Rating: 4.5 out of 5
There is no shortage of extremely dark HBO dramas. The channel has become equally infamous and beloved for the territory their writers are willing to explore. Sharp Objects is, by the standards of modern television series, an especially bleak viewing experience. This show is twisted, ugly, gnarled and shockingly fun. Directed by Jean-Marc Valée, Sharp Objects feels like a natural extension of Big Little Lies aesthetic and tonal properties, equal measures of depravity and clever smirks. Where Sharp Objects differs from his previous outing is in the unadulterated clarity in which the narrative is choreographed, there is not a beat out of place in this show, nor a subplot that could’ve been improved or a character who didn’t receive their proper care. With Sharp Objects Valée makes his case for being one of the most important auteurs of the streaming era, here he both sharpens his style, broadens his range and perfects his seemingly effortless balance of tone.
In all actuality this show probably should not work. The “small-town-loaded-with-secrets” trope has been stretched to the furthest corners of its potential as a framing device since the first season of Twin Peaks. In Sharp Objects the showrunners (including the author of the novel Gillian Flynn) course correct Lynch’s mistake in the second season of that series, they never tackle more than their narrative can handle. This may be the benefit of being a miniseries, there is less pressure on the writers to prolong resolution, in this world things happen as they would in life, quite immediately, which only heightens the suffocating proximity of the small town. The main character Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) is a disenfranchised journalist who returns to her rural hometown to cover a story about the disappearance of two girls, one of whom was found dead. Camille initially left her small community of Wind Gap to escape a pair of dead girls, now she returns to tell the story of two others. This narrative foundation is brilliant; Camille’s history, relationship and strain within the town are deeply, physically personal.
Adams delivers an excellent performance, she’s a late-capitalist Humphrey Bogart; cynical, witty, patient, melancholy, firm but never without her handle on the situation at hand. Her dry, cool delivery does not feel so much as an act or self-defense mechanism but as a natural result of the incredible hardships she has had to endure which largely stem from her domineering and overbearing mother Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson). She is the type of parent who makes no secret over the favorites of her children, there are a number of heartbreaking scenes between her and Camille, both of them honest to a fault, the similarities between them only deepen as the series progresses. Camille’s teenage sister Amma Crellin (Eliza Scanlen) is Adora’s treasure, at once a wild child and the pride of her mother. The dynamic nature of this trio’s connection only becomes more complicated and dubious with each successive revelation, the pressure in the household is weighty, there is a density that appears impossible to puncture whenever they gather in the same room.
The fifth episode in the season “Closer” is a pinnacle of the shows myriad of moving components, thrusting the various developments headfirst into the vicious eye of public scrutiny in the town’s celebration of a confederate general, “Calhoun Day”. The rising tensions boil and pop in the heat of this southern afternoon. This episode functions almost exclusively on character development, each individual is challenged with a scenario very exclusive to their respective qualities. This episode is a breath of fresh air, where so many television series rely on massive plot revelations and poorly kept secrets, Sharp Objects spends an entire episode allowing the audience to truly immerse itself in this world. The town of Wind Gap is developed in “Closer” as a character in and of itself, hinting that perhaps we know more about people and towns from how they choose to hide their secrets than from the secrets themselves.
This show is fantastic. When a twist in the final act initially appears half-baked and frustrating, it’s just another opportunity for the writers to subvert expectation. The last moments are haunting. There was not an ending in which these characters were going to receive a perfect outcome and in this way it reaches greater heights than one of HBO’s other crime masterpieces, the first season of True Detective. The show starts slowly, the first episode is a bit of a drag but there is an instant in the second that is an immediate hook, the slow burn here is absolutely worth the time, the filmmaking reflects Camille’s reticence to engage with her past. She falls ever so slowly back into that world until she is consumed by it, it becomes her present in a way she, and the viewer, could not have predicted.