If you were starting to wonder just what the hell is going on with this show, episode three is for you, my paper babes. Thanks to ol’ Lar-bear, who for the record I have trouble trusting, we get a little info dump and some clarity on the big picture of Paper Girls, and that big picture is: time war.
“Blue Tongues Don’t Lie” kicks off by bringing us back to when we first showed up in 2019 and those soldiers in white were running around the woods. We meet Larry and Juniper. When Larry, who’s pacing in the kitchen of his farm, loses radio contact with Juniper, he does something peculiar: He records himself reminding him what his name was, when he was born, and that he’s a member of STF, and tells himself that if he’s listening to this, it’s because his memory was erased. Then he throws that tape recorder into the freezer before putting on an eye mask and noise-canceling headphones just as the sky turns pink. Very normal stuff!
Next, we see Larry visibly upset at Juniper’s door, where he plays her a recording just like his that she made, but she has no idea who Larry is. The moment it seems like she might be recognizing, it’s like her brain resets. Her memory has been wiped. Larry returns to his van, heartbroken. We know this because he partakes in the age-old Sad Man Onscreen Tradition of slamming his fists against the steering wheel and yelling in anguish.
By this point, you might be wondering what the hell Larry and Juniper have to do with our paper girls. And, hey, doesn’t that STF name sound familiar? Well, as Larry is pulling himself together, a beeper goes off in his truck and it says, “System armed.” The last time we heard that phrase, it was when Adult Erin started messing around with that future tech device. He’s easily able to track whoever is using the device, which is how he comes upon Adult Erin picking up Erin, Tiff, and KJ in the middle of the night.
They’re out and about trying to track down Mac, but are relieved — well, Tiff and KJ are, at least — when Adult Erin pulls up and tells them to get in. It doesn’t hurt that they see she got the tech working. Their shot to figure out how to get home isn’t completely lost. Their first priority, however, is to find Mac. They have Adult Erin head to the hospital, but before she can even walk across the parking lot, Larry Tases her and tosses her in the back of his van. Can we, for a minute, just stop and consider what this poor woman has been through in the past few days?! She’s already such a sad sack, and then she’s cut down by her 12-year-old self, has to process that time travel is real, is forced to tend to four preteens, the majority of whom are not the nicest, and has to relive that date from hell with Mr. Buca di Beppo. And she doesn’t even know about how Mac was making fun of her DMB T-shirts! Now she’s getting Tased and kidnapped in parking lots. That’s an emotionally and physically exhausting few days right there.
When she comes to the van, Larry is screaming at her to tell him what happened to “Heck and Naldo,” and all she can do is respond honestly, which is that she doesn’t even know what those words are, man! Everyone should just get off Adult Erin’s jock, she has been through enough! Thankfully, Tiff isn’t scarred from the last time she was driving a car during a crisis, and they follow Larry and Adult Erin back to his farm. He locks them in his basement, but it mostly seems okay.
The next morning, he offers them breakfast and also threatens their lives if they don’t tell him the truth about who they are. Classic Larry. I don’t how many times they can explain that they’re just paper girls and they have no idea what he’s talking about, but eventually he realizes they’re time travelers and he believes their story about Heck and Naldo giving them the tech device.
As upset as he seems over losing his team — his friends — he has an idea about how to get the girls back and to right what went wrong. Finally, he gives them (and us) a briefing on this time war they’ve found themselves in the middle of: Those guys in the white, they’re the Old Watch. Their mission is to maintain the timeline as it is, which, as Larry points out, is the timeline that keeps them in power. They’ve outlawed time travel, which means our paper girls are most definitely on their capture list. Larry and his friends, however, are part of the STF, the Standard Time Fighters, also called “the Underground.” They want to disrupt the timeline in order to course-correct and change instances “when mankind lost its way.” Both groups began in the future, but from what Larry knows, the STF’s time is pretty dismal — he notes “vanishing resources and indefensible income disparity,” to which Adult Erin is like, Uhh that sound exactly like now, and Larry says shut it, they’re working on it. He seems a little shifty, is all I’m saying!
But this leads him to his plan. A plan that somehow rests on Adult Erin’s shoulders, since she is still linked to the device. He brings them to one of the silos on the farm. The silo is full, but not with grain — inside is a giant robot. Oh, this is going to be so good.
Of course, the one piece missing here is Mac. Larry, who has zero bedside manner, tells the girls that she’s probably dead by now if she’s out there on her own. Thankfully, we know that she’s alive — but I wouldn’t exactly go as far as saying “alive and well.”
When Mac tracks down her brother at the hospital — where he is in fact a real, live doctor, as wild as that is for Mac to wrap her head around — he’s in shock. It’s not just because of the time-travel thing, but because his sister died when she was just 16. She’s been dead for 27 years. He watched her die from brain cancer. And now here she is, four years before that’s set to happen, standing in front of him. Remember all of that hope and relief Mac had when she believed that her future self had gotten out of Stony Stream and made a better life for herself? It’s immediately gone. She tries to cover it up, but every once in a while, you can see the fear flicker across her face. Dylan tells her how brave she was through it all and explains that he decided to become a doctor after she died, because he knew she wanted better for him. Mac tries to brush the sentimentality off by saying that doesn’t sound like her. “You don’t know who you’re about to become,” Dylan tells her, teary-eyed. And if that isn’t an emotional gut punch, I don’t know what is. Do I want to be crying while two TV characters rock out to Danzig’s “Mother” in front of me? Not particularly, but what choice do I have? What choice do I have???
While Erin and Adult Erin have a nightmare experience with time travel, Mac and Dylan get the opposite. What a dream for Dylan to get more time with the sister he thought he lost. He vows to make sure she never gets sick this time around, and even though Mac can’t help but make fun of her brother for his fancy house and perfect little life, you can tell that after a few harrowing days, she finally feels safe. I mean, there’s no way in hell any of this is going to last with Prioress out there getting closer to tracking them down, but it’s nice to have a glimmer of hope, even for a little while.
•Last episode, I said not to count Adult Erin out just yet, and that’s still true in episode three: Before they sort things out with Larry, Adult Erin is constantly putting herself between him and the girls, protecting them as best she can. Her bravery is slowly but surely peeking through.
• Speaking of: Is Erin softening on Adult Erin? She seems very concerned for her future self’s well-being once they watch Larry kidnap her. I’m not sure what the typical response to watching your future self get Tased and tossed into a van is, but concern feels right.
• Dylan makes up a story about Mac being a cousin who needs a place to stay and gives her the name Kimberly, but Mac immediately says she prefers to be called Jo because “I never met a Kimberly I didn’t want to beat up.”
• When KJ double-checks that the Old Watch are the bad guys, Larry responds, “They feed people to dinosaurs, what do you think?” You heard the man, dinosaurs.