Sharp Objects S1E5: Closer

by thethreepennyguignol

The past is out in Sharp Objects, and it’s here for blood.

This week’s episode, Closer, focuses (as in the second episode) on a gathering in the town of Wind Rush: before, it was a funeral, but this time, it’s to celebrate a defining incident in the town’s past – that, of course, involves the gang-rape of a child bride reworked into something triumphant for all involved. And that ugliness is only the start of this episode’s sharp edges.

The town comes together at Adora’s house just after Camille publishes her first article on the double murders, and tensions are already running high as the town’s recent history is put on display. Everyone seems to have interpreted the article and apparent accusations present in it in different ways: there’s a simmering tension (and cheerful Confederate racism) to the gathering, boiling over in a scuffle between remaining relatives of the dead girls, and it’s an underlining of the unanswered questions still burning at the centre of Wind Rush, threatening to combust at any moment.

But, as ever, it’s Camille’s history that gets a real airing this week, thanks, in large part, to Adora. She’s the one who drags Camille to get an appropriate dress for the occasion, and, in an almost painfully vulnerable scene, basically forces her to reveal her undressed and deeply scarred body to both her and Amma. Camille’s history is written all over her, quite literally, her emotional agony displayed in front of her mother and her sister in a way which neither can continue to deny.

A histrionic, nightmarish Patricia Clarkson features at the centre of two superb scenes this week – one with Detective Willis, and one with Camille. The former, as she shows the detective around her house and fills him in on some of the history of the place, is so brilliantly barbed it almost spikes out of the screen and straight into your soft parts, Adora coating her bile towards her eldest daughter in just enough sweetness to convince as a caring matriarch – it’s not enough to put the detective off, as Camille and Willis consumate their relationship at the end of the episode in one of the most purely raw moments on TV this year, but Adora’s still in there, sewing seeds of doubt and discontent.

But it’s her scene with Camille that’s really, arguably, the centrepiece of the season thus far. Adora apologises to Camille for Camille’s emotional problems – but she’s not taking responsibility for it. No, the only thing she takes responsibility for is not loving Camille, blaming her history with Camille’s father and Camille’s alleged inherited emotional coldness, which Adora claims made it impossible to bond with her. It’s the kind of brutal scene that almost hurts to watch, as everything Camille feared about herself is calmly confirmed by the woman meant to cure her of it.

To say that Clarkson and Adams are on form here is an understatement: this scene, and the scene of Camille and Willis having sex for the first time directly afterwards in a desperate attempt to prove that she’s capable of the intimacy her mother believes she isn’t, made me cry quite a lot for reasons I’m not even really sure I can articulate, despite what this thousand-word post might indicate. It’s just…really fucking good stuff. Really good. It draws to mind some of the better stuff in Stephen King’s Carrie, where Margaret White blames her daughter’s father for her abuse of her child, but played to even more savage pinpoint accuracy.

Amma is coming off the rails too, as she pops ecstasy before performing in the traditional play depicting the aforementioned triumphant historical child gang-rape (what a delightful selection of words they are in that order). The show seems to be hinting at Amma as the perpetrator of the murders, which I wouldn’t be totally mad at, but at this point it’s clear that (as in the excellent Broadchurch) the actual murderer is secondary to the affect of the murders on Wind Rush as a whole and Camille in particular. Because Amma has the least history that we know of here, it’s not a forefronted episode for her, but there’s hints at a past she clearly wants to forget that continue to intrigue.

Delving into the past is rich territory for Sharp Objects, especially when it comes to Camille and double especially when it comes to Camille and Adora. With only a few episodes left and so much left to explore (like the flashbacks to whatever the fuck happened to Camille at the hands of the teenage boys in that shed), I’m intrigued to see where the show will lay it’s focus going forward. And as long as they keep couching these plots in amazing performances and killer insight, I’m happy wherever they take it.

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(header image courtesy of Vulture)