Sharp Objects S1E8: Milk

by thethreepennyguignol


That’s my feeling after watching the Sharp Objects finale. Not that it was godawful, or that there wasn’t some intriguing resolution to be found to this: just…nah. No thanks. Try again.

The final episode, Milk, revolves ostensibly around the exposure of Adora for the murders of both the two girls who’s murders kicked off this series and of her daughter, Marion, as well as the poisoning of Amma and Camille. Now, to be fair, I think that this sequence was by far the most interesting part of the show. A pure slice of gothic horror melodrama, Camille returns home having finally figured out that her mother was responsible for the murder of her sister, and that she’s inflicting the same torture on Amma: Camille fakes an illness in order to get her mother to take care of her, allowing Adora to poison her to near-death as she attempts to expose the truth.

And it’s some great stuff, honestly. Patricia Clarkson has always made intimacy seem so violent within this show, and here it’s at it’s most brutal: as she tends to a deathly-ill Camille, there’s something almost playful about it, flicking water in her face as she strokes her back in the bath. This is clearly her in her element, and the show presents it as that: deep shadows permeate the house as Adora takes control once more, sweeping around with a melodramatic matriarchal majesty that’s just a joy to behold.

But this isn’t what the meat of the episode is about. No, as Camille lingers close to death, her editor turns up with the police to liberate her from her mother’s grasp. And it’s really here that the episode starts to take a turn for the worse: the development is so hacky and really obvious, meant to draw this tension out of Adora’s inevitable capture. Not to mention that the rest of the plot really doesn’t bear close examination, especially with regards to the question of why Camille wouldn’t just go directly to the police when she figured out that Adora was poisoning Amma instead of rendering herself insensible with Adora’s “care” first. It fits somewhat with Camille’s self-destructive nature, sure, but it seems so far out there in terms of plot development as to be solely included to allow for Patricia Clarkson to sweep around the gorgeous Preaker residence in full, maniacal, final form. Camille throws herself on a grenade in the hopes that, I guess, someone will save her? And the fact that the show hurriedly tosses in a few people to do so feels more convenient than anything else.

Adora is arrested and charged with the murders of the two girls from Wind Rush, of which she is swiftly convicted in montage sequence. It’s really just blazed through, this entire section, which really dissapointed me as I wanted to see Adora trying to extricate herself from the situation she’d created – not to mention the reaction of the town at large. What happened to John Keene, the initial murder suspect who had been arrested with the murders a mere day or so before Adora was caught? What about the families of the girls left behind? How about Adora’s husband? It felt workmanlike, which is something I’ve never been able to say about this series, and that was a shame, especially given Patricia Clarkson’s utter commitment to breathing life into such an icy-cold villainess. Add to this the sequence of Camille’s editor reading the conclusion to her article on the piece aloud so the show doesn’t have to bother to write in a subtler emotional denouement, and it’s some really clumsy bow-tying on a series that has been committed to the ambiguous.

But there’s still twenty minutes to go before the episode is done with after Adora is caught and, of course, that means there’s a twist coming. And that twist is that Amma is the killer of the two girls in Wind Rush, which makes sense and is fine, but also feels like kind of a backhand. The show has often backburnered the story of the actual crimes that drew Camille to the town, which was fine, as it explored with such intensity and artfulness the impact her upbringing had had on her as an adult, and how the return to her home affected her in such a vulnerable state.

And honestly, I would have been very happy with an ending that didn’t offer a definitive answer to the crimes – Amma has been clearly signposted as a potential murderer the whole way through the season’s run, and I don’t know that I needed the confirmation that came as the closing moments of the finale. This final episode turns the show from a story about Camille and her demons into a more run-of-the-mill tale about murder, and the most we really get from Camille in terms of her own personal development are the aforementioned clunky-as-hell scene where her article is just read out loud to the audience.

Maybe it’s more true-to-life that Camille’s mental health problems and personal issues don’t feel as though they got a satisfying conclusion, but what the show gave me wasn’t even enough to point towards a continuing confrontation with her traumas. Sharp Objects closed out on a “ha, gotcha!” reveal – even featuring a mid-credits scene where we see Amma and her friends violently murdering the dead girls, just to drive the point home – and it felt really cheap given all the hard work they’ve put in to developing Camille as a character. It gave me the answers to questions I didn’t feel like I needed an explanation for, and left many more that I’d like to have seen explored just dangling there, untouched. I wouldn’t even have minded had the reveal of Amma come earlier, giving the show the chance to explore learned cruelty and violence in the style of Hereditary, but it was just dumped there, while the show strode off dusting it’s hands and satisfied with the job it’s done, without any meaningful exploration.

I still think Sharp Objects is, overall, a pretty strong show, but these last few episodes really let it down as a whole. I desperately wanted to see a series that dealt with the true demons of a character like Camille, through whatever lens it chose to explore them, but in the end it fell into crime-horror tropes that felt more Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than Big Little Lies. And that’s what leaves me with that “nah” sensation: I don’t feel like I got a satisfying conclusion to the story the show worked so hard to invest me in over the course of the first four episodes. And there’s nothing worse than closing out a show feeling as though I’ve been had.

That’s us for Sharp Objects! Thanks to everyone who read along and commented – you can read all my recaps from the start right here, if you’re so inclined. If you enjoyed my work and want to see more stuff like it, please consider checking out my movie blog, No But Listen, or supporting me on Patreon!

(header image courtesy of HBO)