow, the walls around them change, as if to say that with every potential change in the direction of the fight, the future changes, too.
If he had killed Kirby in the bar, they likely wouldn’t open the bar in the first place — or anyway, not with the same decor — so it changes. But because she survives, she runs out onto the street and sees the bar, finished and filled with people. Something has changed, temporally, because she survived Harper’s attack for the second time.
Time-travel stuff is always a little too fantastical for my liking. The more you try to explain the rules, the less they actually practically work. But I’m enjoying Shining Girls. I should say, I enjoy it a lot more when it’s just the story of a drunk investigative journalist and his key witness, but I can stomach the rest of it to get to the good stuff.
Watch Shining Girls on Apple TV+
New episodes of Shining Girls arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.