Previously on Sharp Objects, “Dirt”
“Women around here, they don’t kill with their hands. They talk.”
Bob Nash’s words to Camille speak volumes about how the women of Wind Gap are perceived. They’re gossips, snarky, highly capable of cutting others with words, but murderers? That’s simply not possible. Both Adora and Amma had relationships with Ann and Natalie, but have they been seriously questioned? No, and they likely won’t be. It’s not that I necessarily think either of them is responsible, but I do believe them capable, and it’s something that’s never even occurred to local law enforcement.
It’s unsurprising to see how this small town has preserved such a backwards way of thinking. Not that the underestimating of women isn’t a worldwide occurrence, but it does seem more potent in places like this. (Being from an extremely small city myself, I’ve seen this stereotypical behavior up close and in action.) It’s a detail that adds yet another layer to Wind Gap’s already brilliantly complex makeup, and one that says a whole lot about the thematic engines driving this narrative.
At first, Chief Vickery’s dismissal of the idea that the killer could be a woman – and the subsequent agreement from other male characters – felt like a typical red herring. Something you learn from watching a lot of TV is that when a story so blatantly pushes one thing, especially within a mystery plot, the truth more often than not turns out to be the exact opposite. In the case of Sharp Objects, though, it would seem the failure to comprehend just what women are capable of, is being used to paint a much larger picture.
It’s about what happens to a society when this kind of thinking becomes so steeped into its culture. How this fundamental misunderstanding begins to suffocate and fracture its women, forcing them to create multiple personalities in order to satisfy both their public and personal needs. Appearance and reputation, not true identity, is what’s valued; self-worth is nowhere near as important as the value placed upon one by their town.
In “Fix” we see this play out with Ashley, John Keene’s girlfriend. Her eagerness to help with Camille’s investigation is entirely selfish, and not at all motivated by her outward claim that talking would do John some good. Ashley’s chief interest is in convincing the town she’s not dating a killer, because it’s an obvious slight on her reputation. She treats Camille as though she’s a bit of a legend, too, and getting in with the It Girl of Wind Gap seems like a tantalizing and clever power move. Ashley even wears her cheerleading uniform during their visit – despite school not being in session – perhaps to prove they already have something in common.
The importance of appearances is most evident, however, where Adora is concerned. It’s through her family in general, that we see how this kind of thinking inexorably trickles down from the community at large, into the privacy of your own home. It’s infected both Camille and Amma and probably would have done the same to Marian. Adora’s distinct status in Wind Gap has cultivated a narcissistic personality so powerful, she’s unable to truly see those she should be closest to: her daughters.
Amma has learned to play Wind Gap’s – and by extension, her mother’s – games quite deftly at a young age. Even when Vickery informs Adora that her youngest was out past curfew, the teen’s façade barely cracks. Adora still only sees the innocence in Amma, and assumes Camille is the negative influence. Adora’s view of Camille is so warped she can’t even fathom it might be her eldest who needs the protecting. She can’t see her own daughter unraveling before her.
Of course, Adora’s own sense of self is deeply perverted. In her eyes, she’s a kind and generous woman, who’s been unfairly plagued by tragedy, when the truth is she’s imperious and cruel, and has a flair for gaslighting. Adora is constantly projecting her own issues onto Camille – accusing her of being uncaring and callous, when that’s so clearly her own M.O. There’s a much softer, warmer side to Camille that goes unnoticed. An inner child who still desperately seeks the acceptance and comfort of her mother; made painfully obvious through the longing in her eyes when she sees Adora hugging Amma, and in how Camille continues to apologize for things she hasn’t even done.
“Fix” brings Camille’s softer side into full focus during flashbacks to her time with Alice. It’s here we learn the story behind the cracked iPod, and the identity of the ghostly blonde girl in some of Camille’s elliptical reveries. It’s interesting to note that, despite all of her damage, Camille is still capable of practicing self-care, at least sporadically. Both her decision to leave Wind Gap, and her voluntary check-in at the psych ward are evidence of that fact.
Camille’s time with Alice was truly beautiful and far different than I had anticipated. Even my perception of Camille had become so narrowed that I was surprised to see her in this nurturing light. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her attitude optimistic, but there was a decidedly happier air about her. These women may have bonded over something incredibly bleak – their physical and emotional scars – but there was such a raw honesty to it, something so poignant about their shared pain, it was impossible not to find hope in it. Sadly, some of that hope tragically vanished when it was revealed that Alice died by suicide.
There’s something very understated in Amy Adams’ overall performance, which made the moment Camille found Alice’s dead body so penetrating. Camille walks around drunk all the time, but she’s never loud or belligerent. Despite her recent, increased proximity to Adora, she rarely screams. Adams has muted Camille’s trauma in a way that lets the scars and the alcoholism speak for itself. So, when we see her vomit, and then seize the first sharp object she can find to mercilessly gouge and saw away her arm, it’s heavy, but appropriately so. The way she flailed and protested as the nurses pulled her away from the room, glancing one last time at Alice before starting to sob, was painful on the kind of visceral level that Sharp Objects has been wise to not overuse.
You have to wonder if Camille’s experience with Alice is partly why she’s so protective (though not coddling, like Adora) of Amma. Knowing Camille, she surely feels some guilt over not sugar-coating the realities of dealing with a particular kind of parent – telling Alice it doesn’t get better as you grow older, you just have to survive. Even before Amma started showing her truly dark and petulant colors, she was still purposely antagonistic towards Camille. “You love dead girls” might be something a teenage girl looking to test boundaries would say, but it’s especially cruel here given what she knows about Marian.
Still, Camille makes her sister promise, on more than one occasion, that she’ll stay inside during curfew. It’s possible she knew Amma wouldn’t keep that promise, but the effort was made. Camille looks out for her sister in the small ways she can. Even when Amma’s antagonism evolves into more pointed and verbally abusive territory, Camille doesn’t snap back. She doesn’t bite when Amma provokes her to “be dangerous like mama said,” she simply walks away. Camille turns the anger inwards, instead. Speeding down the highway after who knows how many drinks, and throwing away the cracked iPod, the one keepsake from her bond with Alice. It’s an action that doesn’t seem to free her from this dead girl; the final images of “Fix” are more of Camille’s haunting, fleeting visions.
Despite the fact I’m less interested in who committed the Wind Gap murders, than in how they relate to Camille’s psyche, my money is definitely on the killer being a woman. Perhaps this woman has been motivated by the tired and oppressive nature of her community. Maybe she’s sick of “following the rules.” Or, perhaps she’s been so indoctrinated by those rules that she’s taken it upon herself to rid the town of the girls who aren’t following along. Either way, it’s not much wonder Vickery has made so little progress in this case; he’s actively ignoring half of Wind Gap’s population, deliberately refusing to see past his town’s façade. Perhaps only a woman’s perspective can cut through that regressive bullshit.
- What is up with Alan and Adora’s marriage? In the previous two episodes, it seemed as though Alan was content to live beneath Adora’s thumb, happy just listening to his music and drifting through life as nothing more than her husband. “Fix” suggests he wants something more intimate – like, just sharing the same bed – but Adora denies him this. The way he attempted to muffle his screams at the end of the episode definitely signifies some heavy frustrations on his part.
- Why does Amma go to the hog farm? Is it possible she knew Camille was following her from the beginning and just wanted to mess around? That knowing and nefarious look she shoots her sister suggests, to some extent, that Amma had Camille right where she wanted her.
- Having been a teenage Mean Girl myself, I can attest to how terribly real Amma’s behavior towards Camille and Richard was. The way she used cruelty to disguise her own feelings was cringe-worthy in its reminiscence. Having also suffered the torment of other Mean Girls, I find Amma and her crew simply terrifying. I’ve started getting chills every time I hear the vibration of their roller skates on the pavement.
- Amy Adams could probably generate chemistry between her and a brick wall, but whatever is going on with her and Chris Messina is fantastic. Their characters’ status as “outsiders” and the almost playful way it seems to connect them, the way their dialogue bounces so naturally from one to the other, is really engaging. Whether the relationship progresses romantically or not, it doesn’t matter; it would just be nice for Camille to make a real connection with someone again.
Sharp Object S1E3 Review Score
Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Miguel Sandoval, Sophia Lillis, Matt Craven