During the first episode of Shining Girls, we got to know Kirby Mizrachi, a woman who survived a brutal attack by an unknown assailant. Six years later (in 1992), the trauma from that incident has been exacerbated by her reality constantly shifting in minor and major ways. Case in point: episode one ended with Kirby discovering that she lived in a completely different apartment and is married to her office crush (putting that change firmly in the “major” category).
Meanwhile, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dan Velasquez began investigating the death of a social worker named Julia Madrigal, who’d been missing for two years until her body was found inside one of the city’s water pipes. The police want to pin the killing on one of her former clients, but there’s more evidence pointing to him being innocent than guilty. When Kirby reveals she was cut open in the same manner Julia was, Dan suspects that they may be dealing with a serial killer who’s still operating in the Chicago area.
Meanwhile, an astronomer named Jin-Sook is stalked and murdered by a man named Harper Curtis, who cuts her open in the same way that Julia and Kirby were. He also visited Kirby as a child (looking the same in 1964 as he does in the early 90s) and gave her a wooden pegasus.
In this episode, we’ll get to see Julia Madrigal’s final days while also learning a good deal more about Harper.
As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. It will also provide what we hope is a helpful analysis to guide you through the series’ more vague/obscure clues. Along the way, we’ll streamline parts of the narrative’s fractured timeline for the sake of clarity.
Once in a Lifetime
The episode opens with Kirby futilely attempting to process her new reality while Marcus holds her in his arms. Things become even more confusing when her apartment is swarmed by Sun-Times employees to celebrate her husband’s birthday. People who barely knew Kirby’s name before now greet her as if they’ve been friends for years.
Kirby tries to play along, but is quickly overwhelmed and retreats to the bedroom. After taking a moment to catch her breath, she looks under the bed and finds her journal.
If the pictures of her and Marcus on their wedding day weren’t proof enough that this is real, seeing Marcus identified as her husband in her own handwriting confirms it.
Light in the Dark
The next day, Dan meets Howard (the medical examiner) at an arcade to ask if Kirby’s wounds matched the ones found on Julia Madrigal. When he doesn’t confidently confirm it, Dan asks if there was anything left inside her.
The pair head back to the morgue, where Howard pulls up Julia’s report. Her wounds indicate that she was killed somewhere else and dragged to the site where her body was dumped. Dan notices that a small container of radium (a material used to create bioluminescence) was also found with her, but Howard assumes it was simply some nearby debris — especially since the product has been off the market since the 1950s due to safety concerns.
*Side Note: Howard is bad at his job.
After taking a Polaroid of the radium container, Dan asks to see Julia’s body. He then turns off the lights, revealing a patch of radium residue still glowing inside of her.
*Side Note: Howard is REALLY bad at his job.
History of Abuse
Harper carries a stack of newspapers back to his house, which has most of the windows boarded up. After making himself a cup of coffee, he sits down and begins flipping through the Sun-Times. Upon finding Dan’s article about Julia’s death, the air around him fills with a strange noise/vibration.
Harper’s coffee cup also changes, prompting a mildly curious reaction. He reads a little more before carefully tearing the article out.
*Side Note: I cannot stress enough how important this scene is to the rest of the series. In addition to the changing coffee cup (which is easy to miss), take note of how this is the first time Harper has heard/read about Julia Madrigal’s death. It also wouldn’t hurt to remember the weird sound we heard when he began reading Dan’s article.
When we next see Harper, it’s 1990, the same year when Julia disappeared. He’s at an assisted living center for people with severe mental disabilities (Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) and visiting a man named Leo. Despite being far younger than most of the other patients, Leo speaks with him about a battle he remembers fighting in (Cantigny) during World War I. Harper appears to remember being there, as well.
He then tells Leo about his upcoming meeting with Julia, who he somehow knows will be coming in soon.
Harper bids his friend an affectionate farewell and heads downstairs to the reception area, arriving just as Julia walks in the door. He strikes up a conversation that begins well, but quickly derails when he critiques her hairstyle and reaches out to touch her.
Julia firmly rebuffs Harper’s advances before walking over to the assisted living home’s operator (Gordie) to meet some new clients.
That evening, Julia comes home and sees her front door open. Thankfully, her father (Raymon) is there to help her unpack from a recent move. After telling him about her day, she pulls out a saucer from one of the boxes and discovers a Polaroid of her. The picture was taken at a nearby beach, but she has no memory of it.
Raymon also notes that his daughter looks extremely tense/unhappy in the photograph.
Later that evening (and presumably after her father has left), Julia is doing work in bed when she hears a noise outside. She gets up, walks into another room, and finds the same beach Polaroid of her sitting on a chair. Shen then goes downstairs and finds another Polaroid on the living room floor. This time, however, the picture was taken through a nearby window. That would be creepy enough on its own, but the photo impossibly shows her at the exact same moment she’s standing in.
Julia runs into the kitchen and grabs a boxcutter to protect herself. As she backs up against the wall, she notices another Polaroid sitting above the sink. Once again, the picture inexplicably shows her in the current (and horrifying) moment.
Julia reaches for the phone to call the police, but it rings before she can grab it. When she picks up, Harper’s voice assures her that he’s not inside the house and she doesn’t need the boxcutter.
Julia asks how he got inside the house that day. Harper confidently replies that she let him in. When Julie fires back she doesn’t know him, Harper responds that she did…and she will. He also reveals that the pictures he took of her are from tomorrow, although she may not be there to take them again.
At this point, poor Julia’s nerves are understandably shot to hell. She becomes even more terrified/disoriented when Harper warns her to watch her step less than a second before her foot lands on a piece of bubble wrap.
As Julia sinks to the floor, Harper laments how he can no longer tell where his memories are from. He then asks her if she thinks she can remember the future.
Instead of answering him, Julia drops the phone and begins to break down.
Searching for Truth
Dan approaches Kirby and tells her that he can’t locate any articles about her assault. When she claims there won’t be much to find, Dan asks if there was a police report so he can compare it to Julia Madrigral’s autopsy. Kirby responds by pointedly asking if they found something inside Julia’s body.
Instead of answering her directly, Dan expresses his ethical concerns about using someone he works with as a source for his story. Kirby doesn’t appreciate having her experience questioned, but understands why it needs to be verified. Dan also asks what it meant when she said her attacker left something inside her.
Kirby takes Dan to a laundromat, which has the same address as the one printed on a box of matches the police found inside her torso. The matches are also from an establishment (the Bee Happy Bar) that doesn’t exist and can’t be found in any of the city’s records.
Despite his unease over this new revelation, Dan shows Kirby the Polaroid he took of the radium residue inside Julia’s body. He then asks her to walk him through the day of her attack. Her recollection becomes unexpectedly difficult/hostile when Dan asks some basic follow-up questions — specifically about her relationship with Marcus at the time of the attack and if she has any family in the area.
Kirby becomes even more frustrated/upset when it hits her that the history she and her mother shared over the last six years no longer exists.
Dan attributes Kirby’s confusion to a traumatic response from seeing what happened to Julia. He tells her that she doesn’t need to have all the answers right now, but she assures him that there’s evidence to corroborate what happened to her — she just needs to find it.
Kirby sets out on a mission to locate her mother. She eventually finds Rachel leading the music at a church called The Well, which feels like it’s one bulk order of Nikes away from being a cult. She’s also a very different person from the hard-living woman we saw back in the first episode.
After the service, Rachel spots Kirby and tearfully greets her while praising God for the return of her daughter. Kirby asks if they can retrieve her hospital records from the attack, but is drowned out by Rachel’s exultations along with the rest of the church members, who join in and lay hands upon them.
Later, Kirby makes it back to her mother’s home, where Rachel struggles to find any of the pictures or documents her daughter needs. She’s also surprised to learn that Kirby is helping with her own assault case.
The pair eventually locates some of the photographs along with an old VHS tape from Rachel’s time as a lead singer in a rock band. Rachel pops the video into the VCR, which shows a blonde-haired and much more carefree Kirby singing on stage with her mom.
When Kirby asks why they don’t speak anymore, Rachel responds that it was her daughter’s decision. There’s also an unspoken implication that their estrangement is related to Rachel’s newfound religion.
Meanwhile, Dan visits the assisted living home where most of Julia’s clients came from. Gordie reveals that in the weeks before she disappeared, Julia went from being one of the bravest people he knew to someone who appeared to be living in a constant state of fear. She never said what was scaring her, but it was bad enough that Julie began asking the old man to walk her to her car every night.
Later, Dan visits Detective Lynsky, who becomes evasive about whether or not Julia ever called the police about being stalked. Dan attempts to break through by revealing that Julia’s killer likely had a second victim — someone who he already knows (and spoke with last episode).
Lynsky realizes who Dan’s referring to and pulls Kirby’s file, which reveals her real name to be Sharon Leads. He also tells him that she barely had any memory after the assault. A few months later, Kirby/Sharon suffered a complete mental breakdown and had to be put under psychiatric observation. Her wounds may be consistent with Julia’s, but her testimony is nothing that a solid case could be built on.
Before walking away, Lynsky finally admits that Julia was being stalked. He also believes, however, that the man who was doing it (Pawel Banik) is currently in jail for her murder.
Back to the Future
When Kirby arrives home, she finds Marcus testing out some new film. He’s disappointed they didn’t spend any time together that evening, but not angry. He is worried, though — especially after Kirby’s odd behavior during his birthday followed by the first visit she’s made to see her mom in months.
Despite his understandable concerns, he recognizes that his wife will talk to him when she’s ready and gives her space.
Kirby may feel completely lost in this new life, but she also starts to remember why she had a crush on Marcus in the first place.
The next day at work, Dan confronts Kirby about hiding her true name/identity. Fortunately, she now has the evidence (from her mom’s place) to back up her claims — and to show why she felt the need to change her name for her own safety.
As the two go over the documents/photographs, Kirby explains that she’d been working her way toward becoming a reporter before the attack. After her lengthy recovery, she’d been out of the business too long to pick things back up. Working as an archivist was the only job she could get.
Before the attack, Kirby didn’t experience any overt break-ins or see any evidence of stalking. She could still feel something was off, though. She would come home and it would feel as if someone had just left before she got there. When Dan reveals that Julia had been stalked, Kirby realizes that she was likely being watched before her attack, as well.
Dan then asks if there’s anything else he should know. Kirby responds by telling him that she doesn’t want anyone else in the office to know that she’s his source. Dan agrees.
Later that day, Dan and Kirby drive to Julia’s home to attend the post-funeral reception. On the way there, Kirby notices an empty liquor bottle along with a Gameboy cartridge. Instead of inquiring about Dan’s drinking problem, she asks if he has any kids. Dan replies that he has a 12-year-old son. When he asks if Kirby and her husband want to have children, she says they haven’t discussed it yet (which is technically true from her standpoint).
Kirby then asks Dan for his opinion of Marcus, who she thinks is incredibly kind. Dan disagrees, believing him to be a martyr who’s “all decency with no compassion.”
The pair arrive to find Julia’s home surrounded by family, friends, and news vans. Dan tells Kirby to hang back a bit since he told Julia’s father he was coming alone. He goes to speak with Raymon, but the grief-stricken man slams the door in his face.
Since most of the attendees are outside, Dan endeavors to see what he can learn from them, instead.
Kirby, on the other hand, decides to sneak around to the back of the house. She also takes off her earrings and introduces herself to Julia’s family as a friend returning some borrowed jewelry. She easily gains entry and heads up to Julia’s bedroom. After digging around for a bit, she finds one of those old micro cassette tapes that were used with answering machines.
*Side Note: The fact that I felt the need to link a picture and description of those items makes me feel ridiculously old.
She plays the tape, which Julia used to record a 911 call she made to report that someone had been inside her home multiple times. The dispatcher offers to send someone out, but she says it won’t matter since he’ll know they’re coming.
The next recording she made is of a conversation between her and Harper. When Julia tells him that she called the police, Harper responds that they won’t be there for another 18 minutes. He then provides Julia with a chilling warning/reminder:
I’m with you every moment.
I’m with you through everything that has happened.
Everything that will happen.
I’m with all of you.
Kirby recognizes the voice as her attacker’s and takes the tape.
Meanwhile, Dan continues talking with Julia’s well-wishers while downing a few adult beverages. He also notices someone (who seems very out of place) giving a statement to one of the news crews. When he calls him over, the man turns and reveals himself to us (but not Dan) as Harper Curtis.
Harper claims to work for the Chicago Daily News, which Dan informs him has been out of print for over a decade. Harper deftly plays this off as a joke, which Dan is buzzed enough to accept. When he introduces himself as a writer for the Sun-Times, Harper says that he reads his articles — including the recent one he published about Julia.
Dan then asks if Harper knew the victim. Harper says he didn’t, but he does live fairly close to her. He also correctly infers that Dan believes someone other than the suspect the police arrested (Pawel Banik) is responsible for the murder. This turns their previously friendly conversation hostile, with Harper implying that Dan doesn’t know how to do his job. He also notes that all the other news crews have departed, which appears to be his way of pointing out that Dan’s just there to drink.
Kirby comes back outside and finds Dan sitting alone and despondent on the sidewalk. She presents him with the tape and says that a recording of her attacker is on it.
That night, Dan and Kirby play the tape for Abby (Dan’s editor). Without giving herself away as a source, Kirby claims that the man’s statement about being “with all of you” proves he had more than one victim. Abby is receptive to the theory, but both she and Dan insist that they can’t use the tape without the family’s consent. Kirby promises to go back and secure permission from Raymon.
When Abby asks why the tape was hidden, Kirby states her belief that Julia knew her killer was coming and it’s all she had time to do. Abby then asks Dan if he was able to verify his anonymous source. Dan responds that she held up just fine, causing Kirby to respond with a subdued smile.
Meanwhile, Harper returns home and heads upstairs to bed. As he lays down, a human-shaped patch of radium next to him begins to glow.
While the last episode gave us an idea of Kirby’s struggles, this one provides a painfully detailed look at them.
The reality shifts are undoubtedly jarring, but also something she’s clearly suffered from before. They also provide the audience with a level of insight the rest of the characters don’t have (while simultaneously throwing a massive obstacle in front of her).
Balancing such a bizarre Achilles heel within a relatable-yet-heroic protagonist would be a tall order for any actor. Thankfully, Elisabeth Moss’ portrayal of Kirby offers yet another example of why she’s so incredibly good. Even when reality itself isn’t certain, Kirby’s resolve is never in doubt.
Moss’ incredible performance is bolstered by Kirby’s interactions with intriguing variations of the same characters we’ve seen before. Even Dan changes in ways that force her to painfully recover and adjust.
With Rachel, sobriety and a sense of purpose (from an admittedly concerning/suspect source) somehow managed to drive them even further apart. Mother and daughter were obviously close before the attack. Perhaps Kirby saw Rachel’s happiness and relative stability as a betrayal. If anyone should share in the misery she’s carried since nearly being killed, it should be the person who loves her the most.
And then you have Marcus, who’s doing everything he can to understand and support a woman who began acting like a stranger overnight — at least from his point of view.
Meanwhile, Harper takes his already well-established creepiness and kicks it up a notch. Watching him stalk and kill Jinny last episode was difficult, but the way he tortured poor Julia was downright brutal.
Harper’s actions/abilities might also seem extremely confusing for folks who’re watching one episode at a time. I get that Shining Girls‘ story has supernatural elements, but there’s a lot that gets thrown at us without much context. Most of it will eventually be explained (or at very least explored), but some key elements didn’t get nearly the screen time they deserved — especially the coffee cup scene.
Also, I’m a huge Dan fan, but it’s still ridiculous to have him discover something any halfway decent medical examiner would have found beforehand. As exasperating as that moment. its absurdity was rivaled by how easily Kirby gained access to Julia’s bedroom before unearthing a hidden/critical microcassette.
Those issues aside, “Evergreen” serves as a delicious appetizer for what will be many of Shining Girls‘ best aspects. It’s also an episode that you’ll definitely want to watch again after you’ve gone through the entire series.
In the meantime, we’ll jump over to the next chapter, which features a large dose of escalation on all fronts.
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!