SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about the season finale of Sharp Objects.
HBO’s Sharp Objects finale Sunday night answered the lingering question: Who killed all these young girls in Wind Gap? Based on the creepiness and overall shadiness of this small town, anyone could have been responsible for these murders — including Amy Adams’ broken Camille Preaker. My money was on the Southern belle beast of a matriarch Adora (a delightfully viciousness and delusional Patricia Clarkson) or maybe even Camille’s flighty, roller-skating sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) — and I was right. Well, partly right. But for those who read Gillian Flynn’s book, they knew the murderers all along.
Reaching the peak of the Jean-Marc Vallee-desaturated and emotionally draining aesthetic, the episode titled “Milk,” written by Flynn and Marti Noxon, brings us to the moment when Camille confronts momma Adora only to be a victim of her Munchausen syndrome by proxy — a psychological disorder where a person purposely harms someone close to them in order to care for them and nurse them back to health. The confrontation happens after Camille learned in the previous episode from the town gossip Jackie (portrayed with brilliant pettiness by Elizabeth Perkins) that Adora basically killed her younger half-sister, Marian, by smothering her with care and feeding her poison. We also learned from Jackie that Adora had Marian cremated to burn the evidence. Now that’s sinister.
Now that our fun-loving praise for Jackie has been deflated, it set up a showdown between Camille and Adora. Camille has been unraveling at a glacial pace since Episode 1, so this is the payoff we’ve been waiting for. But the final confrontation isn’t an epic screaming match or a an all-out brawl. Instead, it’s strategic, cringing and twisted.
During a family dinner, Camille has a glare-down with Adora while Amma, giving her best impression of a flower-crowned Ophelia, waxes poetic as if she is tripping on acid. Camille eventually gets “sick”. This prompts Adora to enter full sinister Mommie Dearest mode. She not only gets to care for Amma, who also is sick, but Camille, who now is vomiting and shares the same symptoms as her sister — but Amma’s symptoms are a lot less severe. It’s clear as day why both of them are barfing up a storm. This episode is definitely not one for emetophobes. Nonetheless, It’s all part of Camille’s sacrificial plan. She’s throwing herself on a grenade to bring down Adora.
At this point, we know that Adora is the murderer, but we want to know more. We want to see Adora in action because, well, everyone loves a matriarchal villainess. She’s a wicked stepmother who we admire from a distance. It’s as if The Bad Seed‘s Rhoda Penmark is all grown up and serving up some sociopathic realness. But above all, we love seeing Clarkson in this type of role. As she concocts a potion of God-knows-what to help “cure” Camille, we shake our heads in disapproval but lean forward with wide-eyed interest because we are thirsty for her evil. It’s the same blue-bottle cure she has been forcing down the throat of Amma and the same brew her complicit husband later sees her mixing up in the kitchen like a mad-scientist Martha Stewart. “Don’t go overboard,” he tells her. She responds by saying that she’s just trying to “help nature evolve.”
There are side stories that lead us away from the centerpiece of the grand finale of this bittersweet Southern gothic treat, but seeing Detective Willis (Chris Messina) and Vickery (Matt Craven) interrogate John Keene (Taylor John Smith) adds a thin layer of intrigue. We already know he didn’t kill his sister. It’s mere filler to the episode. We already know that John is innocent and satisfied his lust for Camille. His arc is done, and we just want to see Adora deep-fried and served on a platter with a refreshing mint julep.
We, like Camille and everyone else, finally have put the pieces of this puzzle together. The tapestry of eerie and muted flashbacks shown throughout the series no longer are just random pieces of disturbing imagery. They make sense — more or less. It’s like flipping through a sociopath’s scrapbook. We know what caused the death of Marian, but why did Adora kill those girls in town? (We’ll get to that later.)
At one point, we see Camille walking around in a daze, struggling to find her balance. Amma asks her, “You took it, didn’t you?” And by “it”, she is referring to Adora’s special blue-bottle toxic medicinal cocktail. Camille tells Amma to call Richard and bring him to the house and tells her that she must run away for her own safety.
The episode reaches a head when Richard, Vickery and Camille’s father-figure editor Frank (Miguel Sandoval) arrive to the Crellin household to find Camille laid out on the ground infected with Adora’s poison. Richard finds what he believes is the pair of pliers responsible for pulling out the teeth of John’s sister (turns out, they are). Adora, dressed in her best tea-length dress, cardigan and a pair of nude heels, is arrested, and Camille and Amma are brought to the hospital to be nursed back to health properly. All is well and justice is served, right? Well, let’s not start celebrating just yet.
Now Adora is sporting a fierce Orange Is the New Black jumpsuit and Camille and Amma are resetting their lives in St. Louis. Sure, they are forever tarnished by their wildly messed-up family, and sure, Camille and Richard didn’t end up together (they definitely weren’t a match) — but at least they have each other. It seems like a happy ending for all … then again, this is based on a Flynn novel and it’s under the gaze of Vallee. As loose ends begin to get tied up, the unburned ends of those tied strings begin to fray.
As the finale’s epilogue begins to pan out, we see Amma visit Adora in prison and we see the sisters run into Jackie, who remains fake and shady as ever. “She’s a pig in shit now that mom’s out of the way,” says Amma of Wind Gap’s gossip queen. She’s a backstabbing type of character, but dammit, you can’t help but be drawn to her awfulness.
The sisters maintain a relationship with Frank and his wife, and things are looking up as they start to settle into their new life. That easily could have been the premise of a sisterly spinoff drama — until Camille examines Amma’s dollhouse.
In the final moments of the finale, a dark cloud starts to hover over the episode as it returns to its deliberately paced narrative and anxious tone. Camille peeks in the window of the doll house — a metaphorical touchstone throughout the series — and sees something under one of the toy beds. It’s a tooth. Upon further examination of this doll house of horror, she sees that it is pristinely and subtly decorated with teeth. Camille is in shock and turns around to see Amma who simply says, “Don’t tell momma.” It cuts to credits.
What? The ending was only partly satisfying. It’s like only serving half of a dessert.
Just when you think that’s the end, Vallee slips in flashes of violent, disturbing scenes of Amma killing the girls in Wind Gap as well as a new friend she made in St. Louis.
Again, we want more.
Sharp Objects painted a fine picture of Flynn’s novel, unpacking a toxic relationship between a mother and her daughters that has a lot to do with Camille’s self-harm via cutting and alcoholism. The issues of the Camille, the Crellin family, and the sleepy town of Wind Gap spill into a deranged story that is told with Vallee’s signature unsettling silence, doing justice to a Flynn’s debut novel. More than that, it gave us an unlikable, severely damaged heroine that audiences can root for, subverting and putting to rest Hollywood’s tradition of the “likable woman.” For decades, there always have been unlikable male heroes in TV and film: Jordan Belfort of The Wolf of Wall Street, Derek Vinyard in American History X, Don Draper in Mad Men and many others. But they have always been seen as complicated, complex and groundbreaking. However, when a woman gets put in the same type of role, they are labeled as difficult and, dare I say it, “a bitch.” Flynn, Noxon and the Sharp Objects team unapologetically put Camille Preaker — Evian bottle of vodka and all — front and center for us to relish and stand for her despite all her flaws. The same could be said for Adora, Amma and Jackie.
Although Sharp Objects could have gone the way of a feature film a la Gone Girl, making it into a miniseries allows us to dive deep into each character. We see them slowly unravel, leading to a payoff that would be less rewarding if it were a two-hour feature. In an era where “I WANT IT NOW” instant gratification is found through bingeing shows and apps that deliver ramen in 30 minutes or less, Sharp Objects is not a miniseries of convenience. Its slow-moving parts can take its sweet Southern time wading in the waters of its tragedy, but the committed performances, Vallee’s surrealistic window dressing keep us and deeply disturbing premise keep us captivated enough to latch on to the story till the bitter end.
Even though Sharp Objects was one book, fans will probably want to continue to explore the dark creepiness of Wind Gap — but don’t hold your breath for a second season. Adams has gone on record saying she doesn’t want to live in this character again and HBO boss Casey Bloys has said that they are happy with it as a limited series. But if you want to hope and pray for a continuation of the dark fairytale, by all means, go ahead. I, for one, would love to see a brand new series focusing on the dormant and demented rage that lives in Amma. Maybe they can call it Sharper Objects?