Paper Girls actually has its teens confronting death — and living with it
Amazon’s adaptation of the comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, much like the source material, is a show about death. paper girl‘ Time travel story is of course about many other things: the tensions between who we wanted to be and who we end up being, the generational divide and trauma, and a time war. What struck me, however, was that a bunch of its uniformly brilliant cast play characters who learn of their own end well in advance, leaving them to face what none of us can escape: death. It’s a nagging, knotty feeling that’s hard for almost everyone to unwrap. Except that most of these characters have to do it by the age of 12.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first season of Paper Girls.]
You can see it best in the story of Mac Coyle, perfectly played by Sofia Rosinsky, who must shoulder some of the show’s darkest themes. She’s the brash, loud, swearing kid of the group who’s been dealt a really shitty hand. Her upbringing was turbulent, with absentee parents and violence, making her the most cynical of the four eponymous paper girls. You quickly realize how badly she is, and all of her spikes feel fragile, hiding a lot of injuries she’s not old enough to handle. Hell, she’s not even really able to appreciate it. That’s all she knows, and she has to survive it first. When her foray into the bright, glamorous future of 2019 leads her to find, instead of an unexpected adulthood like the other girls, a shocking death from cancer at the age of 16, it hits you like a freight train. It’s cruel and unfair. And the show doesn’t pretend it’s any different.
A major change the show introduces is the presence of an older brother for Mac, Dylan, who greets her in 2019 like he’s seen a ghost (which he arguably has). After the initial shock, he quickly slips into the role of the guard who not only wants to protect Mac, but also wants to make amends for her terrible childhood.
His instincts make him a surrogate for adult viewers who want to protect Mac. He plans to get the cancer early, pretend she’s a niece, and integrate her into his now affluent life and family. In his own words, “To give you the life you deserve.” Watching him burst into tears over this second chance with his dead sister, you can feel not only the urge to save her, but also the renewed grief , which shaped his whole life. Her loss drove him to become a doctor, a job that lifted him out of poverty and into a family of his own. Maybe there’s a certain guilt, a sense of a debt that needs to be repaid for the life he was allowed to live that she didn’t have.
Mac struggles to open up to him and the other girls about her struggle, which she mostly tries to keep to herself. She’s not the only one trying to get by on her own. But while his other characters have to deal with death – including poor Larry, who bites the dust twice – the focus remains on the children.
Erin is the first to face a future death, the death of her mother, something that exploits her existing fears, taking care of a parent who doesn’t speak much English and is struggling in the small town of Stony Stream. Riley Lai Nelet does a good job of showing the isolation of not just being the “new girl,” but someone distanced from their community and their heartaches because of their race and responsibilities. It’s this loneliness that makes it difficult for her to shake hands, whether it’s her future self’s reluctance to connect with her sister or her former self’s struggle to open up to the other paper girls — especially after she has to watch as her older self dies and the sister rescues group in the future that may include her destiny. Unaware of Mac’s fate, she once again feels left out of the group.
Tiff also feels obligated to get by on her own, even if it’s not her own death. As she grapples with the potential danger her friends are in, in a scene so poignantly performed by Camryn Jones in Episode 4, she tries to make her way among adults, desperate to grow up and take control of herself To gain life while at the same time she must overcome her inexperience.
While Tiff and Erin feel isolated by their fears, it’s KJ who helps the group rely on each other as they face their grim future. Fina Strazza’s performance masterfully deflects her calm demeanor from her strength. She’s the first person Mac opens up to (her blossoming crush, a whirlwind of confusion for two ’80s girls), and her immediate response isn’t to try to shield or protect her, but her pain with her to share a tender embrace of understanding. She eventually helps Mac share the news with the others, an act that eventually cements the group’s bond and allows them to face their dark destiny together.
Not that paper girl is the only one that puts young people in serious danger. Also in recent years shows how stranger things and The wilderness have put teenagers at risk. However, these kinds of dangers differ from the fate Mac and others face – in these, characters are killed, but in ways that are often downright heroic or tragic. They’re big moments, built with fanfare (and probably a little too much signage) and rewarded for character sacrifices or a teary-eyed moment for their loss. There is catharsis in the tragedies these shows present that isn’t there paper girl. I think that’s why Mac’s story has stuck with me since reading the comic. It doesn’t focus on death itself or the aftermath, but on Mac’s own inner struggle with a fate that doesn’t mean much, just a terrible misfortune. There’s no solution, just an acknowledgment that it’s brutally unfair.
One can argue about that paper girl is for kids or not. But I’d say it appeals to adults as well as youngsters, but with its central cast, teenagers will definitely have an eye on it. This is something precious. I know that when I was young I didn’t have access to such fictions. Even as an adult, it is a reminder that children have rich inner lives. They deserve autonomy and space to actually deal with the harsh realities that are being thrown at them.
paper girl feels like one of the few stories related to that little kid feeling. To express an experience that is all too common but almost never discussed. Like Mac’s brother, it’s understandably our instinct to protect children from these harsh realities. However, it is a fantasy; Whether we like it or not, children have to deal with all sorts of problems that we wish were left to adulthood. paper girl may be a fantastic time travel show, but it doesn’t offer a warm slice of nostalgia. It offers teenagers a cold slice of reality.
paper girl Season 1 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
https://www.polygon.com/23292033/paper-girls-dies-season-1 Paper Girls actually has its teens confronting death — and living with it