Time loops are a bitch, aren’t they? Juniper and Tiff think they may have come up with a hail mary here when they realize that Tiff’s walkie came through the time rift and its pair is with Heck and Naldo back in 1988 — we know this because Heck and Naldo stealing that walkie is what kick-started this entire show. STF Underground only communicates via walkie across time (it’s a future people thing, don’t worry about it), so if they can get in contact with Heck and Naldo, they could prevent them from dying in 1988 and have them fly their capsule to rescue them, the girls could go home, and STF would have a head start on fighting the Old Watch. Everyone is so excited, but this is only the first five minutes of the episode, so you know it is not going to work out. Poor Mac, she actually looks hopeful for a change, believing that if the STF wins the war, her future could change. Erin could change things and never die in that robot fight. “The future’s so bright, right?” she asks Mac. Tears fall out of my eyeballs because these girls are precious to me and I know their dreams are about to be crushed. I care about them, okay?
As soon as Juniper starts reciting their coordinates, the four paper girls know all hope is lost. They’ve heard those coordinates before. In fact, they’ve heard those coordinates in Juniper’s voice before. And then comes the kicker: Mac’s voice comes through the walkie, and we hear her yell, “hey ass-clowns, if you can hear this, get ready, ‘cause we’re coming to get our shit back.” That should sound familiar to you, too — it’s exactly what happened back on November 1, 1988. This has all already happened and it didn’t save Heck and Naldo, which means they can’t be rescued and returned. It’s a time loop.
Guess what? It wouldn’t have mattered anyway — Prioress and Grand Father are already there with … babes, you know you’ve been waiting for it … a big ol’ dinosaur in tow. You didn’t think they were going to talk about the man-eating dinosaur and not give us a man-eating dinosaur, did you? That would be the cruelest time loop. At first, their offer to Mac and KJ, who they find first, doesn’t seem so bad. Just a little ablution, and then they’ll plop them right back in time where they belong. They’ll never remember a thing. It actually sounds lovely to Mac. But KJ has a different idea: Why can’t they help save Mac? Send her to the future where cancer can be cured before putting her back in ‘88. Not surprisingly, that’s going to be a no. “Your time is your time,” he says, repeating the Old Watch motto. Grand Father explains a bit about why they keep the timeline as is and are willing to wage war against the STF: According to him, the more you change things, the more degraded the timeline becomes until it leads to the end of the universe. It sounds bad. But KJ calls bullshit. If they are so worried about keeping the timeline the same, how can they execute members of the STF? It’s a great question, and for KJ, “everything happens for a reason” is an unconvincing answer. We always have a choice. We can always at least try to change the outcome. KJ’s passion inspires Mac, and she switches over to Team You Better Not Ablute Us, Dude.
Let’s be honest: They were never really going to have a choice regarding ablution. But before Prioress and Grand Father can force them onto the Cathedral to have their minds wiped, you know who walks out to save the day? Larry. I’m not kidding! 1999 Larry and his shotgun tell them to let the girls go. He doesn’t care that he’s outnumbered here, he is doing something good. He is trying to do something good. He’s really making up for 2019 Larry! I mean, obviously, Grand Father tells his dinosaur to eat him and he dies a second grisly death, but he was trying and that’s something!
Come on! You didn’t think they were going to talk about how the dinosaur eats people and not let the dinosaur eat a person, did you?!
Larry’s sacrifice gives the four girls enough time to hide in the farmhouse’s basement and regroup. With Larry turning into dino meat and Juniper and 1999 Tiff being abluted, the four girls are on their own. Don’t they seem so much older than they were last here? And that was like, what, three days ago? This quiet moment amid all the sci-fi chaos gives us a chance to really see how much they’ve grown in such a short amount of time. Back on November 1, 1988, they didn’t even know each other and none were particularly thrilled with the idea of working together. Now, here they are trying to figure out how not to get abluted because they don’t want to forget each other. Mac, most of all, displays a level of vulnerability that was unfathomable when she first showed up. She finally tells the other girls that she dies when she’s 16. Furthermore, when they realize they will have to go out there and face the Old Watch, she offers herself first. “I already have an expiration date,” she tells them. But they won’t hear it. Tiff reminds them that they’ve lasted this long because they’ve always stuck together. “We’re paper girls. We stick together. We’re not gonna change that now,” adds KJ. They walk outside to face Prioress and a goddamn dinosaur and they hold hands. They are a unit, a team, friends, always. My girls!! My little women! Oh wait, no, that’s something else.
Anywho, Prioress gets them aboard the Cathedral even though she does have a funny reaction when she hears Tiffany’s full name during their pre-ablution roll call. It doesn’t take long for her to reveal why.
Prioress! Coming through with the win! I mean, for the girls, not for herself because, uh, she’s definitely not surviving this little ploy. She reveals that Tiffany Quilkin eventually starts the institute where a Dr. Braunstein (that name should ring a bell for comic book readers) makes the discoveries that lead to time travel and the time war. All Prioress wants is to end the madness and Grand Father never will. She wants to send Tiff and her friends to tell a future version of Tiff what’s going on and to make choices that will stop it all from starting in the first place. The bonus, of course, is that in the future, they’ll be able to save Mac. Of course they agree to it.
Well, no one else in the Cathedral is into it. Chaos erupts as Prioress tries to sneak them onto one of the capsules and send them through a folding (yep, the Old Watch can control foldings). In the melee, Prioress gets shot, the girls try to save her, and only Mac and KJ make it onto the capsule before it leaves. As the countdown starts with Tiff and Erin on the other side, the girls press their hands on the glass separating them, trying not to break down in tears. It is gutting. But it’s not over yet — Prioress can set up a second capsule before Grand Father kills her (his old pal! The betrayal!). Before Prioress can send it, however, Grand Father has ordered other soldiers to try and stop it. They can’t stop it from leaving, but they definitely mess with the controls before it goes.
Tiff and Erin walk out of the capsule into a cornfield. They’re back on Larry’s family farm, but Mac and KJ’s capsule is nowhere to be seen. They’re surprised the future doesn’t look much different from what they’ve seen thus far, and then they find out why. They walk out of the field and end up at a drive-in movie theater. The Longest Yard, which came out in 1974, is playing on the screen, and we hear David Bowie’s “Golden Years,” which came out in ‘75. Tiff and Erin have landed in the past, and they are very much all on their own.
• When Mac first loses all hope that she’ll be able to change her future, KJ finds her hanging out with some of the goats on the farm (she wanted to be a vet, remember!). At one point, Mac holds KJ’s hand and thanks her for being her and being there for her. The moment is definitely charged, and KJ pulls back her hand and invents a reason to leave. Mac stomps off, hurt. These two have some feelings about each other.
• Mac asking Grand Father if he has a boss is still making me laugh.
• The Old Watch soldier KJ killed with that hockey stick? It was Prioress’s brother. Awkward, right?
• Before 1999 Tiff gets abluted, Tiff takes Larry’s notebook and writes “YOU INVENT TIME TRAVEL” on it so that when she returns, she has at least some clues as to what went on. When Prioress makes the Quilkin Institute reveal, we know Tiff’s plan worked.
• The dinosaur’s name is Tessa, in case you were wondering.