This Sharp Objects review contains spoilers.
Sharp Objects Episode 7
It’s not a melodrama or a crime thriller that lies at the heart of Sharp Objects after all. We’ve been walking further and further into the territory of gothic horror.
The work of novelist Shirley Jackson, who wrote classics such as The Haunting of Hill House, comes to mind: insane buildings, the ghosts of children, and family members that administer poison in the guise of caring for each other can all be found. From the first shots of episode seven, with the Crellin house lit up against the night and the dollhouse replica of it, perfect in every detail, lurking inside, it was obvious that we were moving towards a fittingly dark conclusion to this story: how could it be otherwise?
Having said that, the horror didn’t swamp everything with its presence. Within the creepier aspects of this episode, there was the opportunity to find plenty of answers – things that have long eluded us when we all thought we were trying to track down a more traditionally televisual serial killer instead of a woman in white who floated like a spirit or reclined on the veranda with a cocktail. Everything came together to show Camille that the murderer had been in plain sight all along, not just in recent cases, but stretching back to Camille’s own childhood. Her sister had been the first victim of her own mother.
Camille learned of the pink nail varnish the killer had applied to a victim’s fingernails, only for a number of shots to later linger on Adora’s pink fingernails as she ground down pills and poured her homemade “medicine” from a tall blue bottle. It was a beautifully handled visual clue that was paralleled by a wonderful scene between Camille and Jackie. Jackie’s façade of cheery drunkenness dropped away as she demanded Camille take pills and drink more and more of an enormous bloody Mary before she could talk of Adora’s behavior. Nobody can ever be drunk or stoned enough in Wind Gap, it seems, for the truth to come out.
The past was always going to collide with the present. Director Jean-Marc Vallée has done a brilliant job of suggesting that from the beginning, using flashbacks without warning to incorporate us utterly into Camille’s life. During the process of Camille’s realization of the identity of the killer, these flashbacks were nothing more than moments recalled: Adora bending over teenage Camille attempting to administer her form of care, Camille knocking that offered blue bottle away. It was more powerful than pages of dialogue, and it highlighted one area in which Sharp Objects has always been outstanding: its understanding of how time is a subjective experience. Whether it happened yesterday or years ago, for somebody an event is still, and will forever be, happening.
We’ve relived terrible things with Camille. We’ve been taken back to the experiences that have formed her, and have seen her attempts to survive them. The detective from out of town, Richard (Chris Messina), might have looked like an escape route to her at one point – can romance really save the day? Instead, Camille made an emotional connection with someone who could really claim to have been through a similar experience to her own, resulting in a deeply moving scene.
The town outcast and prime suspect, John Keene, couldn’t get over the loss of his sister either. John and Camille’s searing, honest conversation led to a sexual encounter that enabled Camille to be naked in front of him. He read aloud the words she’d carved into her own skin, and there was an element of catharsis so tenderly invoked. Taylor John Smith’s performance as John was wonderfully judged. He managed to walk the finest of lines between desperation and desire in response to Amy Adam’s superbly evoked vulnerability.
The motel scene between them was a revelation in many ways, not least because it cemented the realization that for all the time we’ve spent alone with Camille, watching her driving her car around, or filling her water bottle with vodka, it’s really in her one-on-one relationships that she has been brought most vividly to life. I can’t think of a series with better dialogue and dimensionality between two people, exploring the quiet conversations, and the opportunities to wound or heal that lie in such interactions. Camille with Amma, or Adora, or Richard, or John, or Jackie: within each relationship there have been depths of meaning that have left the larger group scenes looking flat in comparison.
There have been times throughout Sharp Objects, usually within those group scenes, where I’ve wondered if there has been enough made of the murder investigation to hold our interest – well, now I know something that was building alongside all those small details and sharp objects along the way: the character study was the murder investigation. So much time was lovingly devoted to Adora and Amma, not as a counterpoint to the two murdered teenage girls, but as an integral part of that event.
This was so stealthily done that it mirrors Adora’s act of slipping that poison to her children, but it leaves me wondering, with one episode to go, if there isn’t more sleight of hand to watch out for. We’re now in the position to blame Adora for everything, but what happened to the notion that only a man would have the strength to pull the teeth from the victims? And why would Adora deviate from her Munchausen by proxy to commit such brutal killings?
There’s one episode left to get these questions answered. I’m really hoping that hour involves a confrontation between Camille and Adora that is every bit as good as the two-handed scenes that have preceded it, and brings us to a conclusion worthy of the gothic horror it turns out we’ve been watching all along.
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