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Shining Girls - Attribution + Screamer - Review

19 May 2022

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Shining Girls 1.04 "Attribution" - Review:

Shining Girls continues the David Fincher aesthetic touches of this serial killer drama with threads being discovered on both sides of the storyline – with Kirby and the killer circling around each other. The mood and lighting continues to be exquisite in this series, episode four directed by Daina Reid – who has collaborated with Elisabeth Moss before on The Handmaid’s Tale and brings an appropriate air atmosphere to the set that creates grunge buildings feel live and instantly lived in – the atmosphere and graffiti betray rich history in key scenes – in stark contrast with the urban metropolis of the daytime above. We’re seeing the seedy underbelly of Lauren Beukes’ world come to life here – the more we spend time in it it’s a great place to be in. Unless you’re Kirby, of course.

The multi-layered thread of investigations is deepening and the weekly release schedule demands your constant attention, there’s no looking at the phone here – there’s no background viewing. For good or for ill the daunting world of Shining Girls requires your undivided attention – and there’s a lot to take in. Harper wants to know why Dan knows so much about what he’s been up to, and Kirby’s new reality is still a question mark to her. The world-travelling is completely new.

Harper is figuring it out too – he’s retracing his murder sites over the years and everything’s the way he left it up until 1986. It’s an investigation of his own alongside Kirby’s – both searching similar goals. She finds Sharon Leads (who is, for all accounts, Kirby) in the hospital – after Sharon was able to drag herself there. Whilst unable to spend time with Sharon in the hospital ward despite infiltrating it enough to see it - he does get to see Rachel – Sharon’s mother, but the conversation is hostile from the get go – I’d get annoyed if someone sat next to me on an empty set of seats too – and no further answers are given. Jamie Bell is appropriately chilling from the start as Harper and a formidable invisible antagonist – nobody knows who he is yet – hence the Zodiac comparisons, and the show has already given us plenty of similar scenarios to the office so far.

Kirby and Marcus are tracing their own steps in their timeline of 1992 after looking at the audio that Kirby stole – Kirby tells Marcus that something on the tapes may have happened to her although she wasn’t aware of it – and she doesn’t want to drag Marcus, understandably, into this – but Marcus is insistent that he stays. He’s asking all the right questions – and is smart enough to play along with Kirby’s investigation. Having someone supportive on her side helps. Dan’s story is pitched to his superiors but understandably – the pushback is due to the sketchy acquisition of evidence. Kirby’s anonymity also doesn’t help matters – but Dan wants to stick with the case. Marcus, also working there – knows about the murders too – but doesn’t want his wife to be put in a position like this.

I do feel at this stage Shining Girls may be keeping its cards a bit too close to its chest and will have to start giving audiences more payoff soon – the reality-shifting runs the risk of being deployed as a deus-ex-machina a little too often. There’s a connection between Kirby and Harper and we will get these answers eventually – and I love that this episode was used to explore more of Kirby as a character as we got to see other dimensions to her past and character too – exploring her mother’s band’s recording session. Her hair was blonde then – and she seemed much happier. There’s an air of tragedy to these scenes watching them – knowing what happens.

I did appreciate the nod to not only Leonard Cohen and The Ballard of the Absent Mare – with the words Sharon’s Gone Like the Smoke being inscribed in the wall – but it also reminded me a lot of Doctor Who’s Blink and the message left by the Doctor to Sally Sparrow from the past to warn her of the Weeping Angels.

And then we get the final showdown of the episode at the end of it all – between Kirby and Harper that’s as chilling as they come. It’s an opportunity for Kirby to learn more about Harper and find that he looks the same – and Harper is insistent that he killed Kirby. The fight is tense, brutal, sharp and uncompromising – both characters want to know more about the other. This time, Kirby’s able to escape – run away – before finding herself in another reality again, setting us up nicely for episode five.

Shining Girls 1.05 Screamer - Review:

Episode 5 pushes things to the next level with Kirby coming clean about her reality switches. It’s a brilliant piece of acting for Elisabeth Moss as she desperately tries to convince Dan about the truth of what’s happening, but everyone, from the sketch artist to Dan himself, is sceptical. It’s frustrating for Kirby to get the point across about who the killer is – and far more frustrating knowing that we’ve also been following Harper’s own journey; watching him interact with the likes of Dan, knowing that they’ve come this close to finding him but not discovering him. You can tell Zodiac was watched multiple times in the runup to this show – but Mindhunter too leaves a heavy shadow.

Dan’s article is starting to gain traction across the city as it grows – more and more people are calling in with information about the suspects. Kirby wants to run with what happened to her last night and has a copy of the police sketch – but she argues that people cannot wait. Dan is cautious: releasing the name will only make things much worse for the police. Jin-Sook tells Kirby about her past with Harper – that she knows that he’s come to where she works but is negative when Kirby asks her about reality switching and Jin-Sook says no. Whatever the phenomena is, it’s unique to Kirby – and Harper saw it at the bar last night too. Jin-Sook offers a warning: whatever effect happens; so too will something respond to it. And she’s right – Harper is aware of the changes, talking about them to Leo too – is actions mirror Dan’s in that of disbelief. Harper’s now out of the hospital he woke up in and walking about but has likely lost the money he was carrying. Harper even mentions Kirby – but avoids telling Leo as to why they’re involved. Maybe, Leo suggests – it’s not Harper’s first change. Maybe she knows something he does not. It’s refreshing to have a protagonist ahead of the curve for a change in terms of driving the narrative forward – but Kirby is now back in danger again, at the same building Harper was at.

The suspense is constant, the ever sense of dread is always there. Kirby offers a warning about peoplewatching, but Jin-Sook says let them – she’d rather have the lights. In the shadows – in the dark, Harper looks at them – watching. The music quickens – it’s brilliantly tense; a great bit of chilling acting between Moss and Jaimie Bell. The closer they are to each other – the worse it gets, for Kirby especially. The lingering thread of doubt about always being watched, the constant paranoia – it is putting everybody on edge. It’s also having spiralling consequences for her home life with her husband – Marcus, who gives her a toasted sandwich (peanut butter, cheese and grapes? Not my thing, thanks) that she’s never had before convinced it’s her comfort food. Dan follows up leads and goes to Kirby’s mother – who’s convinced that she’s not crazy, that’s her job – one of them has to have their shit together. Amy Brenneman is so good in this role – Leftovers fans will be right at home. Both Marcus and Rachel are left to orbit around Kirby and question her as she discovers her shapeshifting realities – and it’s hard to wonder whether they will emerge out of the series unscathed.

I like how the show is making Jin-Sook more important as the series progresses – you could argue, it’s not in the grand scheme of things – just about three main characters, Kirby, Dan and Harper anymore. Marcus too, sheds some light on his past – and a similar tattoo is found in his old war photos that Harper had. This points them in the direction of Leo – who can possibly time travel. Leo worked in the residence where Julia Madrigal worked – and where Harper now visits frequently too. After Kirby gets the chance to talk to Leo and manipulates him into getting the information that she wants, we get to see a side of her that we haven’t before – agency-driven, unafraid to get what she wants. Leo offers a warning: don’t tell them that Kirby came to visit, and to stay away from Harper – don’t go near him under any circumstances.

Things are getting closer and closer to the end of the road now – Elisabeth Moss taking over directing duties really shines here. I’d love to see her direct a feature. The grit and atmosphere of the cinematography is remarkable – and the scene with Kirby and Leo was brilliantly done. And then – just as Jin-Sook said earlier – change has a reaction to it – and Harper shows up on the rooftops of the observatory to question her about how she knows Sharon – or who Jin-Sook thinks is Kirby. When Harper feels something – Kirby knows – and the show does a brilliant job at keeping you in suspense about whether you feel this is game over for Jin-Sook or not – first comes Harper’s warning about being acting as a message for Kirby – and then comes the chilling ending, that’s going to stay on my mind for a long, long time – chilling because nothing happens – but the threat is there – the warning – “not today” - with Kirby realising that Dan’s car is different to the one that she’s familiar with.

Now Dan believes Kirby about the car – when she mentions that it was one that he used to have. In her reality; he still has it – and asks her about the car. He’s on board now. Or at least, until Kirby’s reality changes again.