Last week’s episode of Shining Girls concluded with Dan realizing that Kirby’s shifts in reality are the real deal. We also got a better idea of how Harper’s time travel works along with how it affects Kirby.
This week, Shining Girls takes us on a deep dive into Harper’s past. While there’s plenty more to learn about the series’ supernatural elements, we’ll also get to see just how deep the rot within Harper’s soul goes.
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.
A History of Violence
The episode opens with a VHS recording of Kirby/Shanon dancing at Sid’s at some point before she was attacked by Harper. We also see someone dancing next to Kirby who looks very similar to the woman in the video that Leo gave her.
The scene then transitions to France in 1918 — specifically the Battle of Cantigny from World War I. As Harper and the rest of his regiment advance on the Germans, an alert goes out to put on their masks moments before the air is filled with lethal mustard gas. Harpers turns and flees in the other direction, but is stopped by Leo, who tells him to put his mask on and helps him. Once that’s done, he encourages Harper to go back toward the fight and promises to stay right behind him.
A few moments later, an explosion knocks Harper to the ground along with everyone near him. He gets up and finds that the impact popped his mask’s glass eyepieces, making it essentially useless. As the yellow gas continues rolling toward him, he holds his breath and begins frantically searching for a downed soldier whose mask he can take.
After a few harrowing seconds, Harper finds a soldier laying on the ground with an intact mask over his head. The soldier is also still alive, but that doesn’t stop Harper from ignoring his screams. He even goes so far as to dig his thumb into one of the man’s wounds, forcing his fallen brother-in-arms to let go of his mask. Harper manages to get it over his head seconds before the mustard gas cloud hits, breathing with unburdened relief while his fellow soldier chokes to death.
Lighting the Fire
After the opening credits, we flash forward to 1920 and Harper’s return from the war. He goes to the building that will eventually become Sid’s to watch a woman (Klara) covered in radium perform a dance. When she’s finished, Klara salutes the audience in French, all but confirming that she’s the woman we saw on the video Leo gave to Kirby.
After the show, Harper visits Klara in her dressing room. It quickly becomes clear from their conversation that the two have a history dating back to their respective childhoods. It’s also painfully obvious that Harper likes Klara a lot more than she likes him. The poor dude can’t even take a hint when she unconvincingly claims to have never received the letters he sent her from overseas.
*Side Note: Klara also mentions leaving a place called “Teenie’s” where she and Harper used to work to become a professional dancer. This location will end up being very important to the story.
Klara begins telling Harper about how her dance was about Empress Joséphine, Napolean’s first wife. Instead of showing interest, Harper dismisses the deeper meaning behind her performance. He also tries to point out how small the crowd was, which Klara says was by design since the tickets were more expensive.
Following his failed negging attempts, Harper presents Klara with a fancy embroidered handkerchief. Part of the cloth is ripped, which he claims is due it to getting caught on his pocket knife. He also says it’s from Paris, which finally manages to impress Klara.
Later that night, Harper takes Klara along to commit a robbery. We learn a couple of important details during their conversation:
- The woman Harper plans to rob is a nun named Britta, who runs a weekly veterans dinner at her church…which Harper has been to. So just in case you thought stealing his fellow soldier’s gas mask was purely an act of desperation, this confirms that pre-supernatural Harper was a terrible person, as well.
- Back when they were kids, Klara taught Harper how to case a property and profile the owner so it could be successfully robbed. She expected him to no longer do such things as an adult, but that’s clearly not the case.
After Britta leaves, Harper convinces Klara to step inside the house with him. As the pair look through the woman’s belongings, Klara needles Harper about how he used to spy on her when they were little. Harper counters that he was actually looking out for her.
Before Klara can respond, the pair hear repetitive beeping coming from inside one of the dresser drawers in the bedroom. After searching for the sound’s source, they find a digital watch that definitely doesn’t belong in the early 1900s.
As Klara and Harper try to figure out what the bizarre device is, Britta walks back in to get an umbrella she forgot. Klara wisely retreats out the window, but Harper decides to stay and confront the nun about her watch. Britta initially refuses to reveal anything, hissing that Harper could never know because he’s a “small man.” He eventually threatens her enough that she tells him where it came from.
After obtaining the information, he runs to catch up with Klara. When she asks what happened, Harper lies and says he ducked under the bed to avoid detection. He also explains his decision to stay behind as a way to ensure that Klara wasn’t spotted.
Before she can call him on his bulls***, Harper gives her the watch. Klara says she doesn’t need it, but Harper insists she accept the ill-gotten gift. He then goes on a mini-tirade about how Britta doesn’t deserve the watch. In his mind, she’s received far too much of God’s grace simply for going to church and providing an occasional meal to veterans. Meanwhile, people like him and Klara need to take the riches/blessings that the world still owes them.
Klara looks like she wants to argue, but decides not to after becoming enchanted by the watch — especially when it beeps to tell them that it’s currently 6:00 AM in Paris.
The next day, Harper goes to visit Leo, who’s hustling people out of their change near an employment office. Leo immediately senses his friend is hiding a big secret and asks him to spill it. After a bit of prodding, Harper reveals that he knows a “spot” in Lake View before asking if Leo would like to accompany him there.
After putting on their uniforms (to pose as soldiers raising money for the American Legion), the pair head to the address that Britta wrote down on the back of a picture of her deceased husband. They arrive at a very familiar-looking House and go around to the back to break in. Harper is nervous someone might be home, but Leo assures him that the inch of dust on the shutters indicates they’re in the clear.
Upon entering The House, Leo asks how Harper knows the owner. Harper lies and says he knows the owner’s cousin, who likes to travel the world and collect nice things.
*Side Note: Unless Britta got very specific about her relationship to The House, this is likely another example of Harper’s compulsive need to lie.
As Leo begins putting items in his satchel, Harper notices the strange flutter/vibration we’ve heard him experience before. He also observes that all the windows in the house are covered by drapes or blankets. What little light that does get through has an odd, otherworldly shimmer to it.
*Side Note: Although it’s hard to catch, one of the items Leo passes on appears to be a 1980’s era alarm clock. Meanwhile, Harper’s attention is caught at one point by a grandfather clock with a bizarre/curved base. This is likely just a bit of symbolism rather than a concrete element of The House’s mythology, but still worth noting.
Harper goes upstairs and enters an office, where he finds an almanac from 1973. At the same time, Leo finds a trunk filled with money — including $20 bills featuring Andrew Jackson, which wouldn’t appear until 1928. As Harper continues searching the office, he hears a sound coming from a nearby armoire and realizes that someone is hiding inside it.
Instead of retreating, Harper approaches the armoire and mockingly asks if the person inside has enough room. He’s answered by someone who requests that he leave while offering all the money from the trunk downstairs.
Harper opens the armoire instead. An older man with a gun steps out, points the weapon at him, and demands to know which war he fought in. When Harper tells him it was “the Great War,” the man asks if he’s referring to World War I or II. As you might imagine, this completely throws Harper for a loop. He becomes even more confused when the man has no idea what month, day, or year it is. After Harper reveals that it’s October 9, 1920, the old man replies that he “has not been to this day.”
Harper decides to try a different tactic and asks about the watch he gave to Britta. The old man responds by asking if Harper is a craftsman. Harper replies that he could be, but the old man retorts that he can tell Harper is someone who takes instead of creates. He then walks over to a dresser, pulls out a dinky-looking watch, and offers it to him. The device may be from the future, but Harper can still tell he’s being bought off cheap.
Back downstairs, Leo opens another armoire that contains a 1980s sound system. He begins randomly pushing buttons until he accidentally causes “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” by Jim Croce to come blaring through the speakers. Harper uses the distraction to punch the old man and take his gun.
When Harper demands that the old man reveal who he is, his response is equal parts cryptic and revealing:
So, you will want it now.
Maybe it’s for the better.
I can find a time to make my own.
You’ll see…we can only pass through here.
Until then, the house has its own ways.
*Side Note: It’s worth mentioning that both the inflection and closed captions for the old man’s first statement (“So, you will want it now) ends with a period rather than a question mark. He knows that Harper will be unable to resist the house.
Unaware that we’re about to get some badly needed exposition, Leo bursts in and asks why Harper has turned their simple robbery into a hostage situation. As the two begin to argue, the old man makes a break for it and bolts downstairs. Despite Leo’s request to let him go, Harper chases him outside. Before he can catch up, the old man runs into the street, where he’s struck and killed by a car.
That would be a strange enough thing to observe in 1920. To Harper’s shock/amazement, however, the world he’s just stepped into is filled with cars from what appears to be the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Treating Yourself Across Time
Sometime later, Harper goes back to see Klara in the dressing room of what will eventually become Sid’s. He finds her using a gas mask, which she claims helps keep her chest clear. Her coughing fits indicate that it isn’t working very well (thanks in no small part to the radium she paints herself with).
Harper then asks Klara over to “his house” to get ready for her next show. When Klara expresses disbelief at his new status as a homeowner, he explains/lies that The House belongs to the brother of his lieutenant and he’s been charged with watching over it. Klara remains skeptical, but agrees to come over. Once they arrive, Harper has Klara lay on the floor with him and look up at a chandelier. A few moments later, she gasps in shock/delight as it completely changes forms. When she asks how he did it, Harper explains that things in The House randomly change without notice. Sometimes they become newer, older, or just different.
As Klara struggles to process what he’s saying, Harper invites her to come with him on a journey. To start, he asks her to think of a specific day or year. When she suggests a thousand years in the future, Harper shoots it down, explaining that nothing will be around by then. When he asks her to be more specific, Klara says she’d like to go as far from their current point in time as possible.
Harper takes Klara by the hand and leads her out the back door into Chicago during the early 1990s.
As you can imagine, Klara is blown away at seeing what the world looks like over 70 years in the future. When she asks Harper to explain how their trip is possible, he’s unable to say for sure. What he can tell her is that this day is the farthest he can travel into the future. Any attempt to go further results in him walking through the door on October 6, 1920 — the first day he set foot inside The House.
*Side Note: The song playing during this part of the episode is “Passin’ Me By” by The Pharcyde, which was released in March of 1993. Based on the weather and the clothes people are wearing, this scene likely took place in either early Spring or late Fall of that year. Either way, the primary events of ‘Shining Girls’ take place during 1992, putting this moment and The House’s time-traveling limits after Kirby and Dan’s investigation…but not too far.
Despite how thrilled she is, Klara suggests that perhaps they don’t belong in this time. Harper counters that it’s always been that way for them. He asks Klara if she wants to get back, but she doesn’t — maybe not ever.
Harper then makes the world’s most awkward transition by revealing that the other workers at Teenie’s confirmed they handed his letters to Klara. When he asks why she never wrote back, Klara lamely admits that she didn’t know what to say before insisting he take her on a shopping spree.
When the pair giddily returns from 1993 Chicago, they find Leo despondently waiting in the living room. He tells them that he tried looking for Harper on his own, but The House doesn’t open to different times for him like it does for his friend.
Harper breaks the tension by introducing Klara, who Leo knows as the girl from Harper’s childhood that he’s always talking about.
*Side Note: When Harper first walks into the living room, everything is bathed in cool/blue tones. After the confrontation with Leo, everything appears to be bathed in a much warmer light. This could be explained by the fire Leo is poking at, but the change appears far too sudden/drastic for that to be the case. It’s likely due at least in part to Harper’s agitation over Leo’s mood toward him.
After Klara heads upstairs to put her shopping haul away, Leo questions why Harper showed Klara what The House could do. Harper responds/lies that she simply needs a place to stay. Leo reminds him that bringing other people in on their secret should be a joint decision, especially since they found The House together. Harper counters that Leo’s opinion doesn’t really matter since The House’s special abilities don’t work for him.
Leo is in the middle of pointing out how Harper wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him (eh?) when Klara comes back downstairs and asks where they’re off to next. Harper says he knows just the place/time. As they’re about to leave, Klara convinces Leo to join them, much to Harper’s chagrin.
The group walks through the door and heads to Sid’s, where the local Chicago band Epicycle is playing their single “Hardcore Punk” for a raucous crowd. Leo’s foul mood is quickly lifted when he discovers that his lack of natural rhythm is no issue when it comes to slam dancing.
Meanwhile, Klara and Harper decided to get a drink. On their way to the bar, Klara asks if Harper can visit the same day over and over. He feigns ignorance and speculates that it might be possible.
When Harper and Klara reach the bar, the person serving them happens to be Sharon Leads, who we’ll eventually know as Kirby Mazrachi.
*Side Note: While “Hardcore Punk” may have been released in 1980, that doesn’t mean it’s the year Harper, Klara, and Leo traveled to. Since we’re seeing Kirby before she was attacked by Harper, though, we know this scene takes place sometime before 1986.
As Sharon/Kirby is pouring their drinks, Klara compliments her earrings and asks where she got them. Sharon/Kirby says they were a gift from an ex-boyfriend who got them for her on their first date instead of flowers. She then notices Klara’s nice coat and correctly guesses that she recently went shopping — thanks in no small part to the tag Klara forgot to cut off.
As the two women giggle and enjoy each other’s company, Harper starts to get annoyed/angry. After Sharon/Kirby leaves, he asks what was going on between them. Klara responds that she thought Harper liked the cute bartender and was trying to keep her around for him. Harper once again makes things awkward by proclaiming that the bartender isn’t the one he wants while staring intensely at Klara. She responds by asking if he’s sure about that before grabbing Sharon/Kirby and pulling her onto the dance floor.
At this point, we see the video from the beginning of the episode with the two women dancing. Harper watches them and grows even more annoyed. When Klara returns and asks him to dance, he coldly rejects her.
On her way to the bathroom, Klara runs into Leo, who is having an incredible time. He also reveals that he won’t be coming back with them that evening due to a new friend he met on the dance floor.
*Side Note: Although it may seem like it, this is not when Leo was stranded and banished from The House by Harper. That will be revealed later.
When Klara asks if the woman is like the ones he and Harper met in Paris, Leo reveals that they never made it to the French capital. He also tells her that she might not know Harper as well as she thinks. The tense conversation is interrupted when Harper walks up with something under Klara’s coat and asks her to go back with him to The House.
The object turns out to be a video camera, which was used to record the same video Leo gave Kirby at the assisted living home. After the exchange about her knowing that he never made it to Paris, we get to see what happened once the camera was turned off.
The Ugly Truth
Klara asks Harper to fess up and reveal where he actually got the handkerchief he gave her. Harper admits that he got it off someone who died. It was a fellow soldier who didn’t have anyone to give it to, but he did, so he took it. Klara lightly chastizes Harper for lying to her and sits down on the bed next to him
*Side Note: By the end of the episode, we’ll learn that this is one of the most honest things Harper has said. Sadly, it’s still tinged with a layer of deception.
Harper tells her that when he first found The House, she was the only person he wanted to show it to. He then pulls her head toward him for a kiss. Klara reluctantly allows it to happen for a few seconds before pulling away. She points out that the radium she painted on her body is getting all over his sheets, but he doesn’t care.
Klara continues to deflect his advances, asking if they can try filming her dance again. Harper responds by becoming aggressive, demanding she sit back down on the bed and pulling her toward him. When Klara continues to refuse, he shouts that she needs to come back over to him because she always does.
At that moment, Klara realizes that Harper has visited this same day with her countless times.
Harper tries to deny it at first, but eventually confesses that he always finds a way to manipulate her into ending their perfect day in bed together. When Klara asks why she never remembers, Harper replies with a very important piece of information:
Because it’s not your house.
Klara begins gathering her belongings to leave. When Harper begs her to stay, Klara declares that she’ll always know what a small and damaged man he is no matter how many times he goes back for her.
Harper responds to this by punching Klara in the face before throwing her onto the bed and continuing to beat her.
We then flashback to 1918, where Harper and other surviving soldiers from his regiment are recovering bodies from the previous battle. After setting down the body of the man whose gas mask he stole, Harper notices a fancy handkerchief sticking out of his pocket — the same one he eventually gives to Klara. It’s monogrammed, but he fixes that little problem by cutting it off with his pocket knife.
While he’s doing this, Leo walks over and says he knew Harper would survive.
*Side Note: While this would normally be a straightforward compliment, this appears to be his way of implying that Harper is like a cockroach.
He looks down, notices the missing gas mask, and tells Harper to make sure it’s returned with the soldier’s body along with a plausible account of how he died. Before walking away, Leo also reminds Harper of his promise to be “right behind him.”
We then flash forward again to the mid-1980s. After some lingering shots of The House (including the radium-stained bed), we see Harper sitting alone at the bar in Sid’s — this time during a trip in which Klara was never brought with him into the future. We also hear Leonard Cohen’s “The Ballad of the Absent Mare,” which was Sharon/Kirby’s favorite song and part of Harper’s message to her (SHARON’S GONE LIKE THE SMOKE) before his assault.
Sharon/Kirby notices Harper eyeing her and says he can order one more drink before last call. When he tells her to pour him the same one as last time, she doesn’t remember his order, which visibly annoys him.
*Side Note: This might seem like a small moment, but it’s a microcosm of Harper’s narcissistic anger. He expects to be remembered despite being completely forgettable.
Harper then offers Sharon/Kirby $100 if he can “guess” where her earrings came from by holding them in his hands. Being the kind soul that she is, Kirby decides to go along with the game. When he correctly “guesses” how she got them, however, Sharon/Kirby is visibly creeped out. She lies and says they were a purchase she made for herself from the dollar store and lets him keep them.
Harper accepts the earrings, but tells her that he knows he was right. Sharon/Kirby playfully responds “I guess we’ll never know” before walking away to clean the stage area. Harper puts the earrings in his pocket, turns around, and watches his next victim with a vengeful smirk.
Before we dive into why this episode of Shining Girls is so good, let’s answer some of the burning questions folks may have after that final scene. If you already feel like you’ve got a good handle on things, then feel free to skip down past the next picture.
Why didn’t mid-80s Sharon/Kirby recognize Harper when he showed up at her bar? Didn’t she meet him as a child when he gave her the pegasus?
Not yet. What we saw were the events that led up to him stalking/killing Kirby, which means he hadn’t begun visiting her throughout time yet.
Why did Harper get so jealous/angry about Sharon/Kirby and Klara getting along?
Have you ever been head over heels for someone only to have them try to put you together with someone else — all while making it very clear that your interest in them is nowhere near mutual? If not, then I and plenty of others can confirm that it absolutely sucks. Not enough to start committing murders throughout time, of course, but Harper isn’t your run-of-the-mill spurned suitor.
Add in his well-established narcissism/sociopathy, combine that with his extreme possessiveness of Klara, and you can see why he’d be so grumpy about the whole situation.
Why does Harper want to kill Sharon/Kirby? Is it just because of her interaction with Klara?
That got things started, but the real reason for Harper’s malice toward her was born from their interaction that Klara was not even a part of. During this meeting, Sharon/Kirby was creeped out and lied about where she got her earrings. In her mind, blowing Harper off was simply a matter of getting away from a dude at last call giving her the heebie-jeebies.
From Harper’s standpoint, however, this was yet another example of someone not giving him the attention/respect he deserved. Sharon/Kirby also refused to admit he was right about her earrings — knowledge he obtained specifically due to abilities that confirmed (to him) how special he is. Add in Sharon/Kirby’s connection to Harper’s unrequited love for Klara (along with his jealousy for her affection), and you’ve got Harper selecting what was likely his second victim since coming into possession of The House.
Sharon/Kirby also isn’t someone The House appeared to specifically guide him to kill. This may be one of the reasons she can remember shifts in time despite Harper’s abilities/actions originating from The House, which doesn’t belong to her.
Why doesn’t Harper just go back in time and bring another version of Klara with him?
Some of the particulars around this decision will be explored over the next two episodes and our end-of-series/season recap. For now, what we can say is that this version of Klara ruined Harper’s perfect day. He may be able to relive it again, but he’ll always know how little she truly thinks of him.
Klara was also killed inside the house, which is definitely worth remembering (along with how we can still see radium on Harper’s bed)
“Bright” answers many of Shining Girls‘ questions while raising a bunch more. In the middle of it all, we’re treated to a fantastic episode exploring how Harper went from a very bad person to a supernaturally powerful force of pure evil. Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura have been the best parts of the series, but arguably its best episode belongs to Jamie Bell and his incredible performance.
*Side Note: Don’t worry — while I liked this episode the best of all of them, the next two are pretty great, too.
Madeline Brewer also deserves a ton of praise for the complicated layers she added to Klara. The character is undoubtedly a victim, but she also helped teach Harper how to be a criminal. From there, she knowingly took advantage of his gifts despite knowing full well how he felt about her.
And before the comment section is flooded with incels: No, this does not mean Klara is a bad person and it certainly doesn’t mean she deserved to die. It means she was a decent person with a rough past and selfish tendencies — just like most folks.
To put it another way, imagine that a relentless suitor (who was also a childhood friend) came back into your life, revealed they can time travel, and offered to take you along for the ride. If you can say with absolute certainty that you’d still make a clean break with them (while also living as an aspiring dancer in the 1920s who grew up extremely poor), then give yourself a big old pat on the back.
As far as the story is concerned, Klara’s unwillingness to break from Harper is a major character flaw that’s very understandable.
Speaking of flawed characters, Chris Denham portrays Leo as someone whose loyalty is chillingly parasitic. He tags Harper early on as a vicious survivor and hitches his wagon to him. Along the way, he has no problem creating conflict, either by direct confrontation or behind his frenemy’s back.
So why does a person like Harper keep a person like Leo around?
My guess is that it started as a way to have someone who could help him get things. Leo was shown to be a skilled hustler and burglar — two skill sets that would definitely come in handy for a sociopathic drifter. Later, Leo became Harper’s only remaining link to his “true” self — the man he was before murdering the only person he ever truly loved and became possessed by The House.
Surrounding all this great dialogue and character work is some truly superb production. Director Daina Reed shoots everything with a feature film eye for detail and framing. Naledi Jackson’s script is brilliant on its own, but Reed takes it to a completely different level.
If you want to nitpick, “Bright” does continue Shining Girls‘ unfortunate trend of throwing things at the wall without enough context. There’s obviously no need to explain everything to the audience, but the narrative could benefit from a slightly firmer framework — like giving us a year marker for the furthest point The House let Harper travel instead of an obscure song cue.
The episode also missed a golden opportunity to expand on The House’s influence over its various owners. Aside from a sound effect and a couple lines from the old man inside the armoire, that component of Shining Girls‘ mythology continues to be neglected despite playing such a big part in the story.
Those minor gripes aside, “Bright” is riveting from start to finish. The episode sets up Shining Girls‘ final act with some much-needed backstory packaged in a brilliantly crafted narrative.
Next week, we go back to the present(ish) as Kirby and Dan close in on Harper. Unfortunately for them, the time-traveling killer was an adept survivor long before he came into possession of The House.
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