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Sharp Objects (HBO) (1 Viewer)

Josh Steinberg

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I want to resist the temptation to rank each episode in what’s clearly a continuous story - it does strike me as being a little silly to grade each episode individually when none are meant to stand alone.

That said, I found last night’s to be the most underwhelming of the batch so far. It mostly seemed like filler, showing us more of the bad relationships we’ve previously seen, without doing much to push the plot forward. I don’t mind episodes that focus more on character, but I don’t feel that we got a lot of new insights on the characters either.

Hopefully next week’s will have some more momentum.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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This is a show that I like to watch alone, after dark, with my headphones on. While I was out of town, I held off on watching last Sunday's episode because I didn't want to experience it on my six-inch phone screen. I'm glad I waited.

I'm glad there are only three episodes left. I couldn't stand to see much more bullshit Camille can take from her mother. Matter of fact, that whole town is messed up.
It's definitely starting to have the feel of that old Shirley Jackson story "The Lottery", where you realize that beneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic small American town, there is something deeply sinister, but it's not the evil of one person -- it's a collective evil embodied and reinforced by all. Individually, they may bemoan it or hate it. But together, everybody plays their accustomed roles.

The girls' night was particularly instructive in this area; on the car ride over, the one bitchy old cheerleader friend is extremely hospitable to and solicitous toward Camille. Yet once in the company of the three women she was just savagely gossiping about, they form a united front and start pecking away at Camille. Becca isn't as terrible; she's kept Camille's secret all these years, and her commiseration with Camille when the others are not in earshot feels genuine. But when the full pack is in attack mode, she keeps quiet and stays out of the line of fire.

Zero story advance in this last episode, bordering on redundantly indulgent. At this point I'm debating whether I should have just read the book and saved 8 hours of viewing if I had interest in the topic (which is more a meditation than a murder mystery).

We keep going over the same territory; we get it. Perhaps there was some contractual or economic reason they had to stretch to 8 hours, but usually in limited series, we get some major momentum in the last three episodes (penultimate episode in series like The Sopranos were usually the most explosively dynamic), but this series, to use a southern Gothic expression, just lollygags along.
I get what you're saying. That being said, I didn't feel that the episode was redundant or indulgent.

I think the reason that the episode was frustrating, dramatically, is because the bulk of it was spent with characters learning things that we the audience already learned via other perspectives. It's always a risk to engagement and investment when the characters are playing catch up to the audience.

That being said, it filled in some crucial pieces, even though it didn't make a big deal out of them:
  • There is a whole bizarre dynamic at play between Amma and John Keene, with Amma being extremely forward and John Keene being uncharacteristically assertive and withholding -- a completely different demeanor than we'd seen up until this point. And the exchange

    AMMA: Who do I remind you of?
    JOHN KEENE: A bad little girl who thinks she's a lot cuter than she is.
    AMMA: Then you should stop watching me. You know how Ashley gets when she's jealous.
    JOHN KEENE: I like to keep on you, Amma. Just know I've always got an eye on you.
    AMMA: You sure do, now.
    JOHN KEENE: It'll be your day. Soon.

    Best case scenario, that's really creepy. Worst case, it's a very pointed threat/promise.
  • After Marian died, Adora did not permit an autopsy on the body. On one hand, that's very much in keeping with everything we know about her. On the other hand, if Marian was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, that would be a very effective way for Adora to prevent anybody from discovering the poison.
  • We learn that Adora's mother was physically abusive to her, perhaps not in an overt way but certainly in a psychologically terrifying way.
  • Camille and Alan did not communicate when Camille was growing up. She is sharp and direct and fierce with him in a way she never is with Adora. It's of a piece with Alan's general emasculated status within the household, but it's telling. And it's also telling that Alan did not make too strong of a push to drive Camille out.
  • Jackie O'Neill all but tells Det. Willis that he's barking up the wrong tree looking into Camille's psychiatric history. Certainly her loyalty to Camille is part of it. But she clearly knows something she's not saying.
  • We more or less get confirmation that Camille was gang raped by the football players in that shed in the woods.
  • Ann Nash's bicycle conveniently turned up in a shallow pool of pig excrement at Adora's hog farm, and one of the workers whose employment status is tenuous conveniently remembers John Keene dumping it in there.
  • Amma is really strong for her age and build, as evidenced when -- in a stoned and drunken state of euphoria, she goes to hug Camille but knocks her violently to the ground in the process.
  • Adora talks about Camille and Marian in her sleep.
  • Amma says to Camille, "You ever feel like bad things are gonna happen to you, and you can't stop 'em? You can't do anything? You just have to wait?" Once again, it seems clear that Amma knows more about what happened to those two girls, her old friends, than she's letting on. Either she has some reason to believe that the killer's got her in his or her sights, or she fears she herself is going to get caught.
What made me love this episode, though, was the whole party sequence. From when Amma and her friends run into Camille at the liquor store on, the episode obeys nightmare logic instead of reality logic. Camille knows it's wildly inappropriate for her to drink and do drugs with her teenage sister and then go to a high school party and do more drugs. But, much like a nightmare, she finds herself unable to do anything but let events transpire. Her and Amma do finally genuinely bond, but it's a dark twisted thing. She sees -- or wants to see -- in her half-sister many of the dark, unlikable things she sees in herself. The cinematography, the editing, the sound design, everything was surreal and heightened and ominous.

And then, when the girls are inside, the show appears to be using its editing tricks to deceive us. When Camille is teaching Amma how to climb over the banister to avoid making noise at the top of the stairs, there's the back of a head out of focus in the foreground, watching them. The hair is pale blond, and so the head almost certainly belongs to Adora. And yet, when the scene cuts to the opposite angle, looking down from the top of the stairs, it's little Marian -- with much darker hair -- standing in the same spot.

The closing beats -- with Camille's bedroom door in background opening silently to reveal Adora lurking like a silent movie villain, immediately after Amma's "You ever feel like bad things are gonna happen to you, and you can't stop 'em?" monologue, and then sickly Marian in the mirror warning Camille that "it's not safe for you here" -- were a bit too on the nose, but nevertheless very, very effective.

I mentioned early on that Sophia Lillis as young Camille was eerily good casting. But even more insanely good casting was Lulu Wilson as Marian and Eliza Scanlen as Amma. There's a degree of likeness in their faces that at certain angles it's very difficult to tell which one we're looking at. Especially at the end, when Amma is spread out next to Camille on the bed.

Among people I know who read the book, the general consensus after the Calhoun Day episode was that with three episodes left to go, there was still a lot of book left to cover. Interestingly, even though not a lot seemed to happen in this episode, the consensus was that this episode actually covered a lot of ground from the book. I want to let the show surprise me, so I avoided any further information, but it appears that there were things buried in this episode that will pay off in the final two.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Tonight's episode was confirmation of something that had been previously hinted at: Marian was the victim of Munchausen by proxy, and Adora is responsible for her death. Jackie O'Neill is an alcoholic because she knew but felt powerless to do anything about it, and Adora's power over the entire community frustrated her attempts at every turn.

Alan also knows, on some level, but is in a deep state of denial about it. Every once in a while, his mind comes close to the truth, and then ricochets back from the unthinkable. Him listening to "Down in the Willow Garden" (♫ My love she did not know | So I poisoned that dear little girl | On the banks below ♫) says everything, in a moment that is both heartbreaking and horrifying.

Camille did not know, and is only alive because she refused her mother's medicine.

Once Amma started maturing out of childhood, Adora began the same regiment with her. Like Marian before her, she lies back and takes it.

Det. Willis figured out the truth, but his desire for justice was frustrated by his sense of betrayal at the compromising position he found Camille in. He did, however, leave Marian's hospital file in the passenger seat of Camille's car; out of some lingering responsibility to get the truth to come out, or to punish Camille for her transgression? Hard to say.

The police chief did not know the truth, and didn't want to because he has been having a long-standing affair with Adora. However, Det. Willis bringing up the suspicious circumstances surrounding Marian to him earlier in the day, and then Amma's friends telling him that Amma is being kept home sick later in the day, forces him to put two and two together.

In other news, Camille slept with the primary suspect in the murder investigation she is covering -- an appalling violation of journalistic ethics. She has suffered a great loss, once she has never been able to get over, and he has suffered a great loss, one he evidently will never be able to get over. She can be open with him in a way she feels she can be open with no one else. This was the exact wrong story for her to cover, at a moment of significant fragility in her life. It was the biggest lapse in judgment yet, from a character that hasn't exactly been short on lapses in judgment. And it came at the worst possible time, for Amma's safety. At the very moment she needs to be most credible, she is at her least credible. And Adora never lets her mask slip in public.

It speaks to the six episodes that preceded this one that none of the big revelations came as a shocking surprise. Instead, they landed like puzzle pieces fitting into place; once you accept the fact of what Adora has done, lots of other things start making sense.
 

Robert Crawford

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Very disappointed in Camille's actions in the last couple of episodes. I'm happy this series is coming to an end next week as there are too many unlikable people in this series for me. Some of them are true monsters.
 

MarkMel

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Thanks for the summary Adam. I was watching as I was working from home and I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have. This helped immensely.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Who would have thought that with all of the horrors that Camille experienced in Wind Gap, the worst horror wouldn't be revealed until she was back at St. Louis.

The image of the dollhouse floor will stick with me for some time. One of those things that is obvious in retrospect, but too appalling to contemplate and so missed entirely.

Looking back, Amma has been my leading contender since the fifth episode. After the third episode, I was pretty sure that the killer would be female. That narrowed the suspect list significantly. Adora was the obvious choice, and that's what made me think it wasn't her. Also, she didn't have the physical strength for it. She used subtler weapons, so she didn't need physical strength. It made sense, though, that the person would be intimately tied to Camille since she's the central figure of this story. I figured it therefore had to be between Amma or Jackie O'Neill or, as an outside chance, somehow Camille herself.

I zeroed in on Amma when she drunkenly accused Camille of loving dead girls, and stated that she had read her crime stories online from the St. Louis paper. Ann Nash was a crime of passion, but Natalie Keene was an exhibition. She created a display to hold her sister's interest. Her jealousy toward others who received Camille's attention was obvious.

The blood stain under the bed where John Keene was staying threw me, though. At that point, I figured it was either John Keene -- too obvious to be obvious -- or his attention-seeking girlfriend. Neither solution felt satisfying though, because they were too disconnected from Camille's story.

As the danger toward Amma seemed imminent, I bought in hook, line, and sinker. I didn't really suspect her again until the third to last episode, the episode that was by general consensus repetitive and redundant. The exchange that Camille overheard between John Keene and Amma really bothered me. It could be read one of two ways, either of which would confirm a theory: If John Keene was the murderer, then Amma was poking a hornet's nest, and we got a rare glimpse of the darkness underneath the seemingly morose and placid John Keene. If Amma was the murderer, than she was being solicitous of John Keene's attention the same way she was solicitous of the drama teacher's attention, or her mother's attention, or her half-sister's attention, and John Keene was warning her that he suspected her and that retribution would be coming sooner or later. And then later, when Camille and Amma are staggering drunkenly in the lawn, and Camille makes her happy: she lunges at her for a hug with such forcefulness that she tackles her to the ground. Adora might not have had the physical strength to pull out a girl's teeth, but clearly Amma does.

After Adora was arrested and tried, when the show jumped forward to Amma moving in with Camille in St. Louis, and Amma met the girl just a year or two younger than herself, I was filled with terrible foreboding. If this was headed toward a happy ending, everything would be fine and this girl would be evidence that Amma had moved past the trauma that Adora had inflicted on her. But this didn't feel like it was heading toward a happy ending.

When Camille's editor was reading her article, and the girls ran off to play in the background, I was filled with dread. The song on the radio, loud and with the occasional scream, seemed certain to be masking something just off camera. But then it was dinner time, and everything was fine. And then Amma's friend made the mistake of saying that she wanted to go into journalism. And Amma's jealous reaction was over the top. At that point, I felt a pit in my stomach. It seemed obvious what was coming.

But nothing prepared me for that dollhouse floor. Nor the fact that Amma's two lackeys back in Wind Gap held her victims down while she ripped out the teeth. Nor the sheer feral animal rage on Eliza Scanlen's face while Amma was doing it.

Scanlen, in this, was a revelation. Her first American project, and she was right up there with Patricia Clarkson and Amy Adams the entire way through. My fear is that she was so good as a sociopath in this, that she'll get typecast in these sorts of roles going forward. Certainly, after tonight's episode, I'm going to have trouble not seeing Amma in whatever her next project is.]

At first, I didn't understand why this prestige drama adapting a pulpy suspense novel would be a Blumhouse production. Didn't they just do horror movies? By the end of the credits of this finale, I knew why it was a Blumhouse production. This was very much a horror story. And the monsters weren't supernatural, which made it all the more horrifying.
 

Hollywoodaholic

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So they put the little Alfred Hitchcock Presents twist on the very end, which we kind of knew was coming because Adora was imprisoned, Camille was back in St. Louis and the story was still going on. But the credit sequence quick clips showed the other skater girls involved too, while Amma was garroting the victims.

Scanlon was a revelation in this, and Clarkson always good, but Amy Adams was definitely the weakest link here and, I know there will be disagreement, but I think she was miscast in this and I didn't find her 'interior' work at all impressive here. I kept imagining other actresses with much more simmering underneath playing that role. I get the director played the entire series with a dreamlike quality through her eyes/lens, but even though Camille is the quintessential victim here, Adams passive exterior should have hinted a bit more fire underneath, in my view. You don't go into journalism without having a torch of the crusader within.

Incidentally, I saw an Elizabeth Perkins' interview where she revealed they cut scenes with her visiting Adora in prison, and Adora being released, and Amma being arrested. Good choices in my opinion to do away with that unnecessary cleanup, but also because the series never really worked as a murder mystery, but really was just a kind of atmospheric Southern Gothic horror story like something Shirley Jackson might have conceived. My wife and I watched and appreciated the approach and feel of the piece, but would have no interest in seeing it again, which for me is the test of a lasting impact series. I'm in for the next True Detective, though, based on the preview.
 
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Hollywoodaholic

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Adora should still end up in prison for poisoning her daughters.

From Perkins' interview:


What was involved in the wrap-up that wasn’t included in the episode?

That Adora’s going to get out.

And she’s getting out because they realize she’s not the one who actually murdered the girls?

Exactly, and that they don’t really have proof that she murdered Marian, because they don’t really.

They don’t. And the pliers in Adora’s kitchen are clearly circumstantial.

And once they discover that it’s Amma, what have they arrested Adora for?

So they do discover that it’s Amma?

Yes.

And Adora had no idea that it was Amma?

That’s kind of left up in the air.
 

Hollywoodaholic

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You'd hope so, but apparently either the evidence wasn't conclusive enough or the wheels of justice don't roll in a one owner hog town like Wind Gap.

The interesting thing to me about the interview was her revealing the entire series was shot linearly, and it was only in post that the director starting fooling around with all the quick clips shots as flashbacks and tying them more exclusively to telling the story almost entirely from Camille's perspective and state of mind. Reminds us just how much editing contributes to the way a story is told.

Also, apparently that dollhouse cost more than some real houses:

Paino declined to provide an exact construction cost, but said the dollhouse was so labor-intensive it landed somewhere in the “six figures.” An incomplete second dollhouse was also built because in the book, Camille smashes it while looking for proof that Amma is the killer. But Flynn and showrunner Marti Noxon left that detail out of their scripts, so the scene was never filmed.
 
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Adam Lenhardt

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She still should end up in prison for poisoning Amma and Camille.
They might have shot footage of Adora being released from prison, but it didn't make it into the final cut, so in my head canon both Adora and Amma are behind bars.

Because Camille's family, and because Camille took the poison for her, I don't think Amma would harm her -- even to avoid prison. I think part of why she targeted Ann and Natalie was because they stole Adora's attention without enduring the poisoning that she had. Besides, the gig was up anyway once she targeted Mae, using the same M.O. as the Ann and Natalie murders -- demonstrating an impulsivity characteristic to psychopaths.
 

MarkMel

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And again, thanks Adam! I stopped it after the credits started rolling and I thought "that's it?" I rewatched the end scene and the credits and he tag during the credits helped close the gap for me.
 

Greg.K

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I, too, stopped at the end credits and only went back after Adam's post made me go "huh?"

The dollhouse reveal at the end was quite a shock, even though I was expecting something to happen with Amma at that point.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Adam, I'd like to say thanks for posting about this show in the first place. I had been on the fence about whether or not to watch it, and your enthusiastic comments about the first episode, along with the knowledge that you'd be leading a thread on it, convinced me to take the plunge - and I'm glad I did.

I found the last episode to be tremendously satisfying.

I had suspected since near the beginning that the killer was some combination of Adora, Amma and Alan - I didn't think it was all three, but I wasn't necessarily convinced it was just one of them. The ending ultimately made sense - Alan is at best intentionally naive and at worst complicit but not directly guilty, Adora is guilty of murdering one child and attempting to murder the other two, and Amma is guilty of the actual murders being investigated. Close enough to what I was feeling but also different enough that it was both surprising and satisfying.
 

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I was wondering why the bed from the dollhouse was in the trash.
I watched the last part of the finale a couple times looking for any clues. In the montage where Amma is adjusting to life with Camille, her friend Mae takes the toy bed from the dollhouse and shows it to Camille. Amma looks over as Camille smiles. I'm guessing that Mae made it and Amma threw it out because Camille liked it.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Thanks for the kind words, Josh!

Alan is at best intentionally naive and at worst complicit but not directly guilty
When it comes out that a man has been beating or molesting the children under his roof, how often does the wife take believe him over the children? How long did she ignore signs of abuse? How long did she willfully keep herself ignorant of what was going on? Far too often.

Alan, I think, suffers from the same psychological impulse. To admit what is going on would be too terrible, so he avoids it as best he can. Adora is such a domineering personality and he is such a submissive personality that to confront her about it would be impossible to contemplate. So he does his best to gently nudge her away from her worst impulses, to decidedly unspectacular results, but then when the police come knocking with Camille's incapacitation too obvious to hide, he helps cover for Adora rather than confronting the situation head on.

He is, ultimately, infuriating and his inaction got his oldest daughter killed, his stepdaughter repeatedly institutionalized, and molded his youngest daughter to a serial killer. But there's no question that the mindset that brought him to that place is far too common.

I was wondering why the bed from the dollhouse was in the trash.
I watched the last part of the finale a couple times looking for any clues. In the montage where Amma is adjusting to life with Camille, her friend Mae takes the toy bed from the dollhouse and shows it to Camille. Amma looks over as Camille smiles. I'm guessing that Mae made it and Amma threw it out because Camille liked it.
Great observation. Given how jealous is of anybody else getting Camille's attention, I bet you're right.
 

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