This Sharp Objects review contains spoilers
Sharp Objects Episode 5
So far Sharp Objects has brought to mind both the plays of Tennessee Williams and the novels of Thomas Harris. Now there’s another possible source of inspiration to add to the list; the behavior of the residents of Wind Gap reminds me of nothing so much as the Stanford Prison experiment.
Does having power over others mould you into becoming a bad person? Does living in an environment that encourages the abuse of power make you more likely to commit cruel acts? After witnessing the events at Calhoun Day (Wind Gap’s annual celebration of the rape and torture of a soldier’s wife during the Civil war) these questions were front and centre in my mind, because the entire culture of the town feels sadistic, from the gossiping ladies to the bullish men.
They are unable to escape the pervasive pecking order of drunken disinterest, with many of them happily placing bets on who in their midst might have killed two teenage girls. This popular guessing game focuses on the father of one of the victims and the brother of the other; everyone in town already knows that if you’re going to get murdered, chances are a relative will be to blame.
Episode five is a beautifully designed pressure cooker, with so many emotions bubbling away inside the rigid structure of Calhoun Day. By restricting the action to that one day, from morning to evening, the close, oppressive atmosphere can not be escaped – and Camille, understandably, does try to escape early on after a hugely upsetting confrontation with Adora in a dress shop. Amma stopped her from leaving, pointing out that she has to stay, so Camille should too. This appeal to sisterly solidarity worked. Despite a rocky start, and episodes in Camille’s past that makes her wary of that sort of relationship, Camille has started to form a bond with Amma. It’s enough of a motivator to keep Camille close by, particularly as she suspects Amma might be earmarked as the next victim.
With Camille persuaded to hang around, and to wear a floor length white dress to hide her scars, Calhoun Day could start, and it seemed likely to erupt into violence from the very beginning. The latest newspaper article had stirred up trouble, and then the presence of both John Keene and Bob Nash led to a confrontation during the re-enactment of the story of Millie Calhoun’s ordeal. Amma, emotional and high on drugs, ran away, leading to histrionics from Adora and the organization of a search party.
Of course, it’s Camille who knows where to find her sister. The old hunting cabin that haunts her past and also features in her worst imaginings of the future was the first place she headed to – and there was Amma, not murdered, but scared and confused, and in need of a good night’s sleep.
Could Amma’s welfare be enough to build a bridge between Camille and her mother? Finally they’ve found something they have in common. For a moment it seemed possible: Adora invited Camille to have a drink with her, and the two spoke softly together. Hoping for an end to their ongoing war, perhaps, Camille seemed to lean in, to hear Adora better.
And that was when Adora delivered one of the most cruel blows seen so far in Sharp Objects(and there have been quite a few): “I never loved you”, she says to Camille. We see it register in her eyes, and then she struggles once more to get away, this time by finding Detective Richard Willis, and trying so hard to prove that she can be loved after all.
If Wind Gap is a prison experiment, then Adora is the Chief Warden. She is the center of all attention, perched in her big house, so certain that everyone will accede to her wishes. She sets the tone of the town in many ways; everyone is employed and hardened by her family business, and she waves away bad thoughts and deeds rather than dealing with them.
So many people are trapped in her manipulations – even Richard, new to this game, has been brought into play. How long will it take before this atmosphere of cruelty, flourishing under the disguise of tradition, turns him into a sadist too? I fear for Camille, who has so few people to care for, and who truly care for her. She escaped once, but I’m not sure she will again.
I started watching Sharp Objects with the concern that Adora was a character straight out of a melodrama, striking an artificial note in an otherwise delicately layered piece. Now I can see that’s unfounded; Patricia Clarkson is producing an amazing layer of depth as we get to know Adora better. Adora’s disguise is the melodrama she creates: the fussing over the cutting of her thumb, or the idea she clings to that her daughters are out to wound her personally. But since this is a series that urges us to look to the past in order to understand the present, it begs the question – what on earth did Adora experience to turn her into this pain-inflicting, self-obsessed nightmare of a parent?
Meanwhile, the murderer still roams free in a town that seems to have less interest in catching them than betting on them. Could bad family relationships – the specialty of Wind Gap – be to blame for this, too? I’m almost afraid to find out how twisted this can get, but with three episodes still to go I suspect there’s still a lot of darkness left to uncover in Sharp Objects before anybody gets released from its spell.