Last week’s episode of Shining Girls took us on a deep dive into Harper’s past. In addition to seeing how he went from just a really bad person to a supernatural force of evil, we got a much better idea of how The House operates — including how it corrodes the soul of whoever currently “owns” it.
That said, there’s still plenty about The House we still haven’t learned. What we do know, however, is why Harper targeted Kirby in the first place
This week, we’ll learn why Harper attacked Kirby and his other victims on the day/time that he did. Meanwhile, Dan and Kirby’s investigation will lead to some unforeseen and explosive consequences.
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.
The episode opens with Kirby/Sharon before Harper attacked her in 1986. She appears happy, confident, and unafraid — which is all types of heartbreaking to see considering what we know will happen.
After taking the subway home from work, she arrives to find her mom (Rachel) has popped by to take a shower since the water at her place was turned off. The pair bicker for a bit, but that doesn’t keep Rachel from being happy for Sharon after learning that her daughter’s been assigned her first solo byline at the Chicago Tribune.
That evening, Sharon takes her dog (Tokoyo) for a walk near the beach. Seconds after Tokoyo pulls the leash from her hand, Harper lunges at her from behind. We see/hear flashes of his gruesome attack, this time without the benefit of being clinically detached from it.
We then switch to the (1992) present, where Kirby is relaying the details of her attack to Jinny while Dan sits with them. When Kirby says it felt like Harper was one step ahead of her, Jinny replies that her encounter with him the night before (back in episode 5) felt the same. In Jinny’s case, however, he wasn’t there for her — he was there to send a message to Kirby.
Jinny relays Harper’s message that whenever he feels something, Kirby will know. After learning that he said this around the same time Dan’s car changed, Kirby realizes that Harper is the primary force behind her shifts in reality.
When Jinny asks what Harper meant about coming back, Kirby explains that he took her old museum key and left it inside another woman. He also isn’t “going” to kill her. He already has…just not yet.
*Side Note: If you’re wondering why Harper leaves items from one victim inside another, then you’re definitely not alone. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to dive into that morbid peculiarity until the end of the series/season.
Later, Kirby watches the tape she got from Leo with Dan and his son (Freddie). They once again hear Harper mention a place called Teenie’s and decide to check it out. As they’re leaving, Dan mentions that Kirby seems much happier/accepting of her marriage to Marcus despite barely knowing him a couple of weeks ago. Kirby responds that she recognizes how strange it is, but now sees their union as a choice she was potentially going to make one day.
Dan replies that she should tell Marcus the truth about how she feels/sees their marriage and see if he’s okay with it.
After arriving at the Sun-Times, the pair begin searching through the paper’s records to check if Teenie’s was mentioned anywhere. During their research, Kirby sees Marcus and decides to update him on the story. When she mentions Teenie’s, Marcus is immediately able to recall that it’s an old meatpacking plant (of course). He also did the photo work for a unionization story at the plant that Dan wrote (OF COURSE).
When Kirby counters that Dan never wrote about Teenie’s, Marcus replies that he likely just can’t remember the assignment due to his severe substance issues. He also asks to accompany them when they visit the meatpacking plant, but Kirby insists she and Dan will be fine.
Kirby then decides to sit Marcus down and explain her bizarre shifts in reality — specifically how she doesn’t remember any of their history together prior to his birthday party (back in episode 3). She may not know him intimately now, but they’re together because she was likely going to fall in love with him in the future.
As you can imagine, Marcus is completely thrown for a loop by all this. He also comes to the completely understandable/logical conclusion that the case (and working with Dan) is severely affecting his wife’s mental health. Realizing that Marcus is nowhere near ready to understand what’s happening to her, Kirby squeezes her husband’s hand and leaves.
*Side Note: You’ve got to remember that in this timeline, Marcus has been together with Kirby for years. If the person you loved the most in the world started saying this, you’d also be extremely concerned (and heartbroken).
When Kirby and Dan arrive at Teenie’s, Kirby notices that the cutwork on the pigs matches the precision of Harper’s cut into her and his other victims. After speaking to the shift manager (whose brother owns the plant), they’re surprised to learn that he knows about a former dancer who worked at the plant. He also refers to her as “the poor girl who was killed here.”
The shift manager takes them down to the slaughterhouse, which the plant no longer uses since the meat can be delivered from a more sanitary location via refrigerated trucks. It was shut down 10 years ago, but there are plans in place to turn the area into cold storage.
*Side Note: That last part might not seem like an important detail, but it is.
The shift manager explains that Klara’s body was found in 1920 inside the drainage tank. Her corpse was covered in radium, which caused it to glow. Dan assumes Harper dumped her body in a tank filled with blood and feces to cover up his crime, but Kirby knows better.
He did it to punish her.
Jinny’s coworker at the planetarium (Gary) asks why she was so freaked out the night before. Jinny explains that a man stalked and cornered her on the roof, but doesn’t tell him much else. Gary then asks if she wants to get lunch — something we saw him do back in the first episode (which also showed us Jinny’s future murder).
Jinny is about to reject him like she did in episode 1, but realizes that going against her instincts and saying yes may change the future. She accepts Gary’s invitation and heads out with him.
At the same time, Harper takes in a show at the planetarium. Once again, we’re treated to a very heavy-handed bit of second-hand exposition — this time via the narrator explaining that “all it takes is one star to change the course of the galaxy.” When the show concludes, Harper is simultaneously shocked and infuriated to discover that Jinny isn’t in the audience — the place she’s supposed to be prior to him killing her.
Later, Jinny does a soundcheck with one of the planetarium technicians (Theo) for a big presentation she’ll be making that evening. Once again, her astronomy-based lecture serves as some metaphorical exposition:
Overhead you’ll notice a cluster of stars at the edge of our galaxy. Omega Centauri.
Now, these may look like any other stars, but they don’t belong here.
Billions of years ago, we collided with another galaxy. And these stars, they’re all that’s left of it.
And now, another galaxy is making its way towards us. Andromeda.
Four billion years into the future, an irreversible collision will occur —
At this point in the presentation, Jinny’s microphone suddenly stops working. When she asks Theo if he can fix it, there’s no response from the motionless silhouette inside the sound booth. Instead, the song “Lonesome Lover” by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln begins echoing through the room — the same song that was playing at the dinner party we saw Jinny attending minutes before she was killed in episode 1.
The music is soon replaced by a recording of her own murder in the future.
While Jinny doesn’t specifically know what she’s listening to, the sound of her own voice screaming in terror as she’s being attacked and gutted is obviously terrifying. She runs outside and finds Theo, who profusely apologizes for stepping out to go the bathroom. When he came back, the door to the studio was locked.
Across town at Teenie’s, Kirby hears/feels the vibration that proceeds a shift in reality. Seconds later, the defunct slaughterhouse she and Dan are standing in morphs into a cold storage unit 10 years ahead of schedule.
*Side Note: As Harper revealed to Jinny back in episode 5, Kirby’s reality changes whenever the time-traveling sociopath feels a strong emotion. If you haven’t figured out yet why these changes only happen to Kirby, then you’ll definitely have a better idea by the end of the episode.
For now, though, let’s talk about the mechanics behind the reality shifts.
Harper obviously experiences a strong emotional reaction/sensation when he kills one of his targeted victims. These moments result in large-scale changes to Kirby’s reality. The best example of this is when she came home and discovered she was married to Marcus after Harper killed Jinny in episode 1.
On the other hand, smaller-scale emotions create smaller changes. There are two very recent examples of this:
- Dan’s car changed after Harper confronted Jinny on the planetarium’s roof.
- The slaughterhouse changed to a meat locker after Harper scared the crap out of Jinny during the rehearsal for her presentation.
In both of these instances, Harper did things very differently than the other times he visited that same day/time. He was also royally pissed that his control over reality had been challenged. Those factors compounded with him relishing in his ability to renew the sense of fear/control over his future victim.
This didn’t provide Harper with the same rush/relief he gets after killing someone, but it was still enough to change a few minor aspects in Kirby’s world.
Jinny flees back to her office, where Gary reports that her phone has been ringing nonstop for the past several minutes. Jinny picks up to hear Kirby asking if she’s okay and if Harper was there. Jinny confirms that he was, but refuses to leave work on account of having to make a big presentation that evening.
*Side Note: C’mon, Jinny…
Back at Teenie’s, Kirby and Dan visit the plant’s manager, who pulls up the union cards he has from the time before the dead dancer was found in the slaughterhouse. They quickly find a card bearing Klara’s name and photograph. After a bit more digging, Kirby finds a card with Harper’s photograph on it. The name is listed as “John Smith” (due to him being underage when he worked there), but both she and Dan know it’s him.
Over at the Sun-Times, Marcus shows Abby his wife’s notebook of seemingly mundane observations. He previously thought she wrote it in simply to clear her head, but he’s justifiably concerned now after what she said to him earlier. He also attributes Kirby’s mental deterioration to the story she’s working on with Dan and asks Abby to remove her from it.
When the editor refuses, Marcus tells her about how uncharacteristically angry and vengeful he became after learning what happened to Kirby in 1986. The sensation made him feel like someone he didn’t even recognize — and he wasn’t even the person who had to suffer through it. Now he’s having to watch the attack destroy Kirby all over again, this time in front of his very own eyes.
Marcus’ earnest plea then takes a forceful turn when he pointedly asks who he’s supposed to tell about Kirby’s mental state if Abby won’t listen to him.
*Side Note: While I don’t think Marcus would reveal his concerns to a rival paper, I do think he’d tell a psychiatrist or have Kirby committed, thus cutting off and potentially discrediting the paper’s star witness for their biggest story.
You also have to keep in mind that Marcus is desperate to help his wife by any means necessary. He doesn’t have all the information we do. All he knows is that his wife, who he loves with all his heart, suddenly can’t remember any of the life they’ve shared together.
That evening, Kirby and Dan sit on his front stoop. Both of them struggle to wrap their heads around the physical proof of Harper’s existence and murderous activities since 1920 — and that he looks the same now as he did then. During the course of their conversation, Dan begins to open up about his substance abuse and how it used to affect his work.
Dan also admits that when he writes a story about someone dealing with severe trauma, the empathetic part of his brain shuts off, which helps him forget about the person and compartmentalize the tragedy. Kirby asks if that’s what he’ll do with her once they finish their story. Before Dan can answer, Freddie calls him upstairs.
Unbeknownst to them, Harper managed to follow Dan home and has been listening to their conversation from just a few feet away. He starts to move toward Kirby when Dan goes upstairs, but decides against it and walks away.
*Side Note: This might have been a perfect opportunity to kill Kirby, but it’s worth remembering that Harper wanted to punish Klara when he ended her life…and he just learned that Kirby cares about Dan on a personal level.
Dan takes Freddie and Kirby to the Sun-Times. When they arrive, Kirby tells Bertie to ask his contact if they can pull the police report for Klara’s unsolved murder. He nervously agrees to do it before informing Kirby that Abby wants to see her.
Kirby steps inside Abby’s office and is informed that she’s being forced to take a leave of absence. Kirby takes this as a polite way of being fired, but Abby assures her it’s only so she can “take care of herself.” After a couple months, they’ll reassess her position at the paper.
The Sun-Times will also continue working on Kirby and Dan’s story, but without her.
Dan sees what’s happening and tries to convince Abby to rethink things. After Kirby walks out of the office in a haze, Dan throws a hail mary by revealing that she found the serial killer. Predictably, Abby doesn’t believe their story about a nearly 100-year-old serial man who still looks like he’s in his 20s. Dan tries to confirm the ID, but his history of substance abuse is more than enough to make Abby dismiss it. She also refuses his request to publish a photo/sketch of Harper in the paper.
Meanwhile, Kirby heads downstairs and finds that Marcus has already cleared out her desk. He pleads with her to come home and work on rebuilding the good life they had together. Kirby replies that the life he knows isn’t hers. She also refuses to give up on the story — even if it means doing it on her own without the backing/resources of the Sun-Times.
The pair part ways with Kirby saying she’ll get her belongings out of their apartment that evening.
Rachel comes over to help Kirby pack so they can take everything over to her place. As the two talk, Kirby remembers that she was attacked on the same night she learned about getting her first solo byline at the Chicago Tribune. She then realizes that Harper specifically and maliciously chose that day to kill her
*Side Note: Remember what I (and Kirby) said earlier about Harper wanting to punish his victims?
Rejuvenated by anger and resolve, Kirby says she has to go and asks Rachel to finish packing for her. Before leaving the apartment, she takes the wooden pegasus that Harper gave her as a child.
Meanwhile, Jinny struggles to keep her focus at a dinner party preceding her big presentation that evening at the Adler Planetarium. As you may remember, this is the same dinner party she was at before Harper murdered her inside the Doane Observatory.
Just like before, an issue with the telescope forces her to leave the party to fix it just as “Lonesome Lover” begins to play. This time, however, the person who walks through the door is Kirby instead of Harper.
While both women are relieved, Kirby is also confused. If Harper isn’t there, then where is he?
*Side Note: Kirby went to the planetarium because she knew/realized Harper would want to kill Jinny on her big night. What’s not clear is how she knew to go to the observatory. It’s possible Jinny identified the sound of the telescope rotating in Harper’s recording and said something to Kirby about it on the phone.
Even if that’s the case, it still wouldn’t be information we as the audience were privy to.
Back at the Sun-Times, Dan is given the 1920 police report about Klara that Kirby requested before being put on leave. He and Freddie find a receipt from 1981 (which baffles both of them) along with a street address, which happens to be where Sid’s is located.
Dan arrives at the bar and tells his son he’ll return. Freddie agrees, but you can tell the poor kid suspects that his father will end up staying for a few drinks.
As Dan wanders through the massive building, he eventually finds the message Harper wrote to Kirby years ago (SHARON’S GONE LIKE THE SMOKE) along with a poster from 1920 advertising Klara’s show.
While Dan is staring at the poster, Harper walks up and asks how he found her. Before Dan can answer, Harper stabs and slices him through the torso. He then wrestles the dying reporter to the ground and takes his jacket. As Dan takes his last breath, Harper thanks him for the new clothes and departs.
While this is happening, Jinny rushes back inside the planetarium to give her presentation. When she arrives, however, everything is completely different.
- Her clothing has changed from a formal dress to 90s casual.
- No one knows who she is, including Theo, Gary, and the security guard.
- Gary is now the one giving the presentation instead of her.
Completely stunned and disoriented, Jinny walks back outside to find Kirby. We hear the vibration of reality shifting followed by Kirby turning around with a completely different look.
*Side Note: Because of Harper’s mission to hurt Kirby via killing Dan, Jinny essentially became his second surviving victim. This effectively “displaced” her from time in the same manner Kirby is.
Back at Sid’s, Freddie sees Harper leaving and recognizes him as his dad’s “friend” (from their encounter back in episode 3). He calls out to him and asks if he saw Dan inside the bar. When Harper walks over to say he didn’t see his dad anywhere, Freddie asks why he’s wearing his father’s jacket.
Harper lies again, this time claiming that the jacket is his and bidding the boy farewell. Before walking away, he deliberately leaves a bloody handprint on the car window.
You know how people who read the book that a television show is based on can seem insufferably smug in their assurance of what’s going to happen? Well, you’ll be happy to know that fans of the novel (like me) were completely unprepared for how this episode ended.
Despite his obvious/severe flaws, Dan was impossible not to like — especially once he and Kirby were finally on the same page. After a life filled with pain and regret, his redemptive path is brutally cut short so that Harper can hurt someone else.
And make no mistake — that’s exactly why Harper killed him. If he wanted to stop Dan’s story, he could have killed the reporter plenty of other times. This murder was committed to punish Kirby along with the added benefit of turning her reality completely upside down. Meanwhile, Jinny “survived” Harper’s abandoned mission to kill her, but is now cursed with a shifting reality, as well.
*Side Note: If you need a more direct explanation of why this happened to Jinny, you’ll be glad to know that there’s an extremely on-the-nose, astronomy-based metaphor coming your way in the next episode.
“Offset” is filled with great performances, but Chris Chalk still managed to stand out. He imbues Marcus with a painful weight that prevents him from ever looking callous or clueless — which he shouldn’t. Marcus wasn’t physically cut open, but his heart was still victimized by Harper’s reality shifts.
It should also be noted that every narrative roadblock or challenge he creates is due to an earnest attempt at understanding and/or helping Kirby. Going behind her back like he did was the last thing Marcus wanted to do. Unfortunately, the lack of context behind Kirby’s behavior would make it appear to any reasonable person that she was having a complete mental breakdown.
For the person who loves her more than anything, that’s not something that could be ignored.
As for the episode overall, “Offset” doesn’t have the relentless narrative momentum “Bright” did, but it’s still very good. The ending in particular packs one heck of a punch. You barely have time to recover from the shock of Dan’s death and Jinny’s life spinning out of control before Harper cruelly reminds us that Freddie just lost his father.
On the negative side of things, another wonderful episode lost a bit of its luster due to the unclear mechanics behind Shining Girls‘ mythology. I’m not saying that people should be able to play on their phones and understand everything, but there are some key points that can be easily missed if you blink or sneeze at the wrong time.
I’ll once again bring up the scene from episode 2 when Harper was drinking coffee and reading the paper inside The House. After seeing Dan’s article about Julia Madrigal’s murder, the air around him vibrated and the coffee cup changed. That incredibly brief moment (from all the way back in April) basically tells us how/why Harper picks most of his victims.
Since then, we’ve barely touched on it.
In this episode, there are some vague references to future events/decisions manifesting via Harper’s emotions, but nothing concrete beyond Jinny mentioning that Harper said Kirby would know whenever he felt something — and even then it wasn’t entirely clear what he meant or how things would work.
I’m fine with that type of vagueness so long as it exists inside a firm narrative/mythological structure that can be reasonably followed. Shining Girls succeeds at this for the most part, but there are plenty of viewers much smarter than me who might be turned off by so much ambiguity.
Thankfully, even those folks are sure to enjoy the dynamite performances by the series’ leads. We knew Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura would be great, but this series should serve as a springboard for Jamie Bell (Harper) and Chris Chalk to get all types of roles.
Next week brings us to the final episode of the series/season. If you think Shining Girls has been crazy up until now, then be sure you’re sitting down and have your phone off for this one.
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