From its visceral images of Southern gothic aesthetic, its kinetic use of blink-and-you-will-miss-it memory flashbacks, and its brilliant dramatic acting from the likes of Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Chris Messina, HBO’s murder mystery hit of the summer, SHARP OBJECTS, came full circle Sunday night, as we (SPOILER ALERT) discovered that the murderer of Wind Gap’s two young girls has been none other than kid sister/teenage femme fatale, Amma (played by breakout star Eliza Scanlen).
For those who read Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, this did not come as a surprise…and to be honest, this really should not have been a shock to those who went into the series completely cold, either.
Right from the beginning of the season, when apprehensive reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to reluctantly report on the case of two missing teenage girls, we could smell trouble from a mile away. (Even the exit sign in episode 1 cleverly reads “Last Exit to Change Your Mind” as Camille is traveling in her car.) Camille is a visibly troubled woman— suffering from alcoholism, self-harming, and constant visualizations of her dead sister, Marian, whose white-nightgown-wearing ghost haunts her everywhere from behind the tall trees in the woods, to the corners of the bedroom as Camille dresses herself. Camille carries around a plastic water bottle that is (not so discreetly) filled with vodka, as she makes her way around Wind Gap— clad in dark, long sleeved clothing, to conceal the scars of words such as “Sick,” “Vanish,” “Fuck,” “Girl, ”and “Cherry” that she has carved all over her entire body. (The show runners also cleverly include glimpses of these words in the background throughout various scenes of the series that you had to have paid very close attention to.)
We can tell that Camille has a visibly strained relationship with her family members, who don’t appear to be very pleased to see her—particularly her mother, Adora Crellin. Adora (ruthlessly portrayed by Patricia Clarkson) is the proverbial Queen Bee of the town of Wind Gap, who seems to be affectionate (I say that loosely) with mostly everyone around her, with the exception of Camille. With her perfectly styled Southern belle gowns, and her long, blood-red fingernails that match her rose bushes, Adora is beautiful and powerful…yet caustic and scathing towards her eldest daughter Camille— even claiming that she “never loved” her in episode 5, which shook us to the core. Camille’s stepfather, Alan Crellin (Matt Czerny) has a way of gathering pity from the audience at some scenes (like his emotional breakdown to his uncaring wife, Adora, in episode 4) while also completely pissing us off when he gives unnecessary crap to our anti-hero Camille in other scenes (“You’re making your mother sick” in episode 6…Interesting choice of foreshadowing here). Finally, there’s Camille’s half-sister Amma, who is 13 going on 22. When we are first introduced to Amma, she looks like a little doll that could fit right in within the walls of the perfectly constructed, yet haunting dollhouse that she has created— a replica of the actual Crellin family mansion. However, when Camille starts to bump into Amma during her time spent throughout Wind Gap, Camille quickly realizes that Amma is way more complex (and devilish) than her outside exterior would suggest. Like mothers, like daughters. Camille sees Amma taking drugs, bossing around her friends, bullying and manipulating her peers as well as adults, and attempting to seduce boys with her flirty eyes and slithering, snake-like roller skating skills.
In the series penultimate episode, we saw Detective Richard (played likably by Chris Messina) discover Adora’s hidden truth: she suffers from Munchausen syndrome by Proxy— a compulsion to make someone ill, in order to feel needed by the victim. With her poisonous concoction that fills up her big, blue potion bottle, Adora was responsible for killing Camille’s sister Marian many years ago, and is beginning to do the same thing to Amma, and eventually to Camille, who finally gives into Adora’s toxic impulses, after years of dodging it. Which leads us to the series finale…
The finale is similar to the ending of Gillian Flynn’s book, yet presented to the audience in a very oddly paced (but still very chilling) way. We watch as Detective Richard and Chief Vickery (Matt Craven) interview the likely innocent suspect John Keene, while Richard expresses his doubts towards Keene’s guilt. (We never see more of John Keene again after this scene.) Meanwhile, after Camille decides to sacrifice herself in order to save Amma from Adora’s “care”, she begins to physically deteriorate from Adora’s potion. Amy Adams gives us yet another fantastic performance throughout these scenes: her facial expressions are wrought with weakness, fear, anger, and concern, and she is weakly crawling on the floor, barely able to stand, hoping to seek help. Her strawberry-red hair strands are soaked from vomit. Meanwhile, Eliza Scanlen’s performance here as Amma is terrifying, as she starkly stares at paintings in the hallways, with a flower crown adorning her pale, sweaty, sickly face. Even in moments of seemingly sickly weakness, Amma still appears to be plotting, and for those of us who have known about what she’s been up to all along, we are just impatiently waiting for her big reveal…
A little bit too conveniently, Richard shows up to the door of the Crellin mansion, sensing that something is wrong. Asking to speak to Camille, he is denied by enabler Alan, so, Richard, along with the help of Camille’s father-figure boss Curry, decides to gather up the rest of the local police, and barge in on the Crellin household, rescuing Camille and Amma and finally arresting Adora, the first of the two series villainesses. There is something so utterly satisfying about watching bitch-on-wheels Adora get handcuffed by some of the very people that she once had so much control over (Talking about you, Chief Vickery.)
The middle part of the episode becomes slightly odd in its pacing. Immediately after Adora’s arrest, we see that Camille has moved back to St. Louis, and she has brought Amma with her. We are shown a montage of Amma visiting Adora in prison, while Camille looks on and chooses to avoid all contact with their mother entirely. Both Camille and Amma seem to be doing well in their new life chapters— Amma even befriending a neighbor girl named Mae, who seems to have a sweet adoration for Camille and for journalism, which Amma seems slightly jealous of. In an unnecessary scene of exposition, Curry reads Camille’s latest article out loud, purposefully explaining to the audience that, when women kill, like Adora, they are often viewed as protectors, and do so in an act of almost sacrifice and nurturing, and not necessarily as sociopathic killers who simply enjoy the act of killing.
This story is just as much about this town’s cultural obsession with dead girls as it is about the ways in which women who are suffering—whether it be from mental illness, self-harm, alcoholism, PTSD, grief— are negatively judged, mistreated, disregarded, feared, and dangerously enabled by others. While, at the same time, the story is equally about how women can also be viewed as unfairly innocent and incapable of doing despicable things out of nothing other than cold-blooded hatred. Throughout the series, Camille insists on looking at potential women suspects in the murder case. Of course, this was just sneaky foreshadowing on the show’s part, but she had a valid point: everyone seemed to blow her off and tell her that there is “no way” that a woman could have done the things that were done to those 2 little girl victims. In the series standout episode 5, entitled “Closer”, we watch the people of Wind Gap celebrate a young lady who allowed herself to be raped and degraded by soldiers, in order to not give up the whereabouts of her husband that they were after. That young lady is regarded as a town heroine, yet women who are independent, think for themselves, and go against the grain— like Camille and young victims Ann Nash and Natalie Keene— are suffering in silence, alienated, ridiculed, and/or murdered. What else would you expect from the women of Wind Gap other than female rage? Women suffer from a constant losing battle in this town, which leads us to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the reveal of the second woman murderer in the series.
In the jarring final minutes of the finale, we see Mae’s mother concernedly approach Camille about Mae’s whereabouts. Camille explains that she thinks that Amma and Mae probably went out to play together and just are not back yet. Mae’s mother informs Camille that Amma and Mae had a little fight, so she’s not quite sure if they are out spending time together or not. Camille, knowing her sister’s mood swings all too well, becomes concerned at this point, and goes back inside to take a peak inside Amma’s dollhouse. Here is where we receive our first big gut-punch: Camille discovers that Amma has been hoarding the teeth of the young victims inside her dollhouse the entire time— specifically, within the infamous white ivory floor of Adora’s bedroom— indicating that, she was behind the violent murders of Ann and Natalie this whole time. Amma comes home and walks into her room, seeing the horrified look upon Camille’s face as she uncovers the truth, and Amma pleads, “Don’t tell Mama.” We then instantly jump into the shocking closing credits, with Led Zeppelin’s “In the Evening” playing, accompanying our wrecked emotions. The series ends, or so we think…
But wait! There’s more…
In a bone-chilling use of post-credit scene magic, we watch an accelerated montage of Amma brutally hurting and killing the girls, including her new “friend” Mae that just went missing. The expressions on Amma’s face as she clenches her teeth, screams in primal rage, and thrusts her victims’ bodies unto fences and into bodies of water will haunt me for days. Additionally, viewers who stayed until the very end of the credits were rewarded with a quick glimpse of Amma lurking in the woods, wearing all white, just like the often-mentioned town legend the “Woman in White.” Whew, that was a lot to take in.
The finale undoubtedly proves to be divisive amongst SHARP OBJECTS watchers. For those of us who knew about the Amma reveal, we impatiently waited and wondered when the proverbial shoe was about to drop. Readers of the novel may find those final moments jaw dropping and extremely hauntingly effective, because they are very suddenly shocking as opposed to the (slightly) more drawn-out ending in the book. The book provides more of an explanation: Amma was jealous of the victims, because Adora was always giving them her attention, so she decided to gather her friends and kill the girls and pull their teeth out, as an act of rage. Those who were not aware of this twist, however, are left with the initial shock and very little time to process what the hell just happened, before the credits abruptly roll and the screen turns to black. For myself, I’m somewhere in the middle of these opinions. On one hand, I was left wondering what exactly came of John Keene and his fame-whore girlfriend, Ashley. Did something inappropriate happen between Amma and Kirk Lacey, as was implied? Also, do Detective Richard and Camille stay in touch? Sure, they both said and did some pretty horrible things to each other, but the connection between the two characters, played with great chemistry from Adams and Messina, left me hoping that they at least remained in each other’s lives. But, on the other hand, even though I’ve known about the Amma outcome, I found myself paranoid, looking all around the corners of my bedroom for the appearance of Amma’s flower crown and foreboding dollhouse, which will haunt me for days. Yes, I found the ending’s final minutes THAT frightening.
SHARP OBJECTS proved itself to be a meticulously crafted character study first and foremost, with its impeccable attention to detail into the psyche of our heroine Camille (and our anti-heroines), and a murder mystery second. Sure, we all were curious about who the hell had been killing these girls within the tragic town of Wind Gap, but more importantly, we delved deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the women who were a part of the town’s most powerful family— women who happened to have been suffering from generations of child abuse, sexual abuse, trauma, death, mental illness, fear, anger, and self-harm. We all enjoy a “whodunit” mystery story, but we especially love one that makes us care more about the characters…and less about the overall plot twists.
Even though the series finale was a little abrupt and left our heads spinning and our neck hairs stand straight up, director Jean-Marc Vallee— along with producers Amy Adams and Jason Blum (from Blumhouse Productions), and writers Marti Noxon and Gillian Flynn— created a beautifully crafted piece of limited series television, and put an artistic spin on the otherwise bland and trope-filled murder mystery/thriller genre. I cannot wait to watch everyone involved in this series win a ton of Emmy Awards next year.
You can rewatch SHARP OBJECTS on HBO Now and HBO Go.