THere’s hardly a scene in the new Apple TV+ thriller Luminous girls that doesn’t show that Elisabeth Moss is doing anything impressive. She signals confusion with the tremor of her chin and later cries a single tear, which lingers on her waterline before rolling down her cheek.
Based on Lauren Beuke’s bestselling 2013 novel, The Darkly Mystery Luminous girls sees Moss play Kirby, a mousy newspaper researcher who survives a brutal attack by a man who was never caught. The incident, which happened six years before the start of the series, leaves her mentally and physically scarred. Her day job at the Chicago Sun Times is consumed by facts and reports, but the details of her own life elude her. She can’t remember which desk is hers or the name of her house cat, Grendel. Her memories seem to dissolve under the weight of her trauma.
Every time Kirby remembers something new, she jots it down in a notebook like a reporter would. But this record is also being revised. What Kirby knows for sure is the details of the night she almost died, written on her body in long, raised scars that criss-cross her abdomen.
Kirby’s slippery memories cause major jump scares when the ominous scratching on her bedroom door is revealed to be Grendel, who is now a dog but is a cat again by the end of the episode. At times, Kirby’s misunderstandings are so dramatic that it’s bewildering that she can lead a normal life. Her apartment changes from scene to scene. So does her haircut. For that reason, it’s surprising that the most amazing scene in the first installment of the series, and the most brutal one can watch, takes place in the stillness of a seemingly dependable, unchanging present.
Moss plays Kirby with buzzing unease; If you shared an elevator, you definitely wouldn’t want to look her in the eye. But after her attacker appears to attack again, this time killing his victim, the reclusive Kirby confides in a well-meaning colleague. He takes her to his friend, a city coroner, to see if her scars match those of the latest victim.
The investigation takes place at night in the morgue, a windowless room with blue tiles on the walls and body bags in the corridor. “Don’t worry, they can’t get out,” examiner Iris says to Kirby of the bodies, scraping the bottom of the barrel of macabre humor. How many times has she told that joke? Maybe not too often. Iris has the nursing of a doctor whose patients are dead when they arrive. As Kirby lies on the exam table with his shirt pulled up, Iris describes the injuries forensically, as if taking dictation for her reports.
“He started at the front,” Iris says, running her fingers over the dark scar tissue as if reading Braille rather than someone else’s warm skin. She doesn’t ask before touching. She is not sensitive to the painful memories she conjures up. “You were down?” Iris asks, making angles and events from the contours of Kirby’s wounds.
Oddly enough, Iris doesn’t tell Kirby anything she doesn’t know. Kirby, so often helpless and confused, vividly recalls that night: being held when her attacker paused to avoid the gaze of a passerby. These memories are physical; dark tattoos of the few facts she knows for sure, doesn’t need to doubt.
It’s that moment — Kirby lying on a cold, sterile table meant for the dead — that’s excruciating. Kirby’s attack devastated her life, but this lifeless room hidden in a hospital basement is a reminder of how bad it could have been. Moss’s breathing stutters; Her eyelids flicker in the light from the surgical light, which is aimed at her stomach. But even when Kirby falters, Moss is careful not to overdo it. She doesn’t dive into the volatility we’ve seen from her as June Osborne The story of the maid. For a minute she’s in control like we’ve never seen her.
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There’s a temptation to romanticize scars and how they connect us to our past, but it would be unfair to say that’s happening here. Kirby’s body is unsettlingly and irrevocably what she knows best. It’s the only truth she doesn’t have to scribble in a notebook.
The Shining Girls is now streaming on Apple TV+
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/shining-girls-elisabeth-moss-apple-b2068048.html The Shining Girls’ intense investigation scene proves that Elisabeth Moss is always the very best on TV