Warning: This article contains spoilers for Paper Girls season 1.
Amazon’s Paper Girls TV series is remarkably faithful to the comics – but its dramatic Paper Girls season 1 ending sends the show in a completely different direction. Inspired by the award-winning comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson, Paper Girls is an unusual series that combines sophisticated temporal mechanics with young-adult drama. It plunges a group of four twelve-year-old girls into a time war.
At heart, Paper Girls is a story of intergenerational conflict. The Old See strive to preserve the timeline, while the next generation – the STF Underground – attempt to change it. The STF Underground view the Old See’s model of time as far too convenient to be true, given that it secures their own power base. Unfortunately, the STF Underground is always on the defensive, operating in the shadows of history as they attempt to undermine the Old See. Their adversaries are both ruthless and brutal, as the Paper Girls learn over the course of season 1, as they desperately attempt to flee through the timeline.
Paper Girls season 1, episode 10 ends with the Old See finally catching up to the Paper Girls. It’s a scene lifted straight from the original comics, albeit a little less spectacular, and a conclusion that takes the show in a very different direction. The stars of Paper Girls have gone through a lot already – but the future looks very uncertain indeed.
Paper Girls season 1, episode 10 sees the four time travelers brought face-to-face with Grand Father, the leader of the Old See, who takes a moment to present his view of the timeline using Mac’s mix-tape. According to Grand Father, every attempt to change the timeline is essentially like re-recording over a tape, with the quality diminishing every time; eventually, after enough rewrites of history, the timeline will break – and he suggests that will cause the end of the universe. This is why the Old See police the timeline, and the ablutions they perform are intended to minimize their influence.
Grand Father’s knowledge of time appears to be incomplete, however, because there are strong hints the Paper Girls have been stuck in a time loop. The four have continually found themselves interacting with their future selves, and it’s clear they were destined for ablution; making matters worse, in Paper Girls season 1, episode 10, the children realize a radio-recording they heard in 1988 was actually sent by their future selves. Most dramatic of all, in episode 10 Tiffany leaves a note for her future self that will inspire the discovery of time travel. There is, however, a surprising twist at the end of episode 10 – one that seems to break the loop.
Grand Father takes the Paper Girls on board the Cathedral, intending to transport them back to 1988. But the Prioress is shaken by the realization one of the Paper Girls is Tiffany Quilkin, founder of the Quilkin Institute, whose research will unlock the science of time travel. She realizes she now has the chance to make one particular change to the timeline; if she can affect the life of Tiffany Quilkin, she can potentially prevent time travel ever being discovered. The entire time war will be erased from history.
The Prioress was inspired to join the Old See after a terrorist attack by the STF Underground, and she has paid a fearsome price for her devotion to protecting the timeline – even losing her own brother. She is unable to resist the temptation to make one desperate attempt to change the timeline, aware that success will mean neither the See nor the STF Underground ever exist in the first place. The Prioress attempts to send the Paper Girls protagonist on a timeline mission, firing what she hopes will be the final shot in the time war. This particular twist never happened in the original comics, where Tiffany is the least-developed of the Paper Girls. This suggests that Paper Girls season 2 will head into uncharted territory.
Unfortunately, the Prioress’ plan goes badly wrong, with other members of the Old See interfering. The capsule she intended to contain Tiffany instead blasts off with Mac and KJ, presumably stranding them in the future. The Prioress manages to send Tiffany and Erin into time in another capsule, but the controls are adjusted, apparently leaving them trapped sometime in the past. No specific dates are given at the end of Paper Girls season 1, but Erin and Tiffany are shaken to discover an old drive-in movie being watched by people in cars that would be dated even in 1988. David Bowie’s song Golden Years plays as they look at footage from The Longest Yard playing on the screen; this was released in 1974, and the Bowie song is associated with 1975, suggesting they’re now in the 1970s.
Paper Girls season 1 appeared to establish a time loop, one that involved the discovery of time travel itself. But the Prioress’ actions have the potential to break that loop, meaning each of the four twelve-year-olds could potentially change their futures. That possibility is particularly exciting for Mac, given Grand Father revealed there will actually be a cure for cancer, so she and KJ are sure to prioritize saving her life. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be successful, however; in the comics, Mac’s cancer was a part of the time loop, a rare tumor caused by her experience of time travel.
At heart, Paper Girls is a story of determinism versus free will. The Old See stand for the former, the STF Underground for the latter, and for a moment it seemed as though the show had come down on the side of determinism. Instead, though, there’s a hint of hope; the Prioress’ rescue suggests destiny can be changed, and she’s sent two of the kids to the one point in the timeline where she believes that to be possible. The Old See will undoubtedly pursue them, with Grand Father now aware he’s dealing with a person of special importance in Tiffany Quilkin. Paper Girls season 1 sets up an exciting second season, one that continues to explore these deep philosophical questions in spectacular fashion.
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