Apple TV+ thriller Shining Girls draws to a shocking close Friday as time is pulled out from under Jin-Sook and Kirby like a rug. Time-bending serial killer Harper’s on a mission to change history, and Kirby realizes she has only hours to stop him, no matter how.
The show, which spends too little time on the consequences of having your world changed from a humanist point of view, nevertheless gets credit for doing such a great job handling the plot points.
Shining Girls recap: ’30’
Season 1, episode 8: In the series finale — titled “30,” for the traditional journalistic method to mark the end of stories — actor Ulrich Thomsen returns as the man from whom Harper Curtis (played by Jamie Bell) took ownership of the mysterious time-traveling house. He’s pressing flowers in books when he comes upon the strange building and finds a man hanging from the rafters in what is clearly a modern track suit. The man thinks little of it, buries the body and gets on with his life.
In modern times, Harper returns to the house after stabbing reporter Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura) and finds … a pit bull in the house. He throws something for the dog to fetch, but that doesn’t solve his real problem. How did a dog get into his magical time-travel house without his knowing about it? Does someone else still have access to it?
Meanwhile, Kirby Mazrachi (Elisabeth Moss) councils a frantic Jin-Sook (Phillipa Soo), who’s just had her life changed from without by the actions of Harper. When Harper stabbed Dan, he changed Jin-Sook’s reality. Now she isn’t an astronomer, she’s just some woman. Kirby, sensing something is wrong, goes looking for Dan, and finds that his house belongs to someone else now.
Things seem different somehow
That’s not all that’s changed. Kirby’s now a star reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, doing Dan’s old job. She’d be happy, except that the first story she gets wind of is that the murders she spent all this time solving are being pinned on the first erroneous subject. Plus, Dan is dead.
Harper goes to visit Leo (Christopher Denham) at the home to see where the tape is with him and Clara (Madeline Brewer) on it. But Leo gives him the runaround and plays dumb. When Harper presses the issue, Leo finally gives up and say he’ll never help him, no matter what. So Harper kills him.
This sets more chaos in motion. Then Harper goes back and starts killing more and more people, changing everything more quickly than Kirby can handle. She goes from star reporter to record room intern to nobody at all at the newspaper. Jin-Sook gets arrested because no one knows who she is and no one knows who Kirby is.
Kirby heads to the coroner’s office and sweet-talks her way into the evidence locker where Dan’s personal belongings are kept. She finds the address to the time-traveling house that gives Harper his power. She’s waiting for him when he gets home that night. And she’s not gonna just kill him. She’s gonna make it so he never ever got inside the time-traveling house.
A trippy metaphor for assault survivors
The best part of the episode — and what I suspect Shining Girls has been building toward the whole time — is the metaphor for assault survivors located in the text of time-traveling serial killers. When Jin-Sook starts to panic, Kirby tells her not to.
“This is who you are now,” she says. “You can survive this, I have … many times.”
It’s clear now that this show has been preparing for the deployment of this speech. It proves very cathartic, even if the show could have done a little more psychological legwork in advance. I still don’t feel like we know Kirby all that well, despite Moss’ great work in the character.
When she and Soo have their brainstorming session about what to do about the fact that all three of them are trapped in a temporal pincer movement (to quote a terrible movie) it should be more despairing than it is. Director Daina Reid sets the conversation by a dumpster, which is smart thinking but not enough.
The idea that nothing in their life will ever be permanent ever again is just about the scariest thing I can think of. (I was drugged pretty heavily one time; someone put a psychotropic drug in my drink at a bar and I hallucinated that I was living on a couch on the street while everyone I knew just got on with their life like I didn’t exist anymore.) This show doesn’t do nearly enough to communicate the distress of this situation.
Of Russian Doll and introspection
It strikes me now, long after it can do me much good as a point of comparison, that one of this show’s writers or producers clearly intended this as a companion piece to Russian Doll, the Natasha Lyonne show on Netflix. Unlike that show, Shining Girls is all plot and very little introspection. Russian Doll is almost all introspection. And with a lead as expressionistic as Lyonne (the Elliott Gould or W.C. Fields of the 2020s), it can’t help but let you in on its every thought.
Shining Girls forced Moss, Moura and the rest of the show’s very talented cast to wear steely looks on their faces to stand in for their internal suffering. It’s a bummer, even as good as this show is as a potboiler. Still and all, I’m excited for a possible second season of Shining Girls
Watch Shining Girls on Apple TV+
You can stream the entire first season of Shining Girls 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.