“In the Shadow of the Moon” is about breaking a toxic loop, or untangling a doomed ouroboros to ensure a better world. At least that’s how Rya perceives her motivations, as she is tasked with traveling backward in time to eliminate those who will contribute to a catastrophic white supremacist movement in the future. This future is laid bare in the opening scene, set in Philadelphia in 2024, where the world burns with a severely altered American flag in the frame. This is the extremist vision that needs to be uprooted even before its seeds are sown — essentially, all traces that contribute to a butterfly effect need to be eliminated. While we will delve into the ethics of such an act later, here’s a quick refresher on the baseline events that trigger the ending.
After the opening, we jump back in time to 1988, where Lockie, an ambitious Philadelphia cop is introduced, investigating a serial murder case alongside his partner, Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine). All the victims, who are seemingly unrelated, hemorrhage to their deaths in gruesome ways. The only evidence of wrongdoing is three tiny puncture wounds on the base of their necks, mimicking a triangle. Lockie’s involvement with the case is not accidental, of course, as it will grow to haunt him throughout his life, and eventually alter the course of history.
Lockie’s only suspect is a woman whom he encounters even after she apparently dies in 1988. As she appears at an interval of every 9 years since then, Lockie comes to a terrible realization: the woman is traveling backward in time while everyone is moving forward concurrently, and these temporal intersections allow her to alter the course of history, which directly impacts the future.