Sharp Objects S1E6: Cherry

by thethreepennyguignol

It’s been interesting to note, over the course of writing these recaps, the differing reactions to Sharp Objects as a whole. We’re deep into the season now, with only two episodes left after this one, and it seems like the divide in opinions is pretty sharp (ho ho): you either buy into the show’s dreamy, icy layers and buried thematic elements, or you think it’s a load of pretentious old tosh.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m firmly in the former category, but I do understand where those other opinions come from. Sharp Objects is a difficult show, and I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s complex or heavy (though it is those things too). Jean-Marc Vallée’s directorial style is dense, the writing is evasive and at times deliberately frustrating, and the story is winding closer to it’s explosive center in a languid, thoughtful fashion. It’s not the hectic, forward-focused crime drama that we’re used to, and I understand and accept criticism of the show as punishing instead of rewarding.

And honestly, it’s hard to argue with those critics of the show after an episode like this week’s Cherry. For the last five weeks, and especially with the previous episode’s bleakness, I’ve been really impressed with how the show has balanced dense backstory with a decent sense of narrative momentum, giving me just enough to keep me hooked – even when I’ve found it frustrating. But this week feels like a stubborn episode that doesn’t really want to take us anywhere, time-filling before the double-hander finale.

And that’s not to say there isn’t some cracking stuff this week: my favorite scene comes as one of the men who apparently assaulted a teenage Camille attempts to apologise for his actions, earning him a brusque brush-off from a Camille who doesn’t want to acknowledge his guilt or bestow some benevolent redemption for his actions. It’s satisfying to see her so sharply cut him down, no easy acceptance arc in store for either of them.

But there’s just a lot in this episode that feels wheel-spinning. Richard, after a hook-up with Camille, delves into her past with self-harm and at the rehabilitation center she was treated at – which not only feels deeply invasive on his front, but also really gives us no new information about either of them. The third episode delved gorgeously into Camille’s experiences at the center, and Richard mowing over fresh earth doesn’t bring anything new to that narrative, nor does it really inform him as a character in the process.

Amma gets the meat of this episode, as she brings Camille along to a wild party where the two of them take oxycontin together and bond in the aftermath. And again, I do find Amma a compelling character, but it feels really cheap for a show this complex to rely on drug-addled revelations to deepen her relationship with Camille. Not to mention the fact that it’s impossible to frame drunk and high characters in any way that doesn’t feel really tropey and obvious – the giggling, the goofing, the dramatic emotional shifts, they all feel overdone and not up to the frequently innovative direction Sharp Objects has shown so far. Not to mention, that final sequence of Camille and Amma swinging each other around while Amma’s face morphs into the various images of girls Camille has lost in her past was just on the wrong side of overwrought for me.

And it’s not the only thing that feels like it’s coming from inauthentic plot developments: Alan shares a scene with Camille which is just some quite shockingly obvious exposition about Camille’s grandmother and her relationship with Adora, shoved in there to help contextualize Adora’s treatment of her daughters. I don’t even know that it really feels neccessary, and it’s certainly some of the more stilted dialogue we’ve seen in Sharp Objects thus far.

There are developments in the murder cases this week, as the bicycle of one of the dead girls is dredged up in pig slurry on the Preaker farm. I feel like this should have been a bigger deal – indeed, the crushing reaction of the father of the dead girl as he sees the bike for the first time lands as the episode’s most brutally emotional moment – but it’s hand-waved away in a tiny scene at the end of the episode that, again, just feels like the show ticking boxes rather than providing compelling plot developments.

We get some more of Ashley this week as well, the girlfriend of the older brother of one of the murder victims, and one of the characters I’m certainly more drawn to in the show. But, as in the Richard/Camille plot, we just don’t get a lot of meaningful development for her character, the episode retreading old ground about the false front she puts forward instead of delving into what really lies underneath.

This episode of Sharp Objects feels frustratingly surface-level, like the show knows what it wants to tell us but just isn’t ready to drop it yet. I’m still looking forward to the next couple of episodes, as we’ve got the climax to a lot of intriguing plots presumably on the way, but the show is refusing to show us it’s hand and this week felt more evasive than invasive. I want a show that gets under the skin of these fascinating characters and the compelling dynamic of this small town, not one that lingers on the surface, refusing to break through. Fingers crossed for a return to form next week – and that perhaps this episode will inform more in retrospect than it does in the moment.

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(header image courtesy of Express)