speculative recap – SPOILERS
Erin Tieng (Ali Wong) is awakened before dawn by unexpected noises coming from her kitchen. She uses a landline to leave a phone message for a friend alerting them to the possibility of an intruder, then cautiously descends the stairs. Immediately we flashback thirty-one years to 1988 (the year Stephen Hawking published “A Brief History of Time“) and see twelve-year-old Erin (Riley Lai Nelet) getting up at 4:26am in the same house for the first day of her paper route. It is Hell Day (the morning after Halloween), a ritual of vandalism and destruction very similar to Devil’s Night.
Erin starts off on the wrong street and runs into two other paper girls: Tiffany (Camryn Jones), who, although she probably planned to deliver papers alone, brings walkie-talkies along, and Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), who seems to have acquired right wing and racist inclinations from her father. The three of them rescue a fourth paper carrier (KJ Brandman played by Fina Strazza) from some overly enthusiastic Hell Day revelers. All four of them decide to stick together for protection, and “ride up to Sunnydale”, which is likely a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference.
One of the walkies is stolen. They chase after it and end up surprising two men speaking in a foreign language in the basement of a house under construction. The men (Naldo and Heck, whom they will meet again later) flee, and a power outage hits the town. When the girls go outside again it seems lighter than it should be and strange cloud formations are in the sky, so they head for Mac’s house. The streets are deserted. Mac, possessed by fantasies of a Russian invasion, decides she needs her father’s handgun for protection and while waving it around, accidentally shoots Erin in the stomach.
Tiff tries to drive Erin to the hospital but the road is blocked by a firefight between people in white uniforms and other people dressed in black. Two of the black-suited people (Naldo and Heck) drag the girls from the car (for their own safety it turns out) and put them inside something that looks like (but probably isn’t) an Apollo capsule. Erin has a dream about Ronald Reagan, who, after saying “Hello there, kiddo,” favours her with a quote from the speech he delivered after the Challenger disaster: “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave.”
After Erin wakes up, she exits the capsule and hides behind a tree (because the firefight had followed them somehow). She discovers beetle-like robots crawling on her abdomen, and this finally convinces her that she is not imagining it all. Heck, who is wounded and cannot run, gives Tiffany an electronic device, and tells her: “That’ll get you… Underground. Go to home.” Then KJ accidentally kills one of the white-suited people with her hockey stick, and the four girls run to Erin’s house, which is the closest place to hide. The flashback ends. Erin continues to descend the stairs, but it is after sunrise, and a couple of minutes later (at 8:15am) she thinks about using her cellphone to call 911, but rejects the notion. No landline is in sight.
Meeting oneself in this universe seems to create no dire paradoxical consequences, which suggests that the 2019 version of Erin exists independently of the one from 1988. An apparent time shift (from before dawn to after dawn) and the substitution of a cellphone for a landline shows that young Erin’s arrival has altered Elder Erin’s timeline.
Young Erin, whose gunshot wound has been completely repaired by the beetlebots (which have now vanished), expected that she would become a US Senator and mother of four, and is extremely disappointed with her future self’s general lack of ambition. The elder Erin was never friends with Mac, KJ, or Tiffany, and tells her younger self that she quit the paper route after only one day.
After discovering the internet, Tiffany finds out that her future self runs something called the Quilkin Institute, and Mac finds out that her brother is an ER doctor. Elder Erin asks a tech guy she knows to try to open the mystery device, but that doesn’t work, and the girls start walking to the bus station with the idea of heading for future Tiffany’s Quilkin Institute in nearby Cleveland, but they leave the mystery device on the dining room table. Elder Erin pokes at it, and suddenly it scans her face, recognizes her, and a female voice says: “STF Unit 953 – Enable System?” Erin says “yes” rather hesitantly, and the device identifies her “temporal location” then tells her “system is armed.” Not knowing what that means or how to disarm it, she heads out to find the girls.
The Prioress (Adina Porter), a leader of the white cloaks, finds the body of the guy that KJ killed, and says a short prayer that implies that death in another time period cannot be reversed. “In this time you fall,” she says. “Here you rest for all infinity.” Then she finds the discarded hockey stick and decides to track KJ down.
Created for television by Stephany Folsom, PAPER GIRLS is based on the comic book by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang. Referring to Brittney Bender’s review of the show on Bleeding Cool, Folsom tweeted on 30 July: “Mission accomplished. I set out to make a STAND BY ME for women…Girls have typically been the accessories to the boys’ adventure. I wanted to see young women who were flawed, angry, and strong heroes.” Deadline reports that Folsom will write the first live-action series to be set in the King Kong universe. The serialized Disney+ drama will explore Kong’s origins.