Previously on Sharp Objects, “Ripe”
Like so many places in our Western world, Wind Gap was built on foundations of racism and misogyny. We’ve already seen how that bigotry still permeates the town to this very day – Gayla, Adora’s maid, is the only person of color we’ve met, and nearly everyone is operating under and abiding by archaic patriarchal “norms.” In “Closer” we’re given a peek at a much earlier time in the town’s shameful history through Calhoun Day, a holiday commemorating not just a small win for Confederacy during the Civil War but the gang rape of a pregnant young girl.
As so many of us (white people) are wont to do, Wind Gap has found a way to romanticize its past, turning something horrific into something to be celebrated with day-drinking, BBQ, and the reenactment of sexual assault. They honor Millie Calhoun – the young pregnant girl – for resisting enemy soldiers and keeping her husband safe; for being victimized so her pedophile husband could become a hero. Millie’s own trauma is completely glossed over, erasing her narrative and leaving a mere cipher for the town to project onto in her place.
Given what we’ve already seen in Wind Gap, none of this comes as a surprise. The fact the townspeople refuse to make the connection between its appalling past, the routine and ritualized sexual assault of young cheerleaders at the hands of football players in the “End Zone,” and, to some extent, the murders of Ann and Natalie, is even less surprising. “Closer” doesn’t reveal much that we hadn’t already learned but it does add texture to both the town as a whole and, more precisely, to Adora.
It’s not that we weren’t aware of Adora’s hypocritical nature, but it comes into glaring focus here. The way she glows while watching Amma portray Millie during the gang rape scene displays a sense of pride that’s revolting, to say the least. There’s a place in her cold, desolate heart for this woman she will never know. Millie’s trauma, though merely symbolic at this point, is something to be embraced. And yet, when Adora comes face-to-face with her own daughter’s very real, very visible trauma, there is no trace of love or compassion to be found.
“You’re ruined. All out of spite.”
Sharp Objects has already been replete with tragic encounters, but this week’s scene in the dress shop raised the bar. It wasn’t just the reveal of Camille’s scarred body – though that was an undeniably heartbreaking moment – but everything that led up to it. The premeditation of it all, from Adora picking out dresses she knew damn well Camille couldn’t wear, to swiping her clothes from the changing room making it impossible for her to cover up, was some next-level petty. Though it likely wasn’t the only factor, Amma asking Camille to run lines with her, instead of with her mother, seemed to anger Adora. The attention was taken away from her and placed onto Camille, and the public shaming in the dress shop felt like a very purposeful punishment.
Adora loves to be the center of attention; she’s made Ann and Natalie’s deaths all about her on several occasions, but her narcissism manifests in less overt ways, too. Triggered by her water (vodka) bottle rolling onto the floor of Adora’s room, Camille flashes back to a memory of where her fear of the ivory flooring possibly stems. Adora is being interviewed about her home’s history, but the magazine’s photographer is paying more attention to Camille than anything. Adora is clearly irritated by this, but matters are made worse when Camille tracks mud onto the floor. The photographer cleans it in an instant, no harm no foul, but it’s telling that Marian is the only child pictured with Adora in the magazine’s final published article.
However, the cruelest moment to date – eclipsing the dress shop scene in short order – comes after the Calhoun Day festivities. It’s there we’re witness to just how deep Adora’s hypocrisies and narcissism truly run. In retrospect, I feel foolish for hoping this scene was going to mark the beginning of some kind of reconciliation between mother and daughter. I should have seen right through Adora’s unusually soft veneer when she practically begged Camille to join her for a drink; should have smelled the bullshit when she used the words, “I wanted to apologize.”
What happens is far from an apology. Adora isn’t admitting remorse for the callous ways she’s treated Camille, for withholding love from her for so long. No, Adora merely projects her own temperament – “you were born into that cold nature” – onto Camille’s father, and uses it as an excuse for why she’s never even loved her daughter at all. It’s a truly crushing interaction, and while it’s safe to assume Camille knew this information on some level, that simply can’t lighten the blow of hearing it out loud.
Instead of drinking or cutting, Camille heads to Richard’s motel room where they have sex. It’s possible she’s trying to prove her mother wrong, or even just prove to herself, that she can get closer to someone. Or, Camille is simply using Richard as an escape. While not entirely moral, their relationship doesn’t seem based on anything deeper. In fact, Richard purposefully denies that Adora told him anything more than the history of her ivory flooring. I suppose that could be read as Richard not taking much stock in what Adora thinks of Camille, but the information might have pushed Camille away and his denial keeps her closer.
On its surface, the Calhoun Day vehicle driving “Closer” doesn’t appear to move the needle much in terms of the show’s murder mystery plot. However, when you look, well, closer, clues do seem to appear, particularly where Amma is concerned. I’ve been suspicious of her for a while, but this episode has convinced me that Amma is responsible for Ann and Natalie’s murders.
At first, I believed Amma’s mood swings, her ability to switch on a dime from caring to cruel towards Camille, to be nothing more than typical teenage girl behavior; exacerbated by both her status in Wind Gap and the nature of her mother. Now I read it as straight up emotional manipulation, though, driven by something far more sinister. Like her mother, Amma craves and thrives on attention, and whenever the focus is taken away from her, she snaps. Though I’m still unsure of her exact motivations, I believe this need for attention is somehow related.
The story she tells Camille about how she, Ann, and Natalie grew apart – they wanted to build forts, while her interests were changing – might just be a lie. However, I’m inclined to believe Amma was angered by the fact Ann and Natalie were no longer paying attention to her, content to keep doing kid stuff in the woods. Amma also tells Camille she doesn’t like to think about their murders because it scares her, and yet, she’s out every night past curfew, drinking, and roller-skating through the dark streets by herself.
Amma’s anger over not knowing about Camille’s latest article before her friends is absolutely part of her need to be Number One. But perhaps she also wanted a head start on controlling the narrative around what Camille wrote. Amma is skilled at creating a kind of chaos that both diverts negative attention away from her, while keeping herself in a positive, desirable light. The way she talks about John Keene, for example, makes him sound like a creep – thirsting after a girl too young for him – yet we’ve rarely seen him away from Ashley’s side.
In “Closer” Amma creates more of this chaos when she runs away during the Calhoun Day play. There are several shots of her watching Camille and Richard while the performance is under way; they aren’t listening and it clearly upsets her. Then, the show is truly hijacked when Bob Nash attacks John Keene and the entire town’s focus turns to them. Amma running away could have been partly fueled by the drugs she had taken, but what better way to get the town’s attentions back on her, than to disappear on the very day law enforcement assumed another murder would happen?
I’m certainly no expert on mental health, but I think it’s clear something is amiss with Amma. The more I think about it, the more unsettling her trip to the hog farm becomes. Was she there to watch a slaughtering? Did she enjoy it? Why did she want to know if her name was a scar on Camille’s body? How fascinated by her sister’s suffering is she? I’m almost certain this is a coincidence – and perhaps a bit on the nose – but Amma giving Camille a white dress to wear, considering the story about the woman in white, sends up at least one red flag.
There are other minor details, too, which alone feel like nothing, but together start making a credible case. In “Dirt” Detective Willis tells Chief Vickery that killers like to show up at their victims’ funeral, to soak in the atmosphere, and Amma put up a real fuss about not being able to attend. In that same conversation, Willis refers to Natalie’s body as being put on display like a doll, and while we’ve never seen her play with actual dolls, Amma does love that replica dollhouse of hers. In “Fix” Amma tells Camille that her friends would do anything for her, and its stands to reason she would need help, if only to pull out those poor girls’ teeth.
Speaking of teeth, and this is surely where I’ll lose many of you, dear readers, but hear me out. Is it possible Amma has hidden Ann and Natalie’s teeth in her dollhouse? Ok, ok, I know, get out my tinfoil hat, right? There’s been so much focus on Adora’s ivory floors, though, and other than emphasizing her wealth and stature, and adding layers to Camille’s childhood trauma, why are those damn floors so important? Why, in “Dirt” was there a cut from Gayla polishing Adora’s floors, to Amma doing the very same to the floors of her dollhouse? It’s a shot that feels too purposeful to be ignored, especially given how precise Jean Marc Vallée’s directing has been thus far.
Obviously, I could be way, way off the mark. Even if I am onto something, I bet it takes until the finale for the actual characters investigating these crimes to get any closer to solving them. They’re too blinded by the narrative of outsiders and protecting their own. Too busy focusing on men, because women aren’t heroes or villains; they’re just victims making sacrifices for men, like Millie Calhoun.