As Kirby and Harper recover from their physical encounter, they seek out answers about the other in close connections.
Spoilers follow for episode 5. …
Episode 5 “Screamer”: Dan’s article gains traction across the city. After a harrowing encounter, Kirby’s grasp of reality comes into question.
As Shining Girls moves into the back half of its limited series run, the strengths of the show – and some of its weaknesses – are definitely starting to (ahem) shine through. Elisabeth Moss‘ performance, along with Wagner Moura and Jamie Bell, are definitely the selling point of the series, and the series’ propensity for elliptical storytelling that prompts audiences to question what they have already seen or think they know.
On the con side, however, the methodical (bordering on slow) pacing and tendency to slip back into the same old conflicts rather than develop its characters can feel tired.
This latter quality is on display in “Screamer” when the police (at multiple points) challenge and question Kirby (Moss)’ testimony of last episode’s physical encounter with Harper (Bell), as well as her evidence locker binging in episode two. This is fine because we don’t know the police – they’re barely characters in the series. But when it once again prompts Dan (Moura) to question Kirby’s authenticity, it feels like a return to a storyline the series has revisited and put to bed multiple times.
Thankfully it doesn’t last – in part because there’s too much else going on – but it reinforces the challenge of adapting a book about a woman who experiences time differently than everyone else. Naturally it’s going to be difficult to convince others that she isn’t crazy.
Another weakness that is exposed in “Screamer” is just how much weight the central trio is shouldering. When Kirby’s mother Rachel (Amy Brenneman) and “husband” Marcus (Chris Chaulk) spend their brief scenes wondering why she is shutting them out, it doesn’t have a ton of emotional resonance because it reveals how little time and energy Shining Girls has put into fleshing them out. Rachel and Marcus’ confusion makes sense – Kirby is, in fact, avoiding them – but their struggle doesn’t land as strongly as it would if they were proper characters in this drama.
The reality is that Shining Girls is a series with three leads: Moss, Moura and Bell. If “Screamer” does one thing well, it is floating the idea that Jinny (Phillipa Soo) is far more important than she initially seemed. The events of this episode, which replay previously seen scenes from “Cutline” and “Attribution,” albeit from a different, slightly altered lens, suggests that preventing her death may be the end game of the last batch of episodes. Can the character’s seemingly pre-determined fate actually be changed?
- It would be understandable if audiences feel too much of a sense of deja vu in the long stretches of repeated blocking and dialogue, but I found the process of identifying what’s new in Jinny’s scenes, such as Harper leaving her door open and speaking with her on the roof, a satisfying mystery.
- By revealing himself to Jinny in an effort to collect more information on Kirby, “Screamer” winds up revealing more about its antagonist than ever before. The episode also opens with Harper recovering in the hospital after sustaining injuries in last week’s climax and his desperation to return to “the house” lest he suffer debilitating flashes of pain offers a clear Achilles Hell.
- I initially really liked the scene with the (frankly gross sounding) peanut butter, bacon and grape jelly sandwich between Marcus and Kirby. Alas, just when it seems like Kirby is taking an interest in a human connection other than Dan, she spots Harper’s tattoo in Marcus’ war photos and the scene shifts from relationship building to advancing the plot. It’s obviously doing both things at once, but the tattoo reveal undercuts some of it and feels a touch too timely and convenient. Naturally Marcus has an essential piece of the puzzle that Kirby needs right now!
- The episode also introduces a new character, Leo (Christopher Denham) who suffers from (a derivation of) Harper’s condition. Leo resides in the VA residence where Julia Madrigal worked, has a medal from WWI (which suggests he, too, can time travel) and acts as a sounding board for Harper when he recovers.
- One of the cruelest scenes in the episode occurs when Kirby exploits Leo’s confusion to acquire a videocassette he stole from Harper. It reinforces not only Kirby’s willingness to do anything she needs to to bring Harper down, but also leans into the idea that Kirby isn’t always a nice or kind character. For some viewers, this may make her unlikeable or off-putting; to me, this friction only serves to make her feel more real and interesting.
- Best Line: Kirby’s line to the front desk receptionist, who comments on how beat up Kirby looks on the newspaper front page: “They only use the glamor shot if you get killed.” Absolutely brutal.
- Our new nagging question: Who is the blonde woman on the tape and what is her (very familiar seeming) relationship to Harper?
Shining Girls airs Fridays on AppleTV