Review: Sci-fi thriller about forgotten women

illuminatedApple TV original, tells the story of Kirby (Elisabeth Moss), a woman still recovering from the trauma caused by a violent attack by an unknown man. But another victim emerges, and Kirby goes to work alongside journalist Dan Velasquez (Wagner Moura) to prevent further attacks from happening.

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Apple TV has been bringing excellent original stories to its streaming. Many of them were awarded prizes, such as CODAwhich was the Oscar winner for Best Picture in 2022. Illuminadas (or “Shining Girls”) is another original production that arrived this year in the catalogue.

Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) is one of the producers, and in an interview with Apple TV Brasil, she reveals:

“I wanted to make a show that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Thus, illuminated brings together suspense, science fiction and drama. It’s a story about women who are united by a single factor: they were raped by the same man. In the newspaper review The Guardian, Moss is considered perfect for the thriller. And indeed, her acting is a weighty element in the series. In addition, she also directs several episodes.

In addition to Elisabeth Moss, the series’ directing and writing team is filled with women. Between them, Michelle Maclaren and Silka Luisa. Fortunately, we increasingly have TV series with women that talk about women and the real problems they face in society. And as Moss has proved so well, there are no limits to portraying female reality. You don’t have to limit yourself to romance or drama. There are women working with horror, fantasy, suspense and science fiction, as is the case with illuminated. However, the series was completely snubbed at the Emmy, one of the biggest awards for audiovisual productions.

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Elizabeth Moss Phillipa Soo and in Shining Girls
Elizabeth Moss Phillipa Soo and in Illuminated | Image/Playback: Apple TV

journalistic investigation

What if in addition to time travel, we add a crime thriller? Well, that’s what the series delivers. Regarding the beauties of the series, it is certainly necessary to highlight the journalistic investigation and the whole environment created around it. In search of a good story – one that he hopes will make his career soar – Dan forms an unexpected partnership: he teams up with one of the archivists at the Sun-Times, where he works, to unmask Julia Madrigal’s violent killer (Karen Rodriguez). After all, they theorize that this man and the man who caused Kirby’s scar are the same person. And Kirby needs someone who believes in her and her story. That person, however reluctant he may be at first, is Dan.

As the series is set in the 1990s, print newspapers still played a crucial role in society. And in the absence of communication technologies that we have today, journalists had to call each of the witnesses and visit them, cut out and develop the photographs. In this way, it is a real adventure to follow the investigation of the protagonist duo.

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Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura in Illuminadas
Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura in Illuminadas | Image/Playback: Apple TV

The bonus is the wonderful chemistry the actors have. Wagner Moura is brilliant here. The actor even speaks Portuguese in some scenes and appears with a band shirt The mutants at some point. And, in fact, Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura became great friends during the production of the series and Moss said – in the same interview quoted above – that meeting him was the best thing that happened to her about illuminated.

Setting issues in Shining Girls

However, the setting of the series is a little disappointing. It is possible to forget, at times, that we are in another decade than 2020. One of the problems is the futuristic design technologies of Jin’s bow (Phillipa Soo) – a character that gains prominence over the episodes – and the costumes are very weak for a production of this level. The settings and photography as a whole also leave something to be desired.

But, the setting being somewhat flawed begins to reflect on our understanding of the story. Mainly because it is a time travel narrative, understanding the change from one space to another, one year to another, is essential. And that shouldn’t just happen with a caption indicating the time and space in which the scene will take place. Things changing from one moment to the next can and should mess with the characters, but it shouldn’t necessarily mess with us.

It is necessary for the audience to understand with visual and sound resources where the story is, so that they can actually be immersed in it. So it’s a shame that such a fascinating story suffers from a script that becomes so confusing and inefficient. Thus, most of the episodes serve to understand the universe and conflicts, and little remains for their resolution.

Supernatural villain?

Although the plot is absurd in general – which is characteristic of science fiction – the plot of Shining is much more real than we would like. A man who uses women, persecutes and rapes them. Random women, but always women. Long before the mysteries are solved, it is already possible to see that Kirby’s attacker is scary precisely because he is an ordinary man. Yes, there are supernatural things involving him. But that’s not the most terrifying.

One of the show’s most sinister scenes takes place in a small grocery store storeroom, when a girl finds herself cornered by a man she thought was kind. And that’s how the show’s antagonist works: he’s likely to be someone likable, someone we’d like right off the bat. Kirby says the hardest thing about him is that he could be the doorman, the delivery guy, someone she bumped into on the street or her neighbor. He can be anyone.

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Shining Girls
Jamie Bell as Harper Cutis in Shining | Image/Playback: Apple TV

And that’s the most interesting thing about the development of Harper Curtis (Jamie Bell). In the midst of mysteries about the future, alternate realities and other extraordinary things, there is this revolt about a man who is just a man. And as always, with that kind of man, his victims are always forgotten. Cold cases and short stories in the newspaper. His voices are silenced not just when they die, but every day when no one does any justice for their lives.

It is because of this that episode 4 is the culmination of the series: we see violent images, yes, but we also see a woman who was raped fighting for her equals who had a different fate. The choices of not having gratuitous violence on the show but at the same time showing it fearlessly when necessary, was fantastic. It’s the balance that was maintained from start to finish.

Were good intentions enough?

Based on the novel by Lauren Beukes, illuminated it is an ambitious, thought-provoking series, but without a worthy ending. Despite the great premise, the work delivers an insufficient ending, contrary to the frenetic pace that holds us so much throughout the season. The last two episodes seem to throw off the suspense created, resolving everything abruptly. Could it be a consequence of the number of episodes? After all, all Apple TV series have a length pattern: in drama series the average is 8 or 9 episodes. Comedy series such as Ted Lassousually have 10. Fitting an adapted script into a certain length seems to have harmed the end result of a series that had so much promise.

The characters also didn’t have a conclusion to their arcs. Yes, the protagonist has good final scenes, but the feeling that remains for all the rest of the events is that something is missing. Both with Marcus (Chris Chalk) and Dan, important characters in the plot. the character of Amy BrennemanRachel – who is wonderful in the series – just disappears, doesn’t even have an ending like the other two that were mentioned.

In addition to not really having a conclusion for the characters, the mysteries also proved to be much less than they could be. The series itself, however, hinted that it would be something bigger than what was presented at the end. The story itself is very good and relevant, but the same cannot be said for the execution of the series.

If you look casually, illuminated It’s good fun and full of reflections. Viewed under a critical eye, Illuminated failed to reach its full potential, presenting a confusing yet pertinent narrative.


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