Warning: This article contains spoilers for the premiere episode of the new Chicago series Shining Girls, titled Cutline
Two-time Emmy winner, Elisabeth Moss is taking us on yet another suspenseful journey with Shining Girls on Apple+. The series, filmed in Chicago and at Chicago Studio City, is based on the 2013 novel by South African author Lauren Beukes and the first episode is executive produced by Academy award winner Leonardo DiCaprio. Elisabeth Moss plays Kirby Mazrachi, who survived a brutal attack 6 years prior which literally shattered her perception of reality.
The episode starts off in 1964 with a little girl (presumably Kirby) sitting on a stoop, playing by herself, creating her own imaginary circus, complete with a “lion” which is a bumble bee trapped under a tea cup.
A strange man (Jamie Bell) approaches her, completely invading her personal space and “frees” the bee, only to rip its wings off. He then gives her a small wooden horse with wings to replace the “lion” he has slayed and asks her if she will hold onto it until he comes back. The little girl says she doesn’t want it and the weird stranger replies, “You’ll take it. You always do.”
She snatches up the toy and rushes into her house.
Fast forward to 1992 where Kirby wakes up in her bed and takes notes about the details in her life. She jots down “leaky pipe” and “Godzilla mug,” which seems to make no sense, but her notebook is her only way to keep track of these details as her reality shifts in the blink of an eye. Her cat jumps on her bed as she reads his collar to discover his name is Grendel as she writes down that she lives with Rachel (Amy Brenneman) who she also calls “mom.”
Kirby Mazrachi now lives in Chicago and works at the Chicago Sun-Times, where we are shown all the details of her work environment, from the Godzilla mug on her desk, catching water drops dripping from the pipe above her desk, to the meticulous way she organizes her belongings on her desk. Her job is somewhat mundane and also somewhat thankless as we see how undervalued she is when one of her co-workers can’t even remember her name.
She’s only biding her time before she gets out of the city to move to Orlando Florida in an attempt to put a brutal attack she survived 6 years prior in her past, once and for all.
It becomes very quickly apparent how her reality shifts. When she returns to work the next day, her desk is in another place and one of her co-workers has the spot under the leaky pipes. Her Godzilla mug now holds pens and pencils instead of catching dripping water. When she returns home, she closes her eyes for a few moments and has a nightmare about the same creepy man from the beginning of the episode, awoken by a loud banging that turns out to be her dog, Grendel instead of the cat she had previously. She edits her notes to reflect that she has a dog now instead of a cat. At the end of the episode, her cat has returned, replacing the large dog she had earlier in the episode. At one point when she goes home, it isn’t her apartment. Her key doesn’t work and when she bangs on the door, asking her mom to let her in, a man answers instead. Even though she is clearly used to never knowing what the hell is going on in her life, this rattles her and she has to look at her drivers license to figure out where she lives. Luckily, it’s just upstairs and her key fits and works. The apartment is nothing like her previous apartment and she is greeted by a man, presumably her husband, who we were introduced to earlier in the episode as one of her co-workers named Marcus (Chris Chalk).
In the meantime Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura), a reporter at the newspaper, who seems to be attempting to rebuild his reputation after some sort of epic drama notices some police activity surrounding the street flooding and he discovers the police are processing the dead body of a woman who disappeared 2 years prior that was found in the pipes off LaSalle. He follows the scoop and meets with a police officer to get the details.
Kirby is called repeatedly at work by the officer assigned to her own case, her attack 6 years prior. He tells her about the body and how the woman was similarly injured, asking Kirby to look at photos of possible suspects because they have an idea of someone who could be a suspect. Kirby says that she didn’t see him and that she only heard him and leaves a little distressed. It is revealed at this point that Kirby Mazrachi is not her real name. She chose Mazrachi after a National Geographic photographer and she picked Kirby because she thought it was fun. At this point, we do not know her original name.
Kirby gets wind of Dan’s story accidentally and she steals his notebook so she can track down the suspect and kill him herself. She manipulates her way into the possible suspects home only to discover that he was definitely NOT the man who attacked her. She leaves in a rush and runs right into Dan in front of the possible suspects house. She and Dan go out for a bite at a diner and she divulges to him that she was attacked in a similar manner as the dead woman and she agrees to help him investigate the case.
Dan brings Kirby to meet the medical examiner so she can compare scars to the deceased woman’s. It is at this point we learn how brutally she was assaulted. She was practically eviscerated and the assailant not only removed some of her intestines, but also left something inside her, but we don’t know exactly what at this time. In one of her most alarming reality shifts, while her scars are being examined by a female medical examiner, she closes her eyes for just a moment, only to open them and find someone completely different with his fingers tracing the large scars on her abdomen. She freaks out and runs off.
While all of this is happening the apparent serial killer stalks and gaslights his prey, a woman who works at the planetarium named Jin-Sook (Phillipa Soo). The audience knows something is up when she finds a bumble bee on her desk with its wings pulled off, much like the bumble bee from the very first scene. Later on, she is mysteriously locked out of the building, on the roof, with her umbrella, which she did not take up there. Even later on, the creepy man tries to carry on a conversation with her after she enjoyed her lunch during a planetarium show and he asks her if she remembers him, which she does not. By the end of the episode he catches up with her inside the large telescope, attacks her, and slices into her abdomen in the same manner Kirby suffered, as well as the other deceased woman.
Confused? It is confusing! The reality shifts are obviously meant to be dizzying so the audience is caught off guard the same way Kirby is. Once the “pattern” is established, we almost expect for something to change from scene to scene and Kirby even tries to explain what she’s going through to her mom, but of course, her mom doesn’t understand. We don’t know how and why Kirby survived her attack. We don’t know how or why this creepy man chooses his victims. We also don’t know why the creepy man hasn’t aged between 1964 to 1992. We DO know that he’s a time traveling serial killer because the author of the book shared that information, but that detail has not yet been established in the series in this first episode.
It seems that this show might be following suit with Marvel and DC comics introducing the multiverse, as each change in her reality could be an alternate timeline that she jumps to after some kind of minor or major change to the timeline, yet she is the only one aware of these changes as she jumps from one reality to the next. Of course, that all remains to be seen.
The show is so confusing, yet so compelling that it draws you in, making you want more, which is great since the next two episodes are available for a mini-binge session. Beyond the obvious, the relationship between Rachel and Kirby is interesting. The actresses are only 18 years apart and while technically Brenneman could be Moss’s mom, Brenneman looks way too young to be playing the mom of this traumatized woman. The casting is such an interesting choice and Brenneman is credited in all 8 episodes, so she HAS to be deeply involved in the core story.
Elisabeth Moss is an incredible actress. She somehow conveys that Kirby’s world is in turmoil, while also acting like everything is totally fine and normal with the other characters, never letting anyone know exactly what she’s going through, probably because anyone would think she would be completely insane if she tried to explain her reality shifts. After completely losing it when the medical examiners switch out, she doesn’t even attempt to explain why to Dan, and just lets him believe she’s squirrely from her massive trauma and very probable PTSD.
Jamie Bell is utterly horrifying as the creepy villain. He is such a good actor that he can portray a vibe and the vibe is the kind of vibe that sets off your gut feeling to get the hell away from someone like that. While the character acts friendly to those he interacts with, it comes off as chilling to the audience.
Wagner Moura is absolutely perfect in the role of Dan Velazquez. We don’t know the exact details of why he’s trying to redeem himself at work, but it is touched on when he meets with the police to discuss the body found in the pipe. The officer says he looked up his file and discovered he had a domestic write up and possession. Dan tells the officer that he did not serve any time, but instead went into drug/alcohol treatment. Obviously there’s more to that story. He genuinely seems beat down in general and he is hesitant to believe Kirby when she tells him the suspect the police believe to be her assailant and the other woman’s killer is definitely not the right man. He then decides to believe her and refuses to write about the innocent man after all.
The book is set in Chicago and the series follows suit.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The city of Chicago should have its own credit as many recognizable landmarks of the city are featured throughout the episode. When Jin-Sook is locked out on the roof, the city skyline provides a breathtaking backdrop.
There is a fascinating story behind filming of that scene. Our source says, they filmed quite a bit at the Adler Planetarium, but last summer the Adler’s copper-clad dome was being re-roofed, so it was encased in scaffolding. Consequently, the Construction Department built a replica of the Adler’s roof in Chicago Studio City’s parking lot and surrounded it with a 360° screen, mounted to stacked shipping containers so that the view of Chicago’s lakefront from the Adler could be simulated for filming Jin-Sook’s rooftop scene.
Impressive! And proof that Chicago crews are the very best you will find anywhere.
Other significant Chicago locations include the Innertown Pub in Wicker Park that was transformed into a favorite bar of Wagner Moura’s character, and the magnificent Uptown Theatre used for both the 1920s Sidney’s Dance Parlor, and the 1980s punk club Sid’s, which will be featured later in the series.
The first three episodes of Shining Girls debuted to rave reviews on Apple TV+ on Friday, April 29, with one new episode dropping on Fridays.