Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Sharp Objects? Read our spoiler-free first review here.
Sharp Objects isn’t a TV show that minces its words: people throw them at each other like sharpened weapons, each one packing an arsenal of meaning and spite. Words don’t come much more loaded than Episode 4’s title, Ripe, which carries all kinds of connotations, from excitement and bursting with potential to being ready for picking or impending decay. That’s the point at which this miniseries now stands, after four episodes of letting us marinate in the town’s juices and allowing the sour aroma to develop, the show is poised to deliver the narrative goods for us to devour.
It resonates, too, in the increasingly flirtatious scenes between Camille and Richard – but this is a place where happy romances aren’t the norm, and the show wastes no time in ripping out that roots from under that blossoming fruit. No sooner has Richard moved towards her for a kiss than she has grabbed his hand and moved it to her trousers. It’s a decidedly rough, un-intimate gesture, and we’re shown a montage of violent, melancholic images instead of their actions – in case the fact that this is all happening on a tour of Wind Gap crime scenes didn’t already warp the mood.
The editing remains the best thing about Sharp Objects, infusing the whole production with the morose, pained present of Amy Adams’ Camille. Rapid flashes of disturbing images interrupt everything, blurring the line between the real present and traumas past. But even then, we don’t get a full glimpse of everything she remembers. It’s not just that she can’t remember these haunting memories, but that she’s not ready to, and so we, as an audience, are also unable to process the entire details of what’s taken place in Wind Gap before now. The fragmented presentation refracts the story through her character, and that character remains reclusive and in hiding, both towards us and towards Richard.
As Camille delves more into her own recollections – and investigates the mystery surrounding Natalie’s death – that fragmentation becomes more and more pronounced. One of the crime scenes on her twisted town tour is a place where football players would take cheerleaders for evenings of abuse. Flashbacks suggest Camille was taken there when younger, but she shrugs off Richard’s question of rape, just as she skirts over the details of what happened to her childhood friend, Faith, who was so determined to prove she wasn’t a lesbian that she ended up branded a ‘slut’.
“In Wind Gap, every woman gets a nasty label, if they don’t conform to the rules of the game,” she remarks.
It’s not a surprising sentiment, after all we’ve learned about this cruel community, but it adds to the noxious atmosphere, one that’s punctured more and more by half-seen bursts of physical harm and all-too-visible emotional blows. Natalie’s brother, John, remains branded by a similar label, because of his emotional transparency. Amma, meanwhile, slipperily tries to avoid labels by switching her rules from one game to the next.
At the halfway point, you’d expect Sharp Objects to be doubling down on plot exposition and mystery clues by now, but it’s steadfast refusal to do so is as impressive as it is mildly frustrating. But the clue lies in what it’s choosing to show us instead: more and more of Adora.
Patricia Clarkson’s insidious matriarch is increasingly showing her authority, not only in the family home but in the town on a wider scale. Often thick as thieves with Chief Vickery (the believably weary Matt Craven), her time with him has fuelled resentment from husband Alan (sorry writers, we don’t buy he’s the killer just yet), but has also made her as unsettling as she is intimidating; it’s hard to believe anything could happen in this place without her knowing about it, or ordering it.
“That is so Wind Gap,” Camille jokes early on, when Richard presses her for more personal details. “You figure out someone’s secrets and work out how to use it against them later.”
Adora, though, doesn’t just trade in secrets. She sells lies too: the narrative she has spun about Camille, about how she hoped her daughter would save her, and how, given that this didn’t happen, she now views her as selfish, uncaring and “dangerous” (that word keeps cropping up) has seeped into the whole of Wind Gap’s perception of Camille. “You’ve come back and all I can think is you smell ripe,” Adora sneers at her daughter, in a heated conversation between these two powerhouse performers. The word isn’t explained in any more detail, but it hangs thick in the air.
Amma, too, has a knack for inventing her own stories – something that annoys her drama teacher, as they rehearse a school play about a local hero that has veered from the truth. Eliza Scanlen remains brilliantly impossible to read, and the more we see of the home she’s been raised in, the less we trust any tale she might tell.
Again, the small pieces of truth we do get are all the more important at this juncture. We hear from John that Amma used to hang out a lot with Anne and Natalie. And it’s that revelation that sends Camille’s brain spinning, leaving the on-screen visuals spiralling from one possibility to the next, and we glimpse in the closing seconds Amma’s body with no teeth. It can’t be a memory, or a flashback, but it raises the other haunting possibility: what if, in a narrative ripe with unexpected possibilities, the next murder has happened already?