Sharp Objects S1E4: Ripe

by thethreepennyguignol

Ooft. You know an episode has made it stick when you want to yell “fuck, no!” at the screen when it cuts to credits. And this week’s Sharp Objects outing, Ripe, had me doing just that.

I don’t think I’ve made any bones about the fact that I’ve really rated this show so far, but for the last few weeks the focus has been shifted from the crimes that pushed the story into action and on to the characters involved with them. Which is no bad thing – the exploration of Camille’s psyche and self-harm last week were honestly some of my favourite TV this year – but I’m a sucker for a good crime drama, and Sharp Objects delivered on that in spades. Oh, and gave me a big heaping helping of Patricia Clarkson’s Adora to boot.

The arguable centrepiece to this episode is a scene shared between Camille and Adora, after the former returns from a trip to the woods with the detective, where the two of them end up – well, hooking up is too nice a descriptor for it, but succumbing to their mutual attraction. In the humid, gothic darkness of the family home, the two exchange barbed conversation about their mutual places as mother and daughter, and the inversion of that relationship over the years – the climax comes as Adora tells Camille that she smells “ripe”, before leaving her with a dozen more unanswered questions. This is probably my favourite scene of the whole damn show thus far, in a major way thanks to Clarkson and Adams and their utter, gruelling commitment to these characters, but it’s also a perfect summation of what’s going on this week – questions not answered, control questioned, and most importantly, a ripeness, like something’s waiting to burst, teetering on the edge.

And that teetering comes in the form of a number of teases surrounding both the case and Camille’s relationship to it: the aforementioned trip to the woods with her out-of-town cop, aside from acting as a culmination to their sexual tension, touches once again on her traumatic memory of what happened in a desolate cabin out in the woods, a cabin both the murdered girls frequented. She teases the Later, Camille discovers that Amma was in fact close with both victims, and it sends her into a tailspin of conviction that her half-sister is next. There’s so much here that feels as though we’re on the brink of figuring out the truth, but the episode keeps pulling back, deliciously frustrating and compelling, giving just enough to feel like we’re making progress.

And Adora, too, who gets a real outing this week, is teetering similairly in her personal life. She uses the excuse of a small cut to her hand to escape social engagements with her friends, but it happy to exchange flirtations with the town sheriff in front of her husband, much to the latter’s chagrin. Her confrontation with Camille feels more frustrating than anything else, and her relationship with her husband begins spinning off-script as she denies him the kind of intimacy he craves. Her control – over her husband and their physicality, over Camille and her place as her mother, over her place in the social scene of Wind Rush – is beginning to look more and more precarious, and she knows it. I can’t wait to see what happens when it goes over the edge for good.

I haven’t really talked about Henry Czerny’s performance as Alan, Adora’s husband and Camille’s stepfather, because we’ve seen him on a low simmer for the past few weeks, but Ripe really lets him shine and it’s probably my favourite performance of the episode. His resentful, somewhat childish lashing out at Adora after she turns down his advances – regarding her lack of intimacy to him, and the impact of the loss of their daughter Marian years before – feels half pre-mediated and mediated upon, and half a furious reaction to simply not getting what he thinks he deserves from his wife. The episode closes out with a brief shot of him climbing on top of her in bed, and it’s one of the show’s most truly unsettling moments so far; to see this man, who up until now has been depicted as the pinnacle of apparent decency with the household, reclaim his own power and control in such a horrendous way feels like a rug-pull. Early in the episode, we see a flashback of Alan attempting to present a young Camille with a birthday cake, and to have that kindness contrasted with his refusal to accept Adora’s rejection is particularly chilling.

Amma, too, though she doesn’t get as much screentime this week as in previous episodes, is constantly bashing up against the bars of her own adolescence – she flirtatiously approaches and comforts the adult man running their youth group’s theater performance, and it’s one of those skin-crawling scenes where he lingers on her just a little too long to be remotely appropriate. Amma treats this, amongst her other age-inappropriate actions, as rebellion, a way of wresting control back from her hyper-vigilant mother, but they’re so clearly spinning out towards something profoundly damaging for her.

This week was a really cracking exploration of the notion of control and power – the control we have over our own stories and pasts, over the people around us, whether that’s sexually, romantically, emotionally, or in a familial sense, the control over how our lives play out – and the show really feels like it’s coming together as it leans into all the members of the Preaker clan. Difficult, compelling, and unsettling, Ripe feels like a misnomer: this episode was rotten, from the inside out.

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(header image courtesy of Elle)

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