Based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects hit our screens on July 8th. I have not read the novel, and I have kept myself intentionally away from learning anything of the plot, so that I can bring you my unadulterated thoughts as we watch episode 1: “Vanish.”
This first episode is largely a character builder. Reminiscences of True Detective, Series 1 flooded my mind as we traveled to and through the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri. A feeling that something was dreadfully wrong here, a sense of foreboding in the sunshine. But there is much more to this story than your usual small town murder mystery.
We are welcomed to the story by two rainbow-colored, roller skating girls, gliding down an open road on a beautiful summer day, fingers touching, seemingly without a care in the world. We will soon find out that this couldn’t be further from the truth. They creep around a beautiful, big house, avoiding the eyes of a woman in the kitchen. They reach a bedroom, there is a poster of Barack Obama — this didn’t feel like present day, so immediately I began to question what was real. They find a woman sleeping in the bed, the older girl takes a paper clip and begins to cut the woman’s hand. These dream girls are Camille Preaker and her younger sister Marian — before she died. The woman in the bed is Camille Preaker. She cuts herself.
Memories of her troubled youth will feature heavily in Camille’s story. They ultimately make her the woman she is today: a depressed, functioning alcoholic and reporter for the St. Louis Chronicle, with more than a few skeletons in her closet. Camille (played by the brilliant Amy Adams) is sent — with much reluctance on her part — to her home town by her Editor. She is tasked with reporting the story of a missing 14-year-old girl, Natalie Keene, as well as the murder of another girl, 13-year-old Ann Nash, in the previous August. Whilst her bosses intentions initially appear to be to get a sensational story for the paper and the chance for Camille to prove herself as a writer, we later learn that he is sending her home to face her demons. What does he know about her past, and why is his wife so concerned about what damage this could do? And to who? Camille or the town residents?
On the journey to Wind Gap, we see flashes: a girl in black lying in a bed, a cleaner’s cart of chemical spray bottles, a toilet. These momentary flashes appear to be linked to her cracked mobile phone and the song playing, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” by Led Zeppelin. What is it that she can’t quit? Is this an ode to the alcohol or the pain found in memories?
Camille chooses not to return to her mother that first night, instead choosing a cheap motel to bathe. Her visions intensify the closer home she gets. First a moment when she was swimming in a forest river, a boy stumbles across her and points his rifle at her head, laughing mockingly as he runs away. Then later her discovery of a wood cabin, adorned with violent and disturbing pornographic photographs and strips of hanging meat. Then visions of being chased by boys, gladly perhaps? Her hair longer now, as it is in present day, she is dressed as a cheerleader, which even from these early moments of getting to know Camille seem like an unlikely recreational choice for her. I feel this memory is the earliest we have seen — there must have been a reason for her to cut her hair short, and there must be a reason why she only dresses in long sleeves and jeans, and would never wear a short skirt now. We won’t have to wait long to find that out. Rather than upset her, these memories bring her to pleasure herself. Camille is broken. But is she a victim or is she the danger?
It becomes easier to understand how she turned out this way upon meeting her mother, Adora Crellin, played to perfection by Patricia Clarkson. Camille describes herself as “trash from old money” and I suspect this is exactly what Adora is, but is trying her very best to cover up. I have my suspicions that covering things up is what she excels at, but at this point I am not sure if those cover ups are done with good or bad intentions. Equally I am certain that she is intentionally planted in our minds as the evil mother and generally awful woman from the get-go. Having a black maid for instance, instantly harking back to days of slavery makes any decent person think she is no good, but is this a red herring?
Adora wants her daughter to be back home in Wind Gap as much as Camille wants to be there and she makes that perfectly clear. On the surface she is mostly concerned about what the townsfolk will think of her apparently “bad news” daughter showing up again and is distraught to learn she is there to report on the tragedies striking the town. These events are especially upsetting to Adora and my initial thoughts are that she doth protest too much.
But then, in another flashback we learn that little sister Marian was gravely ill — this may be the reason behind Camille’s short hair? Did she cut it all off in solidarity to her beloved sibling? As Camille lays in her old bed, looking up at the V-shaped crack in the ceiling, she remembers her sister suddenly dying there, right next to her. That is enough to break anyone for sure, witnessing something so awful so young, and awful for Adora too, losing a child — there is no pain like it. But is this the whole story? What happened before Marian became ill? There is an undercurrent feeling that Adora blames Camille for her sister’s death, but can this be the case? Are we being led to believe that Adora is unnecessarily cruel or does she have a valid reason to behave the way she does? Is she afraid of what her daughter could do?
Pain. Adora wants to avoid it, or at least appears to want to. The plucking out of her eyelashes appears to be one small and inconspicuous way of dishing it out to herself, no-one would notice but other self-harmers. Like recovering alcoholics and drug addicts can recognise others from simple sentences or mannerisms, self-harmers notice others a mile off too. Like Camille, who at the very end of the episode reveals her first big secret as she bears her skin. Covered from the neck down in scars from self-abuse, including deep wounds that spell “VANISH.” Flashes of significant words pop up throughout this episode, some hallucinatory and others that provide a commentary of character actions, notably; DIRTY written on Camille’s car, BAD carved into a desk, WRONG displayed on the car radio panel, GIRL inscribed on Amma’s dollhouse. These are all words I can imagine a mother saying whilst berating her daughter. So is Adora covering up her self-harm or putting on a show for her daughter? Who is punishing who?
The story goes on. Camille joins a search party for the missing Natalie and meets Detective Richard Willis, played by Chris Messina. There is immediately a connection between them; he’s an outsider from Kansas City, and despite being in her home town Camille has never felt more like a stranger. But in another form of self-destruction Camille does her best to screw this up too. She could have a friend, but she keeps pushing him away by trying to wrangle information out of him pertaining to the case. Could she ever really trust anyone enough to let them get close? To see what’s underneath?
Then there’s Amma. Perhaps the most curious and unnerving character of all. Throughout this episode Camille comes across a gang of Rollergirls — clearly the popular and mean girls of the town. Amma is their leader and she toys with Camille, questioning her, seemingly knowing a lot about her, enough to rattle her slightly despite being half her age. Amma was friends with the missing Natalie Keene and appears to want to help Camille at first. Then the decomposing body of Natalie is found perched in a window frame. Camille is first on the scene to witness another horror that will no doubt stick in her mind.
Upon returning home after this traumatic experience, Camille is finally acquainted with her half-sister, Amma. Amma is the lead roller girl but now in a totally different guise, dressed up like a porcelain doll, pretty dress and bow in her hair, behaving like the perfect daughter — a million miles away from the bully we have seen hanging around the town. It is really quite sinister how she is able to play the two roles seemingly without her parents’ knowledge considering it is such a small town. It is an unnerving level of deception that immediately puts Amma on my suspect list, despite her age. In fact, her age makes it creepier.
Talking of creepy, Amma and Camille play with a dollhouse which is a scaled-down version of their mother’s house, perfectly recreated except for Camille’s bedroom — the door to what would be that room leads to nowhere.
Now maybe I have been watching too much Twin Peaks (that’s a fallacy, you can never have too much), but there’s something very odd about Amma’s existence. It’s like she fills that void of her dead sister. As roller girl she dresses just like Marian and Camille did as kids in their short dungarees. I don’t really know where I am going with this thought yet because it is clear she exists — many other people interact with her, she is not the figment of Camille’s imagination, but there’s something not quite right and as the series progresses I will be looking out for other characters with a similar “feeling.” Jackie, the town gossip, and acquaintance of Adora also triggers an alarm in me. My first thoughts of her was that she looked just like Camille but grown-up — “she could be her mother,” I thought. I am probably looking way too deep into that one but I’ll be interested to see more of her character.
This is a serial killer hunt now and the Wind Gap police are not particularly keen on solving the case. The police chief is unhelpful and appears to be on the same table as Adora in not wanting any bad publicity for the town, which puts him in deep suspicion for me, not as the murderer but that there is a larger cover-up going on. There are a few other suspects, but with little to go on. Bob Nash is the strict father of the first murder victim, Ann, and while he is odd for sure, he is most likely just grieving. His reluctance to admit that his wife has left is strange and something to watch for – where has she gone? Then there is John, the brother of Natalie Keene, who appears to be under suspicion purely for his lifestyle choices.
After episode 1, I am hooked. There is so much to think about already and I can’t wait to see how this all links up or maybe unravels for Camille. Will she turn out to be the heroine we need or will this case be the thing that finally makes her crack?
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