Wind Gap, Missouri, is a sleepy, stifling place nearly suffocating in its own languid, small-town juices – an atmosphere that Sharp Objects establishes evocatively through sound, cinematography, and more in its first two episodes. As one of my colleagues put it, “I could watch Amy Adams stare into the distance for hours” — and there are plenty of opportunities to do that again in the series’ second hour.
Camille (Adams) continues trying to find a story she can file with her editor in the midst of returning to her hometown, a small country outpost shaken by the murder of two local, barely teenage girls. She wanders about her ornate Victorian childhood home, haunted by flashes of teenage memories, as well as more recent encounters with the corpse of the missing teen Natalie Keene. On this particular day, it is Natalie’s funeral, and Camille’s overbearing mother Adora has kindly left her a dress to borrow. We get a sense of the unrest and secrets lurking in the home as we watch their maid assiduously clean her mother’s pearlescent floor, a chore Camille’s teenage half-sister Amma then mimes with her prized dollhouse. Later, we see Camille haunted by the desire to press a taboo foot to that same floor.
Throughout the episode, things between Camille and Adora continue to unravel. Camille’s reporting on the murders embarrasses her etiquette-obsessed mother, while Natalie’s funeral drudges up old wounds over the death of Camille’s sister Marian. Adora struggles with the memories that her daughter’s premature passing call to mind: Plucking out her eyelashes and exhibiting other behaviors similar to Camille’s self-harm. The image, which draws a visual link between Adora and her daughter despite their constant opposition, is the first sense we get that Camille is both a foil and parallel to her high society mother.
Adora doesn’t want Camille to attend the funeral, but Camille insists as it’s her job to cover the story. We see later that Camille was also kept from her sister’s funeral, forcibly removed after trying frantically to rub the lipstick off her corpse. Camille takes notes throughout the ceremony, wondering about the brother, John Keene, and his “Jackie O” girlfriend, until Adora takes her pen away. Camille hears Natalie’s mother’s eulogy about wanting revenge, and then her dress rips and she has to leave to go fix it.
A trip to the convenience store for a needle and thread brings her back into the path of Amma, who is once again trussed up like an over-sexed teenager instead of the sweet china doll she is at home. Camille gives her money for some spiked Sprite, before urging her half-sister to call her if she needs anything. The needle is to sew up the side of her dress, but Camille also uses it to return to her self-harm habits, which have left scars all over her body. She sticks a needle under her fingernail and then goes to cut open an old scar (surely that’s a metaphor for this entire hometown visit?), when Bob Nash, the father of the first murdered girl Anne, gets thrown out of Natalie’s wake. The town suspects he might be responsible for the murders, and is clearly not welcome at the occasion.
Camille goes to the wake herself, forced to interact with her old high school friends who all bear a striking resemblance in cattiness and appearance to Amma and her cronies. She wanders through the party, the soundtrack tuned to make the din of the crowded room sound like sinister whispers. Over the noise, “Jackie O” mutters something about Natalie not being the kind of girl her mother eulogized. Camille sneaks off into Natalie’s room, taking note of everything from its frilly canopy top to its purple walls to a mirror covered in the scrawl of many other girls’ names. There’s also a live spider in a jar, which Camille releases into the garden. When Natalie’s father catches her outside, Camille questions him about the murder. He replies that John would’ve died before hurting his sister.
Like the loose thread in the needle, Camille keeps picking at the case. As she drives past the park where Natalie went missing, a couple of local kids tell her that a boy named James Capisi witnessed Natalie’s abduction by the so-called “Woman in White,” whom Camille promptly envisions in the woods. She goes to James’ house to ask him about what he saw, but he says he already told the police and they didn’t listen. His mother, who has cancer, offers to give Camille more information for $50, but Camille chooses to confront the sheriff about it instead. Unmoved, Sheriff Vickery says he didn’t take the story into account because the witness was an 8-year-old boy with an apparent history of telling tall tales. As for the “Woman in White,” the sheriff tells Camille that’s just old town folklore. Besides, he insists, “A man did this.” But this is a Gillian Flynn adaptation, and already an account of white-hot feminine rage, so I’m willing to bet you that $50 that a man did not do this.
Meanwhile, as Camille continues investigating, battling with her mother, and meandering through her own disturbing memories, Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) is doing some sleuthing of his own. He wants to figure out the killer’s M.O., specifically why he or she dumped the first body in the woods and the second in the middle of town. But the sheriff isn’t interested in the out-of-town detective’s “Clarice Starling” theories. Willis visits Natalie’s body in the morgue, where he learns that removing a full set of teeth with household pliers takes some serious strength. Unfortunately, it’s a feat he feels he needs to test for himself.
Let me tell you, if you signed on for this show because you thought, “I loved watching Chris Messina be all romantic and broody in [INSERT OTHER PROJECT HERE],” you came to the wrong show. Case in point: This episode treats you to the disgusting imagery of the handsome actor struggling to extract teeth from a dead pig’s mouth with a pair of pliers. Evocative and effective? Yes. A huge turn-on? Not so much. Except wait, it might be for one person – dark and damaged Camille Preaker.
She finds Willis nursing his woes in the local bar, where instead of answering her questions, he asks for help getting a handle on the town and the real meaning of “bless your heart.” (Hint: it’s not nice). He also insists the killer must be a man, and when she asks how he knows, he explains about his attempts to pull the pig’s teeth, which draws a look of deep respect — and maybe a little lust?
Back at home, in the episode’s final scenes, Camille is trying to avoid her family and her overly invested editor, Curry. It’s clear he’s sent her to chase this story because he hopes it will help her overcome her demons — something his wife thinks is A) a fool’s errand and B) none of his business. He wants Camille to write a story about Natalie, using the details she garnered from her bedroom. She types out some copy, but also carves the word “Liar” into her jeans with that needle she can’t seem to let go of. Afterwards, she confronts her mother about the crying fit Amma is having in the living room. Adora dismisses the outburst as a product of Amma’s fear and grief, and then rails against Camille for being drunk (a fact she denies, but girl I just saw you refill your water bottle with vodka again).
This feeling of being shutout, a retread of how things were for her as a child with Marion, tips Camille over the edge and she files the story she previously thought better of sending. We then get another set of bloody flashbacks before Camille jabs the needle into her stomach — an act of self-harm that is excruciating to watch, but for Camille, it seems to possess the same dreamy blend of pain and ecstasy that has permeated the entire series thus far.