Sharp Objects Recap: War of the Roses

Sharp Objects

Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

“You love dead girls,” a sloppily drunk Amma coos to Camille in one of the opening scenes of “Fix.” Amma draws out the word “love,” letting it crackle at the end making it ripe with dangerous meaning. This statement — which Amma says as she drapes herself over Camille — operates as an indictment, curiosity, and a strange seduction. If they weren’t sisters, I’d say Amma was flirting with Camille. Watch the way she melts onto her sister, her face growing soft. She’s playing a role, the same way everyone in Wind Gap does. Here, she’s the younger sister, touchingly naïve and desperate for affection. But Camille bristles at Amma’s overtures. Is it because there is a flash of insincerity? Is it because they are a twisted mimicry of the cloying love Adora bestows on Amma? These aspects likely all factor in. But ultimately, it’s because Amma is more right than she knows. Camille is a woman both drawn to and haunted by dead girls in her past.

“Fix” deepens the knotted emotional terrain between Camille and the other women in her orbit. It’s a stunning excavation of Wind Gap’s obsession with maintaining a glossy surface by focusing on all the ways Camille refuses and fails to hide her own sorrow and suffering by answering the mystery of one dead girl. Up to this point, there has been a young woman with cascading ash-blonde hair haunting the edges of Camille’s existence. At times she appears to Camille in the mirror, other times she stands at various points in Wind Gap, the lower half of her face a bloody wreck and her eyes with a mile long glare. “Fix” answers the question of this girl’s identity. She’s Alice (Sydney Sweeney), the roommate Camille had when she checked into a mental hospital. She’s another girl that Camille couldn’t save.

“Fix” is most insightful and heartfelt and biting when focusing on Camille’s relationship with Alice. Like much of Sharp Objects, the totality of this relationship unfurls at a slow pace. Camille’s memories of that time rise to the surface because of a variety of visual and aural detritus — the bright rose bushes Adora tends, the patter of rain against the window, the glint of sunlight as Camille drives and drives through the town. In this way, the show is astute about memory — the way it is guided by emotion not logic.

Camille brings herself to the mental hospital on a rainy night after downing the last of her booze and carving another word onto her wrist. It’s one of the only actions of self-care we’ve seen Camille do up to this point. I’ve been in a mental hospital three times in my life, the most recent stay I’m not even a year removed from. Each stay remade me in a more pivotal way than the last. The series doesn’t get the factual dynamics of a mental hospital stay right — the dehumanizing nature of an intake process, the often cold wariness of doctors, the lack of privacy with 15-minute checks, the inability to wear your own clothes for the first day, the constrained access to any technology that isn’t a television encased in thick, bulletproof glass. But that doesn’t matter to me if a show can tap into an essential truth of what it means to be hospitalized. “Fix” does so by charting the raw-nerved intimacy that blooms between patients — in this case Camille and Alice. When Camille is introduced to Alice by the black nurse as her new roommate, Alice responds with the finely honed sullen gravitas you’d expect of a teenager. (She’s either in high school or not that far removed from it.) “Don’t talk to me,” Alice spits. Camille responds by lifting her shirt to reveal the thick scars on her abandon. “I’m like you,” she’s saying with a gesture instead of words.

Camille treats Alice with the sisterly grace she doesn’t grant Amma. She helps her apply lipstick. They talk about the nature of their cutting. Alice promised herself to remain three inches above the knee so she can still wear skirts. Camille hasn’t worn skirts since college. The scenes between them glow with the sort of tenderness entirely absent from the rest of the show. While I haven’t talked extensively about Amy Adams’s performance, she is a grounding presence. Her performance is bruising. She carries herself in a way that’s almost leaden, as if the weight of her past is physical as well as emotional. What’s so moving about the scenes with Alice is we get to see Adams uncover a softer Camille, one who bends toward the light rather than cowers in the dark.

There’s a cutting exchange between Alice and Camille that proves to be instructive. It’s in the wake of visiting hours, which proves to be a glorious mess for both women. Camille watches Adora slam down a bouquet of roses in anger. The thorns are a potential weapon. (Everything is on this show.) She refuses to visit Camille. It’s Alan in an all-white suit like some failed Prince Charming that brings the recently shorn roses to her. Camille of course is privy to this entire exchange. Alice sits awkwardly with her mother — who seems more affectionate to the dog on her lap. “Does it get better with your family?” Alice asks. Camille doesn’t say what Alice wants to hear. But when Alice asks what you do to navigate fraught familial bonds, Camille does share some advice. “You survive,” she tells Alice. It’s their bodies that have the most revealing conversation. Turning over in their beds to face one another with the same bone-tired stance. Alice is a mirror not only to a more tender Camille who doesn’t quite exist anymore but to Amma.

Sharp Objects presents a world in which many characters act as warped mirrors to one another, which feels inextricably linked to how the people of Wind Gap hold on so fiercely to presenting the surface of their lives as beautiful and wholesome even as fractures are clearly present. They mirror each other’s same dance: presenting as someone they are not as a means of survival, particularly for the women of the town. Along with digging into Camille’s background, “Fix” also considers the price of Wind Gap’s facade. Richard feels this is thwarting the investigation. Vickery chooses, wrongly, to believe whoever killed Ann Nash and Natalie Keene is an outsider: a wayward trucker, one of the Mexican immigrants working for Adora’s hog farm. No one in Wind Gap could be capable of such violence. But Richard seems more right about the mind of this killer, even if he may want to use this case to move up in his career. These murders are crimes of passion, which Richard tells the ignorant Vickery isn’t only contained to sex. “Passion doesn’t always have to equal sex. This type of thing can scratch a different kind of itch. Power. Control.”

“Fix” demonstrates what happens when the various facades of characters reveal more fractures. John Keene doesn’t mirror the displays of masculinity — stoic, drowning in alcohol to numb the hurts they refuse to bear — in Wind Gap, and is punished for it by being considered a dangerous anomaly who may have killed his sister. His girlfriend, Ashley, is able to set up an interview between him and Camille hoping this will exonerate him in the eyes of the town. I can’t see that happening. Later in the episode, with Alan tending to a wound she received from her rose bushes, Adora says something so outlandish I couldn’t help but laugh. “[Camille] makes me feel as if I’ve done something wrong … as if I’m a bad mother.” Calling Adora a bad mother is understatement. While she’s been rather airy, aloof, and dreamlike up to this point, she is rather severe in “Fix.” She has created a narrative that every ill that befalls her home is rooted in Camille’s doing. In her mind, Adora is a kind, gracious mother beset by tragedy. When she barges into Bob Nash’s home and torpedoes Camille’s interview, or blames Camille for the damaged rose bushes when it was really a drunken Amma who plowed into them with a golf cart, Adora steadfastly refuses to see the nuance of these situations. Or more importantly, she refuses to account for the cruel ways she treats Camille, whose worst quality is mistaking self-destruction for survival.

Amma has adopted this cruelty. She vacillates between adoring Camille and wanting to inflame her anger. When Amma stumbles onto Camille trading personal stories and booze with Richard, laying on the hood of his car in the dead of night, she zeroes in. “I heard Camille is a real hot ticket,” Amma notes. She’s clearly flush with alcohol and power knowing her friends would do anything for her. She calls Richard “Dick” as a come-on. She taunts Camille about stories that run through the town about her. The word “slut” is never said but it doesn’t need to be; the suggestion is as bright as the headlights flooding over Camille. Amma pushes Camille by taking her red lollipop and rolling it in Camille’s hair. It’s a child’s way of taunting, a way to hurt and be hurt. But Camille doesn’t play by the rules Amma has learned from Adora — about presentation, hiding venom in sweetness, hurting those closest to you the most. She walks away. Amma is a warped reflection of Alice, who actually knew how to accept Camille’s care instead of pushing it away. But even that couldn’t save her.

Writer Alex Metcalf and director Jean-Marc Vallée hold onto Alice’s fate until the end of the episode. After the botched visits from their families, Camille comforts Alice by convincing the nurse to give her the iPod. “Let’s get out of here,” she says affectionately handing her the headphones. Camille curls up to Alice as the music hums. But later, when returning the iPod, Alice makes a decision that surviving isn’t enough. We only see the aftermath of her suicide. The drain cleaner bottle turned over on the floor. Alice wilted in the middle of the room — face streaked with blood, the floor marked with her insides. Camille rushes to find something, anything to cut herself with. She hones in on a screw on the underside of the toilet. She rips it out with heated abandon carving into her arms, blood spilling down her wrist and onto the floor until a crew of orderlies stops her. My heart lurched watching this scene. I kept looking away, finding it too much to bear, such a naked display of need and sorrow. It’s in this ending — slicing between Camille’s self-destruction in the hospital and the form it takes today of hitting nearly 100 miles an hour racing down the streets of Wind Gap — that the show crosses into genius. Here, “Fix” shows how self-destruction festers and destroys us from the inside out.

Wind Gap Gossip:

• What the hell is going on in the marriage between Alan and Adora? From the moment he was introduced, he’s come across as a man without much of a spine, drifting along the waves of the women around him. But in “Fix” he seems very aware of what’s going on even as he coddles Adora and her sometimes delusional perspective that Camille is a danger.

• I’m assuming the iPod Camille is using was Alice’s. At the very least, we know it is Alice that inspired Camille’s music taste and decision to use music as an escape.

• On that note, I think it’s interesting that Camille’s freak-out at the end of the episode, when she drives recklessly through the night, is mirrored by Alan trying to suppress his scream. What horrors has he witnessed?

• Sharp Objects has such a dreamy, warm visual palette that the continuous appearance of blood red — with the roses, Camille’s cutting, and Alice’s death scene — are jarring. It’s a visual marker for how much bubbles beneath the glossy surfaces the people in this story try to project.

• The scene in which Camille follows Amma to their family’s hog farm is deeply unsettling.

• Ashley wearing her cheerleading uniform even though school isn’t in session for the interview John has with Camille only adds further dimension to how obsessive everyone in this town is about appearances.

Sharp Objects Recap: War of the Roses