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In an intense third episode, Sharp Objects delves into the dark power of teenage girls

Illustration for article titled In an intense third episode, iSharp Objects /idelves into the dark power of teenage girls
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Sharp Objects is saturated in menace: The ugly, acid-washed lighting that haunts seedy motel rooms, hospital corridors, and fancy manor homes alike; the quick yet hazy cuts between present day troubles and the terrors of the past; and the low and constant thrum of heavy rock music coming out of a cracked iPod conspire to create an ever-present sense that everyone and everything we see on-screen is already doomed—and it’s only going to get worse. The first two episodes allowed that menace to hang, loose and thick as a storm cloud, over the story. “Fix” is a hard thunderclap of an episode: It startles and echoes, and focuses that menace, that dread, onto tangible figures. And even though there’s a killer on the loose in Wind Gap, the true terrors of the world are teenage girls.

Camille’s half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) has hovered at the periphery like a rare and gaudy moth, beating her wings at the screen door of the story. She’s largely existed through other people’s (specifically Camille and Adora) perceptions of her: To Camille, she’s an avatar of bygone girlhood, repeating the same old patterns of feigning sweetness and delicacy for Momma before lacing on her skates and tearing through the town. To Adora, she’s “the good daughter,” the still-pretty one with unblemished skin, the golden girl who can redeem the family name. “Fix” finally presents Amma on her own terms: She’s not just a teen Queen Bee reigning Hell upon everyone near her—she’s far more sinister than that. Amma is a beautiful girl, with lush, slightly overripe features and a lanky frame. She’s used to being looked at, to people wanting her attention, her affection, even in a non-sexual way; she’s learned to weaponize other people’s desires against them—which is evident in her first scene with Camille.


After Amma stumbles home, drunk, Camille secrets her upstairs. As the sisters talk about their mother’s judgmental nature, the cases of the dead girls, and the town, Amma flatters (oh, is Camille really as dangerous—i.e. as cool—as Mama says?) and offends (Camille is only back in Wind Gap because she loves “a dead girl,” her late sister Marian) in equal measure. She flirts by tenderly stroking your neck as she drives the shank into your belly. The gauzy, red-dimmed lighting in Camille’s bedroom might seem like overkill (we get it, things are spooky here), and yet it perfectly magnifies Scanlen’s eerie, predatory affect—as she watches Camille through her smeared eye make-up, she seems like a tropical lizard stalking some hapless insect. Though we’ve seen the adult Camille skulk and drink, side-eye and scourge her own skin, she’s never felt as truly vulnerable, as truly leveled as she is with Amma. Camille is the specter of doom and ruin that Adora, and the gossipy women of Wind Gap, use to try and scare Amma onto the straight and narrow—although we get the sense that Amma is far more vicious than young Camille ever was.

This episode is all about the power that young women can wield, from Amma and her girl gang prowling the town’s streets after dark, to the more genteel though no less potent hold that John Keene’s (Taylor John Smith) “Jackie-O” girlfriend Ashley (Madison Davenport) has on him. Ashley is an iron fist in a velvet glove: After John’s mother rejects Camille’s request for an interview with a slammed door and some choice words, Ashley arranges for Camille to speak with John at her parents’ guest house (where John has been staying, apparently for a while)—not because she wants to give John a chance to unburden himself, or pay tribute to his beloved sister, but because she doesn’t want the people she grew up with to think that her boyfriend is a killer. When Jean-Marc Valle’s camera slowly pans up Ashley’s long, tanned legs, it’s not from a mindless lustfulness—he’s twisting that old technique to show that, yes, Ashley’s power over John, and in her community, is rooted in her beauty, but it’s not a passive or vulnerable beauty; it’s a Venus fly trap beauty, verdant and lush on the outside, but concealing rows of teeth.

John finally does start talking to Camille, and he grieves his sister as a sweet, smart oddball of a girl, the kind of girl who made up imaginary languages and didn’t care what other people thought of her, the kind of girl that queen meanies like Amma, or Ashley, or young Camille, would demolish with a single, strategic look. Ashley, clad in her body-hugging cheerleader outfit (“I just got to feelin’ spirited,” she tells Camille, after Camille points out that school isn’t in session), looks on with a barely-constrained disgust as John regrets that he never learned Natalie’s language, as he curses Wind Gap as the hellhole that sucked her down and swallowed her whole. Ashley is more aghast at her boyfriend’s raw, indecorous opinions—and, more importantly, how those opinions will threaten her own social standing—than she is at the brutal killing of a girl her age.

The women of Wind Gap are more invested in decorum than in decency, turning themselves into self-propelled Stepford bots who are ever-on-the-ready to attack any other woman whose own behavioral wiring has crossed: Adora has such a pathological hatred for her own black-clad, black-sheep daughter that she’ll sabotage Camille on the job, cutting off her interview with Ann Nash’s father (who, like John, seems like he’s truly getting some catharsis out of his talks with Camille). There’s even a performative edge to Amma’s cruelty: She seethes when she sees Camille out, socially, with Richard the hot cop from Kansas City, the older sister reclaiming some teenage tenderness by drinking in a car with a cute boy. She leads her girl squad in a sing-song taunt of a child’s rhyme about k-i-s-s-i-n-g (and, you know, other things); calling Richard “Dick” and “Dickie;” and sticking her lollipop, which is still damp with her spit, in Camille’s hair. Though she’s using a little girl’s weaponry, Amma delivers a powerful, soul-battering wallop. Scanlen evokes a cutie-pie version of Malcolm McDowell’s wry yet wrathful droog in A Clockwork Orange: Her teenage petulance becomes violence on a quicksilver whim; she genuinely unnerves two adults, including a trained officer who presumably carries a gun.


Camille’s estrangement from the women she should be closest to, her mother and sister, tease out prolonged flashbacks to her time in the hospital. Most of the series’ flashbacks have been as elliptical as memory, bursts of images and moods that are lurid or languid in equal measure, emerging and submerging like some drowned relic that is revealed and washer over again by a mercurial tide. But Camille’s time in the hospital and her friendship with her teenage roommate, Alice (Sydney Sweeney), is the rare instance that the flashbacks form a complete backstory, a narrative arc from the bruised pathos of its beginnings (both women comparing scars and family stories as one and the same) to its stinging, shocking end (Camille finding Alice’s dead body, bloody and foaming at the mouth after the girl drank cleaning solution). This short, severed bond is perhaps the most savage twist in a show that doesn’t shy away from the horrors of life.

Camille’s moments with Alice—sharing ear buds as they listen to Alice’s cracked iPod, teaching her how to put on lipstick—are the only times when standard rituals of femininity feel normal, let alone loving. In these scenes, Adams lets us see something lovely and kind in Camille, a hope that she could form meaningful connections in the world. But Alice’s suicide obliterates that hopefulness, takes away Camille’s sense that she could ever be a tender and compassionate person. Alice wounds Camille more deeply than Amma and Adora ever could.


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