REVIEW: Sharp Objects (S1 E4/8)

“My momma said all of history was written by men.”

Spiders. Big, great, whopping spiders were the visual motif du jour in episode four of this superb and dark-as-night HBO series adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel.

So far we have Smalltownsville, Missouri trying to come to terms with the sickening murders of two dead teenage girls and in that same town a mother-and-daughter relationship so toxic it would strip paint from 100 paces. After last week’s terrifyingly, dizzyingly vivid self-harming flashbacks, the visual pyrotechnics were played down a little this week, and Camille Preaker (Amy Adams, more on her later) continued her investigation into the murders of Ann Nash and Natalie Keene for her newspaper back in St Louis. To do this, she realised she must work in tandem with Detective Richard ‘Kansas City’ Willis, who had been doing his best to flirt with her in previous instalments but to no avail.

Camille decided to play his game. She would take him out into the forest and show him some of Wind Gap’s most notorious crime scenes in return for some on-the-record information about the cases. As they were trudging around in the sticky heat, Camille naturally produced a bottle of the strong stuff. Spiders roamed. Memories flickered. There, a spot where two gay teenage women were murdered, or perhaps committed suicide (the daughter of one victim, Camille explained, was so keen to dispel any notion that she had followed in her mother’s footsteps she slept with half the male population in the town). A spider crawled over a branch. And there, the ‘end zone’, a spot where the local football team used to have their wicked way with ninth-grade cheerleaders. Was Camille one of those cheerleaders, Kansas City asked. Camille’s reply? “Every woman here gets a nasty label if they don’t conform to the rules of engagement.” And over there, the creepy hunting shack we’d seen before in Camille’s memories and dreams. A place of awfulness. Perhaps something happened to Camille herself in there, Kansas City speculated.

This tour of the macabre seemed to bring the two closer together, and an element of trust formed beneath the forest canopy. When Kansas City made another flirty advance, this time Camille sidled over. He went to kiss her but she said no, took his hand and guided it down into the front of her trousers. As they engaged in their intimate act, this triggered Camille – she came, but she also saw blood and nightmares. It was one of the more incredible, incendiary and raw sex scenes you’ll see in any drama: it was an act of fear and control on Camille’s part; as a slightly bemused Kansas City looked on as she clung to him, you realised that Camille was so shamed by her own body – her own scratched and scarred body – she could not show it to him, give herself fully over. There will always be a part of Camille that has to stay secret.

As for Adora and Amma, the former was being her normal, witheringly manipulative self. Bill Vickery had called around one sultry evening and Adora had shooed her cuckolded husband away to fix drinks. Together they engaged in a game of flirtatious cat-and-mouse, which suggested there may have been more to their friendship in the past. Alan looked on through a crack in the door. When Vickery asked Adora to cancel the town’s annual historical celebrations, she turned on him and told him to hush now and that she could get him replaced as chief any time she wanted. He should always remember that. Later, when Alan challenged Adora about her lack of compassion for him, she turned it around on him. Why are you trying to hurt me? she whimpered.

Adora, the arch-manipulator.

Earlier, Camille had walked in after a kiss with Kansas City on the front lawn. Adora chided her once again, told her that she brought nothing but discord into the house. And she told her daughter – no, whispered into her ear – that she smelled ripe.

Stung by this wilful clawing, Camille took off to her favourite place: the bar. Prime suspect John Keene walked in. He ordered a drink. The barman had a spider tattoo on his arm. They got talking, John opening up about his sister Natalie and her friendship with the first victim, Ann Nash… and their shared friendship with Amma.

Up until that moment, this episode was an excellent, considered comedown from the horrors of episode three. Yes, there were still horrors and an atmosphere so tense inside the Crellin household you could cut it with a knife and spread it on a slice of toast, but in this hour there were character backstories that were slowly but surely being teased out. And in these character studies, we got to see just how good Amy Adams really is – her range is just incredible. One minute she was hard and cynical, the next vulnerable and shamed, the next sexy and flirtatious, and the next horrified and in a shallow-breathed panic. Her performance has been immense, powerful and human to the core.

And now that there’s a link between Amma and the victims, you get the sense that Adams will have plenty more opportunities to display her range.

This episode solidified the notion that this is very much a story about women, about the harm they can do to themselves and each other. At the start of this review, I used a quote that Amma spoke in a moment of Lolita-style flirting with taciturn Kirk Lacey at the end of Calhoun Day rehearsals because that’s what has always been a given: that men have always written the history. Not in Sharp Objects – it’s the women of Wind Gap who are writing their own.

Paul Hirons







4 Comments Add yours

  1. charlotteash says:

    Episode three was definitely difficult to watch with all the self mutilation. I almost didn’t watch four but I’m glad I did although I have to look away when she cuts. Adams is a superb actress and Clarkson is a chillingly controlled crazy. I’m a huge Clarkson fan, not only because she’s a home town girl. :)


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