Paper Girls: with time, we are the same and another
by MERCY FERRARS
The following text contains spoilers for Paper Girls.
Amazon Prime’s Paper Girls, based on a comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, follows four girls who get lost in time. The so-called paper girls are delivering the newspaper to people’s doorsteps on the morning after Halloween in 1988, when a sudden “folding” causes two points in space-time to connect and they unknowingly travel to the future.
In 2019, protagonist Erin (Riley Lai Nelet) meets her 40-year-old older self (Ali Wong). Both Erins, bright and determined, explore the dreams they once had at the younger Erin’s age, who finds herself disappointed with how things have turned out for her. Older Erin has no family, just an antidepressant prescription. But she is still Erin, caring and confident, and she eventually helps the girls return to the past.
Meanwhile, Mac (Sofia Rosinsky) learns of her untimely death from her older brother, now a respected doctor and father of two daughters. Overwhelmed by the confrontation with her own death, Mac feels no desire to return to her timeline, only to continue her rather miserable life and eventually die of cancer. But while the other girls are busy trying to find their way back to 1988, they discover that they are now considered wanted criminals by a militia that is trying to protect and restore the original timeline, which was upset by the resistance’s efforts to improve history.
The “Old Watch” fights a time war against the “STF Underground,” with whose help the girls try to work out how to travel back to their lives. Saturated in purple skies and a mix of Stranger Things’ eighties nostalgia and the robot fighters from Bring Me The Horizon’s Obey music video, Paper Girls not only presents a classic time travel narrative mixed with dystopian and coming-of-age elements, but also explores the complex feelings of knowing how one’s life will go—or end.
Even more fascinating are the encounters between the adult and child versions of the Paper Girls protagonists. Shortly after their return to the past, the girls realise that they have once again ended up in the wrong timeline, instigated by STF Underground agent Larry (Nate Corddry) who is pursuing his own agenda. In 1999, they head to KJ’s (Fina Strazza) house to get supplies. That night, KJ learns that she is a lesbian and will live a wild and bright life as a film student in New York.
Meanwhile, Tiffany (Camryn Jones) seeks help from her older self (Sekai Abenì), who is very different than Tiffany had hoped. Adult Tiffany, who runs her own institute in 2019, is completely lost in 1999. She has dropped out of school and leads a rebellious life as a DJ. But both Tiffanys are savvy and perceptive, and together they develop a theory about how time travel might work. Soon, however, the girls are found by the Prioress of the Old Watch (played by Adina Porter from The 100) and the Grand Father (Jason Mantzoukas), a confrontation that culminates in the girls being transported to two different timelines.
A Voyage to Yourself
I first met my inner child in therapy. I met her on a country lane, hair up in a ponytail, in a nineties tattoo necklace and tie-dye shirt combo, just like the kindergarten photo in my memory. She was skipping around but seemed lost in a daydream. I knelt down and took her in my arms and she patiently let it happen. From that day on, I began a search for my inner child. I spent years getting to know her and learning how to protect her. I would give anything to see her standing in front of me in the flesh. And when I think back to myself at that age, I would have really welcomed the chance to plot with my thirty-year-old self.
Paper Girls ignores the potential paradoxes as well as basic—if hypothetical—rules to time travel, but instead paints a therapeutic thought experiment: a voyage to yourselves. Earlier stages of me might feel like strangers. But if I met the many versions of myself, past and future, with all their pain and love shining through, I would feel deep compassion for them, raging solidarity, and admiration. We would crack the same jokes and cry-laugh, followed by a deep conversation about living in a world that wasn’t made for us. It would be mutually enriching. I’d share the wisdom I gained in the past ten years, and they’d remind me not to let our dreams go to waste. I doubt they’d consider me the failure I call myself. To me, teenage Mercy would not be a difficult child. She’s a soul that is different and complex, thrown into a borderline sea without knowing how to swim. I’d teach her, and show her the beauty of her not yet known magic. And when she would look up to me, she’d notice all the things I cannot see about myself.
One day, maybe a folding will occur and I will meet all these versions of myself. And when I do, I too will fight for them until the end, just like the paper girls.
EDITED BY MACY RIPLEY W. LARA HELENA.
Mercy Ferrars is a MA graduate in philosophy and writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction essays. She is madly in love with Scotland, dogs and Bojack Horseman.