If you just finished the series (or season) finale of Shining Girls and still have questions, then you’ve come to the right place.
This explainer will be based on three key factors:
- What happened during the course of the series. There were a lot of tiny moments that ended up having crucial implications for Shining Girls’ narrative and mythology. This explainer will hopefully shine a light on those and/or put them into context with the rest of the story.
- What happened in the novel the series is based on (when applicable). Shining Girls shares a lot with Lauren Beukes’ 2013 novel. That said, my fellow fans of the book know that they also have some huge differences. Thankfully, there are a few places where the source material helps shed a bit of light on things the television series didn’t explore.
- My own analysis. Your mileage may vary on this part. Lots of folks smarter than me have struggled to understand this series, but I like to think that my obsessive quest for answers makes up for it.
I’ll endeavor to answer some of the series’ big questions from the end working back toward the beginning. Before we can do that, though, there are some things about Shining Girls’ mythology that need to be explored first — namely the object at the center of its dark supernatural core.
Oh, and there will be lots of spoilers in this article (obviously).
What is The House and what does it want?
The House isn’t just a well-furnished time travel machine. It’s a malevolent entity that has existed for a least a few hundred years. It targets people who will use its power to sow pain and discord throughout time, then feeds off the resulting anguish — both from the victims’ torment and their death.
The House particularly enjoys cutting brilliant women down at the height of their personal and professional lives, thus taking away their shine. This essentially made Harper a perfect vessel/chef. The man already felt that the world owed him — getting him to harm and kill women who were ridiculously out of his league wasn’t too hard of an ask.
The House can hide in plain sight (either by being invisible or blending into its surroundings) until it finds someone it wants to be its vessel. It also corrupts the soul of whoever happens to be the current “owner” — although it’s really more a case of The House owning them.
UPDATE: Here’s a recent quote from Shining Girls‘ showrunner Silka Luisa about The House:
My experience reading the book, and how I interpreted it, was almost like the house was tied to Harper and their psyches were melded into one entity. For me, it was really important to establish the house as an independent totem of power that anybody could have. Harper happens to have it at the beginning of the season. But somebody else could have it and do something else completely different with it, almost like a natural wonder. And the question is who’s going to find it and what will they do with it?
So does that mean The House isn’t malevolent? Let’s take a look at the large amount of evidence that says it still is:
- The first owner we saw had such a terrible experience with The House that he hung himself.
- The second owner we saw (the old man from 1848) looked like complete hell when Leo and Harper found him. He also likely had an affair with Britta, which led her down a path that resulted in meeting Harper.
- The House called out to the old man instead of his fellow co-workers. After discovering it, he had no qualms about removing a dead body and claiming it for himself.
- The House specifically called out to Harper, a truly evil person, via the vibrations it made. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t call out to Leo or even work for him. Leo was definitely flawed, but nowhere near as evil as Harper. So why did The House reject him (and specifically choose Harper) if “anybody” could possess it?
- Instead of ending Harper’s life, Kirby decides to let him go and be tortured as she was when her reality was constantly shifting. While this provides some cathartic justice (which Harper totally deserves), it condemns what will likely be multiple other women to abuse and possibly even murder during Harper’s natural lifespan. Kirby has killed Harper before, so allowing him to live was a selfish act of revenge on her part — something the Kirby we knew from before would not have done.
- If The House is simply a “totem of power” that “anybody can have” (except Leo apparently), then why does it call out only to certain people — specifically those who are selfish (the old man), evil (Harper), or carry a desire for revenge (Kirby)?
- Being away from The House too long causes those who’ve bonded with it to completely lose their minds.
None of this means that Silka Luisa is wrong about her own show, obviously. Considering what a fantastic job she did bringing Shining Girls to life, it’s clear she knows what she’s doing. But Luisa also wasn’t the only writer on the show. Combine that with the source material definitely establishing The House as a malevolent entity, and it’s likely that interpretation still managed to seep into the narrative.
If you’re hoping for an answer to The House’s exact origins, it’s not coming (unless AppleTV+ decides to explore it in a second season). Much like the time portal in Stephen King’s 11/23/63, the question of how The House came to be is nowhere near as important as the narrative Shining Girls builds around it.
It’s also worth noting that Shining Girls didn’t construct its entire story off answering a question like this (ala Lost). There’s a potentially fantastic tale involving how The House was made and began wrecking people’s souls throughout time, but that’s not the narrative we’re here to discuss/enjoy.
Does The House turn all of its owners into serial killers?
Not necessarily, but it definitely puts them through the ringer. The old man looked like hell when Harper and Leo found him. Before that, he discovered that the previous owner had hung himself.
It’s very likely that the reality shifts caused by previous owners resulted in plenty of collateral damage/pain to others. It’s also worth keeping in mind that when the old man found a dead body, his first response was to remove it and claim The House for himself.
And then you have poor Kirby, who we know The House specifically chose after she heard the vibration while standing outside of it. When we first met her, she was incredibly kind and good to everyone — even after the attack that caused her world to fall apart. After becoming The House’s owner, however, she relishes hurting Harper before condemning him to a life of empty confusion.
Now to be fair, that’s a justifiable action considering what he did to her. What’s not okay is her decision to try and reconnect with Dan when she knows it will lead to him being tied to The House, as well.
Does The House still affect people it doesn’t choose?
Leo can tell you how that goes.
Despite The House not working for him, he stayed there long enough that it tied itself to his soul. Despite not being able to use the entity’s powers, his health and mental well-being severely deteriorated after he was away from it for too long.
This is yet another reason why Kirby’s attempt to connect with Dan points to her soul beginning to be corrupted.
Was The House making Harper kill people or did he snap after killing Klara?
It’s a combination of both, although The House is the main component behind him morphing from a narcissistic sociopath into a serial killer.
Harper was a bad person well before his soul was tied to The House. In addition to him killing a fellow soldier to save his own life (back in episode 6), we learned he was so awful as a child that not even his own parents or the nuns wanted him. He was also an accomplished burglar. Combine all that with how he interacted with Klara, and there was no supernatural push necessary to make him a Grade A douchebag.
That said, the supernatural definitely played a part in Harper’s reign of terror across time.
As I’ve brought up a few times during my recaps, there’s a scene in episode 2 that’s critical to understanding how The House operates.
After Harper sits down to read the paper, we hear the reality shifting vibration followed by his coffee cup changing. Harper notices this with bemused curiosity, then looks down to see Dan’s article about Julia Madrigal’s murder. Despite his eventual role as her killer, this is the first time he’s seen her.
The House was directing/influencing him to kill Julia.
It likely did the same for his other victims excluding Klara, Kirby, and Dan. In those cases (and the two women he murdered to change Kirby’s reality), he went rogue based on his own desire to inflict pain — something The House likely didn’t appreciate when it resulted in him missing his murder appointment with Jinny.
Why did Harper put objects that belonged to one of his victims inside of another?
The cynical answer is so the show could happen and Harper could be caught. In reality, the writers didn’t do a very good job explaining this.
In Lauren Beukes’ novel, Harper is directed by The House to kill specific women who “shine” with potential. When he observes these women in person, he can literally see the shine radiating off of them. Harper receives his assignments via totems on one of The House’s walls with each woman’s name under it. From there, his M.O. of leaving an item inside his victims is both a murderous compulsion and at The House’s direction.
As far as the television series is concerned, this was likely The House’s way of ensuring that it had a physical connection between all the victims it directed Harper to kill. He may have been The House’s conduit, but the totems would provide the entity with a physical connection across time to all the pain it fed on.
That said, at least part of this had to be Harper’s own compulsion. After all, it was his decision to put the matches from the Bee Happy Bar inside Sharon/Kirby. But you also have to remember that The House would still want in on that delicious pain and suffering — even if it didn’t direct him toward that particular victim.
How do the time/reality shifts work?
These shifts in reality primarily revolve around Kirby due to her surviving Harper’s attack and becoming “unstuck” in time. Harper experiences them later when he and Kirby fight at the laundromat/Be Happy Bar (in episode 4).
Kirby’s reality changes any time Harper feels a strong emotion related to The House. Since he’s a sociopath, this doesn’t happen very often. The strongest of these feelings is the rush he gets from killing someone. For example: After killing Jinny, Kirby’s reality shifted so that she was married to Marcus. The big shifts are typically based on choices she could have made or will potentially make in the future.
This is not necessarily an example of the butterfly effect, by the way. Going back to the previous example, Jinny’s murder occurred long after Kirby and Marcus would have gotten together.
Then you have the smaller changes, which are still significant. These typically occur when Harper feels a strong new emotion that’s related to his victims. Since he often visits the same day over and over, this doesn’t happen as often as you’d think.
One example of this is when Jinny went to lunch with her co-worker instead of the planetarium where Harper expected her to be (episode 7). Later that day, he used a recording of their future encounter to scare the hell out of her. This resulted in the defunct slaughterhouse Kirby was standing in to morph into a cold storage unit ten years ahead of schedule.
A similar instance occurred when Harper confronted Jinny on the roof of the planetarium (episode 5) instead of just locking her up there and leaving the umbrella (episode 1). This caused Dan’s car to change in Kirby’s reality. In Dan’s reality, however, it was the car he’d always driven.
We also learn that reality can shift sometimes when Kirby feels a strong emotion. Examples of this include:
- Her fear and vulnerability at being examined by Iris, who changed into Howard (episode 1).
- Her hair growing longer after learning that Jinny’s key impossibly appears in a 1972 crime scene (episode 3).
- A picture Marcus is developing changes from a bridge to a portrait of Dan after Kirby learns he’s married to someone else.
- Kirby’s reaction to seeing Dan’s body changing Iris into Howard again.
This aspect of the reality shifts is also tied to Kirby surviving Harper’s assault. Later, Kirby gains the ability to directly affect reality when she enters The House (and it chooses her).
Why did The House not allow anyone to travel further than 1993?
My personal theory is that it’s because we as a human race peaked in the 1990s. Otherwise, I have no idea.
Got all that? Good.
Let’s move on to some more specific questions about what happened throughout the series. I’ll try to work backward in a relatively straight line, but no promises we won’t diverge occasionally
Why did Kirby look so sad in the final shot?
There are several reasons for Kirby’s depressed/defeated state at the end of episode 8.
First and foremost, she’s gone from being a victim of reality shifting to being able to control it…and she’s more isolated than ever. This was driven home during her meeting at the bar with Dan. Despite a small part of him recognizing Kirby, he will never know her from their time that was erased by Harper.
Beyond the bond they shared, Dan was the only person aside from Jinny who knew and understood what she’d gone through. Now she’s only a blip in the deepest part of his alcohol-soaked subconscious.
Additionally, Kirby knows by this point that she can’t leave The House for an extended period of time. She’s essentially confined to living out her days inside this malevolent entity that was a major part of what ruined her previously bright/happy life in the first place.
That leads me to my next point, which is that The House has likely begun to corrupt Kirby. We saw evidence of this when it vibrated for her and assisted in taking down Harper. Since she was already connected to The House (via surviving Harper’s 1986 assault), it could likely sense the anger we saw boiling over in Kirby after Dan was murdered.
Speaking of Dan, it appears that Kirby gave him the address to The House and invited him to come over. That’s a surefire way to begin the process of his soul being corrupted, as well. At the very least it would tie him to The House so that he couldn’t leave without his mental state completely deteriorating.
Would the Kirby we met in episode 1 really do something this reckless to be reunited with someone she cared about — even if it meant cursing them for the rest of their life and separating them from their son?
No…but a version of Kirby who’s being influenced by The House would.
Why did Kirby let Harper live?
My guess is so that he would have to go through the same hell she did with reality constantly shifting around her.
Also, remember what Leo said about how pathetic Harper’s life was before he found The House? She just cursed him to live out the rest of his days as an insignificant drifter who doesn’t even get to control his own history. For a narcissist like him, that’s a fate worse than death.
Kirby is also currently guarding The House, thus (hopefully) ensuring that Harper won’t be able to use it again.
Why didn’t Harper just go back to 1986 and finish Kirby off — or kill her at another point in time?
Because it wouldn’t be this version of Kirby, who became unstuck from time after he failed to end her life. Time and reality now shift around her.
And even if Harper went back to May 15, 1986 and made sure the Sharon/Kirby from that time was dead, our Kirby would still exist and be a major problem for him.
What did Kirby see when she opened the window?
Based on her confrontation with Harper and what happened in the book, Kirby likely saw time itself zooming by in an infinite loop. This would be an unfathomable sight, hence why the show wisely portrayed it via Elisabeth Moss’ superb acting and a bright light shining upon her face.
After observing this incalculable display of cosmic power/weirdness, Kirby was able to manipulate reality within The House to aid in her defeat of Harper.
Why doesn’t Kirby just leave The House?
Because she can’t.
The House has chosen her and her soul is tied to it. If she tries to leave, her mental state will deteriorate to the point that she barely remembers who she is.
Even if Kirby decided to sacrifice her mind and leave, she would likely be drawn back to The House, anyway. When Harper got Leo out of the assisted living home, he was able to navigate his way back to The House despite Chicago looking completely different than it did in the 1920s.
Why did Jinny start experiencing reality shifts and how did she break free of them?
Jinny became unstuck in time when Harper didn’t murder her as The House directed him to.
As for how she went back to her previous life, that was thanks to Kirby killing our version of Harper and resetting Jinny’s life along with the lives of all his other victims.
What’s up with the dog?
First off, his name is Grendel and he’s adorable.
As for his first appearance in The House, this represented Kirby’s reality becoming tied with Harper’s. It also served as an indicator that The House was starting to warm up to Kirby over him.
Then you have the dog’s breed, which I like to think was a purposeful decision on the show’s part.
Pitbulls by nature are some of the sweetest and most loving dogs you could ever hope to meet. That said, even an ardent pitbull defender (like myself) will admit that if one is threatened or backed into a corner, it can do some serious damage. They’re also incredibly protective over the people/animals they love.
All of this mirrors Kirby extremely well. Her nature is as kind and warm as you can imagine, but the severe trauma Harper inflicted has turned her into a fighter. Now she and Grendel faithfully guard The House from being used by him or anyone else with ill intent, all while her own soul fights against being corrupted.
It’s heartbreaking to see a strong/good person like Kirby subjected to this fate — especially after everything she’s already been through. But if there’s one person strong enough to potentially guard The House without letting it completely take over their soul, it’s her.
In episode 7, how did Kirby know Klara’s first name when she talked to the floor manager, but she’d previously told Marcus they didn’t know it?
This almost certainly had to be a continuity error by the show’s writers.
My first reaction to hearing this question on a Shining Girls Facebook group was that they got Klara’s name off her old union card. Then it was pointed out to me that Kirby told Marcus they didn’t know her name before she and Dan went to the meatpacking plant. Also, at the beginning of the episode, she and Dan are trying to figure out Klara’s identity as they watch the video.
When they meet the plant’s floor manager, however, Kirby identifies “the dancer” as a woman named Klara.
If Klara and Kirby exchanged names back when they met at Sid’s, then it wasn’t shown on screen and definitely wasn’t something she remembered well enough to reference later. There’s also a chance that Leo revealed Klara’s name when he gave Kirby the tape, but that wasn’t mentioned either.
So yeah, I’m going with this being a continuity error — and an unnecessary one at that. The floor manager knew who the dancer was thanks to the gruesome/bizarre details around her murder (like how her body was glowing from the radium). Minutes later, they got her name from an old union card.
Why didn’t Harper just go back in time and get a “new” version of Klara?
First off, we have no idea how many times he tried and failed to get Klara to sleep with him after their “perfect” day together.
But the main issue with Harper going back for Klara again is that she revealed her true feelings about him (episode 6). From that point forward, he would always know what she really felt/thought about him. That’s why he punished Klara by dumping her body in such a disgusting location.
When did Leo get left behind?
This is something that Shining Girls really should have shown us.
It initially looked like he was left back in the 1980s during the visit with Klara (episode 6), but we know that’s not the case since he later helped Harper dump Klara’s body.
So yeah…I’ve got no idea.
When did Leo steal the tape?
Same deal with this question.
Perhaps there’s a deleted scene or something that was cut before the series went into production that would’ve shown this. Unfortunately, one of the narrative’s biggest moments was reduced to a brief moment of frantic exposition.
Why didn’t Kirby/Sharon recognize Harper when they at met Sid’s?
When Harper first met Sharon/Kirby, he hadn’t decided to target her yet. That also means he hadn’t gone back in time to visit her as a child and give her the wooden pegasus.
Why did Harper target Sharon/Kirby?
For two reasons:
- He was jealous of how easily Klara and Sharon/Kirby became friendly with each other. He also may have sensed an attraction between them. That would be bad enough for an entitled sociopath like Harper, but he was also a misogynistic man from the 1920s. Losing out on his dream girl to another woman definitely wouldn’t sit well.
- Sharon/Kirby lied to him about her earrings after he correctly guessed where she got them. In Harper’s mind, this was yet another example of someone not giving him the respect he deserved.
What was Britta’s connection to The House?
My guess is that she and the old man had an affair after he traveled to 1920 and met her. That would be quite scandalous for a nun, but The House has a way of corrupting everyone it comes in contact with — directly or indirectly.
Also, the old man knew how to press flowers. No way the dude didn’t spit some impressive game.
Why did so many changes happen during Harper and Kirby’s fight at the laundromat/Bee Happy Bar in episode 4?
I think it’s safe to say that both of them were feeling some pretty strong and unfamiliar emotions during this encounter — especially when Harper saw reality changing outside of The House for the first time.
It’s also worth noting that the laundromat was already in the process of converting into the Bee Happy Bar. Kirby and Harper’s encounter just significantly sped up the process.
Why didn’t Harper kill the woman at the convenience store in episode 3?
All of Harper’s victims — including Kirby — were incredibly smart and successful women. While we don’t know much about the woman at the convenience store, it’s clear that Harper considered her to be beneath him. This is likely due to her needing to steal food to survive and how easily she fell for his trap.
It’s also worth noting that he may very well have been stalking her for a while based on his knowledge of what would happen inside the store. If The House directed him to kill this woman and he didn’t, that would be yet another reason it reached out to Kirby and potentially turned against him.
Why didn’t Harper kill Dan at the Subway station?
At the time, it didn’t appear that he needed to.
Harper just spent an entire evening watching Dan get wasted out of his mind. In his mind, there was no reason to worry about Dan after that — especially when he could simply revisit any day that a potential problem arose.
When Harper killed Dan a few episodes later, that was specifically to harm Kirby and alter her reality.
Why did Harper visit the reception for Julia Madrigal’s funeral in episode 2?
You don’t need to be a true-crime fan/expert to know that it’s fairly typical for serial killers to revisit their murders so they can enjoy them again.
Also, Harper was likely directed there by The House so that it could feed off the residual anguish from Julia’s friends and family.
Why did Julia hide the tapes of her calls with Harper?
So Kirby could find them and the story could happen. I wish I had a less cynical answer, but that’s pretty much it.
You could also make the argument that she was afraid no one would believe her, but that still doesn’t explain why she went to the trouble of recording her phone calls only to immediately turn around and make sure the tapes were well-hidden.
Why did Harper give Jinny a wingless bee in episode 1?
That confused me, as well.
It definitely had a connection with his speech to young Sharon/Kirby about taking his victims’ shine, but I’m honestly not sure why Jinny would be the only one we saw him do this with.
That said, we never really got to see him stalking anyone else aside from her, Kirby, and Julia Madrigal. Perhaps this was something he’s done to other victims, as well.
Why did Harper scare Sharon/Kirby as a little girl (and give her the pegasus)?
Because he (and The House) enjoyed tormenting his victims.
As for the pegasus, that was so she would have a constant reminder of him until he killed her. It also likely served as a connection to The House, which would in turn allow the entity to feed more directly on the pain/fear that Harper caused.
Will there be a second season of Shining Girls?
If you’d asked me this a few weeks ago, my answer would have been “I sure hope not.” While I greatly enjoyed the show, it appeared to be designed as a stand-alone story rather than a series.
After the final episode, however, Shining Girls proved itself to be different enough from the source material that the story could continue without feeling forced. They also left a lot of openings to create a new narrative that could draw on what happened in Season 1 without feeling like a rehash of what we’ve already watched.
That said, the ending of this season also works just fine as the finale to an excellent series.
Should I read the book (and is it different from the series)?
YES and YES.
The novel by Lauren Beukes is fantastic. The story also unfolds very differently and concludes with a completely different ending. I won’t spoil anything big here except to say that there are no reality shifts in the book. That’s an aspect that was completely unique to the television series.
I’ll also say that I liked the book better, but that’s mostly due to Beukes’ writing (she’s one of my all-time favorite authors) and how a novel can get inside its characters’ minds in a way that a television series just can’t.
That said, both are great.
What do the episode titles mean?
They’re all journalism/newspaper terms:
- Cutline: Any descriptive or explanatory material beneath a picture.
- Evergreen: Content that is not time-sensitive or reliant on current events to be published.
- Overnight: A story written late at night for the next day’s edition of the paper.
- Attribution: Designation of a person being quoted or the source of information in a story.
- Screamer: Distinctive headline written to grab the reader’s attention and pull them to the article beneath it.
- Bright: A short, amusing story.
- Offset: Printing method in which ink is transferred from a plate to a uniform rubber surface and from that to the paper.
- 30: The end of a story or article that’s been submitted for editing.
Shining Girls isn’t exactly a wellspring of humor, but the title for episode 6 is pretty funny when you consider what the actual content is.
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