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Paper Girls: with time, we are the same and another 


Pho­to: Bjarne Vijfvinkel/Unsplash


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 AbenĂŹ), 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. 


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.