Sharp Objects S1E7: Falling

by thethreepennyguignol


Now, to be clear, I don’t dislike this episode of Sharp Objects. It’s certainly an improvement on last week, where nothing really seemed to happened and the show’s firm grip on its stylistic choices seemed to slip into more cheese than charm. But this week left me feeling a little cold.

In all fairness, at least lots happens in this week’s outing, Falling. The biggest and most important revelation, perhaps of the show to do, is that Adora has been suffering from Munchausens by Proxy, leading her to poison both Camille’s sister Marian, apparently causing her death, and also Amna, who spends most of the episode bedridden after allowing Adora to take care of her through a hangover. It’s a big old hunk of character development and important plot movement, and I do think for the most part it’s handled pretty well – I knew this was coming in the show, and I feel like it could have been a little better-seeded than it was, but I understand Sharp Objects wanting to pull a twist out of the bag with the final two episodes so I don’t begrudge it too much. Adora has real, chilling purpose in this week’s outing, floating around the house to make up her “medicine” for her daughter, and it’s one again a testament to Patricia Clarkson’s deliciously syrupy performance that she manages to sell what could have been a ridiculous reveal.

But the arguable centerpiece of this episode is the second act, which revolves around John Keene, the older brother of the murdered girl and prime suspect in the investigation, and Camille. Camille seeks out John in a crappy watering hole where the two of them exchange truths and untruths about their pasts with their dead sisters: it’s by turns witty, sad, devastating, raw, and contained, and it’s really a testament to both actors that they managed to pull this off without it just coming across as a big old dump of characterization for both Keene and Camille. Their parallels make sense and deepen our understanding of both characters, so when they retire to Camille’s hotel room to hook up, I understand why.

But the scene that follows…something about it rubbed me up the wrong way. As I discussed earlier in these recaps, I have a long history with self-harm myself, and part of the reason I was drawn to this show was to see a depiction of it handled in more than an issue-of-the-week format. And I think, for the most part, I’ve been pretty satisfied and impressed with what Sharp Objects has done with self-harm. But there’s this sequence in this episode, where Camille allows John to undress her and read the scars and words carved into her body, that just…ugh.

Look, I get it, this scene makes sense in context of the episode. It’s a pair of characters exposing themselves to each other physically and emotionally. But there was something a little discomforting to me about seeing Camille’s scars translated through the eyes of someone else. When I was self-harming badly enough that it was pretty hard to hide them, I found that plenty of people – often men, often men who were pursuing me romantically or sexually – felt the urge to let me know that my scars didn’t bother them, that they would Help Me Fix whatever tragic thing was wrong with me. The implication, no matter how well-intentioned, being that I could not possibly accept myself in the state I was in and it was up to them to convince me I was still worthy of finding attractive, whether it be physically or emotionally. Is it the show’s fault that I’m instantly reminded of being the conduit for someone else’s saviour complex after this scene, of my scars and body and illness being translated through other people’s interpretation? Of course not, but I still really didn’t like watching our first real, extended, Camille-approved look at her scars and her body come through the eyes of John.

My own hang-ups aside, I’m not a fan of what follows this scene either. John is arrested, after the police kick in the door of their motel room, and Camille’s last lover, the detective, catches the two of them together. Camille desperately attempts to make amends to him, but he rejects her – which makes sense, given how hurt he is by this percieved betrayal, but having Chris Messina spit that Camille is nothing more than a “drunken slut” who has never taken responsibility for her shitty life feels too blunt for this show, a little overwritten to underline a point that could have been made better. Again, it’s a scene I understand the function for but don’t care for the execution of, and it feels like a way to dredge up some conflict for the final episode where the reveal with Adora is more than enough.

Similarly, a scene with Ashley, John’s girlfriend, earlier in the episode, where she sells him out to bolster her own social standing, feels too pointed to be impactful, handing us her “I’ll get my name in the paper?” instead of letting us come to those conclusions ourselves. Sharp Objects has put the work in, but it doesn’t seem certain that we have.

As we go into the final episode, I’m interested to see where Camille will end up after the finale. She’s a character I still find compelling and interesting, even if this week brought up some grim memories about my own past with self-harm. There’s no real happy ending for her here, and that’s a fascinating way for a dark show to close out. But I’m hoping Sharp Objects can have a little more faith in the work it’s already done grounding these characters, and feel less of a need to hand us character moments as bluntly as it did this week.

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(header image courtesy of Refinery29)