Spoilers below for Sharp Objects.
We should have known Amma Crellin was trouble when she casually dropped that infamous line from Machiavelli’s The Prince: “It’s safer to be feared than loved.” It’s not exactly a text that most high-school freshmen read, and Machiavelli wasn’t exactly subtle in his beliefs that murder and treachery are all just part of the power struggle. But Amma kept us guessing about what lurked in that booze-soaked, dollhouse-furniture-obsessed little mind, swinging wildly from beribboned Stepford child to after-school-special victim. Troubled? Definitely. In need of a therapist? Holy hell, yes. A vicious serial killer? Eh, that wasn’t so clear.
Until the end, anyway. Before the very last moments of Sharp Objects, it was difficult to picture a young girl holding down her former friends, strangling them, and then ripping their teeth out with pliers. (Yeesh, those end-credits scenes were haunting.) So Amma was passed over as a suspect, even though she had the means, the motive, and the opportunity. But if you paid careful attention, the hints began piling up the very first moment Amma appeared onscreen. Here were the four biggest clues that Amma was the killer.
Amma’s sneaking out
For an old house with creaky stairs, the Preaker manse never gave away when Amma was sneaking out to steal booze from the corner store with her roller-skating pals. Either Adora drugs herself into sleep oblivion at night or pretends not to hear the squeak of feet on hardwood, because Amma is all over town, doing whatever she pleases at any hour of the day or night. There’s a town-wide curfew in effect, and Adora makes a big deal about Amma’s safety, berating her that she absolutely must be home by 9 p.m. because, “It isn’t safe out there for little girls.” But she doesn’t chastise her for coming home late on the night that Camille and Amma both swallow some Oxys, drop some E, and down approximately a liter of liquor.
In other words, it was entirely possible for Amma to be out in the woods, away from home for hours and hours, taking her time to uproot all those teeth from her victims’ mouth. Or up and at ’em early enough to drag Natalie’s body from its hiding place to the alley where it’s found by that poor older couple. Chief Vickery and Richard wondered who would have enough time away from prying eyes to commit such gruesome crimes. The answer? A teenager when school is out.
“Women don’t kill like that”
The killer is almost always a man. In real life, studies posit that roughly 90 percent of all murders are committed by men. And despite the rise of juicy female antiheroes on TV, it’s natural instinct to assume that the monster who’s out there strangling little girls is a dude. But in Sharp Objects, it’s the women themselves who point out, over and over again, that a woman can be just as violent as a man.
For Calhoun Day, Amma wants to change Millie Calhoun’s story from one of victimhood (tied to a tree and raped) to empowerment (in Amma’s version, Millie raises up the first all-female militia in the state of Missouri and avenges her love). She may just be parroting her mother’s (very valid) talking point that history is written by men and therefore inclined to celebrate male achievements, but it’s still notable that Amma sees violent revenge as something to play at.
Her friends, too, are cognizant that women can be just as brutal as men. When Chief Vickery reminds the girls to be careful out on their roller skates at night, he remarks that a man could come tearing down the road and run them over. With a sassy toss of the shoulder, the girls reply, “Or she,” reminding him that a drunk who kills them could be a woman. That isn’t the first time someone reminded Vickery that women kill, either: In the second episode, Camille prods him to think beyond just Bob Nash and John Keene, saying, “Everybody thinks that a man is behind this and no one is looking at the women.” Vickery responds, “It doesn’t fit the profile. Women don’t kill like that … that violent.” Camille gets in the last word: “Until they do.”
Amma’s dollhouse was always a little creepy, just by nature of it being an exact replica of the Preaker house (and because, you know, it’s a dollhouse, a place where dolls live). But Sharp Objects offered up quite a few clues that the dollhouse was more than just Amma’s “fancy.” In the second episode, as Vickery and Richard debate the killer’s M.O., the detective notes that Natalie was dumped in the middle of town and propped up “like a doll” — just seconds after the screen flashed an image of Amma carefully arranging her dollhouse.
We also know that Amma is obsessed with recreating the real Preaker house in as much detail as possible: Remember the early scene in which she loses her mind, moaning, “What’s the point in having it if it isn’t perfect?” because the color of the dining chair upholstery doesn’t match up? It’s extremely messed up, but it’s no surprise to learn that she would go to such extreme lengths to mimic her mother’s precious ivory bedroom floor.
Later, on Calhoun Day, when Adora brings Richard into the house for the world’s most TMI tour, she catches Amma “showing Nathan the dollhouse” when she should be outside running her lines. Another scene then reveals they were using the dollhouse as cover to take some pills. But it’s also possible that Amma was showing off how masterfully she turned human teeth into her “ivory” floor. We don’t see much of the actual murders on the show, but in Gillian Flynn’s novel, Amma’s friends held Ann Nash down while Amma strangled her, and tied Natalie Keene up for days, torturing her in the Wheeler’s guesthouse until Amma moved in for the kill. The girls stood over her while she pulled the teeth, so perhaps they wanted to see Amma’s dollhouse DIY.
The roller-skating posse
Roller skates aren’t usually menacing, but Amma and her friends manage to throw off some serious don’t fuck with me vibes just by cruising around town. Maybe it’s just their carefree attitude, or my own traumatizing flashbacks to an all-girls high school, but from the moment I saw this posse rolling through town, they raised my hackles.
Still, it was more than just a feeling that suggested these girls were up to something. They were hanging around crime scenes far too often to be casual observers. The very first place Camille sees Amma is where Natalie’s body will soon be found, and when she gazes down the alley, she glimpses the crew roller skating by. Then she catches them tossing around one of the stuffed animals at Natalie’s memorial in a game of carefree keepaway, as if they aren’t remotely bothered by the girl’s disappearance. Most damningly, they’re right across the street — despite the early hour — when Camille hears wailing and stumbles upon the couple who first spotted Natalie’s body. It’s almost like they’re waiting to witness the discovery, “trying to insert themselves” into the mayhem, just like Chief Vickery predicted the killer would.
And let’s not forget their first conversation with Camille, when Amma lets something pretty big slip: She jokes that Wind Gap is “so totally dead,” in clear reference to Ann and Natalie’s disappearances, which sets her squad giggling all over themselves. Nobody but the killer(s) would know that Natalie was already dead.