Popular new Apple TV+ series Shining Girls keeps finding new clues to the identity of its time-traveling menace Harper. Meanwhile, Kirby and her reporter co-worker Dan get closer to breakthroughs — and further from normalcy — at every turn.
Kirby must ensure she doesn’t alienate everyone in her life just when she needs them most, even as she tightens the noose around Harper. Dan just needs to make sure Kirby doesn’t come across as an unreliable witness.
Shining Girls recap: ‘Screamer’
In the opening of this week’s episode, entitled “Screamer,” Harper (played by Jamie Bell) wakes up in the hospital after Kirby (Elisabeth Moss) cut up his face and left him for dead. She’s trying to get a sketch artist to draw Harper, but he won’t listen to Kirby for some reason.
Harper gets his hospital roommate to untie him, screaming about how he can’t be away from the house for too long or something bad is going to happen. Every step he takes is agony, but his vision is blurring as he goes, suggesting something very bad is happening to him internally.
When Dan (Wagner Moura) looks at the sketches of the killer, he realizes this is the guy who’s been dogging him and his son the last few weeks. And when Dan catches up with Kirby, she tries to explain that the reason she thought she lived with her mom is because her reality changed when Harper attacked her. (The timelines don’t seem to match up, but I’ll go with it).
The trouble is, when Kirby says that the bar where she was attacked used to be a laundromat, Dan doesn’t remember it that way. Kirby’s reality is the only one that changes. It seems she and Harper are locked into some kind of covenant where the world changes and no one notices but them.
Troubles at work and at home
Dan also leaves Kirby out to dry in front of their editor (Erika Alexander). This comes after the police realize Kirby went into an evidence locker and touched the matchbook that Harper placed in her body when he attacked her. Dan talked Kirby into returning the matchbook, but the seal was broken. So now the cops think she planted the evidence.
When Kirby goes home, Marcus (Chris Chalk) makes her a sandwich she doesn’t remember liking. He doesn’t know what to make of her alternate-reality spiel, but he’s confused as all get out. Dan goes to visit Rachel, Kirby’s mom, to try and see if Kirby’s character is what it appears to be. Rachel is obstinate on the point that Kirby isn’t a flake, she isn’t crazy, and she isn’t a liar.
All kinds of time-jumping weirdness
Jin-Sook (Phillipa Soo) meanwhile starts doing a little investigating of her own. She’s curious about the nagging mystery of how her locker key wound up in a murder victim’s body some 20 years before it was made. Now, with the story about Harper out in the world, she’s seeing murderers in every window and mirror. Then Harper appears before her (in a scene we know happened in the first episode) and she knows it’s all real.
Dan and Kirby go to interview a guy named Leo (Christopher Denham) with the same tattoos as Harper, in a home for the unsound. He claims he fought in World War I but he’s no older than Kirby. We know him, because we’ve seen Harper talking to him.
Then Leo says something cryptic about how Harper won’t let him go near “the house.”
“Does he know that I took it?” he asks a panicked Kirby, before presenting her with a tape.
The tape shows Harper interviewing a blonde woman, like for an audition. When they leave, Dan offers to drive Kirby home. But a few seconds later, he says he doesn’t have a car. He sold it years ago.
Sometimes it’s just random
As is the case with a goodly sum of the Apple TV+ programming, the craft here isn’t the thing on which to get hung up. It’s a bummer, certainly, that more of the streamer’s shows aren’t a little more vivacious to look at and experience generally, but I will take the side effects of this over the alternative.
Basically, most of these shows are decent mysteries with little to get in the way of the plotting, which, at its best, is quite tense indeed. Severance bucked this by giving its corporate chicanery an ironclad look uncommon to most TV. But other shows, including Tehran (which is back with its second season), Defending Jacob, Slow Horses, Truth Be Told, Suspicion … all these shows are plot-heavy and artistry-light.
That’s fine, there’s a place for that. And I will say at bottom that each was gripping for its own reasons. It’s rare that Apple TV+ mysteries and thrillers wear out their welcome, and Shining Girls is very good indeed when focusing on its central mystery.
I’m less enamored of the sci-fi “rules of time travel” stuff. I’m not sure that adds anything to the idea of trying to catch a serial killer of women, but it’s kind of novel. (Not totally, of course. Let’s not pretend every idea hasn’t been done before. People have been going back in time on TV since ’60s show The Time Tunnel.)
However the intensity of the characters played by Moura and Moss is best applied to Shining Girls’ procedural elements. When the show just lets those run uninterrupted, magic can happen.
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.