I agreed with veteran writer and showrunner of The Boys Eric Kripke when he said in an interview with Vulture that television shows need to stop portraying themselves as a “ten-hour movie.” Granted, his comment about the state of these works was certainly, uh, colorful, as he uses a series of profanities I am not comfortable repeating. However, the creator has a point. Why do entertainment studios treat movies and television shows as one and the same when their methods, goals, and viewing experiences are wholly different?
One of the reasons Prime Video’s Paper Girls struggles is that it refuses to apply some of the basic tenets of television writing, such as a clear five-act structure and character arcs into its episodes. Instead, it whips through the story to reach its unearned climax. Fortunately, writer Lisa Albert uses her extensive background in writing for network series like Mad Men and Hannah Montana to put the YA drama back on track with “Blue Tongues Don’t Lie.”
In Episode 3, the paper girls learn why the Standard Time Fighters, or the STF Underground, and the Old Watch are fighting, Mac (Sofia Rosinsky) reunites with her older brother Dylan (Cliff Chamberlain), and Prioress (Adina Porter) gets one step closer to removing the preteens from the timeline. Paper Girls may still wrestle with constructing a cohesive sci-fi tale, but there is more emotion and depth in this episode than in the previous two. This episode is the equivalent of watching a pretentious teenager maturing into a respectable young person.
The third episode opens near the outskirts of Stony Stream. Armed Old Watchers attack a woman named Juniper (Celeste Arias) while her lover Larry (Nate Corddry) looks on helplessly from his farmhouse. This couple is part of the STF Underground, an organization created to change the past for a better future. Sadly, their goal comes at a high cost as the Old Guard wipes Juniper’s memories during the battle. Although Larry does find his partner afterward, she refuses to believe anything he says is real. Just when the middle-aged man gives up hope, his beeper alerts him that the device or “asset” Adult Erin (Ali Wong) has in her possession is armed.
While Larry searches for the asset, Adult Erin finds the three remaining paper girls wandering the streets of Stony Stream. Young Erin (Erin Tieng) is reluctant to return to her older counterpart’s car, but Tiffany (Camryn Jones) and KJ (Fina Strazza) gladly take the ride back to a warm bed and four roofs over their heads. With Mac still missing, Adult Erin heads to the town’s hospital to find the foul mouth preteen. But right before she enters the building, Larry ambushes the woman and places her in the back of his car. The paper girls attempt to rescue their guardian, but he captures the trio and throws them in his basement with Adult Erin.
The following day, Larry forces Adult Erin and the girls to have breakfast with him. During their intense conversation, he discovers that they are simply paper girls who accidentally traveled to the present. Apparently, they are in the middle of an intergalactic battle between the STF Underground and the Old Watch. While the STF members fight for humanity, the Old Watch wants to keep time as is to ensure they are always in power. Now the girls are in trouble for traveling outside their timeline. Luckily for them, Larry has a giant robot hidden underneath his property.
Elsewhere, Mac finds her older brother Dylan at the hospital. Their reunion starts on shaky ground as Dylan tells his younger sister that she died from Cerebra Lymphoma 27 years ago. To make matters worse, he believes the young girl sitting in front of him in the hospital’s cafeteria is playing a prank on him. Thankfully, the doctor comes to his senses when he notices Mac’s Walkman, or rather the Walkman she stole from him all those years ago, on top of the table. Utterly confused but curious, Dylan takes Mac away from the hospital by convincing her newly assigned social worker that Mac is his child.
The most notable scene in this episode is when Dylan and Mac process their bizarre situation in his vehicle. As the two discuss Mac’s illness, Dylan plays his little sister’s favorite song, “Mother” by Danzig, from his dashboard. Within seconds, the awkwardness and tension between the two siblings dissipate as they rock out to the heavy metal tune. This moment is not only poignant, but it is also a great example of Rosinsky and Chamberlain’s talents as actors. Like, what else can you do when you run into your supposedly dead little sister?
Later, Mac arrives at Dylan’s swanky home and quickly realizes that everything improved for her brother after she died. Ever the caring bro, Dylan counters that he can use their chance encounter as an advantage. Technically speaking, Mac is not dead. Therefore, her brother may be able to prevent his kid sister’s cancer in “her” future. However, Mac’s fortunes may not last as Prioress is close on her tail. The warrior woman manages to find the name of her social worker by brutally interrogating one of the hospital’s employees.
So far, this is one of the strongest episodes of Paper Girls. Mac’s meeting with Dylan works because it relies more on character development and growth, particularly when the two have their heart-to-heart in the hospital’s parking lot. The series also expands the world by revealing more information on why the STF Underground and the Old Guard are fighting. However, the show is still doing my girl Prioress wrong. The actor that portrays the character is striking, but she gets barely any screen time. Perhaps the writers will feature her more in the next episode, or maybe we will have to wait until the season finale. Hopefully, it is not the latter.
All episodes for Paper Girls are available on Prime Video. Check back for more weekly coverage of Paper Girls next week.