The Burning Girls – Season 1 Episode 1 Recap & Review


Episode 1 of The Burning Girls begins in 1556 with a horrible tragedy that will presumably foreshadow the rest of the show. It takes place in Chapel Croft in Sussex. Angry villagers with burning torches in their hands hunt two little girls taking refuge in it. They break through, drag them by the hair, and then burn them on a pyre. We jump ahead into time, three months from the present day in the show’s timeline. The grounds aren’t as frightening but still carry the eerie feeling.

Reverend Brian Rushton welcomes the gathering who commemorate the “burning girls.” Children are asked to throw dolls made of twigs and wood into the fire for their “great sacrifice.” By nightfall, as the people sing and chant around the burning pyre, Reverend Fletcher hangs himself. We see a newspaper sitting on the first bench of the chapel, where the front-page headline reads: “Thirty years ago: Merry and Joy, the missing girls of Chapel Croft.” 

Cut to the present day. Reverend Jack Brooks has been roped in by Bishop Durkin as Fletcher’s replacement as the vicar in Chapel Croft. Her eventful entry with her teenage daughter Flo potentially sets the tone for their “temporary stay” in the village. The mother-daughter duo, who feel the place is a steep downgrade from Nottingham – their real home – are horrified to see a little girl covered in blood, continuously chanting, “He killed her.” She is in shock and Jack tries to calm her down. When she asks Aaron, the church’s warden, to call the police, he refrains from doing anything. 

The reason? That girl is Poppy Harper, the daughter of Simon Harper, who is a royalty in the village. And when he arrives to pick up Poppy, he does not take kindly to Jack. On his way back, Simon admonishes Brian for not informing him about the new vicar. The blood on Poppy is pig-blood as Simon had slaughtered one earlier that day. It is clear that Jack and Flo are carrying some baggage from the past. It definitely involves a young girl and has something to do with the church.

The visuals are recurring throughout the episode without making it clear what actually happened. The next morning, they receive a mysterious package at their doorstep. In it is an exorcism kit, which makes Flo fidgety…”It is happening again.” Jack tries to calm her down and move past it. Brian welcomes Jack and advises her to make amends with Simon as his family is respected and admired by the villagers. His ancestors were also burnt all those years back. Brian introduces Jack to the congregation as an old woman, Mrs Joan Hartman, stares at her intently from the first bench. 

Aaron asks Jack to give Hartman her sweater back and she goes to her house later. And that meeting is quite eventful as well. Hartman explains to Jack that if she sees “the burning girls” around the chapel, something bad will befall her. You see, their vengeful spirits still haunt the grounds and their vision is what made Fletcher, the previous vicar, interested in them. He also became interested in the “other girls,” Joy and Merry. Hartman recounts how the girls were considered “demonic” back then, although they would be called “independent and strong-headed” today.

People didn’t like their ways and their own mothers wanted to rid them of this demonism. And they simply disappeared. Joan characterizes the people of the village as “evil.” They’re still tied to their old beliefs and ways. She also believes that Fletcher was “killed” as he came close to cracking what had happened to the girls.

Flo gets busy setting up her room with fairy lights and pictures…some of which hint towards what happened to Jack. She killed someone when she was little and was ostracized by the community.

Flo runs into Lucas Wrigley relieving himself in the back shed. She inadvertently slams the door right in his face and then apologizes. She asks him to come inside the house, tidies him up, and as he is leaving, Lucas offers to show Flo “a place” for her photographs sometime. He also assures her they will be seeing each other at the school when she joins.

Jack’s apology to Simon does not go according to plan. Emma, Simon’s wife, greets her cordially. They’re just talking when Rosie, Emma and Simon’s elder daughter, brings her father in. He takes Jack outside, uncharacteristically, and tells her to “mind her own business.” He is once again rude, authoritative, and deeply cynical, making it clear to Jack that she isn’t welcome around the family. But Jack has immense support from Flo, who assures her that they will stand together, strong, against whatever the quaint town manages to throw at them.

In a frightening end to the episode, Jack, who is once again unable to sleep, sees lights go off at the church. She goes to inspect and does not find anything. As she is locking up and going back, she sees the burning girls…indicating something bad will befall Flo and her. She also finds a charred bible kept near the chancel, which is revealed to belong to Merry. We even see a flashback of her curiously watching it catch fire. Is Merry alive? 

The Episode Review

Episode 1 paints quite a compelling picture of Chapel Croft. It certainly promises to have everything you need for a proper pre-Halloween scare. Samantha Morton anchored the episode beautifully. She has been such a strong performer in so many productions before and this one is no different. Her character is far from perfect, something she will relish portraying going forward.

The Burning Girls did not provide too many surprises and did reasonably well to deliver on the expectations it had set up for the opener. The traditions of religious rituals and cult-like communities are kept alive well in Episode 1, although I am not sure how the core mystery will play out.


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