'Sharp Objects' Digs A Little Deeper With "Dirt"

The second episode of HBO's Sharp Objects – titled "Dirt," and it's now clear that each episode will be named after a different word we see carved into Camille's skin – brought us much further into the mystery of Wind Gap, Missouri. After a gorgeous but inscrutable first episode, "Dirt" answers as many questions as it asks. Creator Marti Noxon and director Jean-Marc Vallée are building a world that's as much about substance as it is style, meeting elegant, impressionistic editing with a tidy pace and plenty of plot momentum.

“People are killing little girls.” “Not the cool ones.”

We're learning more about Wind Gap, and each new revelation lends itself to a certainty that this town is wrong. It's the kind of place where people say "bless your heart" when they really mean "f*** you," where the mean girls rollerskate through town looking like angels and drinking like demons. It's a town where everyone gets drunk and nasty at a funeral reception, mocking a grieving brother and gossiping that his anguish is because of the "unnatural desires" he held for his sister. We learn that Wind Gap's main industry is pig butchering, and that feels about right for a place as menacing and cutthroat as this one.

Chris Messina's Detective Richard Willis is our audience surrogate, an outsider doing his best to understand this twisted little town. Willis is determined to solve the murders of Ann Nash and Natalie Keene by any means necessary – including pulling the teeth out of a pig's severed head? This guy's committed. Wind Gap's police chief Bill Vickery (Matt Craven) says it best when he asks Willis to "save the Silence of the Lambs routine for another time." Willis can play Clarice Starling all day, but no level of big city investigating is going to get to the bottom of Wind Gap's dark heart. So Willis is wise to try and team up with Camille (Amy Adams), who understands this place better than anyone, god help her. She knows its rumors and gossip, the motivations behind every big-haired, sweet-faced shark. Camille doesn't even seem surprised to discover that her best lead in the murder mystery is a ghostly bit of town lore called a "woman in white." Nothing about Wind Gap feels like flesh and blood. 

“My demons are not remotely tackled; they’re just mildly concussed.”

We learn much more about our protagonist in this week's episode. We see more of Camille's demons: the vodka she casually pours into Evian bottles, a neat trick mirrored by Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and her Sprite, and the landscape of words she's scraped into her own skin, words like SCARED and DIRT and LIAR. That last we see her scratch into her black tights with an ever-present sewing needle after telling her concerned editor (Miguel Sandoval), "I'm good, Curry. Let me be good."

No, Camille is not good, but she's pretty great: smart and ferocious and proudly alone. She's haunted by the death of her sister, Marian (Lulu Wilson), and it's got her taking Natalie and Ann's deaths more personally than is probably strictly healthy for her. Although she shares some compelling chemistry with Willis, the only time we see Camille's closed face open up, the only time we see her relax in the presence of another human being, is when she's with Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins), Adora's drunk and loud-mouthed friend, who sees something special in Camille even when her own mother (Patricia Clarkson) does not. But we see it, too. After searching the bedroom of tomboy Natalie Keene, Camille finds a spider in a jar and sets him free, and it's hard not to think of Camille as that spider: trapped, vulnerable – but still intimidating.

“I just want things to be nice with us, but maybe I don’t know how.”

By far the most interesting and most mysterious aspect of Sharp Objects concerns Camille's relationship with Adora. While Adora dotes over the undeserving Amma – rebellious, mean-spirited, prone to temper tantrums – she regards Camille as an unmitigated failure. It's clear some of that is due to Camille's self-harm and alcoholism – Adora won't even let her cut her own apple – but she also takes no pleasure in Camille's successful career as an investigative journalist. Every time Camille refers to her work, Adora expresses disgust, as if being a journalist is something to be ashamed of. Meanwhile, Adora martyrs herself as the one true victim in the deaths of these two girls with whom she shared an undefined and perplexing relationship.

Adora, of course, has her own method of self-injury, pulling her eyelashes out in moments of stress, but it's one of the only ways we can tell she's not in complete control. Even when she's sobbing over Natalie and Ann or her own Marian, it feels like Adora is manipulating, shaping, managing. And maybe that's why she can't stand the sight of Camille – unlike her husband Alan (Henry Czerny), even unlike Amma who has her own secrets, and certainly unlike everyone else in Wind Gap, Camille is one quantity that Adora cannot control. There is so much in common between mother and daughter here, but Camille turns her fierce control on herself, while Adora inflicts it on everyone else.

Like "Vanish," "Dirt" is an immensely engaging hour of television, drawing us deeper into the world of Gillian Flynn's novel. Revelations are cunningly delivered, characters are deftly cultivated, but beauty, mystery and elegance are never compromised in the pursuit of forward motion. With six episodes left to go in the miniseries, Sharp Objects is proving itself to be the show of the summer.