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Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

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‘Shining Girls’ episode 5 ‘Screamer’ recap/review

You may or may not like them, but ‘Shining Girls’ finally starts to provide answers about its mythology. Meanwhile, the individual performances and narrative suspense remain superb.

Last week’s episode of Shining Girls concluded with Kirby coming face to face with Harper, the man who attacked her six years prior. She survived the confrontation, but her reality shifted again — this time bringing the Bee Happy Bar into existence. The location is significant due to it being the establishment where the matchbook Harper put inside her came from. Kirby also noticed a distinctive tattoo on his chest — a detail that’s sure to come in handy later on.

Meanwhile, Harper has been pushed to his breaking point due to a number of factors:

  • Although it hasn’t been hinted at since a brief-yet-vital scene in the second episode, something is influencing Harper (who was already a sociopath) to kill women throughout time.
  • Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dan Velasquez is doing a story about all of Harper’s unsolved murders, which won’t make his gruesome mission/hobby any easier.
  • His latest victim is Jinny, whose murder we witnessed in the first episode despite it not occurring in the present (1992) timeline yet. Kirby somehow got to her first, which throws a wrench in his plans.
  • Speaking of Kirby, Harper assumed he successfully killed her back in 1986 when she was known as Sharon Leads. Now it turns out she’s alive and working with Dan on the story revealing his victims and how they’re linked to each other.
  • Harper also discovered that reality appears to shift around Kirby in a way he’s never seen/experienced before…at least not like this. It causes him to feel confused and off-balance, a sensation he hasn’t experienced in a long time thanks to his ability to travel through time and visit the same day repeatedly.

This week, we finally start getting some answers about where Harper’s abilities come from and what causes Kirby’s reality to shift.

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.

Lights Guide You Home

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

The episode opens with Kirby impatiently describing Harper’s appearance to a forensic sketch artist. Elsewhere, Harper wakes up chained to a hospital bed. His face where Kirby slashed him has been stitched up and the stab wound on his leg has been bandaged. Unfortunately for him, a new medical issue has arisen in the form of blurred vision accompanied by a high-pitched ringing inside his head.

Harper hears another patient in a nearby room and begs him to help, explaining that he “has to get home” and “can’t be away from the house for too long” or he’ll end up like Leo.

*Side Note: In case you forgot, Leo is the friend Harper visited at the assisted living home back in episode two. Despite looking relatively young, the man appeared to be suffering from severe cognitive decline. Leo also discussed memories from World War I that he and Harper appeared to share.

Harper gets the man to undo his restraints by threatening to kill him if/when the nurses do it later. After putting on his clothes, he leaves and stumbles toward the house we saw him living in back in episode two. On the way there, his blurred vision is invaded by spots of light.

After struggling through the front door, the ringing, diminished vision, and severe pain all disappear.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Meanwhile, Dan nervously paces in front of Detective Lynsky and asks when he can see Kirby. His worry/frustration is exacerbated by Lynsky’s disbelief that the man who attacked her last night is the same one from 1986 (and seven other women over the last two decades).

As the two men argue, Dan notices the composite sketch the police made from Kirby’s description of her attacker. Despite the drawing not looking A THING like Harper, Dan immediately recognizes him as the man he spoke with outside Julia Madrigal’s house. He admits to not being sober at the time, but is still 100% it was him.

Lynsky responds by asking if Dan brought Kirby to Julia’s home that day. When he admits he did, the detective notes that this was likely where the man first saw her, thus putting some of the blame for Kirby’s attack on Dan.

*Side Note: As frustrating as Lynsky’s line of thinking is for the audience, it absolutely makes sense from a rational perspective — especially one that’s free of the supernatural elements we’re privy to.

Abandoned Ally

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Dan is there to meet Kirby as she leaves the police station. He tries to ask about her well-being, but her sole focus is on getting back to the Bee Happy Bar and continuing their investigation.

On her way out the door, she steals a copy of the composition sketch of Harper, which includes a recreation of the tattoo she saw on his chest. Dan tries to get Kirby to check in with Marcus and her mother (Rachel), but she says they can meet them later and has Dan take her back to the bar.

The pair arrive and find that the Bee Happy Bar is locked. As Kirby begins looking for a way in, Dan tries to convince her that the police are already canvassing the area for witnesses. He also explains Lynsky’s theory that her attack was due to Harper (whose name they don’t know yet) seeing her at Julia Madrigal’s house. Dan not only agrees with the detective, but feels responsible for what happened.

Kirby responds that Harper has been watching her for years — even visiting her once when she was a little girl. She also reveals that he looked exactly the same back then as he does now. When Dan tries to rationalize what she saw, Kirby decides to go all-in on explaining the weird stuff that’s been happing to her since the attack six years ago — specifically how her reality has been constantly shifting.

One of the first major incidents occurred a year after she was out of the hospital. When she walked into the Chicago Tribune (where she’d worked the entire year), security claimed that no one had seen or spoken with her in months. Kirby then went home, where her mother (who she hadn’t lived with since childhood) was crashing at her apartment…and apparently had been for a while.

Just like all the other times her reality has shifted since then, no one remembered the past Kirby could vividly recall as her own mere hours beforehand.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Dan asks if she’s told Marcus about any of this. Kirby replies that she doesn’t even remember marrying him — she just came one day and he was her husband.

Realizing that he doesn’t believe her, Kirby points out that the matchbook Harper left inside her six years ago was from a bar that just showed up yesterday. Dan responds that the bar had likely been in business for a while. When Kirby reminds him that it was a laundromat when they visited last week, Dan insists it was actually the same bar they’re standing next to now.

As you might imagine, this exchange leaves Kirby feeling impossibly frustrated and alone.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

When the pair return to the Sun-Times, the newsroom is swarmed with reporters trying to keep up with calls generated by Dan’s story. One of them (Lakshmi) spots Kirby and checks to see if she’s okay. Lakshmi also asks why she came into work after getting brutally attacked the night before. Kirby responds that it’s where she’s supposed to be before heading into a follow-up meeting on the story.

After Abby gets things started, the reporters say they’ve got a couple of promising leads, both of which Kirby knows aren’t right. She suggests that they follow up on Dan’s story by reporting on her attack. Abby says they can give her time to recover, but Kirby insists on running with it. She also suggests publishing the police sketch she took, prompting Dan to step in and say that wouldn’t be a good move. In addition to the whole “stolen from a police station” aspect, it would flood law enforcement with so many calls that they won’t even have time to look for the suspect.

Before Kirby can fight back, Abby decides to table what she and Dan are debating for another day and make space for his profile on Summer Francis (the 1972 victim). Kirby backs off, but silently fumes, believing that Dan’s actions were due to him no longer having faith in her.

Star Crossed

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

After reading Dan’s article in the Sun-Times, Jinny decides to talk with the Adler Planetarium security guard (Sheila) about her missing/stolen key. The logs show that someone had still been using it to enter and exit the building. As if that weren’t creepy enough, the times were almost always a few minutes after Jinny entered.

Sheila also notes that the old key’s activity stopped a couple of days ago. This leads her to assume that it was simply being used by another employee who just recently noticed they had the wrong one.

Jinny, on the other hand, realizes that Kirby might have been on to something when they spoke the night before.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Later, Jinny visits Kirby at the Sun-Times and reveals her theory that someone has been following/watching her at work. Kirby tells Jinny about being attacked the night before and shows her the police sketch, but she doesn’t recognize the man. Kirby then asks if she’s ever experienced bizarre shifts in reality (which is one hell of a segue). When Jinny says she hasn’t, Kirby wonders aloud why she and Harper seem to be the only ones who do.

Instead of cautiously backing away, Jinny provides an astronomy-based theory/metaphor on how Kirby’s situation is potentially similar to the way particles behave across space and time. It’s pretty heavy-handed, but worth making note of since the writers are clearly explaining some of the rules that govern Kirby and Harper’s interactions:

No one really knows how we’re connected.

Take two particles. They could be connected somehow, like there’s an invisible thread linking them. They can’t act independently, so if you affect one, the other reacts in kind.

Their actions are entangled. One impacts the other, even across all of space-time.

*Side Note: What Jinny’s telling us (without realizing it) is that after Harper failed to kill Kirby/Sharon, they became connected. This is likely due to the supernatural force that’s influencing Harper to kill, a task he was supposed to complete via an ability granted to him by the same malevolent entity…and failed. 

Being cosmically linked to a murderous sociopath is bad enough, but Harper’s ability to travel through time and change the course of events ends up rippling into Kirby’s reality, as well.

Shaping the Universe

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Harper goes to visit Leo and asks if he’s ever seen reality change in the assisted living home — specifically in the same way he would “do to the house.”

*Side Note: What Harper said about changing reality inside the house will make a lot more sense later in the series

Leo says he hasn’t seen anything like that in his current living situation. In fact, the only oddities he’s observed are the lights that constantly invade his vision and make it hard for him to think. He then asks his friend if it would be okay for him to return to the house, but Harper politely refuses.

As the two continue to talk, Harper reveals that his altercation with Kirby was the first time he’s ever seen reality change outside the house. He’s also certain that Kirby saw it happen and that it wasn’t her first time.

Leo suggests that maybe Kirby knows something he doesn’t.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Later, Harper travels back in time to yesterday evening when Kirby visited Jinny (last episode before the attack at the laundromat/bar). Despite being inside the apartment with her, he’s able to stay out of sight thanks to knowing exactly where Jinny will walk and look.

When Kirby comes over, Harper sneaks out via an exterior door to watch them through one of the windows. Their conversation plays out almost exactly the same as it did before until Kirby hears a door (the same one Harper left from) opening and closing. Jinny assumes it’s due to the storm outside and a faulty latch. After closing the door, she heads into another room to get ready for work.

While she’s gone, Kirby walks over to the window. She can’t see Harper, but can feel his presence. We also hear the same fluttering sound that’s played during other reality shifts.

Kirby looks down and sees that her clothes have changed. Harper notices this as well and steps forward, making his shape visible without completely revealing his presence. This time, the fluttering sound (which is even louder) is followed by Kirby’s hair going back to the short length it was before she met Jinny back in the third episode, causing Harper to smile.

*Side Note: No, Harper wasn’t happy about Kirby’s shorter hair. He may not have liked her previous hairstyle, but the reason he complained during their fight in the laundromat is that it wasn’t blonde/medium length he remembered when she was his victim.

Harper’s euphoric reaction was due to the realization that both his actions and emotions can affect Kirby’s reality. On the action side of things, it was his initial presence near the window that made her clothes different — a very small change that’s potentially tied to her reaction/emotions, as well. 

Upon seeing this, Harper became excited and stepped forward. This caused an even bigger ripple in Kirby’s reality (hence the louder flutter). Nothing too huge, but I think we can all agree that a different hairstyle is more consequential than a wardrobe change.

All that being said, what you need to know at this point is that Harper’s actions and resulting emotions are the primary force behind Kirby’s shifting reality. Considering that Harper is a stone-cold sociopath, this likely doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, the emotion (and subsequent ripple in Kirby’s reality) is fairly significant.

It also appears that Kirby’s reality can change slightly when she has a strong emotional reaction tied directly to Harper’s actions.

New Clues and Culinary Delights

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

The next day, Kirby walks into the Sun-Times and finds Dan and Abby on the phone with Detective Lynsky.

*Side Note: I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t Harper just kill Kirby at the laundromat/bar when he time-traveled back to that evening? The easy (and somewhat lame) answer is that he wanted to learn more about the repercussions of Kirby’s reality shifting and how it might affect him if another victim gains a similar ability/curse. 

Thankfully, there’s a better explanation than that. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait until later in the series to get it.

Lynsky notes that much of Dan’s background information for his story came from evidence the Sun-Times shouldn’t have had access to. Dan agrees, but says they followed up on every lead to verify things. Kirby interjects to ask if the Madrigal family was able to identify Julia’s attacker based on the police sketch. Lynsky replies that they haven’t released the sketch yet, but is more interested in the fact that one of the evidence bags from her case file was cut open.

Abby cuts off the call and asks what happened. Kirby angrily replies that it was her stuff and the police weren’t doing anything with it anyway. Kirby also insists that she didn’t plant any evidence (which is true) and didn’t remove anything (which is technically a lie since she broke the seal on the bag with the matchbook).

When Abby asks Dan for confirmation, he meekly replies that he wasn’t there to see if she did anything. Kirby angrily asks if he actually thinks she would plant evidence about her attack for their story. Dan responds that it would explain how the matches got in there.

Kirby storms out of Abby’s office into the hallway and begins to break down. Marcus sees his wife crying and immediately runs over to comfort her. After taking Kirby into his arms, he leads her out of the building and back to their home.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

That afternoon, Marcus tells Kirby that Rachel is worried about her (obviously) and will be calling soon. Kirby responds by taking the phone off the receiver. When Marcus tries to ask his own questions about what happened the night before, Kirby says that she’s exhausted and just wants to eat.

Marcus obliges and presents his wife with her favorite meal: A sandwich comprised of bacon, peanut butter, and grape jelly.

Kirby claims to have never eaten this bizarre food combo, causing Marcus to finally express his frustration at how strange and distant she’s been lately. Kirby still isn’t able to explain her behavior to him, but does try the sandwich, which she ends up enjoying quite a bit.

Later, Kirby asks Marcus to go through his old photo albums with her. As they’re looking at one from his time in the military, she notices a man with the same tattoo that was on Harper’s chest. Marcus says it signifies his membership in a specific battalion, although he isn’t sure which one.

*Side Note: This revelation is so ridiculously contrived/convenient that it hurts.

The Tape Doesn’t Lie

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Dan goes to visit Rachel at her church. After dancing around the issue for a bit, he finally asks Kirby/Sharon’s mom if her daughter has a history of lying. Rachel firmly insists that she doesn’t.

Later, Dan goes to the assisted living home where Julia worked (and where Leo is). He arrives to find that Kirby is already there. Despite things still being awkward from yesterday, they both walk in together.

The receptionist immediately recognizes Kirby from Dan’s story in the Sun-Times. She also immediately recognizes Harper from the composite sketch Kirby puts up on the announcement board…which, as I’ve stated before, does not look like Harper AT ALL.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Not pictured: A sketch bearing the likeness of actor Jamie Bell (Shining Girls/AppleTV+)

The receptionist doesn’t know who the man is, but does know who he comes to visit and leads them to Leo’s room. Unlike the last couple times we’ve seen him, however, Leo refuses to speak.

Dan decides to see if he can find any family contact information while Kirby sticks around to see if she can get Leo to talk. He tries to shut her out at first, but gasps and cringes when she asks about the man who visits him. He then tells Kirby not to tell him (Harper) that she came there.

Leo also reveals his friend won’t let him go “back to the house,” but refuses to elaborate any further. Instead, he warns Kirby not to go anywhere near him.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Realizing that Leo isn’t going to reveal anything via traditional questioning, Kirby decides to use his fractured mental state to her advantage.

First, she threatens to tell Leo’s friend that he told her how to find him. Leo obviously doesn’t remember saying this, but Kirby insists that he did. Leo then asks “Does he know that I took it?”

Kirby plays along and says that he does. She also claims that the reason for her visit to is retrieve whatever “it” is and take it back to him.

Leo finally catches on to Kirby’s deception and says she won’t know where to find his friend. Kirby responds when she does find him, she’ll say it was because Leo told her where to look. Leo moves aggressively toward her, but doesn’t lash out. Instead, he walks over to the toilet in his room and removes a VHS tape from the tank. He hands it to Kirby and asks her to give it back to his friend.

He also begs her not to tell him that he took it.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Dan and Kirby watch the tape in the assisted living facility’s reception area, which features a blonde dancer being directed by Harper offscreen. When she begins speaking in French, Harper stops the woman and asks her to perform the routine like she used to at a place called Teenie’s

*Side Note: The Teenie’s connection is going to be important later.

The dancer responds by asking Harper if her speaking French reminds him too much of his time in Paris. When he says it does, the woman fires back that she knows he never made it there because Leo told her. Harper replies that Leo doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He then encourages her to start again, but she refuses and tells him to turn the camera off.

Recoil & Reaction

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Jinny heads into work at the Adler Planetarium with an extra level of caution. As she gets started on a new presentation, we see a familiar exchange with Theo about a wingless bee they find on her desk (from back in episode one before Harper killed her).

That evening, Jinny heads up to the roof to smoke a cigarette. Once again, it appears that we’re going to watch another scene from the first episode play out in the context of Dan and Kirby’s current timeline/investigation. This time, however, things transpire quite differently.

Instead of locking Jinny out and sneaking away, Harper reveals himself before approaching and asking how she knows Sharon/Kirby. When Jinny refuses to answer, Harper request that she send Kirby a message for him. Jinny asks what he wants her to say, but Harper replies that their current encounter is already relaying everything he needs. He then explains that whenever he feels something, Kirby knows.

Right on cue, we hear the same fluttering/vibration Harper experienced the last time Kirby’s reality shifted. A euphoric grin breaks out across his face, contrasting sharply with the fear on Jinny’s. Harper takes a second to soak everything in before assuring Jinny he won’t be killing her today.

Moments after he departs, it starts to rain. Once again, Jinny finds her umbrella (which Harper left) and uses it to keep dry.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Elsewhere, Kirby and Dan are about to depart the assisted living home when Kirby realizes that Dan’s car isn’t the same anymore. Instead of brushing her off again, Dan asks what car she remembers them arriving in.

Kirby proceeds to describe Dan’s car in perfect detail — right down to the broken passenger-side seatbelt and cigarette burns his ex-wife left near the window. Dan says he sold that car two years ago, making her eerily accurate description even more perplexing…and maybe enough to make him believe that a force beyond their understanding is at work.

Dan then asks if Kirby always knows when her reality has shifted. Kirby says she does sometimes, but other differences are too random for her to notice. Dan responds that maybe the changes she experiences are also signs of things to come.

The Verdict

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

It seems Dan has finally realized (or is at least open to the possibility) that Kirby’s shifts in reality are genuine. More importantly, the pair are back on the road to trusting each other again.

Speaking of trust, this episode is an important one for the audience. We finally got some answers about Kirby’s reality shifts, which you may or may not like, but still provide an important framework for how the supernatural elements work within the story. I’ll fully admit to preferring how it’s handled in the book, but the butterfly effect stuff isn’t in the novel. In this series, however, it’s one of the most prominent and interesting aspects.

Those elements are also very well executed, thanks in no small part to terrific individual performances.

Jamie Bell might be portraying the creepiest fictional serial killer this side of Hannibal Lector. Harper exudes unnerving confidence and malice without ever seeming otherworldly despite his access to extranormal abilities. Like Kirby said in the episode’s opening, he could be anyone.

Speaking of her, Elisabeth Moss continues to deliver an incredible performance. This time, we got to see just how much reality’s infirmity has strained every aspect of Kirby’s life — especially her personal relationships. It’s an obvious narrative thread, but Moss portrays it so earnestly that your heart can’t help but break for her.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

I’m also much more inclined to go along with reality shifting due to Harper’s emotions (and occasionally Kirby’s) than some of the episode’s other leaps in logic. The ones that bugged me the most include:

  • Harper having the same identifying tattoo as a clearly photographed random shirtless man in Marcus’ photo album.
  • Dan and the assisted living home receptionist immediately recognizing Harper from a sketch that doesn’t look A THING like him — especially after Kirby’s comment in the episode’s opening minutes about Harper’s camouflage as an unremarkable person.
  • Jinny having a prescient, astronomy-based metaphor/explanation for Kirby’s shifting reality despite not having anywhere close to the full picture of what she’s going through.
  • Kirby walking out of the police station with a copy of Harper’s composite sketch. This one wouldn’t be so bad if she also didn’t get away with breaking the seal on an evidence bag.

Thankfully, those issues aren’t enough to completely overshadow another powerful chapter in the series.

In addition to Moss and Bell knocking it out of the park, the supporting characters deserve a ton of credit for injecting Shining Girls with even more dramatic weight. After being introduced to us as a skeptical future victim, Jinny has completely integrated herself within the narrative — and not just as a chess piece in Harper’s twisted game. We’re now 100% invested in her welfare, which Jinny isn’t content leaving up to chance anymore.

Meanwhile, Marcus showed why a version of Kirby she can’t remember still fell in love with him. Despite his completely understandable frustration, he continues to do everything possible to be there for his wife while respecting her agency. It’s easy to see Marcus as a narrative obstacle, but the character doesn’t know what we do. As far as he’s concerned, the love of his life is suddenly acting like a stranger while spiraling back toward a depressive/traumatized state she’d fought like hell to recover from.

Marcus may not have been in the Shining Girls‘ source material, but Chris Chalk’s portrayal is making the character one of my favorite additions to the story.

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)

If you’re one of the folks who are disappointed with what Shining Girls revealed about its mythology, then I strongly encourage you to stick around for next week’s installment. In addition to being arguably the best episode of the series, it also gives us even more vital information that could potentially change your mind.

 

Next Episode: ‘Bright’

Shining Girls (AppleTV+)
'Shining Girls' episode 5 'Screamer' recap/review
You may or may not like them, but 'Shining Girls' finally starts to provide answers about its mythology. Meanwhile, the individual performances and narrative suspense remain superb.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Jamie Bell's portrayal of Harper is the most unnerving onscreen serial killer this side of Hannibal Lector.
Chris Chalk and Phillipa Soo brilliantly portray supporting characters that both the audience and the narrative are 100% invested in
While the explanation for Kirby's shifts in reality appears weak at first, its execution is superb.
Lots of contrived moments that help move the case along, the worst being a random shirtless man in one of Marcus' photo albums having the same tattoo as Harper.
It's more than a little absurd that Jinny has a ready-to-go, astronomy-based explanation for what Kirby is going through.
7.5
Good

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