Sharp Objects Recap: Devil Child

Sharp Objects

Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

When I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia Clarkson about Sharp Objects she said something that has stuck with me ever since, “The body never lies.” Watching “Ripe” I couldn’t get this quote out of my mind. It holds true for everyone in Wind Gap from Gayla with her quiet, knowing gazes sweeping through Adora’s home to Camille whose woundedness glimmers in her every gesture especially when she’s trying to hide.

Camille has grown adept at encasing herself in armor. That dark clothing she has to be sweating like hell in. The bitter sarcasm and wry grin she uses to pivot when anything cuts too close to the bone. Amy Adams strikingly juxtaposes Camille’s survival instinct, one that leads her to hide, against her longing to be cared for, for once in her life. This dichotomy is especially apparent in her scenes with Richard.

Sharp Objects has long been building to some sort of romantic and sexual moment between Camille and Richard. But what we get in “Ripe” lacks the bristling, heated flirtation I would like. Camille gives Richard a gruesome tour of Wind Gap crime scenes in the forest, each with its own twisted history rooted in this geography. There’s a moment after Camille shows the final location — that creepy shed with the hardcore porn lining its walls alongside twisting vines — that the air crackles between Camille and Richard. You know, the kind of moment where a kiss seems not only imminent but unavoidable. Camille closes the gap between them. But when Richard reaches toward her for a passionate kiss she recoils, unzips her pants, and guides his hand to below her waist. She reaches orgasm as a flutter of violent, mournful images puncture her mind. It’s startling how much intimacy this scene lacks. It’s only later, in the heat of the night just outside Adora’s home and watchful gaze, that Camille kisses Richard passionately. “Now we kiss?” he asks with a smile.

Camille is fracturing in “Ripe.” The weight of being back home pressing too much upon her. I loved the scene leading up to Richard and Camille’s dispassionate sexual encounter. They suggest not only the history of the town but Camille’s own history. The first crime scene she shows Richard is by the river. She tells the story of two teenage girls, who were madly in love with each other, found with their wrists slashed. The lack of a knife leads the question of whether this is murder or suicide hanging in the air. Camille went to school with the surviving daughter of one of them, Faith. Faith kept trying to prove she wasn’t a lesbian like her mother and ended up getting labeled a “slut” for it. As Camille says, “She paid for the sins of a mother she never met.” Of course, every woman in this town had a label and Camille is still wrestling with hers.

The second crime scene is nicknamed “the end zone,” crassly alluding to how football players would use and abuse cheerleaders there, one of whom was Camille. Richard catches on quick to the meaning of this place to Camille. The verdant surrounding and calming chirp of insects cannot hide the horror of this place and how Camille reacts to it. He suggests the rape that happened here happened to Camille. “If I say yes you’ll think less of me or feel sorry,” she responds which is an answer in itself. The last location is the strange shed that lurks in Camille’s memory where apparently Ann and Natalie, Wind Gap’s infamous victims once played together.

“Ripe” offers more beguiling scenes of noxious emotional violence, beautifully astute scenes that carefully evoke Camille’s memories, and aurally lush moments. But the episode left me wanting more. We’re now halfway through the series, and as much as I’m loving it, a part of me wish it would be a bit more propulsive, a bit more revealing of its characters. It’s more tone poem than procedural which is part of its strength but can sometimes be infuriating. Yet, the episode still works at giving brief windows into the emotional lives of the town and its characters. Camille attending brunch with Jackie and other older women that Adora bailed on (that cut isn’t that bad!) reveals the town’s psyche: the homophobia lurking under the accusation that John is too emotional for a man and thus killed his sister, the obsession with gossip, the lurid curiosity bubbling up because of the murders.

Through Vickery we get an understanding of how the town’s old guard views Camille as an outsider. It’s interesting how he refers to her as “that Preaker girl” seemingly distancing her from Adora whom he obviously has history with. “One of them is dangerous, the other is in danger,” Vickery suggests to Adora about her daughters. He doesn’t say where either of them falls, but it’s clear he views Camille as the dangerous one, sowing chaos wherever she goes even though it seems far more true of Amma’s hellion nature. Even if I wanted a bit more meat from this episode — which is more my eagerness to be fully immersed in these characters rather than a failing of the show — there are many bracing scenes involving Adora that showcase her slippery nature and how deep her animosity toward Camille runs.

Let’s talk about Adora’s marriage for a moment. The scenes between Alan and Adora are typically brief although they seem curdled with an unspoken history. Here, some of this history is finally given a voice. After bitterly watching Adora carry on a delightful conversation with Vickery, Alan finally cracks a bit. He’s angry at how Camille views the loss of Marian as something only she has had to bear. He’s livid that she shows “more compassion for local civil servants” than for him, which nearly reflects the gnarled class politics of this town and the icy quality to their marriage. They go back and forth. Adora blaming this on Camille’s ability to sow discord. Alan finding the way she blames Camille ridiculous. The episode ends with a strange moment of him entering her bedroom with a sense of menace to his gait that I’m not sure how to reckon with.

Even more troubling is the scene Adora shares with Camille, the source of the episode’s title. A tipsy Adora waits on the couch as Camille enters the shadowy home. Adora quickly launches into accounting her own series of hurts. How she expected Camille to save her, how she hoped that Camille would somehow get Adora’s own mother to finally love her. That’s a lot of responsibility on a child. She belittles Camille for cutting her hair with fabric shears as a point of rebellion. Something Camille swears she didn’t do, she’s getting her confused with someone else. But Adora keeps going drawing closer and closer to Camille who soon grows teary, her armor breaking down. It doesn’t matter what Camille says or what the truth is. Adora has created a narrative and it’s one that consumes the whole town. Jean-Marc Vallée shoots the scene with a heated intimacy relying on close-ups to capture the moment which reveals the essence of these two women. Camille wounds herself because of her vulnerability and trauma while Adora wounds others for the same reasons. Adora steps close to Camille for the final insult and the scene is so evocatively shot I swear I could smell it. Cloying heat, a touch of floral perfume, the undercurrent of liquor. “Now you’ve come back and all I can think is … you smell ripe,” Adora viciously remarks. What exactly is Camille ripe for? What is she on the precipice of that Adora reviles so deeply?

“Ripe” ends with a revelation. Camille finds John at a bar and he’s surprisingly forthcoming — about the loss of his sister and the dynamics of his family. His mother is falling apart, which is seen earlier when he finds her half conscious on the couch and wine bottles hidden in the trash. But the most intriguing details are about his sister, Natalie. How the family left Philly because she stabbed a peer in the eye with a pencil. How Amma was closely intertwined with her and Ann, constantly stopping their arguments. This gives these crimes a new shade and makes Camille worried about her sister’s fate. She rushes from the bar searching the darkened streets for Amma — her mind reeling with horrific outcomes. Perhaps, she wonders, Amma could be the next victim. And there is a flash of this possibility. Amma’s toothless corpse illuminated by a beam of light. In reality Amma is skating through the streets with her friends, silhouetted by headlights. But this sequence touches on something I’ve been thinking about for a while: I’m not sure we’ve seen the real Amma yet. She’s only seen in flashes like cruelly twisting a lollipop in Camille’s hair. And that’s the girl I want Camille to find.

Wind Gap Gossip:

• When Ashley gives a disinterested John a blowjob and he brushes off her advances I didn’t know whether to laugh uncomfortably or fast forward. This show can be so uncomfortable!

• Amma playing Tupac and bonding with Adora with a little dance was an interesting moment.

• Ashley finds blood under John’s bed and cleans it up for him. Is this a red herring? Why is she so loyal?

• Does Vickery even want to solve this case?

Sharp Objects Recap: Devil Child