Goddamnit, Larry! And I say that because (1) “Larry” is a great name to yell out in anger, try it, and (2) I am very angry with Larry! I knew he was a little shifty and deep into the cause, but he’s messing with children’s lives here!
Adult Erin directs the robot through the folding and lands-slash-face-plants near the factory in Stony Stream. This all seems on track with the plan and the girls even get a minute to exhale — they’re home. But then a second giant robot appears out of the sky and Larry shoots at it, yelling, “This is for Juniper, you son of a bitch!” The robot promptly zaps Larry. Larry is dust now. It’s obviously the Old Watch, which means the rest of them will probably get zapped next. They hide in a nearby trailer, but adult Erin knows the only way any of them survive this is if they get rid of that robot or at least distract it enough for the others to run. She knows what she has to do. She gives her confused younger self a heartbreaking good-bye, telling her that she should let these girls into her life. “I’ll bet they’ll surprise you,” she says before running toward their own robot.
Adult Erin puts up a good fight, but we all know how this super-size version of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots is going to go, don’t we? For a moment, you want to believe she can win this fight. She gets back up and for the first time repeats that mantra she’s been saying — “Emotionally, I’m gonna win. In my life, I’m gonna win. I am going to win” — with actual intention and strength behind it. But even she knows there’s no way out of this, and when all really is lost, she hits the big red abort button, knowing it will blow the entire robot up, in turn, blow the other one up, too. She sacrifices herself to save the girls. Erin screams out, sobbing as she watches it happen. It feels weird to be crying when there are, like, giant robot carcasses around, but this is my journey!
As much as they might want to run home and/or scream into the abyss, the girls have to remain in hiding because the Old Watch is all over that crime scene. And that includes our two Old Watch bigwigs Prioress and Grand Father himself, rocking his Birkenstocks and Tupac T-shirt. Grand Father orders them to ablute the area. And for the second time, the girls escape ablution — Tiff is right, there must be a reason why they’re going undetected.
But that mystery is for another time because they have a much bigger problem to solve. Armed with Larry’s notebook, the girls make their way toward their homes. Tiff tries to explain to them that what they really should be doing is heading to where they know Heck and Naldo will be at this time and get them this notebook so they can complete their mission. If they don’t change anything, they’ll be stuck in a loop. The girls don’t want to hear it. But Tiff’s plan wouldn’t work anyway because, as the girls discover, it’s not November 1, 1988 — Larry brought them to Stony Stream on July 3, 1999. Honestly, I’m surprised KJ doesn’t throw up right there. She looks like she might! Larry lied to them about following Tiff’s 1988 plan. He was always going to follow through with the 1999 mission — he tricked them all and now adult Erin is dead. Larry!!
They’re going to have to regroup, but first Paper Girls does something that, frankly, I’m obsessed with. It pauses all the crazy sci-fi action stuff because Erin needs to do something about her period.
Mac steals a box of tampons from a convenience store for Erin, but it is clear that none of these girls have ever seen a tampon before, let alone know how to use one. It’s hilarious and adorable to watch the four of them try to figure out what super and regular mean (“Obviously, the size of your vagina. I’d probably be a super,” says Mac), stress about how to not only get it in but take it out, and assume that KJ’s had hers already because she’s rich and rides a lot of horses. So yes, the scene offers a reprieve from the intensity of the first act and another bonding moment for these four, but the most important thing this scene does is remind us just how young these girls are. They’re kids! It’s easy to forget because of how they’ve handled the nightmare they’ve walked into, but they can barely say the word period. After all they’ve been through and everything they’ve seen, they’re all terrified of using a tampon. When they read about toxic shock syndrome on the box? Forget it, Erin’s going with the pads. It’s a grounding moment that puts a lot of what we’ve seen thus far into perspective. The sequence is also a nod to the comics that they easily could’ve left out, but it’s worth the pit stop.
After that debacle, KJ begrudgingly suggests that they should spend the night at her house. Her family goes away for the Fourth of July, so the place will be empty. They’ll have food, a place to sleep, and can figure out a plan in the morning.
Unfortunately for KJ, in 1999, her family no longer goes away for the holiday — they throw a big party. Thus far, KJ’s been vocal about avoiding any version of her future self for fear of learning that she wound up exactly like her mother wanted, someone who loves pretty pink dresses and is going to go to business school like a good girl instead of living the life she wants. It’s her biggest fear. Well, maybe now being trapped in a different time than hers is her biggest fear, but this one is still up there.
At the party, KJ learns this is not something she needs to worry about. She winds up in her bedroom where she runs into a girl named Lauren who goes to NYU film school with KJ in 1999. Our KJ lies and says she’s grad-school KJ’s little cousin, and she seems completely blown away by the life this older version of herself has made. She’s barely seen any movies and now she’s studying them and making them and is really good at it? It’s a life she never imagined possible for herself and that’s both exciting and a relief.
KJ gets a much bigger view of this future life when she ends up hiding in the bathroom to avoid direct contact with grad-school KJ. In there, she has the perfect view of grad-school KJ and Lauren talking in her room, which they do, until they start making out. They’re together … and they look really happy. KJ is reeling from seeing this. She doesn’t say anything but you can see her working through it in her head. She’s scared and confused but then maybe not so confused? For a moment there, maybe seeing her older self like that helps her make sense of some things she’s been feeling and hasn’t understood or wanted to deal with. It could explain why she got so flustered when Dylan’s wife referred to her as Jo-slash-Mac’s “girlfriend” even though she clearly meant it platonically. Or why she seems to have a different type of interest in Mac than she does the other girls. KJ feeling confused about her sexuality could also explain why she has so much pent-up anger.
That anger appears again here, as KJ forces the girls out of the party. They start to tease her about seeing the other KJ flirting with a boy, and when she can’t take it — they call her out for acting like “such an asshole” — she loses it. This time, she punches Mac right in the face. They’re all taken aback by it (again, especially KJ), but for Tiff, it’s the last straw. She is done letting these other girls push aside her theories and ideas, they’re acting like “stupid, helpless children,” and she is putting herself in charge.
And so Tiff marches over to a phone booth, looks up a number, and begins to leave a message for 1999 Tiff, giving her personal info about herself and asking for help. Her message is cut off because, well look at that, 1999 Tiff picks up. It’s finally time for a deeper dive on Tiffany Quilkin.
• I don’t know if it was her time with Dylan or that deep down Mac is a nice person, but you can see Mac making an extra effort to comfort Erin as she tries to process losing adult Erin. Sure, that “comfort” comes by way of getting her drunk, trying on people’s coats, and stealing money from their purses, but it’s something. She also makes sure to tell Erin that adult Erin “gave those bastards one hell of a fight” and that adult Erin doing that means that it was Erin who saved all of them. It’s a lovely little moment.
• What a good girl! Patty the dog instantly recognized the younger KJ!
• Paper Girls is still being a little stingy on the details about the Old Watch and the Time War, but we do get some fun banter between Grand Father and Prioress that establishes their relationship: They piloted a robot together back in the day before he became Grand Father, a position that he views as a promotion, for obvious reasons, but Prioress just sees as “a desk job.” They clearly have a camaraderie of sorts. Also, we learn that the guy KJ killed with her field hockey stick is someone Prioress cared about — her hunt is personal.
• “What’s a Kubrick?”