Shining Girls stars Elisabeth Moss in another intense role that uses her talents in the best way. It’s full of psychological tension, some fantasy, some danger, and the thrill of the chase.
Shining Girls is like The Fall or Hidden. You know Harper (Jamie Bell) is the killer is very early on. You see the chase to catch him running parallel to peering into what he is doing. Except it isn’t cops after him, it’s reporters. Another big difference is Shining Girls features shifts in reality and time that strike in odd moments. A pet cat is suddenly a dog. An apartment that was home isn’t home now. You walk into a laundromat and come out of a night club.
Kirby (Elisabeth Moss) is an archivist at a Chicago newspaper. She has to write notes to herself on her reality every day, because it changes all the time. She was attacked and left for dead. Her life has been inexplicably complicated since then. She can barely hang on to her wits and behaves oddly around other people.
Stories about shifting timelines are popular right now. We long to be in another timeline in another universe. Reality sucks in this one. This particular story couples that longing with a mystery about trauma and a hunt for a serial killer.
The timeline shifts have to do with a mysterious house. Harper can enter it and leave it at a different time. Not everyone can do this. The effect is to make this story about men victimizing and traumatizing women unusual and different.
In the beginning of the series, Dan (Wagner Moura) is assigned to write a story about a woman whose body is discovered in a sewer drain. Kirby happens to see his notes and realizes that the woman’s case is similar to hers.
He’s not the star reporter. He drinks. She’s the weird archivist from down in the basement. Yet somehow she brings Dan into her story. Soon they are working together to connect the two cases. In doing that work, they find a long list of other women who were killed in the same way. A serial killer. Dan will have a big story if they can produce proof. Kirby wants to find her attacker and fill his body with holes.
Jin-Sook, played by Phillipa Soo, works at the planetarium. A key for her locker at the planetarium was found in one of Harper’s victims from 20 years ago. The planetarium just issued locker keys 2 years ago.
When Kirby begins connecting the dots in the serial murders, she warns Jin-Sook about the keys. Later, Harper scares the bejeezus out of Jin-Sook, but tells her it’s “not today” she has to worry about. Harper seems to exist in the past, present, and future simultaneously.
The newspaper photographer, Marcus (Chris Chalk) is another key character. Kirby’s mother, played by Amy Brenneman, is also important.
The more Kirby and Dan learn, the more we see Kirby’s intelligence, strength and courage. Her response to her trauma is unique. As she begins to understand what has happened to her and all the other women hurt by Harper, past and future, she gains some control. Knowledge is power. If she can change the timeline, she can restore all of Harper’s victims to their shining lives full of potential.
I don’t want to reveal the ending, but I will say that time-traveling murderous pricks better be careful about taking on a character with Elisabeth Moss cast to play her.
A word of warning. Shining Girls can be confusing. Viewers are given almost no help in understanding the mysterious things that happen. There are a lot of characters to keep track of. I don’t think the series is for everyone. If you love digging into the details and figuring out all the clues, you’ll probably enjoy it. I can imagine fans who watch it again and again to grasp it all.
The series was directed by Michelle MacLaren, Elisabeth Moss and Daina Reid. There’s a bit of a Handmaid’s Tale reunion going on, because Daina Reid worked on that show with Elisabeth Moss, as did a guest star, Madeline Brewer.
The title refers to the fact that Harper couldn’t stand women with shine, with promise, with potential. He wanted to eliminate them. Madeline Brewer’s character lived at a time before people knew radium would kill you. Her character dusted herself with radium and danced in a club where she literally shone in the dark.
You can see it on Apple TV+.