Movie Reviews

Paper Girls Time Travel & Every Time Period Explained

This article contains spoilers for Paper Girls season 1.

Paper Girls‘ time travel presents its stars with an opportunity to explore multiple different time periods. Inspired by the award-winning comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson, Paper Girls uses time travel and temporal mechanics as an opportunity to explore themes of intergenerational conflict. The Amazon Prime Video TV series takes a very different approach to the comics, reducing the spectacle to focus on character arcs.

Paper Girls sees four kids caught up in a time war between the Old See and the STF Underground. The Old See believe time travel comes with terrible risks, with Grand Father comparing it to a mix-tape at risk of being recorded over too many times – with potentially catastrophic results because too many changes to the timeline can destroy the entire universe. The STF Underground – the next generation – object to this, insisting it must be possible to rewrite history to prevent their dystopian reality. The STF Underground point to the convenient fact the Old See’s views of time travel help to secure their own power.

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Every science-fiction franchise naturally takes a different approach to time travel. Paper Girls presents the temporal mechanics through the eyes of four twelve-year-old girls, who are swiftly forced to acclimatize. Here’s how the time travel works – and how the different time periods play out for the Paper Girls.

The cast of Paper Girls swiftly learn that time travel is an apparently natural phenomenon. There are certain naturally occurring “foldings,” where different points in the space-time continuum come into contact with one another, creating wormholes. Traveling through these wormholes appears to be hazardous, with both the Old See and the STF Underground developing sophisticated vehicles to use them. In the comics, Mac’s cancer is actually derived from unprotected exposure to temporal energy.

The interesting question, of course, is whether all the foldings are entirely natural. The Old See claim repeated time travel causes damage to the fabric of space-time, meaning it’s possible the apparently-increasing number of foldings are a consequence of the time war. Ironically, it’s implied the discovery of time travel is part of a time loop, because it is partially discovered by an adult Tiffany Quilkin (Sekai Abenì) based on an STF Underground notebook she deciphered that allowed her to discover the location of folding to begin with.

Paper Girls‘ main characters stumble into a time travel adventure when the STF Underground use a folding in Stony Lane on November 1, 1988 – known as “Hell Day” to the Paper Girls, because it’s the morning after Halloween and some of the youths use it as an opportunity to cause trouble. The girls are unwittingly transported to 2019, where – attempting to flee from the chaos – they stumble into the home of an older version of Erin, played by Ali Wong.

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The 2019 segment is centered upon Erin (Riley Lai Nelet) and Mac, with Erin (Sofia Rosinsky) struggling to deal with the complicated (and, in many ways, disappointing) life of her future self – while Mac discovers she is destined to die from cancer in 1992. Mac considers settling in 1992 with her brother’s family, but the Old See intervene, forcing the Paper Girls to seek an alliance with a member of the STF Underground to escape. Meanwhile, Tiffany looks up her future self and discovers she’s the founder of the Quilkin Institute.

The STF Underground agent, Larry (Nate Corddry), betrays the Paper Girls – choosing to take them to 1999 rather than return them to their own time, simply because he has his own agenda. They’re stranded there when both Larry and Ali Wong’s older Erin die protecting the Paper Girls from the Old See, and they have no choice but to again seek help from their future selves. This leads KJ (Fina Strazza) to discover she is a lesbian, while Tiffany (Camryn Jones) seeks help from her own future self – but is somewhat surprised to learn the circuitous route that would lead her to become a revolutionary scientist.

The folding in 1999 attracts the attention of the Old See, who arrive in force. However, Tiffany is left in possession of Larry’s notebook, which contains his notes on foldings in a code she will apparently crack. Fortunately for the Paper Girls, the Prioress is shaken to learn who Tiffany really is, and she sends them out into time once again – betraying the Old See and setting up Paper Girls season 2. This deviates completely from the Paper Girls story in the comics, meaning the show is exploring uncharted territory.

The Prioress’ plan goes wrong, with the Paper Girls split into two groups. Erin and Tiffany apparently find themselves stranded in the 1970s; the scene features David Bowie’s song Golden Years (released in 1975), while the kids watch as footage from the 1974 film The Longest Yard plays in a drive-in movie theater. These two members of the Paper Girls are stuck in a time shortly before they were born, meaning it will be much more difficult for them to figure out how to get help in season 2.

The Paper Girls finale doesn’t show what time period KJ and Mac went to, but it’s easy to put the pieces together; the Prioress was sending them on a mission to avert the discovery of time travel, and thereby erase the entire time war. This likely means the time travel capsule they used was set to take them to somewhere after 2019, where she hoped they would track down the Tiffany Quilkin of that time. It’s ironic that Mac and KJ are the ones who wound up in that period given that they will find it much harder to persuade adult Tiffany to drop the research than her own past self would. Additionally, the pair are likely to be much more interested in finding a cure for Mac’s cancer.

Paper Girls season 1 certainly ends on a cliffhanger. Until now, the Paper Girls’ greatest strength has been their ability to depend on one another, and things have only gone wrong when they’ve been divided. But Paper Girls season 2 will literally open with them stranded in two different time periods, and it’s unclear when the next folding will take place to help them reunite.

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