Gillian Flynn’s highly anticipated book-turned-TV series Sharp Objects debuted on HBO Sunday night, leasing the coveted 9pm slot in the wake of Westworld Season Two. Put simply, many people watched and scrutinized with the same critical eye as they had watched Westworld or Game of Thrones. But what many predicted would be a procedural cop drama turned out to be a complex and dynamic noir-ish mood, looking at middle America in the dim light that it is regularly put in today, with characters stranger than the town they inhabit. Rather than getting gritty details, we got emotion. Rather than complex dialogue, simple questions were asked, with plenty of dream sequences and shady pasts to dive into.
St. Louis Chronicle reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) is struggling to find a sense of purpose: she is a functioning alcoholic (the clinking of mini Absolut bottles is a constant) and has her eyes set on a Pulitzer, despite her boss Frank Curry’s (Miguel Sandoval) distrust in her lazy attitude and writing. After she is tasked with investigating the murder of one girl and the disappearance of another in her hometown of Wind Gap, Camille’s dark past begins to unravel, complete with a wonderful performance by a miserable and grim Amy Adams. The bleak colors of St. Louis turn into the bright colors of Camille’s childhood memories as she enters Wind Gap. Throughout the episode, it is those childhood flashbacks that give us the best picture of who Camille was, and how her turbulent childhood shaped her into the woman she is today. We are taken to a creek in a forest, where a boy catches her bathing and points a gun at her, before shaking his head and running back to his friends (did he see something we didn’t see? I think the ending possibly answers this question for us); we see Camille find a shack shortly afterward, filled with strange pornographic images and hanging meat. How exactly everything connects is certainly not known initially, but the scenes and images are disturbing enough for the viewer to get a sense of Camille’s upside down childhood in Wind Gap.
Camille’s mother Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson) is a southern belle trapped in a worrying mother’s body, walking around with an amaretto sour in a nightgown, chastising Camille for getting home late and stirring up trouble in the town. This character relationship is set up to be the crux of many conflicts and resolutions throughout the show, whether that be for Camille and her family or Camille and the town outside of her family. One thing we know for sure is that Adora seems to know more about Marian’s troubles than what she lets on, including her passive husband Alan (Henry Czerny).
Scattered throughout the premiere are ominous, capitalized words on various objects: DIRTY is written in dust on Camille’s trunk door; BAD scratched into a desk; WRONG appears on the car radio display; GIRL is shown on the side of Amma’s dollhouse for a split second; and maybe the most haunting of all, VANISH etched into skin. What these words mean is purposefully not given, and perhaps these will connect to give us a better idea of how the different objects these words were written on affect the different plot lines. As the episode closes, we see that Camille’s body has been carved everywhere with various words, the product of a life of self-harm. This picture is haunting and ultimately saddening, as we are first hand witnesses to the pain that Camille experiences. This is where director Jean-Marc Vallee finds his victories in this first episode: the up close and personal accounts of pain, not only of Camille, but of Adora, Detective Willis, Vickery, and other main characters as they deal with their own personal demons and new demons haunting the town currently.
The premiere of Sharp Objects asks many questions and answers few, but what is missing in plot line is more than made up by fantastic acting performances, diverse plot potential, and a murder mystery that is unnaturally complex for such a small Midwestern town. Among the fray of classic TV plot lines are discussions of self-harm, depression, and alcoholism, where Jean-Marc Vallee seems to only be getting started.
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