Shining Girls

The first of the Shining Girls

Warning: spoilers.

Like most of my reviews, this is anything but timely. I just finished Shining Girls, an Apple TV+ show I would never have watched had it not gotten a strong recommendation from my girlfriend. Warning, this may get much more personal than any of my blog posts because I’m using my blog as a journal but my journal entries aren’t posted. Yet. Except maybe for this one.

Look, Shining Girls is amazing. It’s a serial killer mystery involving time travel that somehow completely nails its landing. But be warned it’s incredibly unsettling,. super intense, and features a lot of graphic violence against women. The latter part is so horrible that it’s hard to believe that it can possibly not leave you feeling depressed and dirty and deeply saddened, but somehow it manages all of this.

Go watch it if you haven’t.

Shining Girls is about a serial killer who has stumbled onto a Time Machine in the form of a mysterious house. But it’s about toxic masculinity (or narcissism—they’re not really distinguishable). The main character is the purest distillation of toxic masculinity: he’s a pathetic loser who is handed the keys to the universe and uses them to commit petty crimes and relive his vengeance against a girl he was obsessed with.

This isn’t about a serial killer who hunts bad people and has an honor code, or a genius urbane gourmand psychiatrist who doesn’t like rude people. I love Silence of the Lambs, and its prequels and sequels—don’t get me wrong—but for all its many virtues Thomas Harris fails to truly address the fundamental banality of evil. While the Hillside Strangler may have been some kind of genius to fake MPD with a few minutes notice, what a waste of genius!

Shining Girls has a truly satisfying ending because the heroine of the story is able to use the killer’s tools to undo all his works. She is able to truly extinguish him and the damage he has done and finally really answer the question “if you could travel in time would you kill Baby Hitler?” by showing that only someone who themselves been victimized and lives with the memories of all that this entails could truly be the agent of erasure and live with it. Maybe not even then.

What makes this personal for me, and a journal entry rather than just a straight review, is that to truly grok this story I needed to be able to identify with the central character. I need to be a victim, powerless to go back in time and tell my father that he was right. Instead, I will always hear him, on his deathbed, speaking to me on the phone and crying because he had seen through my wife’s smokescreens but couldn’t reach me. He knew the truth but I wasn’t ready to hear it.

We don’t have time machines. We can’t go back and undo the damage inflicted on ourselves or others. All we can do it try to not do that damage to the people around us.

Or, as Jim Jeffries says, “try not to be a cunt”.