Limited Series / Episode: 1, Vanish / HBO
Sharp Objects is the latest screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s work (after Girl Gone and Dark Places). This time around we follow Camille Preaker, journalist and all around floundering human being, played by Amy Adams as she returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to cover the recent murder and the even more recent disappearance of two local girls.
Ready? Let’s get into episode one.
We start squarely in the land of overcrisp filter flashback. Cue two girls, one in knee socks and one in pigtails, skating down the road. They exchange a half-worried/half-flippant exchange about Mama and sneaking out. Next thing we know, they’re sneaking into a house. Their house? But then, the light changes and we got the iconic Obama poster on a desk, what in the time slip is gong on? Or when? The girls sneak into a bedroom where a woman is sleeping and wake her up. And disappear. And the music changes. So…
It seems like Preaker-of-knee-socks-past was just a dream of current life-obviously-spiraling-out-of-control Preaker who wakes up looking like microwaved death to a call. She hauls ass to her job to talk to her boss and Editor, Frank Curry, about Wind Gap, Preaker’s hometown.
It’s this connection that prompts Curry to insist that Preaker take her ass back home to investigate a possible serial killer. A little girl disappeared and was found strangled last August and currently a little girl is missing. Her boss, who may be captain of team #FckYoFeelings tells her, in this one brief exchange that she’s “not winning a Pulitzer because [she’s] only half good at writing” and that “Life is pressure; grow up.” I might love him.
Preaker is reluctantly headed back to Wind Gap and into the arms of her estranged mother, stepfather, and half-sister all of whom she clearly avoids.
Speaking of avoidance, Preaker packs her suitcase and it sounds like she’s taking out the recycling because it is nothing but bottles clanking against each other. It might sound festive if it wasn’t the theme song for her life as a barely functional alcoholic who seems to drink and drive a lot. A lot. She does not understand what “one for the road” means.
She arrives in Wind Gap late at night and stays at the Holiday Hotel. She has everything she needs: cigarettes, airplane bottle alcohol, candybars, and flashbacks. As soon as she settles into the bathtub, she’s assaulted with the memory of floating in a muddy lake. She was interrupted by boys running through the woods chasing someone or something. One, when he saw, stopped and fixed his gun on her. I get why she doesn’t go home.
When he stops pointing his gun at her and chuckles at her discomfort, she hops on her bike and rides away. Nope, not away. She stops at a shack in the woods (why? why are you doing this? Keep riding. Do not stop. Where is your most basic self-preservation instinct?) where she finds squirrel carcasses skinned (run, girl, run!) and laid out to dry and pages from porn magazines taped to the walls and windows.
Cut back to present-day Preaker masturbating in a hotel bed. Okay, so right about here, I have a lot of questions, but past-tense-knee-sock-and-death-shack Preaker is still curiously looking around the shack.
The next day, Preaker is driving to the Wind Gap Police station when she sees the impromptu altar of flowers, candles, and teddy bears in honor of the missing girl. As she walks into the station, we catch a glimpse of more girls on skates in the distance. Are they ghosts from the past that haunts Preaker? Who knows?
Sidebar: Sharp Objects intends to blur the line between past and present. I assume from the trailer and from what I know of the book and Flynn’s other work that this idea of reconciling one’s past is, as much if not more, the point of the story than the whodunit of the missing girl(s), but at times the purposeful visual sleight of editing was tiring. It was easier to appreciate on a second or third viewing than on the first.
In the station, Preaker is equal parts small town girl and journalist. She makes purposeful small talk with the woman at the front desk about Natalie Keene, the missing girl. When the Chief Vickery arrives, he is less than excited to be talking to a reporter, even one that has local roots. This short conversation establishes who her family is and hints at who she might be. She pulls out moves we’ll see again before the episode is over: she emphasizes how pieces in the paper have helped solve cases. When that doesn’t work she stresses her right to cover the story. As a final effort, she dangles the “you can comment and be in control of the story or I can ask around and find what I find” carrot.
Since he won’t talk about the ongoing investigation surrounding Natalie Keene’s death, Preaker asks about Ann, the first girl who disappeared.
In conversation with her editor afterwards, we learn that the Chief has zero leads.
Since the whole town is looking for the girl, Preaker decides to join the search. She talks to a group of girls (on skates) who know who she is thanks, Preaker assumes, to small town gossip. There’s more flashbacks: a cheerleader (Preaker?) running through the forest being chased by boys. It feels playful but teetering on the danger. Her memory is interrupted by Detective Richard Lewis (Chris Messina), a not-from-here cop working on the case. Like most cops, he’s not happy about the reporter who has shown up to watch him do his job. Before they can talk, they are interrupted by Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) who seems to know Preaker from way back. The exchange is short, but it’s long enough for me to know that I wanna know what Jackie knows.
Later that night, Preaker preps herself in her car to see her mother: a drink, a breath mint and some lipstick. Jackie hinted that Camille Preaker’s mother was both fickle and proper. Before she even walks into the house, she sits on the porch and we get a memory of her and her younger sister talking about death. This leads seamlessly to her at her mother’s door.
Her mother, Adora Crellin (played by Patricia Clarkson) is more than a touch of southern Gothic in her floor length house dress sipping a drink. Her stepfather, Alan, is almost non-existent. Amma, the half-sister, is young enough to be impacted by the town’s new 9pm curfew so we don’t see her. Immediately, Adora makes Preaker’s presence and story about her: her repulsion at the idea of writing the story, her sense of loss, her edict that they not talk about the story.
Sidenote: There’s a moment snuck in here that struck me odd. The family’s housekeeper, a black woman in a powder blue dress, hugs Preaker; the two exchange no words but seem genuinely happy to see each other. It is, I think, meant to be a humanizing moment for Preaker. She was a decent kid who the help doesn’t hate, but it somehow had the opposite effect. It dehumanized the black woman. She became like a dog who senses who’s good and who’s bad.
Triggered by her childhood bedroom, Preaker once again sinks into memories of her and her sister, who has a seizure of some sort in the past. Shaken, Preaker sneaks out of the house to go have a drink. At the bar, she sees but doesn’t get a chance to talk to John Keene, Natalie’s brother. Instead, Detective Willis shows up to order a drink and in general, not answer any of her questions (while also slipping in a warning about questioning minors without their parents present). Since Preaker has no desire to have a normal, non-investigation conversation, the two part company.
A drunk Preaker ends up sleeping in her car in the parking lot of the bar (and has to flag down a neighbor to jump her car in the morning). Her mother, the proper southern lady that she is, obviously aint with that and the “you represent me when you’re in town” lecture ensues. And by lecture, I mean, you can see the echoes of the dysfunctional family Preaker ran like hell away from and how easily they all slip back into their old roles. Cut to Preaker at liquor in the middle of the morning and I think we all see what’s happening.
After drinking her breakfast (and her Listerine chaser), she goes in a house to talk to Anne’s family. Her salespitch there is that there’s so much talk of Natalie missing, but she doesn’t want anyone to forget that Ann was first. Her appeal to ego and hurt works.
Ann’s dad reveals what happened the day his daughter went missing. He paints a picture of a large and hectic family, of parents forever changed, and of a town’s mistrust of him because there is no one else to blame.
Preaker is giving her editor an update when she sees kids from the town playing with the tribute set up to Natalie—tossing the teddy bears around and skating in circles, laughing. Natalie’s brother John is there, too, and vacant in the eyes. Preaker tries to be stern but the leader, another knee high girl in skates, counters that everyone, not just the families, are sad.
This lesson in grief is interrupted by crying and wailing across the street. Preaker, followed by the kids, run over to find an older couple crying over a young girls’s body that has been left, seated, in a window in the alley. She is muddied and fully clothed. Chief Vickery arrives and he, along with the kids from the tribute, are visibly shaken by the sight.
At the station, Det. Willis brings Preaker a drink in a questioning room. She sarcastically congratulates him on uncovering a serial. The detective attempts to be polite and offers her a ride home, but she counters with questions about the investigation. He’s not pleased and leaves.
Back at her mother’s house, neither is mom. Pissed that Camille has been gone so long and then still pissed when she finds out where she was. Preaker just wants to sleep, she says. And is echoed by Amma, who walks down the steps just in time. Turns out Amma is knee-sock-and-skates-and-desecrate-the-tribute girl. Hmmm. Why didn’t you introduce yourself to your half sister, Amma? Turns out Amma wears dresses and plays with doll houses (an exact replica of the house she lives in). Yep, I don’t trust you at all, Amma. She’s out here living a whole double-life.
Outside of their dead sister’s door, the two share a forced (by Amma) moment of solidarity in the face of their mother. Amma states matter-of-factly that she is their mother’s doll and nothing more. She asks if the dead girl was perfect. I imagine that’s a large shadow to live under. Amma says that she’s incorrigible, just like Camille—only their mother doesn’t know it.
After her weird little sister goes to her room, Preaker begins to relive her younger sister’s funeral. Cue the drinking.
I have questions: What did Preaker’s little sister die from? Who was chasing Preaker in the woods? Whose shack was that? What did Preaker do before she left that the cloud of shame follows her everywhere?
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