sharp objects falling review

In the penultimate episode of HBO’s Sharp Objects, it feels like we’ve learned everything we need to learn about Wind Gap’s murders and Camille Preaker’s tragic history. The show has telegraphed Adora’s toxic relationship with the girls in her life, and reminded us every week that we shouldn’t count out any of Wind Gap’s vicious women when making our lists of Ann and Natalie’s potential killers. But we still have an episode to go, and confrontations still need to be made. “She did it again, and I need to take care of it,” Camille sobs to Curry at the end of “Falling” – because Camille always was the only person who could stand up to Adora Crellin.

“I never let her solve me.”

Among Adora’s other unsavory qualities – extreme narcissism, cruelty, manipulation, pathological dishonesty – we learn this week that she also suffers (or makes others suffer) from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Caretakers with MSBP either invent fake symptoms to make their child look sick while they themselves reap the attention and sympathy – or, in even worse cases, they poison or otherwise harm their once-healthy children in order to render the symptoms real. Sharp Objects doesn’t make any bones about which camp Adora falls in, as we see her using an old-school mortar and pestle to grind unknown substances into the mysterious blue bottle that she force-feeds to all of her daughters. She killed Marian slowly, and now she’s doing the same to Amma, who will do anything, even choke down her mother’s poison, to “stay little, like Marian.” Amma will endure any indignity to remain her mother’s precious little girl – and she’s not the only one turning a blind eye to Adora’s crimes, with poor, spineless Alan shoving on headphones and blocking out this family’s horror with his quaint music. Alan’s pathetic, but at least his ineptitude brought us this week’s perfectly on-the-nose needle drop, The Everly Brothers’ “Gone, Gone, Gone,” which includes the lyrics “my love she did not know, so I poisoned that dear little girl on the banks below.”

It seems like Adora did the same to Ann and Natalie, the town’s black sheep whom Adora shepherded with more compassion than she shows her own daughter. Camille muses that maybe she should have let her mother “solve” her – if she’d just shut up and taken her medicine, she could be an angelic memory like Marian. Instead Camille stubbornly persists in her pain, hating life but hanging onto it nonetheless. And Adora detests her for it.

“Let me see you.”

Chief Vickery arrests John Keene, and the town’s ready to hang him, but Camille knows he didn’t kill those girls, that the real story is simply that a brother misses his sister so badly, he wants to die, wants to confess to her murder just to end it all. Camille can certainly relate, and she and John share a connection that Richard Willis could never understand – Richard, whose true, ugly colors were revealed this week as he spits out the words “drunken slut” in a righteous fury. The difference between John and Richard is made perfectly manifest in the way they approach the mystery of Camille. “I’ve been studying you, Camille,” Richard says, by which he means he’s been investigating her and her family, not because he believes they have anything to do with Ann and Natalie’s murders but because it galls him that Camille is a riddle he’ll never solve, much like Adora will never solve her. But John doesn’t try to solve Camille, he doesn’t study her – he reads her, gently removing her layers of soft black armor and then whispering aloud the words carved onto her skin. Their tryst is inappropriate for a number of reasons – he’s the subject of a story she’s writing, in the throes of grief, about to be arrested and, by the way, only eighteen, but here’s someone who seems to understand Camille in a way that no one else but Curry does, who sees her and reads her and gently accepts what he finds.

“You can never be as good as someone dead.”

In Wild, the 2014 adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s biography starring and produced by Reese Witherspoon, director Jean-Marc Vallée demonstrated the fleeting and mercurial power of memory, touching on trauma and grief in impressionistic flashes that felt closer to the way true memory works than any other representation I’d ever seen – until Sharp Objects. Vallée has such a gift for understanding our memories and knowing how to signify them onscreen. Memory doesn’t work like a fully-formed flashback with a beginning, middle and end. Instead, something like a spoonful of medicine, or fingers tracing on a back, or a snippet of a song, will whip a second-long fragment through our minds, a half of an idea brushing past our cognition and often vanishing before we even really knew it was there. Camille’s memories are not only a powerful recognition of the quiet and insidious way trauma affects us years later, but a completely reasonable explanation for why it took her so many years to acknowledge to herself what her mother’s capable of. She had to chase down those fragments, hold that barely-formed idea in her mind and stare at the dreadful truth of it before she could say the words aloud: “My mother did it.”

***

Next week’s episode, “Milk,” is the series finale of Sharp Objects, and we’ll see Camille confront the woman who has haunted every dark corner of her life. But this week she already did the real work, the hardest work, by confronting the truth on her own terms.

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