In the second episode of Shining Girls, we saw just how difficult life’s been for Kirby since she was attacked and nearly killed six years ago. The trauma from that incident would be enough to shake anyone, but she also has to deal with reality constantly shifting around her. Sometimes it’s only in small ways. Other times, it’s massive — like coming home to find that she’s been happily married for a while to her office crush.
Meanwhile, we got a good look at just how terrifying Harper actually is. There were also several clues pointing toward his own issues with reality shifting. While most of it was clearly purposeful, other aspects appeared to be beyond his control. The best evidence of this was when he saw an article by Dan Velasquez in the Sun-Times about Julia Madrigal’s murder. After feeling a shift in the air around him (and his coffee cup changing), Harper traveled back in time two years to ensure that the murder took place.
In this episode, Harper begins to infiltrate Dan’s life directly. Meanwhile, Kirby makes a major discovery that leads to even more questions about what happened.
As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers. It will also provide what we hope is some 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.
About Last Night
The episode opens with Dan waking up from a drunken stupor on a subway train. As the morning’s harsh light burns through the window, he looks down and sees blood dripping from his sleeve. Further investigation reveals glass shards poking out from his arm along with a damning bar receipt in his coat pocket.
Dan returns to the bar and retrieves his keys, which the bartender took from him the night before. He notices that the house keys are missing, but the bartender doesn’t know why. Dan then goes back to his vehicle, which has the seat adjusted differently and an unfamiliar tape in the cassette deck. He arrives home and is let in by his son (Freddie), who’s clearly used to this sort of behavior from his dad. Dan tries to claim he was at work all night, but the boy isn’t fooled.
After convincing Freddie to get ready for school, Dan notices that the books on one of his shelves have been oddly arranged. Before he can process what this might mean, his son announces that he’s ready to go.
As the pair leave, neither of them notices Harper watching from across the street.
*Side Note: This sequence might seem like the beginning of the episode, but it’s actually the end (and will make a lot more sense later).
Trusting the Process
Over at the Sun-Times, Kirby goes through microfiche files of the paper’s reporting on unsolved murders.
*Side Note: For you young folks, this is what people used before high-speed internet came along to help us find bulk amounts of reference material.
Abby (the paper’s editor) commends Kirby on her work, but also warns her that Dan has a severe drinking problem. It apparently got so bad at one point that he had to take a leave of absence from the paper.
Later, Kirby presents her findings to Dan, which consist of multiple unsolved murders (all women) over a 25-year span. When Dan says it’s not enough, Kirby responds that she can’t do anything without the police reports, which he can get. Dan agrees to help, but refuses to use the tape Kirby found in Juia Madrigal’s home.
Stolen evidence doesn’t typically sit well with law enforcement — especially from someone (Kirby) who they’ve already deemed to be unreliable.
As the pair depart the office, Kirby asks Dan why he took a leave of absence from the paper. He responds that it was to spend time with his son, which Kirby knows is a lie (or at least a lie of omission).
When she appears to accept his answer at face value, Dan quickly figures out that the question was born from a conversation with Abby. Kirby admits that it was, but still asked in the hopes he’d answer honestly — especially since she’d answered everything he asked of her.
Instead of acknowledging this imbalance, Dan declares that the man Abby described to her isn’t who he really is.
The pair travel to an evidence storage facility, where Dan is both well known and well connected. The facility manager provides backup copies of the files Dan requested along with a table for them to work on.
After hours of sorting, Kirby finds an eight-year-old (1984) case file belonging to a woman (Willie Rose) who was cut open in the same manner she and Julia Madrigal were. A gold pin was also found inside her torso.
Reenergized by their discovery, the pair dig into the files and find even more cases with the same modus operandi, including:
- Catherine Moore, 1983
- Margot Zelle, 1981
- Karen Polachek, 1974
- Summer Francis, 1972
*Side Note: As you can tell by the case dates, these murders have been going on for at least 20 years.
After a while, Dan excuses himself to call and check on Freddie — a task that takes much longer than expected when he decides to stop and have a drink with some of the facility’s employees. Meanwhile, Kirby ends up finding her own case file.
Dan eventually returns to the table to find that his partner’s not there. After looking throughout the facility, he finally locates Kirby standing next to the storage bin for her case, its contents spilled onto the floor at her feet.
Kirby reveals that she found a total of six case files matching the same M.O. as what happened to her and Julia. Dan suggests they pick things back up tomorrow, but she has no intention of stopping. Instead, Kirby asks if they can work from his home. Dan isn’t thrilled at the idea, but agrees when she offers to take the files to her place instead.
He then asks her to put the evidence back in the bin so they can copy what they need and depart. Kirby obliges, but keeps the matchbook from the non-existent Bee Happy Bar. When Dan tells her to put it back, she initially refuses. The item was left inside her, after all. That should make it hers.
Dan counters that the matchbook is evidence that’ll be needed at a trial — a trial that will happen because they’re going to find the man who attacked her. After taking a moment, Kirby agrees and puts the item back in its broken evidence bag, which she replaces inside the bin.
Harper is reading the newspaper at a convenience store when he notices a young woman (Lisa) attempting to purchase alcohol with a fake ID. When she’s unsuccessful, Lisa approaches Harper and asks if he’d be willing to purchase the six-pack for her. She’s a bit thrown when he knows her name, but not enough to keep her from trying to convince him to do her a solid.
Instead of helping her, Harper advises Lisa to abscond with the alcohol out one of the side doors after the clerk drops a roll of quarters. The woman is confused at how he could’ve predicted this, but still takes the advice.
After Lisa leaves, Harper gets up and follows the woman through the door. Turns out that the “exit” he told her about actually leads to the store’s supply area, where Lisa is stealing even more alcohol. She offers Harper a bottle, but he turns her down, explaining that he doesn’t drink. Lisa then asks how he knew about the quarters. Harper replies that he knows everything about the store, including the clerk and his customers.
This is the first time he’s noticed her, though.
Understandably creeped out, Lisa decides to get out of there. She asks Harper where the actual exit is, which he claims is in another area of the storage room. When she heads in that direction, he follows her, explaining that he also needs to make a stealth escape so the shop’s owner won’t know he was back there.
This claim is quickly disproven when Lisa finds herself trapped in a corner.
Harper proceeds to toy with the terrified woman, implying that she’s too weak-willed and stupid to recognize what was obviously a trap. When Lisa asks what he wants, Harper responds that he wants nothing from her, especially when it should’ve taken them years to get to this point. He drives the point home further by declaring that there’s no use in following a woman who couldn’t even find a door.
Harper then turns and walks back the way he came, leaving Lisa shaken but still alive.
*Side Note: Although Harper’s analysis of Lisa’s intelligence isn’t fair, it does provide some insight into the women he stalks along with the pleasure and/or compulsion he feels to torture them before taking their lives. In his mind, Lisa didn’t “shine” enough to be worth his time.
For my fellow book readers: I realize there’s more to Harper’s compulsion than his own dark desires, but we can’t talk about that yet!
Harper re-enters the store and spots Freddie picking up groceries. He walks over and introduces himself as someone who used to work with Dan, but the kid is either extremely street smart, disinterested, or both. Whatever the case, he brushes the man off and exits the store.
Harper follows Freddie outside and continues asking about his father — specifically if he’s working on any new/big stories. Freddie responds that his dad doesn’t openly discuss major projects until they’re done.
Undeterred, Harper asks if Dan has ever mentioned Julia Madrigal’s murder. Freddie responds that his dad doesn’t talk to him about dead people. Harper implies that this means his father is likely hiding other things from him. He then gives the boy a stolen KitKat bar and walks away.
That evening, Freddie hears his father coming home and turns off his video game. He runs to the table and pretends to be doing his homework just as Dan and Kirby walk through the door. Freddie swears he hasn’t been playing, but Dan feels the television and light-heartedly calls out his son’s lie. He also introduces Kirby, who instantly wins cool points when she feels the TV and declares that it’s not very hot.
As Dan sends Freddie off to get ready for bed, he tells his father about the weird guy he met who claimed to be an old coworker. He also didn’t get the man’s name, much to his father’s chagrin.
Meanwhile, Kirby looks at Dan’s bookshelf and notices a picture of him with his ex-wife (Gina). Dan comes back and reveals that although Freddie adores his mom, she’s also an addict. For that reason (and many others), she has to keep her distance. When Kirby presses him on what those issues are, Dan explains that things don’t go well when they’re together.
He then encourages her to call Marcus and let him know where she is.
*Side Note: As you may remember from the first episode, Dan has a domestic assault charge on his record.
As the two begin digging back into the case files, Dan notices Kirby’s notebook and begins looking through it. At first, he’s simply confused that it’s filled with mundane details about her life. Upon finding notes about him and their conversations, however, he grows understandably concerned.
Without telling him everything, Kirby explains that the book is a means of navigating her life since the attack. Dan is still confused, but hands the notebook back when she silently demands he return it.
With that bit of awkwardness out of the way, Kirby states her belief that the distinct way all seven of the women were killed (and she almost was) is enough to prove a connection. Dan counters that they can’t use police records they shouldn’t even have to make their case.
It’s a good start, though — good enough to at least bring the story to Abby.
The next morning, Kirby awakens on Dan’s couch to the sound of Freddie’s Atari gaming system. She gets up and goes into the kitchen, where the boy is making her coffee.
The counter is covered in crime scene photos, but Freddie is unphased by them, explaining that he’s seen much worse. Despite his jaded reassurance, Kirby still picks up the photos and puts them out of sight on top of the refrigerator.
Before the two enjoy a cup of coffee together, Freddie explains that Dan had to go into work early that day to meet with Abby.
Over at the Sun-Times, Abby is impressed with Dan’s story. She’s also amazed that both the Chicago Police Department and the media somehow missed a serial killer who’s apparently been operating in the city for at least two decades.
When Abby asks who his source is, Dan reluctantly admits that it’s Kirby. Abby is furious at how this could compromise the story, but realizes it could also lead to a more compelling one about a survivor hunting the man who tried to kill her.
Dan responds that he can’t force Kirby to do that, especially when she’s already made it clear that she has no interest in being identified.
Later, Kirby arrives at the Sun-Times and goes to see Marcus, who brought her a change of clothes. He’s uneasy about Dan involving his wife in a story, but still agrees to help pull some old negatives of Summer Francis’ murder from 20 years ago.
As the couple examines the crime scene photos, however, Marcus expresses his concerns more openly. In addition to her working on a case she’s directly involved in, he doesn’t trust Dan. According to him, the embattled reporter never finishes a story; he simply chases them before running out of steam and moving on.
Instead of heeding Marcus’ warning (or even acknowledging his concern), Kirby requests that he print a close-up photo of the item found inside Summer’s torso.
Meanwhile, Harper enters Dan’s home and begins searching through his belongings. While rearranging his books (like we saw at the beginning of the episode), he hears Freddie run upstairs and into the living room. This would cause most home invaders to panic, but not Harper. Instead, he calmly watches the boy grab something out of his bookbag and depart — almost as if he knew the kid wouldn’t look over in his direction.
Once Freddie’s gone, Harper goes into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator, causing the crime scene photos to fall onto the floor. He picks them up and immediately recognizes his own handiwork. For the first we’ve ever seen, a wave of anxiety washes over Harper’s face. He may still be in control, but the washed-up reporter from Julia Madrigal’s home might be a bigger issue than he thought.
Harper drops the photos and exits the house moments before Freddie comes back to see if his dad was there.
Dan finds Kirby and admits he told Abby that she’s his source. He feels bad for betraying her, but explains that there’s no way their story could have run otherwise. He also reveals that Abby isn’t as mad as he thought she’d be, but the editor does have some questions — chief among them being why Kirby wouldn’t want to be a central figure in the report.
When she remains steadfast in her refusal to be identified, Dan says he’ll keep her anonymous. Kirby responds that the police will almost certainly leak her name when (not if) the story makes them look incompetent and blows their conviction of Pawel Banik for Julia’s murder. Dan replies that she should simply “face the firing squad” and remind people of all the murdered women whose cases were never solved.
Once again, Kirby refuses, this time pointing (in a roundabout way) to her unreliable memory. Dan agrees to write the story based on available evidence from the other seven cases, but they both know that won’t be enough. Dan also reminds her that to the average reader, dead people are just bodies. With Kirby, the crimes become much more real.
After Dan leaves, Kirby goes to her desk and finds the photo print she requested from Marcus. She opens it and sees that the object next to Summer Francis is from the Adler Planetarium (which you might remember as Jinny’s workplace).
That evening, Kirby goes to the planetarium and shows the picture to a security guard, who identifies the object as a staff locker key. She can also see the number (which I couldn’t make out from the photograph) and says it belongs to Jinny, who still works there.
*Side Note: Remember in my episode one recap when I said that Jinny’s murder didn’t happen concurrently with the other events we were seeing? This moment is why.
Kirby goes into the current show to find Jinny giving a VERY heavy-handed lecture on how even after stars die, the effect they had on the space around them continues to stay with us. Afterward, she finds the astronomer and shows her the photograph of the key, which Jinny says she lost just last week.
Jinny also reveals that they got staff lockers that year, meaning there’s no possible way her lost key could’ve ended up in a crime scene from 1972.
Kirby begins asking Jinny if she knows any of the other women who were killed. She even throws out her former name (Sharon Leads) to see if that rings a bell, but Jinny doesn’t recognize any of them. As Kirby attempts to process what this might mean, she turns and looks at the planetarium’s glass doors. We also hear the same sound that played when Harper’s coffee cup changed (last episode).
The reflection staring back at Kirby now has much longer hair than she did mere seconds ago.
Feeling even more confused/desperate, she asks Jinny to take a closer look at the picture, explaining that it couldn’t have been her keys since the photograph is from 1972. Jinny politely explains that she can’t be of any more assistance and departs.
*Side Note: There’s not much I can explain about Kirby’s hair changing without spoiling future episodes. For now, just be aware that two major things occurred beforehand:
- Kirby spoke with Jinny, who is a future victim of Harper, who’s likely receiving some sort of “push” to kill certain women.
- Despite dealing with unfathomable trauma and weirdness for years, the realization that Jinny’s key couldn’t exist with Summer Francis was still enough to make her head spin.
Back at the Sun-Times, Marcus finds Dan and tells him not to turn his wife into yet another person he ends up letting down. Dan agrees, but is clearly rattled and hurt by the exchange. He angrily storms out of the office and visits the bar we saw him retrieving his keys from at the beginning of the episode. He then proceeds to partake in a long night of dancing, drinking, and drugs while Harper watches him from a nearby table.
In the wee hours of the morning, Dan stumbles toward the subway station with a bottle of booze. As he gets on the escalator, Harper calls out to him, causing Dan to fall and the bottle to shatter under his arm. After Harper rushes down and helps him up, Dan recognizes the man from Julia’s house.
Despite his drunken state, Dan grows uneasy at the man’s presence and begins walking toward the subway platform. Harper follows, explaining/lying that he just happened to be in same the area to see a woman he was dating. He also begins asking if Dan ever found the person he suspected of killing Julia instead of Pawel Banik. When Dan deflects, Harper begins poking at him by claiming to have a son of his own — a son he’d never leave unattended while he was out all night.
Harper then goes back to questions about Julia’s killer. Dan eventually whispers/slurs “she said he was the same.” Harper realizes that the reporter is referring to one of his victims who may have survived.
As the train gets closer, Harper appears to be about to push Dan in front of it. Instead, he pulls the inebriated man back before it can clip him. He then wishes him well and remains on the platform. Meanwhile, Dan stumbles aboard, plops down into a seat, and passes out, bringing us back to the episode’s opening sequence.
Out of Shining Girls‘ eight episodes, “Overnight” may present the strongest argument why it should’ve been released all at once instead of weekly. Even with today’s three-episode opening drop, we’re still left heading into Chapter 4 with a lot of questions — and not necessarily the good kind.
Having watched the entire series, my second viewing of “Overnight” was a very different experience than the first time. It’s much easier to see all the great things the creative team set up and how it eventually pays off. Even the series’ more ambiguous aspects are easier to grasp.
In context, however, you can be forgiven if this episode leaves you scratching your head. From Kirby’s random hair growth to Harper’s bizarre decisions, the rules governing Shining Girls‘ universe feel more abstract than ever. The primary narrative is still intact, but feels dangerously close to going astray.
And that’s before Jinny shows up again as a central figure.
Thankfully, her appearance is deftly intertwined with the episode’s past and present bookends. Aside from being a cool story device, opening and closing with Dan on the subway also serves as a nice bit of structural foreshadowing — especially when it comes to Harper. From the way he stalked Julia to knowing about the dropped quarters, it’s clear that he utilizes repeated revisits of times/places. This will obviously be one of his greatest strengths, but could put him at a severe disadvantage if/when something unexpected happens.
The episode is also bolstered by an almost unbearable level of tension. Not a whole lot actually happens, but there are multiple confrontations guaranteed to make you squirm. Even without knowing much about Freddie, watching Harper lure the boy into a conversation made me want to jump out of my skin.
It also wasn’t easy watching Marcus try to parse through the emotional damage invading what had previously been a happy marriage. Keep in mind that we’re only seeing Kirby’s view of their time together. From his perspective, the woman he loved had done a lot of healing only to start falling back down again, all thanks to a man he’s justifiably wary of. Marcus doesn’t see Dan as a threat to Kirby’s affections — he sees him as a threat to her mental well-being.
So why didn’t Harper kill Dan? That’s the million-dollar question at this point. He may not know that Kirby is still alive, but he knows the reporter is working with one of his victims who managed to survive.
Unfortunately, explaining too much about this would spoil things down the road. For now, just know that Harper needs Dan alive — even if the reporter’s work ends up making life more difficult for him. As far as Harper’s concerned, his ability to travel through time still puts him firmly in control of things.
Next week, we’ll get to see whether or not that’s true.
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