Camille, a St. Louis journalist sent home to Wind Gap to report on the murders, marks the first starring television role for Amy Adams. Tortured, toxic, and self-loathing, Camille is the primary lens through which viewers see the events of Sharp Objects unfold. Vallée uses fragments of memories, dreamlike sequences, and trigger points to hint at her history, flashing back and forth through time. His technique is reminiscent of how Season 2 of Westworld played out, only Sharp Objects offers more immediate gratification, solving its puzzles quickly and with precision. Still, the overall effect can be uncanny and disturbing. Camille’s wounded psyche isn’t an easy place to be, and Adams’s quiet, sullen presence somehow conveys Camille’s frantic unease both in Wind Gap and in her own body.
The de facto queen of Wind Gap is Camille’s mother, Adora (played by Patricia Clarkson), the heiress to a fortune made from a pig-slaughtering plant, and a ball of nervous, vicious Southern-belle energy in the mold of a Tennessee Williams character. Clarkson, like Adams, barely raises her voice above a whisper, but Adora’s power vibrates through the atmosphere like sonar. Half the men in Wind Gap, including Adora’s husband, Alan (Henry Czerny), and the police chief, Vickery (Matt Craven), yield unquestioningly to her authority; the other half are on her payroll. But Sharp Objects is more interested in Adora’s relationship with her daughters: Camille, who escaped the town; Marian (Lulu Wilson), who died in childhood and haunts Camille’s memories; and Amma (Eliza Scanlen), a disturbingly precocious 15-year-old who’s also learned how heady having power over others can be.
Vallée is attuned to detail, to touch, to sensation. In a flashback, a teenage Camille (Sophia Lillis) gently scrapes one of Adora’s eyelashes down her cheek. Later, an adult Camille does the same thing to her own skin with a sewing needle. Adora likes to run her fingers gently over Camille’s curls in a gesture so weighted that it feels like a slap. Vallée lets his camera linger on certain sharp objects (a serrated knife, a metal screw) in Camille’s vicinity to convey how obsessively she’s thinking about them. But other things, the series argues, can be sharper and more damaging. There are the words that get attached to women in Wind Gap who don’t fit into certain archetypes, as Camille tells the Kansas City detective (Chris Messina) investigating the murders. There are the stultifying limitations of the town itself, which offers three career paths: pig slaughtering, domestic work, or raising children.
Sharp Objects is also preoccupied with legacy and how pernicious it can be. Back in Wind Gap, Camille finds constant triggers that remind her of things she worked to forget. When she walks into a wake for one of the murdered girls, the repeated whispering of her name hangs in the air. Adora’s honeyed, poisonous passive aggression stings Camille more acutely than anything else; her mother’s words brand her psyche. The legacy of Wind Gap itself is also a loaded one, as the series reveals in an episode dedicated to Calhoun Day, the festival commemorating the town’s founding. As Confederate flags litter the lawn, Amma stars in a theatrical performance observing local history and celebrating how Wind Gap was built on racism and rape. (If the show has a weakness, it’s that alarmingly few characters of color appear in it, and that none get to explore how the town’s heritage has affected them.)