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Shining Girls - Bright + Offset + 30 - Review

Shining Girls’ last three episodes propelled the storyline to its gripping conclusion; renewed for a second series because nothing is a limited show anymore, it looks at the wider implications of characters putting together the consequences of Harper and Kirby drifting back and forth through time and realities and Harper’s attacks escalating with damning effects, whilst also spending much of episode six devoted to Harper’s backstory. It’s a tragic one that takes you back to the first world war – almost plunging you into the middle of a 1917 type scenario from the opening seconds but given all the films that have tackled the ‘great war’ recently you’re in familiar territory with Leo and Harper. Leo watches Harper’s back as he runs through the gas-covered terrain, and he’s drifting – falling through time, spending his life in bars – chasing people out onto the street in war uniform before waking up in a future that’s very different from the one he left. It’s chaotic – showcasing the range of Shining Girls’ true potential; and really adds depth to these episodes that prove it maybe shouldn’t have been a movie despite the initial critic reviews labelling it as such and there’s enough meat on this show’s bones for a series.

You can’t go on for so long without holding answers back from the viewer and those who gave Shining Girls some faith in that television is a longform media were rewarded this week; examining the friendship between Harper and Leo, Leo always having Harper’s back. Harper needs allies as much as he has enemies, and it’s a superb performance from Jamie Bell in this role – boiling towards the conclusion that puts him face to face with Kirby. It’s a story with a lot of puzzles being drawn together as the mystery intricately reveals itself, first showing Harper’s history of violence back in the Battle of Cantigny in 1918. The mustard gas sequences are chaotically orchestrated capturing the horror of war – Harper getting knocked to the ground and finding his gas mask rendered useless betrays his survival at any cost approach; and he kills a downed soldier to take his mask before the mustard gas hits. It’s a ruthless, cold sequence – much of Harper’s character coming from World War One also feels reminiscent in a way of Twice Upon a Time, the Twelfth Doctor’s swansong, where the soldier brought along with the first and twelfth Doctors realises that the “Great War” was not the last war – and there are more wars beyond that. It’s chilling, even for people like Harper – and punctuated by an effective realisation. With the similarities to Blink earlier in the season and the general understanding of time travel formulating its way in the narrative, Shining Girls’ showrunners being Doctor Who fans would surprise absolutely nobody.

The relationship between Harper and Klara in the dressing room wrapped up some answers there too regarding the video that Leo gave to Kirby about who Klara is as a person, with the two having history back to their past – Harper likes Klara more than Klara likes him; but it’s refreshing to see this other side of Harper without ever once glorifying him – we’re almost seeing Harper and Kirby, two sides of different coins, putting the pieces together and the show is at its best when it feels like both characters view themselves as the protagonists – incorrectly in Harper’s case, of course – and that always makes the shocking violent acts that Harper commits all the more disturbing, and one of the characters’ biggest strengths – Jamie Bell is excellent right the way through opposite Moss. Harper’s able to gradually impress Klara about Paris – and Klara taught Harper how to rob and steal in the first place when they were younger; being surprised that he still does do these things now as an adult. Patterns repeat itself here as we’re seeing Harper wasn’t just a one-off in the trenches – he’s capable of stealing multiple times, even from someone as innocent as Britta. Shining Girls illustrates this point rather bluntly by having Harper steal from a literal nun; but sometimes the lack of subtlety is the way to go.

The final telling point is the confrontation with the old man – who has not been to October 9, 1920 yet. He claims asks if Harper’s a craftsman, but Harper is then told he doesn’t create; only steal – and that gives some hint into the lore of the show’s world as we progress. The 1980s’ timeline switch to the sound system and Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)” blasting over the soundtrack only illustrates this point – with the old man determined to keep his answers guessing. The house itself acts as a door – “we can only pass through here” he tells him. He knows that Harper will be unable to resist the lure of the house; and it’s tempting – pulling him back into a timey-wimey building that acts as a puzzle box. This eventually puts him on a collision with a blonde-haired; younger Kirby – as we see him drawn into the mystery in his own right.

Offset is the stage-setter for the finale and after a few perhaps slightly struggling middle act episodes, Shining Girls finds its form. Jinny may have escaped death, but Harper still has both Jinny and Harper in his sights – and we get to learn more about Kirby’s attack this time out with Moss taking over the directing chair once more; with the brutal attack that did not shy away from being depicted in a horrifying manner.

The slow sense of dread is eating up inside Jinny and the tension is ever present – Harper had her right where he wanted her; but it was Kirby who found her – and the two are beginning to place trust in each other all the more now, and we’re really exploring the friendship of the two in this episode in fascinating ways. Harper can’t keep track of them both if they’re working together to stop him – and they’re smart enough to stay one step ahead of him.

Kirby and Dan do some investigating that leads them to Teeny’s where Klara was murdered in 1920, which sends shockwaves through both of them, the time difference would alarm almost everyone. This is the first time that Dan’s had proof of evidence that clashes with all things rational, but Marcus on the other hand is less than easy convincing (it’s great to get Dan on board though, he always seemed the most likely of the two) – the desperation in his voice for Kirby to take some time off work is evident and you can easily see things from his perspective. I like that we’ve seen both the two of them at their best here before now, it helps understand where Marcus is coming from so we don’t completely get a muddled sense of perspective that turns our attention away from who he is. Abby is on the same page as Marcus though, and that bodes ill for Kirby, who’s told to take a leave of absence. But just because she doesn’t work there anymore, doesn’t mean she’s going to stop looking for him – she has to, because otherwise she’ll keep existing as she is now.

Dan is able to get on board whereas Marcus is not. What if Marcus knew everything that Dan did? What would happen then? All these what if questions are lingering about, but it’s understandable that Kirby doesn’t want to get Marcus too caught up, as we’re just about to see what happens to people who know to much, and it isn’t good – Dan is taken out of the picture after tracking down a receipt from 1981 linking back to the bar that Kirby worked in, with Harper stabbing him and leaving him in a heap on the floor, taking his jacket to boot.

And just like that; dominos fall. Not only is Kirby changing, but Jinny is as well – and Dr. Gary Hegland is the one making her speech. For Jinny, reality has shifted, and she’s now experiencing what Kirby has had.

And now we get to the real changes in the book that eschew the ending. Dan’s dead – he was Kirby’s love interest in Lauren Beukes’ Shining Girls, and the pair ended up together after Kirby defeated Harper. The episode was all about getting them together for a final showdown, putting everyone else around them in danger and shutting off Kirby’s allies completely. She is eventually able to find out that Harper is tied down to a time travel portal in his house, and is able to take him out in the present. But she gives him the chance at a life that he would never have given her, meaning that Kirby – for the first real time, has a sense of agency and purpose where she’s in control for this series, driving the narrative.

It’s enough for the pieces to be put back together again, Dan is alive once more, Jinny has her old job back – and whilst Offset’s changes may not have stuck the landing it gives Kirby a sense of closure on that loop. She no longer has to worry about the shifting and she no longer has to worry about who she’s meeting each day. Whilst Dan may not know Kirby, she writes in his notebook: “if you ever remember, you know where to find me”, and it’s good to see that the writers are making changes that feel right for the script – a Kirby/Dan romance would have added maybe one too many extra narratives for the series given its limited eight episode length. It’s already pretty packed as it is, and there was so much going on in the finale it’s hard to keep track of it all.

The sense of cat-and-mouse narrative dominated Shining Girls throughout its run and gave it a real sense of thrilling unpredictability. The narrative tied together perfectly and wrapped things up in a way befitting of the book, understanding that the changes had been made without feeling the need to break it. Its ending note was a successful example of how to use a hook to draw audiences in and keep them there – making Shining Girls one of the better examples of mystery shows with a sci-fi twist. At this stage, we don’t know yet whether or not there’ll be a second series. But given that we’ve pretty much gone through the book, there really does feel like little left to tell.


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