Netflix’s ‘Paper Girls’ is the story of four girls who discover the existence of time travel. KJ, Mac, Erin, and Tiffany are plucked from their timeline and thrown into the future where they discover that a different kind of war has been waging in the world, and most people don’t know anything about it. As the girls figure out a way to go back to their timeline, things become more messed up for them.
Every time travel story has its own version of the journey and the science that allows a person to jump back and forth from the past to the present to the future. ‘Paper Girls’ creates its own version, freeing itself of the constraints that other time travel stories are usually bound with. While it gives more space for the plot and the characters to evolve, it also makes things a bit more confusing. To simplify matters, we have broken down the science and the timeline for you. SPOILERS AHEAD
Paper Girls Time Travel Explained
In ‘Paper Girls’, time traveling happens through folding. It is a naturally occurring rip in time that allows a person to jump through it and land somewhere else. The STF members use them to travel to the past from the future. Because foldings are a natural phenomenon, they are not in anyone’s control. They occur for a specific period of time in specific locations. To use them, you have to know where they will occur next, which is what puts a limit on the travel of STF agents as well.
Over the years, they have jotted down the locations and the timing of the foldings, all of which appear in Larry’s journal. They can occur in a matter of days or take as long as seven years to show up again. Knowing about them allows Larry and other STF underground members, to be present at these sites and welcome the agents to safety because the Old Watch also keeps an eye on the foldings. They wait for the STF agents to show up so that they can arrest or kill them.
It is easier for the Old Watch to chase STF and travel in time because they have come up with the technology that allows them to create foldings at their will. This is why they have an upper hand on their enemies and it is easier for them to set things right more quickly.
Paper Girls Timeline Explained
The first season of ‘Paper Girls’ takes place through three timelines, and in that span, the events get so muddled up that it becomes difficult to keep up with what happened when. From 1988, the girls first land in 2019 and then go back to 1999. From the perspective of the girls, the events unfold in a straight line, but considering all that happens in the background, it becomes difficult, even for them to pinpoint what happened when. Here, we’ve broken down the events in chronological order.
This is where the story begins. In the early hours of November 1, 1988, KJ, Mac, Tiffany, and Erin go out on their paper routes. Unbeknownst to them, two time travelers- Heck and Naldo- are right around the corner, on a top-secret mission. Their paths cross and the girls are zapped from this year and thrown into the future. In between this, Tiffany’s walkie-talkie is stolen by Heck and Naldo, who use it to communicate with STF underground in the future.
This year doesn’t appear in Season 1, but it is important because this is when Mac dies of cancer at the age of sixteen. Technically, this is where her story ends, but she’s already traveled in time by now. Following her death, her brother, Dylan, decides to get his life together and goes to medical school.
The girls land here after the events of 2019. In this year, Mac is already dead; KJ has moved to New York to study filmmaking in NYU; Tiffany has dropped out from MIT; and Erin is with her mother, who is going to get sick soon, leading her to give up on her dreams of becoming a senator. Larry is alive and at the farm with his grandmother. He and Juniper are already associated with STF.
None of the older versions of the girls remembers traveling in time back when they were twelve. 2019 Erin and 2019 Larry come here with the paper girls. This is also the rendezvous point for Heck and Naldo, who never show up to finish their intended job. The girls go to KJ’s house, where she discovers that she is gay.
Young Tiffany contacts older Tiffany and asks for her help, who allows the girl to stay at her place while also helping them with their time travel trouble. The Tiffanys decode Larry’s journal and figure out how to locate foldings. A rip in the time appears at Larry’s farm that throws out random stuff, mainly related to time travelers. Juniper uses Tiffany’s walkie-talkie to communicate with Heck and Naldo in 1988, but in return, Mac’s voice comes back.
The Old Watch catches up with the girls and offers to erase their memories and send them back to ’88. In the meantime, older Tiffany is taken away for ablution, which means she won’t remember anything that happened to her and the girls. To keep her in the loop, younger Tiffany leaves Larry’s journal for her to figure out time travel on her own. Larry is eaten by Grandfather’s pet, and the girls are taken to the Old Watch headquarters, where Prioress helps them to escape in different timelines.
This is where the girls land from 1988, having traveled in time for the first time. The girls go to Erin’s house, where they meet older Erin. By this time, Erin’s mother has died of her illness and she has drifted away from her sister. Mac’s brother has become a successful doctor, while Tiffany’s older version now runs the Quilkin Institute. This means that 1999 Tiffany eventually decoded Larry’s journal on her own and found out about foldings and time travel. This is also the time around which she joins Dr. Joan Braunstein which further leads to the formation of STF. The girls leave this timeline with 2019 Erin and Larry. They wanted to go back to 1988, but because of Larry’s lies, they end up in 1999.
Read More: Why Does Old Erin Not Remember Young Erin in Paper Girls?