Warning: The following contains spoilers for the finale of HBO’s Sharp Objects. Read at your own risk!
“Don’t tell Mama.”
In the season finale of Sharp Objects, HBO’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, Camille (Amy Adams) finally learns the truth: It wasn’t the icy, brittle, and poisonous Adora (Patricia Clarkson) who murdered those little girls in Wind Gap, though she did kill Marian (Lulu Wilson). It was Amma (scene-stealer Eliza Scanlen), Camille’s calculated half-sister, who toyed with her victims, strangled them, and, with the help of her roller-skating friends, pried out their teeth — teeth she used to make up the floor of Adora’s bedroom in her treasured dollhouse.
Fans of the book knew the ending all along, but while adapting the final twist, Flynn and series creator Marti Noxon felt the show had to end with the revelation itself — and nothing more. The novel follows Camille’s discovery with several more pages detailing Amma’s time in prison (spoiler alert: she shaves her head) and her confessions to her crimes, but Flynn and Noxon chose not to give the series one last coda. Instead, they kept the final sentences from Flynn’s novel — about Camille leaning toward kindness — and sprinkled in two end-credits tags to show viewers how Amma did what she did.
Below, Flynn and Noxon explain how they chose where to end the series and break down the series (yes, series) finale. (EW interviewed Flynn and Noxon separately; the following is a condensed version of both chats.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you choose to end with Amma’s line, and not the coda that ends the book?
GILLIAN FLYNN: It was a really tricky balance because what feels correct in the book doesn’t always have the same balance on the screen — you can explain more on the page and get away with it. There was worry that having Amma talking too much with Camille was going to feel too explanatory and too expository.
MARTI NOXON: We were trying to honor the emotion of reading the book, and that moment where she discovers the floor of the dollhouse, nothing came after that in the book for me. We’ve seen that Camille has a new support system, but it’s still the story of her mother [and her mother’s dangerous influence on Amma].
Why follow that up then with the mid-credits tag showing Amma and her friends murdering the girls?
NOXON: That was something we all struggled with. If we didn’t give anybody any information about how it happened, that felt like a cheat to the mystery lovers. It’s a limited series, but there’s just certain procedural moments that we were trying to figure out where to place. And ultimately, that felt like the right solution.
Why end with that shot of her as the Woman in White at the very end? Did you want to wrap up with something quieter, something to contrast that ending jolt?
FLYNN: Yeah, just that sort of eeriness, that ode to the whole fairy-tale, folklore feel. I’ve always spoken about the fact that what I wanted to write about was the idea of female rage and violence, and how I did it by wrapping it in a mystery, so it was kind of a tip of the hat at that idea of Wind Gap and all it represents, and the folklore of it all.
Did you ever worry that those who didn’t read the book will take the ending as, Camille’s now in trouble, and Amma’s not going to go to prison? Do you think they’ll assume a different ending if they haven’t read it?
NOXON: I think that anything is up for grabs, but to me it just came down to the emotional truth of this story, which is that for these women — Amma, Adora, and Camille — you can change your reaction to the past, but you can’t change the past. I think there are definitely people [who will have] a much more open interpretation of what happens next. But dramatically in the book, I didn’t even remember that part.
The book ends with Camille reflecting on her caretaking of Amma, and with the line, “Lately, I’ve been leaning toward kindness.” That passage makes it into the finale via Curry (Miguel Sandoval). What went into including it that way?
FLYNN: I’m glad we kept that essay. I don’t remember that being a super-decisive, big moment in the writers’ room; I think that just felt like a natural way to show that she was settling. Like I said, we knew we wanted to end it on the Amma discovery.
NOXON: That speech from the book is so beautiful. It’s about how there is a resolution and a family that Camille has now that isn’t going away.
The dinner scene with the Currys at the end is so drastically different from the dinner with the Crellins at the beginning of the episode. Was that a deliberate decision, to bookend the hour with those two family dinners?
FLYNN: Yeah. It was nice to have those two very different families. To me, Curry has always represented the one constant heartbeat of sanity for Camille. I love that we got to see more of his family [throughout the season] and cut back and forth to [Camille’s] false home, which is this cold, chilly, wicked snow queen of a fairy tale, and in this final dinner, Amma’s so woozy and talking about Persephone. [In contrast], there’s that very deep reality of Curry, where he’s talking about the news and bits of local community reality [at dinner]. We’ve seen him fixing his home and taking care of his home and his health and just real, actual life. It’s a very important compare-and-contrast situation.
NOXON: That scene, where they have the last supper [with the Currys], I really wanted that to breathe. I really wanted to show that she has a family that she’s choosing. And there’s something about the domesticity of it that would make Amma really itchy and nervous. To her, a family is a place where you get hurt. So her relationship to Mae [played by Iyana Halley] and her relationship to Camille starts to get really dicey. We wanted to show how, for Camille, she’s mature enough to see family as this [positive place], but for Amma, uh-oh.
Would you say that, even after finding out the truth about Amma, Camille has found closure?
FLYNN: This is all about Camille owning up to the truth of what really happened, and that’s very in key to the book. All along, a part of her deeply suspected what was wrong in that household. So to that end, she certainly knows, now, everything about the truth of her family. Does she feel better for it? [Groans] That’s a much darker question, but it’s all exposed to light now, certainly.
NOXON: I mean, I don’t know that we ever find closure, because things come back. But I think that she has found the truth. And the truth is what she needed to be okay.
A couple of characters get key moments on screen that they don’t get on the page. Richard (Chris Messina) says sorry, but in the book he never contacts Camille again after seeing her scars. Gillian, I know you’re a big fan of The Mindy Project, so did you give Richard a little more screen time and make him less of a jerk because you wanted more Messina?
FLYNN: [Laughs] We all want more Chris Messina, he’s such a great actor. Who doesn’t want more Chris Messina? That moment between Camille and John [played by Taylor John Smith], and then Richard walking in, was so important, so I thought [this finale scene] was a really nice moment to give him just a little bit of humanity. I didn’t want him to be write-off-able. I didn’t want that. I liked that exchange.
Alan (Henry Czerny), too, gets a much bigger role in this episode than before.
FLYNN: He’s not just sitting around reading books about horses! [Laughs] Or eating egg yolk with a fork.
Not at all. Here, he’s standing in Amma’s way, lying to Richard, and even warning Adora not to go too far. What went into making him more prominent, especially in the finale?
FLYNN: That was very much a decision I love. I love that he is nailed in this one. In the book, as I was writing it 12 years ago, he was kind of a character I would just put in to amuse myself. [Laughs] I would just put him in, and he would be on the porch eating sardines for reasons unknown. He was my plaything.
[But as we adapted the book], he became a real character. There was this realization that of course he had to have known. He was an accessory, and if you’re an accessory to your own daughter’s sick-making, you’re a vile human being. So I liked that, after 12 years, a character I created had the ability to make me so angry. I’m getting angry even just talking about it! Like, how dare you?
NOXON: We see women in these roles many, many times — of being complicit, but also trying to control the worst. And there’s just no way that Alan has lived in this house for as long as he has and not had some knowledge. But he certainly is dependent on Adora emotionally, so he’s only going to do so much. We just were fascinated by what his part in it all was. It was a great opportunity to show a little bit more.
Other than Richard and Alan, were there any other characters or stories you wish you had more time for?
FLYNN: Oh, so many. The plotline with Vickery where there was that little flirtation between he and Adora, that was fun to see happen. These are characters that have roamed around my imagination for a long time, so it was great.
NOXON: I could write a whole show from the perspective of Elizabeth Perkins [who plays Jackie]. I feel like just the women of Wind Gap is a whole other world, but I’m still pretty satisfied that we told the story of the book and even expanded it in ways that were satisfying.
What do you hope people take away from this series overall?
FLYNN: To me, it’s largely a show about mercy. When I was writing it, I was in a dark psychological place, and it’s a show, for me, about self-mercy, about a woman who’s in deep pain and taking it out on herself. This book, more than any of my other books, is the one that people talk to me the most about, the most urgently, and the most deeply about. I’m really proud of that, and I hope it connects with people in that way.
NOXON: I love the story of Camille’s search for truth, and that she gets it. I wish that people would take away that the truth can change you and make you stronger. And that secrets are the real poison. And that they shouldn’t let 14-year-olds have pliers! [Laughs]
Now, Marti, you’ve said you won’t be doing a second season. But you just said you could do a whole show from the perspective of the women in Wind Gap. You could do more in this world, couldn’t you?
NOXON: We could do more. [Laughs] But we’ve played the parlor game of, what would that look like? And the team was really hard to assemble [to make this one season]. I just think it would be kind of impossible to do it again, in the same way.