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‘Shining Girls’ episode 4 ‘Attribution’ recap/review

“Attribution” provides a strong sampling of the best and worst Shining Girls has to offer.

Last week, Apple debuted the first three episodes of Shining Girls, which set the stage for a thrilling procedural with a mind-bending supernatural aspect. There was a lot of information packed into those opening chapters, but here’s the basic stuff you need to know as we head into the series’ weekly release schedule:

  • In 1992, Dan and Kirby are hunting for a serial killer who appears to have been operating in the Chicago area for decades. He attacked Kirby in 1986, but she survived. Unfortunately, the trauma from that incident has been exacerbated by reality constantly shifting around her in ways both large and small.
  • Kirby’s latest major reality shift found her living in a new apartment and married to Marcus, her office crush.
  • Harper (Kirby’s attacker) is a serial killer who’s somehow able to travel through time. He’s a textbook sociopath, but his murders are at least partially influenced by a supernatural force.
  • Harper knows Dan is working on a story about the women he killed and how their cases continue to remain unsolved. He also knows that one of them survived (Kirby), but doesn’t know who.
  • Kirby is working with Dan to find out who attacked her and killed seven other women over a 20-year span. All of the victims were cut open in the same way and had something left inside them.
  • One of those victims was a woman named Summer Francis, who Harper killed in 1972. He left a key inside her that he stole from a woman named Jinny, who he will kill in the near future. The key was made in 1991, thus making its presence in a 1972 crime scene seemingly impossible.

This week, Harper ramps up his investigation into how Dan knows so much about his murderous activities. Meanwhile, Kirby struggles to navigate her current reality.

Listen to the latest episode of the AIPT Television podcast!

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.

Bloody Memory Lane

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

The episode opens with Harper visiting his murder sites over the years. Each time/place appears just like he left it until 1986. Instead of finding the corpse of Sharon Leads (aka Kirby Mazrachi), Harper sees where the sand was displaced as she dragged herself to a public area, which is currently occupied by an ambulance and approaching police sirens.

Realizing that Sharon/Kirby is Dan’s surviving source, Harper goes to the hospital to look for her. He’s unable to get past the hospital staff to the intensive care ward, but does notice a woman (Rachel) screaming to see her daughter Sharon. He sits down and strikes up a conversation, which ends up agitating the already angry/nervous woman even further. When she begins yelling at the hospital staff again, Harper uses the distraction to get past the reception area.

After a bit of searching, he finds Sharon/Kirby’s room and enters it. He barely has time to look at his victim before a nurse spots him and forces Harper to leave.

*Side Note: So why doesn’t Harper just go back in time a little further and kill Kirby again? Don’t worry–we’ll get to that eventually. Don’t expect an answer during this episode, though.

Due Diligence

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Back in the 1992-present, Dan pitches his story to Abby along with the rest of the Sun-Times’ upper-level staff. They’re uneasy about running with it (especially when Julia’s tape hasn’t been turned over to the police), but still decide to move forward. Dan also keeps Kirby anonymous to everyone except Abby, insisting he can do the legwork to verify information on the other seven murders.

The only other member of the staff who knows about Kirby being Dan’s source is Marcus, who showed up to the meeting despite not having to be there. He doesn’t say anything, but is visibly concerned/angry about his wife being put in a precarious position.

Later, Kirby tells Dan about Jinny’s key being found at a crime scene almost 20 years before it was made. Dan brushes this off as an impossibility while making it clear how her refusal to be named as a source has created exponentially more work for him to verify their story. He also reveals that Marcus (a photographer) showed up at the staff meeting, which felt like her husband trying to intimidate him. Dan concludes their awkward meeting by requesting that Kirby pick up Julia’s tape from an audio analyst for him.

Kirby is angered at being sent on what appears to be a menial errand, but agrees to do so. Meanwhile, Dan and the rest of the team assisting with the story can’t pin down a reason the killer leaves things inside his victims. One of the writers (Bernie) accidentally leaks enough information to a source that another paper (the Chicago Tribune) starts working on the case, as well.

When Abby gets wind of this, Dan suggests that they go to print that evening with a preliminary piece featuring a short blurb about each victim. Abby counters that what they have now sounds more like unrelated murders than a serial killer at large. Dan assures her that he’ll find a way to connect the women and the items found inside of them.

Smoke Leading to Fire

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

As Kirby’s preparing to leave, she subtly lets Marcus know how angry/insulted she is about him attempting to keep tabs on her. Marcus explains his presence at the editorial staff meeting as ensuring they were both represented. He also convinces her to let him tag along by agreeing to reveal where Abby landed on running the story.

While riding a train to the audio analyst, Marcus begins taking pictures of Kirby. She’s shy at first, but it doesn’t take long for her husband to start making her laugh and smile.

After picking up the tapes from the analyst, Kirby asks him to play one of them and describe what he was able to isolate. In one of Harper’s first calls, it sounds as though Julia’s voice is echoing on the line. After pulling the recording apart, however, it becomes clear that the echo is actually another recording being played over the phone an instant before Julia spoke.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

After leaving the audio analyst’s shop, Kirby tells Marcus that something similar to what they heard on the tapes may have happened to her — she just didn’t know what it was at the time. Years before the attack, she’d been working at the Chicago Tribune and received a series of random hang-up calls at her office.

Before continuing to elaborate, Kirby stops and tells her husband that he doesn’t need to go down this rabbit hole with her. Marcus counters that not only does he want to help, but he should be the first person she goes to. He then asks if there were any other odd occurrences during that time period.

Kirby takes Marcus to Sid’s, the bar where she used to work and her mom’s band played. She brings him into the green room, which is covered in band stickers and graffiti. As Kirby begins to pull at the wallpaper near one of the mirrors, we see a flashback of her visiting Rachel before a recording session. In addition to her hair being blonde, she also appears much happier and carefree.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

After greeting her mother, Kirby looks up at the mirror (the same one she’s standing next to in the present) and notices the words “SHARON’S GONE LIKE THE SMOKE” written beside it. The phrase is a play off the closing lyrics of ‘The Ballad of the Absent Mare‘ by Leonard Cohen, which is one of her favorite songs.

But my darling says
“Leonard, just let it go by
That old silhouette
On the great western sky”
So I pick out a tune
And they move right along
And they’re gone like the smoke
And they’re gone like this song

Her mom dismisses it as being from a secret admirer. As the pair continue to talk, we see that their relationship used to be much better despite Rachel disapproving of Sharon/Kirby’s new job as a “corporate drone” at the newspaper.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

After Rachel heads to the stage to fix some sound equipment issues, she hears the bar’s payphone ring and asks her daughter to answer it. Sharon/Kirby responds that it’s not her job anymore, but still does. When she picks up, her ears are assaulted by the sound of her mom’s band struggling through a soundcheck. Everything that happens over the phone, including Rachel swearing in frustration, happens a second later in real life.

Back in the 1992-present, Kirby realizes that what she once dismissed as a strange-yet-inconsequential occurrence was a phone call from the man who attacked her. She then scrapes away the wallpaper, revealing the message that she now knows was written by him.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Meanwhile, Harper goes to Kirby/Sharon’s old apartment and attacks the man who currently lives there. He holds him at knifepoint demands to know where Kirby went, but the dude has no idea who she is. In fact, no one matching her description has ever lived there as far as he knows.

While Harper continues holding the man down, he starts to realize that Kirby’s whereabouts are completely unknown to him — a feeling he hasn’t experienced with any of his other victims throughout time. He grows simultaneously confused and furious about how something like this is possible.

Thankfully for the man in the apartment, Harper decides not to take his anger out on him and leaves.

Connecting Threads

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Dan begins visiting/interviewing people who knew the seven victims he and Kirby identified. Aside from being extraordinary women in their respective work fields and/or interests, he’s unable to find anything to connect them.

After downing some beers in his car and stress eating a sandwich, Dan visits Summer’s girlfriend. While she doesn’t recognize any of the other victims, the woman does confirm that Summer became incredibly withdrawn in the months leading up to her murder. She also shows him some old pictures and belongings the couple used to share.

As Dan goes through them, he notices part of a makeup set with the same insignia as a compact mirror found inside Margot Zelle (the victim from 1981). The woman doesn’t recognize Margot, but confirms that the item definitely belonged to Summer.

*Side Note: Unless the insignia was super-rare, this couldn’t work as definitive confirmation that Summer Francis’ compact was found inside Margot Zelle. That said, its presence would definitely be enough to start looking for similar connections between the victims.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

That evening, Kirby and Marcus arrive back at the Sun-Times to find everyone excitedly getting ready to publish her and Dan’s story. Kirby is surprised they have enough to run it already, but Dan pulls her aside to explain the discoveries that made it possible:

  • Summer Farris’ compact mirror (1972) was found inside Margot Zelle (1981).
  • Karen Polachek’s nursing pin (1974) was found inside Willie Rose (1984).
  • Catherine Moore’s campaign pin for Mayor Harold Washington (1983) was found inside Karen Polachek (1974).
  • Julia Madrigal’s devotional card (1990) was found inside Anne Lower (1985).

These items (and the others there weren’t mentioned) make the killer the connection between all the seemingly unrelated women. They also raise some major questions — namely how a 1983 mayoral campaign pin ended up inside of a woman killed in 1974. Despite this being the most obvious discrepancy, Dan and Kirby focus on the five years between Julia and Anne’s murders.

While presenting their findings to Abby, Kirby explains her theory that the killer used the time between killings to stalk and gather information on his victims. She also declares that the paper should use her as the lead subject for the story. Dan says they can work with what they have, but Kirby is now more determined than ever to break the story and find who attacked her — even if it means putting her trauma and identity out there for the whole world to see.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Abby tells them that they need to make a show of offering to the police and a chance to comment before running the story. As they head out toward the commissioner’s office, Kirby decides to hang back so she can warn Jinny about what might happen to her.

Harper observes the trio’s interaction from a distance. When Kirby breaks off, he follows her to Jinny’s house. Instead of attacking her, however, he stands outside in the rain and watches the two women through a window.

Jinny tells Kirby that she hasn’t experienced any weird phone calls and doesn’t feel like she’s in any sort of danger. Kirby reveals that she didn’t think anything was wrong either until a man attacked her six years ago — the same man who somehow stole Jinny’s key and placed it at a crime scene almost 20 years ago. Kirby can’t explain what it all means, but still encourages Jinny to be on guard at all times. She also encourages her to carry a knife like she does.

As the two women depart, Jinny asks what was found inside of her. Kirby reveals that it was a matchbook from a bar that doesn’t exist. Jinny responds that just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t in the future (like a new bar opening). She encourages her to keep looking into the bar even if it feels like a dead end.

Bee Afraid

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

As the Sun-Times begins printing tomorrow’s paper with her and Dan’s story, Kirby decides to visit the address where the Bee Happy Bar is supposed to be. The laundromat is still there, but all the washers are now covered in plastic. It also appears that the building is in the middle of a major remodel.

Kirby breaks inside and takes a look around. Sure enough, she discovers a stack of matchbooks identical to the one found inside her six years ago.

While staring at the totem of her violent past and future, Kirby is shocked to hear Harper muttering that she doesn’t look right. She turns around to find him approaching, his voice and demeanor more agitated than predatory. Harper continues to air his grievances, complaining that Kirby’s hair shouldn’t look the way it does and that she doesn’t live where she should. He also demands to know how she and Jinny know each other.

As Harper gets closer, Kirby realizes that he’s the same man who gave her the pegasus when she was a little girl (back in episode one). She also notes that he impossibly looks the same. Harper replies that she looks nothing like he left her before lunging forward. He grabs Kirby in a chokehold, turns her around, and growls that she’s supposed to be dead.

Kirby uses her knife to stab Harper in the leg before turning and slashing him across the face. Harper lets go, but quickly recovers and shoves her into a nearby row of dryers. To his surprise/confusion, the surface changes to a patterned wall. He slams her into it again, causing the wallpaper to change again, as well.

Harper mutters “this can’t be happening” and begins to choke Kirby. She fights back and pulls down part of his shirt, revealing a distinctive tattoo on the left side of his chest. As the two continue to struggle, the wall behind her turns into a mirror. Harper slams her into it, causing both of them to crash through into a fully furnished bar area.

Kirby manages to break free and runs outside. Once she’s clear, she turns around to see that the previously empty establishment is now filled with customers…and carries the same logo as the one on the matchbook.

The Verdict

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

As we reach the halfway point of the series (or at least its first season), “Attribution” provides a strong sampling of the best and worst Shining Girls has to offer. In fact, you can break that idea down even further to the last scene.

On one hand, the story’s supernatural aspects are hanging onto the narrative for dear life. Although the rhyme and reason behind Kirby’s shifting reality (and why it freaks Harper out so much) will eventually be explored in more detail, its job thus far appears to be sporadically injecting the plot with out-of-left-field twists. In this instance, it also conveniently saved Kirby’s life.

It was also a little hard to look past her having the presence of mind to search for (and find) a unique tattoo on her attacker’s chest while she’s being choked to death. Add in how the time-displaced evidence was hand waved away (for now), and there was plenty to nitpick during this chapter.

On the positive side of things, however, the confrontation between Kirby and Harper crackled with the type of intensity that makes you push back into the couch. For most of the series, Harper has come across as completely in control while Kirby struggles to keep up with her very existence. When the two finally meet again, however, he’s the one who’s unhinged while she digs deep and stands her ground. Even without the supernatural weirdness (which was an admittedly cool effect), this would be a fantastic scene.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Another thing that made “Attribution” so good was seeing different aspects of Kirby — and not just during the flashback sequence. Although her marriage to Marcus doesn’t feel real to her, the chemistry that brought them together in a reality she can’t remember is still present.

Meanwhile, Marcus plays the part of a loving husband who’s justifiably concerned about his wife’s mental health, but also trying to respect her space and autonomy.

From a narrative standpoint, it should make him frustrating to like since he’s an obstacle to Kirby’s investigation. Thankfully, Chris Chalk plays him in a way that’s impossible not to find endearing.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

In the middle of all this, we got to see Dan doggedly chip away at the story, his own vices and dysfunctions be damned. Watching his face light up at finding the connection between the victims was a truly wonderful moment — almost as wonderful as Kirby steeling herself before deciding to go public with her story. She may not be the same woman who was on top of the world six years ago, but her courage and resolve remain firmly intact.

Next week, Kirby’s resolve is tested even further as we finally start to learn why her reality keeps changing.

 

Next Episode: ‘Screamer’

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)
‘Shining Girls’ episode 4 ‘Attribution’ recap/review
'Shining Girls' episode 4 'Attribution' recap/review
"Attribution" provides a strong sampling of the best and worst Shining Girls has to offer
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
The confrontation between Kirby and Harper crackles with intensity thanks to some great acting and the characters playing opposite to their previous strengths.
We should be frustrated with Marcus, but Chris Chalk plays him so well that it's hard not to like the character.
Dan gets a major win despite a continued and believable battle with this vices/dysfunctions.
The supernatural stuff looks cool, but we're long overdue for some solid parameters on how it works.
How did Dan and Kirby miss a 1983 election pin being left at an early 1970's crime scene?
8.5
Great

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