‘Shining Girls’: Elisabeth Moss Races to Stop a Time-Traveling Killer in Mind-Bending Apple TV+ Series

Elisabeth Moss has a history of playing characters grappling with trauma. Kirby Mazrachi, the young woman she portrays in the Apple TV+ series “Shining Girls,” is no exception. Based on a novel of the same name by Lauren Beukes, the series follows Kirby, an employee at the Chicago Sun-Times, as she helps a colleague, Dan Velazquez (Wagner Moura), track down a time-traveling serial killer (Jamie Bell).

The first episode opens in 1964 when young Kirby, who was born Sharon, is given a pegasus figurine from a stranger, Harper Curtis (Bell). Flash forward to 1992, and Kirby is living in a dingy Chicago apartment with her bohemian mother, Rachel (Amy Brenneman), a rock musician who plays clubs. Kirby originally wanted to be a reporter, but her goals were sidelined following a brutal attack a few years prior. She never saw her attacker, but his voice remains seared in her brain. She now has a huge scar in the shape of a cross on her abdomen from where he cut her. He also left a matchbook inside her from a bar that doesn’t exist; the address on it is for a laundromat. Afterwards, she changed her name from Sharon to Kirby and took a job as an archivist at the Sun-Times.

Most of the series takes place in 1992, shortly after another woman, Julia Madrigal (Karen Rodriguez), is found dead, her body stuffed in a water pipe. Because she was mutilated in a similar way as Kirby was, she is convinced she was killed by the same man who attacked her. She offers herself as a source to the reporter working on the case, Dan, at first anonymously. Dan, who has his own haunted past, finds her help valuable. They are able to take the clues and connect Julia’s killer/Kirby’s attacker to a half other cold case murders of women. The killer left clues inside each of the women just like her left the matchbook in Kirby, and Kirby works overtime to connect the dots.

A flashback to 1990 shows Harper meeting with Julia at her work, and his voice, whom Kirby recognizes, can be heard on threatening answering machine recordings that she finds when she crashes Julia’s wake and pokes around. In an eerie twist, he plays back Julia’s voice to her from the future on one of the recordings, cries of help she made on a later call. Meanwhile, another woman, Jin-Sook Gwansun (Phillipa Soo), an employee the Adler Planetarium, is being stalked by Harper, although she doesn’t realize the danger she’s in until Kirby comes to her, as a key that was in her possession was found inside of a woman killed in 1972, another clue that the killer has the ability to travel through. But it isn’t until halfway through the series that Kirby comes face to face to Harper and figures out what the viewer already knows, that he is the same man who gave her the pegasus as a child, meaning he hasn’t aged in at least 28 years.

“Shining Girls” is at its best when Kirby is in detective mode, piecing together clues. The series explores how the kind of trauma experienced by Kirby can mess with someone’s sense of time. Creator Silka Luisa takes this far by showing her heroine living a multiverse existence. In a second universe, instead of living with her mom, she’s married to a photographer at the Sun-Times, Marcus (Chris Chalk), and Rachel is a born-again Christian. This adds to the disorientation that Kirby feels, but her having to relive what happened to her everyday at work while helping Dan should be more than enough for her character. The first episodes start off plodding, but the pace picks up once Kirby hits her stride, as her investment in the case gives her a sense of purpose she hasn’t had since before the attack.

The best part of “Shining Girls” is the performances, and Moss does a lot of the same here that earned her an Emmy for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She really goes for it in those moments in which Kirby is being triggered and/or realizing the extent of evil in the world. Moura, meanwhile, brings his own journalism background into the role of a reporter chasing the story of his life while struggling to maintain his sobriety. Bell is excellent here as he plays against type as the quietly malevolent and murderous Harper, whose hate for women, especially promising young women, keeps him going.

Shining Girls” episodes 1-3 begin streaming April 29 on Apple TV+, with new episodes premiering on Fridays.