Sharp Objects arrived on our screens last week, delivering one of the most atmospheric pieces of television in recent memory. It’s a hard show to describe, but I’ll give it a go: if True Detective and Big Little Lies had a baby, it would be Sharp Objects. The mini-series, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, is not for the faint of heart, but it makes for damn good viewing, and the plot thickens in the bone-chilling second episode.
Entitled “Dirt”, the second instalment in the Marti Noxon-produced series takes us further into Camille Preaker’s (Amy Adams) past, as she tries desperately to keep moving forward. The previous episode concluded with the revelation that Camille has been cutting herself, and we get to see her full state of mind throughout this particular episode. During a conversation with Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins), Camille says that her demons aren’t tackled, “they’re just mildly concussed” and, in addition to being a fantastic line, this sums up Camille’s struggle beautifully. She’s struggling emotionally now because she’s back in Wind Gap — a place that holds the source of her pain. In fact, the episode opens on Camille dealing with said pain, as she awakens suddenly after experiencing a vision of her dead sister Marian (Lulu Wilson).
The events of this episode take place on the day of Natalie Keene’s funeral, which proves to be a difficult day for our protagonist. It’s worth noting that Flynn penned this episode herself, which is likely the reason it’s so informational. Camille heads to the dining room in a black dress that appears too tight for her, which is perhaps a metaphor for Wind Gap, which is as claustrophobic as can be. Camille’s eccentric mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) attempts to fix the dress, which causes more tension between the two. Their relationship is clearly not any better off than it was in the previous episode. The most telling scene comes when Camille lifts a sharp knife to cut an apple. Adora asks Camille for the knife, telling her that she will prepare her daughter’s food. There’s nothing explicitly stated, but we can infer that Adora doesn’t feel comfortable with Camille using a knife. Considering Flynn is primarily a novelist and doesn’t have much previous screenwriting experience, her use of subtext here is magnificent.
The best scene in the episode arrives during Natalie’s funeral. Camille sits beside Jackie and during the service, she keeps an eye on all of the mourners, trying to pick up on anything interesting. She makes notes in her little notebook, but Adora tries to put a stop to it. When Camille persists, Adora snatches the pen from her hand, only for Camille to snatch it back. The conflict and tension between the two women is so on the money here, with Adams and Clarkson delivering wonderful performances. When she gets fed up of her mother’s interfering, Camille reaches for her bag, which tears the side of her dress. Flynn showing her writing skills here once again, as the dress tearing is almost metaphorically representative of Camille’s refusal to be confined.
Throughout the episode, Camille does some digging, all the while keeping her eye on Ann Nash’s father,
Bob (Will Chase). One of the local kids, James Capisi (Dylan Schombing), informs Camille that he saw a woman in white kidnap Natalie. Apparently, there was an ancient town story about a woman in white killing children (as if the town wasn’t already creepy enough?). The local police believe the kid’s version of events to be nothing more than a story. Camille thinks there’s more to it, and she’s probably right.
Throughout the episode, we’re given little tasters of her past via flashbacks. There so quick that if you blink you’ll miss them, but they’re effective nonetheless. Flashbacks are a tricky device to get right in television drama, but Sharp Objects utilises them really well. In fact, even more so than the flashbacks, the editing as a whole in this series is magnificent, and it’s on a completely another level to anything we’ve seen before. The quick cuts not only increase the tension, they complement Jean Marc-Vallée’s direction, which — as always — is truly stunning.
The director’s work aids in painting Wind Gap as the oppressive town it is. And while we’re on the topic of atmosphere, the music choices are also something else. They only intensify the unappealing vibe of the town, and while the songs may act as Camille’s escapism, they also seem to ground the character to Wind Gap, as a select few of the tracks have some connection to her dead sister. While compelling dramas generally rely on the strength of the script above all else, Sharp Objects delivers in every department. The script is great, but the piece is incredibly atmospheric, and it’s hard to imagine the series working as well without Vallée’s direction, and the great selection of music.
Back to the story. Throughout the episode, there is one thing that becomes apparent: Camille’s problematic relationship with her mother stems from the death of Marian. And this relationship is this is the root of Camille’s problems — a fact that is made clear during the final moments. When Eliza has a fit, Camille rushes to her side, only to be scolded by Adora for her apparent drunkenness at the wake. Adora’s words cut Camille to the core, and thus she heads up to her bedroom to make her internal pain become external by cutting herself.
Where the story will go next remains to be seen, but Camille is clearly suffering more than she’s
letting on. All in all, Sharp Objects is unmissable viewing. Adams is flawless (as usual), and the cinematography makes it a visual masterpiece. Two episodes in, and we’re starting to get a few of the puzzle pieces — the ones relating to Camille, anyway. As for the murder, that’s a whole different story. The HBO series is very much appointment viewing, and the next episode can’t come quick enough.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
Sharp Objects is simulcast at 2am on Sunday nights or shown in a more regular slot at 9pm on Mondays on Sky Atlantic.