It’s hard to pull your eyes away from Sharp Objects, HBO’s newest prestige drama. What with its bleak small-town setting, murder mystery plot, iPod-supplied scores and impressionistic editing, it plays something like the Southern-raised lovechild of the equally addictive True Detective and director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Big Little Lies (with The Miniaturist as a distant relative). Adapted from a novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn and starring Amy Adams as journalist Camille Preaker, it’s a dark look at the flip-side of Gone Girl’s Missouri setting: where the Dunnes’ drama played out against the blandness of the ‘burbs, Sharp Objects is set in a sultry Missouri town that feels like it’s slid down the map and fallen well into the Deep South.
It’s difficult to resist the charms of its evocative cinematography and immersive sound design, which work to throw viewers right into the oppressive, sticky heat of Wind Gap, MO. Lights reflect off each glistening, sweaty face, and every line of dialogue has to compete to be heard above the unbroken chorus of cicadas that scores nearly all its scenes. Sharp Objects’ sound brilliantly fleshes out its world in other ways, too: every clink and slosh from Camille’s vodka bottles is sharpened, every rustle of a bag transmitted in high definition to further heighten the show’s already intense atmosphere.
What with all this – plus sumptuous sets, loaded editing and captivating performances – every element of Sharp Objects feels designed to grab your attention and hold it for each hour-long installment. Richly layered as it is, though, even the most eagle-eyed viewers may find themselves too enchanted by Camille’s frazzled charm to catch the show’s less conspicuous details.
Camille is a deeply troubled person – self-harm, alcohol addiction, familial estrangement and decades-old grief all take their toll on her – and the show gives us ample opportunity to appreciate just how dark her frame of mind is by adopting her perspective and taking on some of that trauma. Hidden in each episode are unexpected little cameo appearances from Camille’s plethora of emotional problems, so quick they’re gone in a flash: a little shift in focus length here, an ever-so-slightly lingering shot of scene detail there, and Sharp Objects visually elaborates on something it’s hinted at before. Some of these illusions are so scarcely different from the “reality” of the show that even viewers who do catch them might dismiss them as evidence of their own lack of concentration (a clever ploy on the filmmakers’ part).
These moments aren’t “clues” exactly, and as such, they’re not absolutely essential to understanding Sharp Objects or predicting where it’s going. Think of them as bonus features for avid viewers; little Easter eggs that provide extra detail into things the show already establishes in more conspicuous ways. They are, too, a testament to the production’s stunning attention-to-detail, and to the power of carefully-placed props and meticulously-planned cinematography in adding supplementary layers to an already gripping show. With that being said, if you’ve looked away from the screen for more than a second while watching Sharp Objects, you might find this list all of the show’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments informative.
Please be advised that spoiler warnings apply, as do trigger warnings for self-harm. If you or someone you know struggles with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, you can find help here. The numbers to text or call for help in your country are available via this site.
Episode One, “Vanish”
1. ‘BAD’, ‘DRUNK’, and ‘BLEED’
Scratched into Camille’s desk at home is her attempt to describe herself in three words. In three short syllables, ‘BAD’, ‘DRUNK’, and ‘BLEED’ summarise what her chief issues are: no self-esteem, a self-harm problem, and an alcohol addiction.
2. ‘DIRT’ and ‘DIRTY’
When we first see Camille’s car in St. Louis, there’s nothing on the trunk, but then, suddenly, ‘DIRT’ appears. In a later scene in Wind Gap, Camille hallucinates ‘DIRTY’ in the same place, a small shift emblematic of the way she feels the residents of her hometown view her – an idea supported by her self-identifying as ‘trash’ in an earlier conversation with her boss (Miguel Sandoval).
3. ‘Last Exit to Change Your Mind’
Unless someone in St Louis’s traffic department has a particularly dry sense of humor, this is another of Camille’s hallucinations. Its meaning is pretty clear: this is a manifestation of her reluctance to return to Wind Gap, the site of so much of her trauma.
4. ‘DON’T BE A VICTIM’
This sign, which catches Camille’s attention in Wind Gap’s police station, is more than a little objectionable, especially given the crisis the residents are going through. Much too wordy to be one of Camille’s hallucinations, it’s a reminder of the paranoia paralyzing the town.
5. Marian’s ghostly appearance
At this point in Sharp Objects‘ debut episode, we already know Adams’ character sees dead people, but the significance of her sister’s ghostly appearance here is that the camera isn’t adopting Camille’s perspective in this sequence; it’s her mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) who we follow across the landing. Just a few minutes prior to this reveal, during a flashback of Camille and Marian (Lulu Wilson) in their youth, there’s a line of dialogue that might provide some explanation: Marian tells her older sister that “Mama said she saw a ghost once.” In scenes like these, Sharp Objects blurs the line between mind tricks and the genuinely supernatural, but the significance of this eerie scene mainly lies in its tacit suggestion that, despite their barely-contained animosity for one another, Camille and her mother may be more alike than they know.
This is another clear hallucination of Camille’s, and it’s a great example of how Sharp Objects uses near-imperceptible shifts in focus to draw our eye towards evidence of its protagonist’s psychological problems. Usually, whenever Camille imagines a world where we know it isn’t – such as here when the car stereo reads ‘WRONG’ before abruptly switching back to ‘AUX’ – the false word is either an imperative command or an adjective with negative connotations. ‘WRONG’ is about as negative as you can get, and its appearance right after Camille sneaks out of her mother’s house to go drinking is revealing of her habit of severe self-policing.
The night of post-drinking sleep Camille has in her car mustn’t have been restful enough, because when she looks down the street, we see this word emblazoned on the nearest-facing wall of a car wash.
Smack bang in the middle of the first episode’s gruesome reveal, the word ‘YELP’ appears on a door next to Chief Vickery (Matt Craven). Rather than Camille’s subconscious mind projecting an ad for a consumer review site onto her surroundings, this apparition channels her distress at discovering the missing Natalie’s body.
Before disappearing in a returning shot, this word suddenly appears scrawled onto a painting in Amma’s (Eliza Scanlen) dollhouse replica of Adora and Alan’s (Henry Czerny) Southern gothic mansion. There’s a lot of talk of girls in Sharp Objects: missing ones, dead ones, and girls in danger of meeting those fates.
10. ‘INQUIRY’, ‘NUDE’ and ‘VANISH’
One of the final shots in Sharp Objects’ debut episode includes a reference to its own title (“Vanish”) in a scar on Camille’s body. This scene expounds upon all of the little hints Sharp Objects has thrown at us so far by dramatically revealing Camille’s history of self-harm and obsession with words. Just before the camera lingers on ‘VANISH’, we glimpse ‘NUDE’ and ‘INQUIRY’, which is an interesting one in that it both relates to her job as a journalist and harks back to the word ‘ASK!’ spelt out in pins we see on Camille’s felt board during an early St. Louis-set scene.
Episode Two, “Dirt”
1. ‘VICE’ and ‘FORNICATE’
Leading on from the revelatory finale of episode one, “Dirt” begins with a whip-fast shot of two more of Camille’s scars. As before, the words she’s chosen to inscribe on her body are self-admonishing, as if she’s reprimanding herself for something. The vocab is decidedly sexual this time — significant given her conservative background — and as such, it may be teasing future reveals of Camille’s past.
As with other Easter eggs in Sharp Objects, this one is indicative of the way Camille’s emotions leak out into her visual perception: a church banner unexpectedly changes its tack during this episode’s funeral scene, immediately after Adora snatches Camille’s pen to stop her from taking notes. That something as relatively trivial as this could sting so much is explained in adjacent scenes that show Adora neglecting Camille when she was a child.
3. ‘BUNDLE’, ‘PUNISH’, AND ‘TANGLE’
While Camille is toying with the idea of self-harm in her car, Bob Nash (Will Chase) is unceremoniously ejected from the wake taking place at the Keenes’ house. She watches the action from her window, but observant viewers might be distracted by a curious bit of modification on the cars parked outside: their standardly-formatted plates suddenly switch to read ‘BUNDLE’, ‘PUNISH’, and ‘TANGLE’, more cryptic insights into Camille’s mysterious mind.
4. ‘SCARED’ and ‘SACRED’
After witnessing the aforementioned altercation between the two bereaved fathers, a scratch appears on Camille’s car door reading ‘SCARED’. In her memory of the event, this changes to ‘SACRED’, and it’s also worth noting that we see the beginning of a scar on Camille’s wrist just before this: only the first three letters are visible, and they read ‘SCA’.
As before, at least one of these hallucinations seems tied to Camille’s emotions: fear, whether that be in response to the fight she witnesses, or in relation to her overriding emotion at being back in Wind Gap. ‘SACRED’ is less straightforward, but its appearance could be an analogy to a scene that takes place moments before, in which Adora chastises her daughter for snooping around Natalie’s room: “You can’t just go into the room of a dead little girl. You of all people should know how private, how personal that is.”
Episode Three, “Fix”
1. ‘YOU ARE UNWORTHY’
Sharp Objects’ third episode lets us in on Camille’s history of self-harm. In a flashback that shows her being admitted to rehab, Camille’s eye is caught by one of the self-help posters on the wall, which an establishing shot shows is emblazoned with a customary self-affirmative slogan: ‘YOU ARE NOT INVISIBLE’. The deeply disparaging message that replaces it is, at this point, typical of Camille’s total lack of self-worth, but given the similar tone of her present-day hallucinations, it does suggest that the time since rehab hasn’t provided Camille with much in the way of healing.
2. ‘FUCK U’
The first thing Alice (Sydney Sweeney), Camille’s rehab roommate, says to Adams’ character is, “Don’t talk to me.” Camille obeys, but reveals a streak of dry humor when she exposes her midriff to deliver this succinct message, which can either be read as ‘FUCK U’ or ‘FUCK OFF’.
3. ‘Proverbs 11:17’
Although this isn’t a hallucination, it’s emblematic of how meticulously designed every inch of (the entirely fictional) Wind Gap, MO is. The small town is full of faded murals – the one of a housewife offering up a plate of “delicious, nourishing meat” is particularly eerie – but this oft-shown biblical reference stands out clearly in contrast. The verse it alludes to is as follows: “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” Make of that what you will.
This one is fairly cryptic and could simply be the manifestation of another of Camille’s tattoos (as many of the show’s single-word apparitions are) — but we do glimpse it when Camille is following her younger half-sister Amma across town, so its context is somewhat relevant.
Chasing Amma up the drive to her mother’s pig farm, Camille spies an old piece of machinery that soon becomes a vehicle for her inner thoughts. Whether the argument she’s just had with Adora is still on her mind, or whether she’s predicting a confrontation with her sister, the gendered choice of word here speaks to the way Sharp Objects revolves around its women, irrespective of (or perhaps because of) the way the men of Wind Gap dismiss their female counterparts as mere gossipmongers.
Tortured by flashbacks to her time in rehab, Camille sneaks out to the local bar again, where her disturbed psyche alters a sign for billiards so that it reads ‘BELITTLE’. Its context offers few clues, but given its associations with emotional abuse, it’s likely to be a random materialization of one of the many, many words Camille has carved into her skin.
After being provoked by her younger sister at the end of Sharp Objects‘ third episode, an inebriated Camille takes off in her car. As with so many of these Easter eggs, the modified sign on the road to St. Louis could allude to more than one thing: that Camille is still reeling from Amma’s goading, for example, or that she holds herself partly responsible for Alice’s death (the vision of Marian that accompanies ‘Spiteful’ is telling, too). As ever, it’s probably also a projection of one of the scars on her body, but the final shot of the episode — a scar on Camille’s arm reading ‘FIX’ (notably, another command) — suggests its appearance is tied to her guilt over the deaths of her sister and friend.
Episode Four, “Ripe”
1. Life lines
Sharp Objects’ fourth episode begins with Camille emerging from the grass, where she’s spent the night following the last episode’s aborted drive back to St. Louis. The strange markings visible on the road could be a projection of scrawled handwriting, but given that Camille’s wordy visions have always been legible so far, it’s likelier that these shapes have another meaning. Their steadily repetitive peak-and-trough pattern resembles an EKG line, visually rendering one half of what the series is so preoccupied with: life and death.
2. ‘WORM’, ‘FREAK’, and ‘SUCK’
Returning to Adora’s house, Camille is triggered into experiencing another flashback (possibly of her time in rehab) in which we glimpse the words ‘WORM’, ‘FREAK’ and, less clearly, ‘SUCK’ etched onto a table. As all of these words have dark connotations, they fit perfectly into the established vocab of Camille’s scars.
As Camille shows Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) around Wind Gap’s grisly landmarks, we see a shot of a fallen tree trunk with the word ‘BARREN’ carved into it. Seconds later, a shot of the same scene confirms what viewers of the show will have suspected by now: that this is a temporary hallucination. The choice of word here ties into something Adora says to her eldest daughter later on in the episode, suggesting that Camille’s low self-esteem is directly linked to her mother’s emotional abuse.
Amongst the pornographic images nailed to the wall of the forest shed is a cutting that reads ‘WICKED’. Given the framing of the shot and what we discover in this scene about the shed, Camille’s personal history and Wind Gap’s treatment of sexually active young women, it’s safe to assume that this is another vision connecting us to Camille’s mind.
Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize this carved tree trunk from Sharp Objects’ collage-style opening credits, but just above it lies an allusion to something conspicuously missing from the killer’s victims: ‘TEETH’. The shot follows on from a conversation between Camille and Richard about this particular trademark of Wind Gap’s killer: “That’s where the teeth pulling comes in […] It’s about power…for someone who feels powerless.”
6. Marian returns
Recalling Adora’s hallucination from the first episode, Camille’s deceased younger sister Marian makes a brief return in “Ripe”, sitting in exactly the same place as she did in her mother’s imagination. The timing is also significant here: Marian appears when Camille is frantically searching for Amma after a bar-side conversation with John Keene (Taylor John Smith) alerts her to the danger her half-sister might be in. The connection Camille’s subconscious makes between her sisters – one dead, one in danger of meeting the same fate – is borne out in this vision.
7. ‘FALLING’, ‘HOLLOW’ and ‘CAN’T’
After discovering Amma’s absence, the blind panic of the drive across town causes Camille to experience three hallucinations in quick succession. First: ‘FALLING’ on a road sign, which accurately describes the sense of dread she’s feeling (an emotion made more intense by the nightmare scene Camille imagines stumbling upon in the shed).
Next, the word ‘HOLLOW’ tagged on a wall near Natalie Keene’s memorial; this word conjures up the tree trunk vandalism we glimpsed earlier in the episode, as well as all of that scene’s accompanying horrors.
And finally, ‘CAN’T’. Whether a transcription of what the despairing voice in Camille’s head is telling her or another well-timed projection of one of her scars, its appearance underscores the psychological implications this traumatic chase is having on Camille.
Episode Five, “Closer”
With this instalment, Sharp Objects brings us “closer” to Camille. We see more of the supportive father-daughter dynamic she shares with her boss, hear more about her absent real father, and learn more about her history in Wind Gap and her fucked up relationship with her mother. The fifth episode picks up where the last one ended: Camille dreams about the previous night’s events, when she drove through the town in search of her younger sister. Amma is caught in Camille’s headlights, and as the girl skates down the road, we get several varying glimpses (granted, not very bright ones) at the lettering on the freight train in the background. First, there’s ‘WRETCHED’, which is a fairly accurate summation of Camille’s mood now that she’s back home. (Note: I’ve upped the brightness on images from this scene.)
2. ‘TRASH’, ‘NASTY’, and ‘BITCH’
The words get pretty extreme from there on, moving quickly from ‘TRASH’ and ‘NASTY’ to ‘BITCH’. We’ve heard Camille explicitly refer to herself as trash before, so it’s not a leap to assume she identifies with the other two words, especially given the nature of her breakdown to Curry later on in the episode: “Whenever I’m here […] I feel like a bad person.”
3. ‘CRY’ and ‘NAG’
‘CRY’ and ‘NAG’ follow, fleshing out the show’s visual vocab with some more verbs. In keeping with Camille’s scar lexicon, they’re all words tied to negative emotions.
4. The magazine
Sharp Objects fills out Camille’s backstory with another flashback that explains her wariness about entering that upstairs room she’s often standing in the doorway of. It turns out the floor is made of ivory – which, as Richard later points out, gives the house something of a graveyard feel. In the past, this unusual choice of flooring was featured in Southern Home, a fact Adora is evidently very proud of. An edition of the magazine is framed on the wall, but a quick shot establishes that Camille was left out of the spread, with Adora preferring to pose for the photographer with only Marian.
5. Camille’s scars
“Closer” gives us the fullest view we’ve had yet of Camille’s scarred body. Etched all over her body are words like ‘PLEASE’, ‘SICKLY’, ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’ and ‘WHINE’. Some we’ve seen before elsewhere – ‘GIRL’ on the dollhouse, ‘TEETH’ on the tree, ‘WRONG’, ‘FUCK U/FUCK OFF’ – but this scene really expands our knowledge of the extent of her self-harm. ‘BLADE’, ‘PROPER’, ‘DEPRESSION’ and ‘STRIFE’ also appear, with ‘RIP M’ dead center on her chest, suggesting that the heart of Camille’s problems lies in her bereavement. Other scars include ‘OVEN’, which is particularly weird, and ‘LETTER’, which makes much more sense.
6. ‘SHALLOW DAY’
“Closer” takes place on Calhoun Day, Wind Gap’s annual celebration of its founding. The festival culminates at Adora’s house, where she is able to spy her eldest daughter and Richard getting close on the lawn. Never one to miss out on a opportunity to screw up Camille’s life, Adora takes Richard into the house for an impromptu tour, during which she speaks condescendingly about her daughter. Camille suspects as much, but on her way to the house, she’s stopped by a group of gossipy old school buddies. The superficiality of their exchange clearly leaves a bitter aftertaste, because when the show is about to start, Camille reads a ‘CALHOUN DAY’ stage drape as ‘SHALLOW DAY’.
7. Marian returns: Part 2
When Amma disappears yet again, Camille knows just where to go: the hunting shed in the forest. On her way there, however, she experiences a hallucination of her deceased sister dressed in white. The apparition isn’t really supernatural because it leads her where she was going anyway, but as in “Ripe”, Marian’s appearance at this particular moment works as a manifestation of both Camille’s bereavement and her fear for Amma.
Sharp Objects always spells out the titles of its episodes at some point onscreen, and this time, it’s during Camille and Richard’s climactic sex scene, which only happens because Adora warns her daughter that she’ll never be able to get “close” to anyone. That “FUCK U” scar must have tingled right about then, because Camille immediately rushes over to Richard’s motel to escape from Adora’s vitriol. While she’s in flagrante with the police officer, a headlight from outside illuminates her ‘CLOSER’ scar, telling us that she’s proved her mother wrong.
Episode Six, “Cherry”
This juicily-named episode begins with a dream Camille is having about the previous night’s events. Chasing the apparition of Marian through the forest, she trips over and sees the word ‘CURLS’ carved into a log; although we saw her take this same tumble in “Closer”, the word didn’t appear then. Given the context, there is good reason to suggest this is a word Camille associates with little girls – in particular, her two younger sisters.
As she reluctantly reunites with her old high school classmates, Camille sees a bumper crop of words, some of which may be real. ‘Petticoat’, which we glimpse scrawled onto the fireplace, seems a particularly random choice of word at first glance, but it has another meaning beyond the sartorial: according to the Oxford Dictionary, the word is “used to denote female control of something regarded as more commonly dominated by men”. From what we’ve seen of Wind Gap so far, its women definitely command power over the town (this being particularly true of Adora), despite what its male residents might choose to believe.
3. ‘CUPCAKE’, ‘Babydoll’, ‘LIPSTICK’ and ‘KITTY’
These four are sickly sweet enough that they could well be part of the décor chosen by Camille’s former cheerleading buddy Katie (Reagan Pasternak), although their appearance in the middle of Camille’s hallucinatory spree suggests they’re something more. They sound like they fit right into Wind Gap’s false etiquette – remember when Camille explained the double meaning of ‘bless your heart’ in “Dirt”? In Sharp Objects‘ world, the sweeter the words, the darker their real meaning.
Here’s one that’s definitely a projection of Camille’s subconscious. It seems her night with Richard has left her with something very specific to think about.
5. ‘OPEN’ to ‘OMEN’
A drunken Camille continues her streak of mirages when she’s dropped off at the store: the ‘OPEN’ sign in the window briefly flashes to read ‘OMEN’, a word with enough gloomy connotations to qualify as one of Camille’s self-inflicted scars.
6. Proverbs 11:17, again
Sharp Objects’ third episode made sure we didn’t overlook the religiously themed mural referencing this verse, and the payoff for all those repeated shots is here. Alan peruses his Bible after a difficult couple of days, and chances upon (or chooses) this line to study: “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” His own position in the series has so far been illustrative of Wind Gap’s gender politics – his wife and daughter Amma rule the roost while he withdraws to listen to his records – but interestingly, “Cherry” sees him take his most plain-spoken tone yet, with Camille.
This is one of Sharp Objects‘ least legible imaginary words, but the markings on the car door that appear as Amma tries to convince Camille to attend a high school party seem to read ‘HARM’. It’s probably scratched somewhere on Camille’s skin, but it’s also Camille’s subconscious doing a bit of foreshadowing, more of which we’ll see later.
By now, we know that Sharp Objects will always show us the episode’s title somewhere onscreen and explain its significance in Camille’s life. ‘CHERRY’ is just about visible on a laptop during the party scene, and a couple of flashbacks shown earlier on in this episode let us in on its hidden meaning. As Becca (Hilary Ward) reveals, ‘CHERRY’ was one of the first words Camille chose to carve onto herself in the aftermath of Marian’s death, because of something Adora said when Marian prompted her to marvel at Camille’s cheerleading outfit. As this scene indicates, that conversation is one Camille replays often.
After taking more drugs, Camille relives her childhood memories with Marian by skating through Wind Gap with Amma. The word ‘DOSAGE’ emblazoned on the side of a car mechanics’ shop is a reminder of the differences between her younger sisters: in all of her flashbacks, Camille remembers Marian as a sweet, innocent girl, whereas Amma puts on a similar front to hide her decidedly more wayward persona.
As with other words in this episode, this vision is so cloyingly saccharine that it feels like a satirical reference to Wind Gap’s faux niceness.
A tag on a travelling freight train pairs up with ‘DOSAGE’ to spell out the combination of intoxicants Camille has taken so far.
‘BODICE’ throws light onto another meaning for the earlier ‘Petticoat’; together, both of these words reference the prim, old-timey femininity Wind Gap’s women outwardly project.
13. Marian speaks
In this scene, Camille traces the journey she took with Marian in her youth. As she sneaks back into Adora’s house with Amma after slipping out earlier on, Marian appears in a downstairs doorway to glower up at her replacement. Since Sharp Objects is clear she is a figment of Camille’s imagination rather than an actual ghost, her presence says more about Camille’s state of mind than the house’s haunted-ness. The final words of the episode – “It’s not safe here for you” – are delivered by Marian just as Camille settles down for the night with Amma, suggesting that somewhere deep down in her subconscious, Camille senses a threat in her living sister.
Episode Seven, “Falling”
1. Marian in the mirror
Things heat up in the penultimate episode as Adora’s role in Marian’s death becomes clear. In the opening scene of “Falling”, we see her try to force a hungover and bruised Camille into her care, but her eldest daughter resists, foreshadowing the big reveal that comes later. Marian appears reflected in a mirror as Camille leaves the room, although it’s not clear who is hallucinating here; as “Vanish” proved, however poles-apart this mother and daughter are in personality, Adora and Camille do have something in common: they’re both consumed with memories of Marian.
This word briefly flashes by on a curb when Camille pulls up outside Ashley’s (Madison Davenport) house just in time to see Chief Vickery begin his search for John. We’ve seen it before: in “Closer”, when Camille was forced to reveal her scarred body to Adora and Amma. It’s worth noting that this scar manifests itself at the exact moment Ashley – a character who has given Camille a lot of grief in the series – shows up.
3. ‘CASTLE’ and ‘bloom’
Camille is surveying the less well-off part of town – an area one of Wind Gap’s local racists refers to as “Bean Town” – when these drive-by visions occur. As with ‘whine’, ‘CASTLE’ is graffitied onto Wind Gap’s infrastructure, although its placement here seems more juxtapositional than associative. That’s also true of ‘bloom’, which appears on a garbage can, of all places. Together, these words neatly symbolize Wind Gap’s economic divide, which has so far only been implied in the series, and they also call to mind the olde-worlde, floral-wallpaper affluence of Adora’s side of town, which we already know Camille finds repulsive.
4. ‘LITTLE’ and ‘SEW’
Both of these words have all the symptoms of being one of Camille’s scars: ‘LITTLE’ is suitably condescending, and ‘SEW’ (illuminated in red) has obvious connotations with self-harm, especially after the scene with the needle in “Dirt”.
5. More of Camille’s scars
We learnt in “Closer” that Camille has shied away from physical intimacy because of her scars. Here, however, she’s drawn out by John, whom she clearly identifies with, having both lost younger sisters. We see some of the scars, and we hear John read out the others; among them are ‘HELL’, ‘LAID’, ‘DRAINED’, ‘SICK’, ‘GONE, ‘BABY’, ‘IDLE’, ‘LANGUAGE’ and ‘MERCY’. Together they give us a near-complete image of Camille’s obsessions, both the negative (sexual repression, self-damnation, illness, grief, a sense of inferiority) and the singular positive (a love of words). Significantly, John singles out ‘MERCY’ for a kiss, as if he’s expressing his gratitude for the compassion kindred spirit Camille has shown him.
Following the climactic scene in the motel, Camille visits Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) to get to the bottom of Marian’s medical records, and just before the (red) door opens, one of Sharp Objects’ very first cameo words makes a reappearance in the paintwork.
Reeling from the truth about her sister’s previously unexplained death, Camille frantically dials Curry but gets his wife Eileen (Barbara Eve Harris) instead. As if in answer to Eileen’s concern – “Sweetheart, what is it? Are you okay?” – this word replaces a sign above one of Wind Gap’s stores. It’s both an allusion to Adora’s crimes and a perfectly understandable response after the revelation of the previous scene, although the nausea doesn’t damage Camille’s resolve.
“Falling” doesn’t taper off the tension here – it ends with Camille taking off in the direction of her mother’s house just as Adora is dosing Amma up and Alan is toying with a letter-opener – setting the final hour of Sharp Objects up to be the most confrontational episode of the series yet.
Episode Eight, “Milk”
Sharp Objects loves to reference its title: “Milk” alone features several shots of knives, razor blades and needles. One such sharp object is a carving knife we see lying next to the joint Adora is serving up – a callback to Wind Gap’s “delicious, nourishing meat” mural – in the opening dinner scene. Emblazoned across it is ‘WIDOW’, a word that marries the show’s chief themes: femininity and morbidity.
Given their ages, it’s interesting to note that Camille and Amma drink – or, rather, are served – milk at dinner. A character’s choice to drink the white stuff can mean all sorts of things, but in this context, Camille and Amma’s beverage tells us more about their mother than it does them. Adora suffers from Munchausen by Proxy and is always infantilizing her daughters, irrespective of their grown-ness, so it fits perfectly into what we know about her to view the dichotomy between the drinks in this scene – wine for the adults, milk for the kids – as another example of her delusion.
Poor Camille. This episode sees her finally sign up to the shady healthcare plan her mother has been pushing for so long, with disastrous results. As she’s lying sick and helpless, she sees the word ‘NURSE’ scrawled vertically near a doorframe. Most obviously, its appearance is a reference to the scene’s immediate action – Adora medicating her eldest daughter – but it also fits into Sharp Objects’ gendered vocabulary insofar as it alludes to a mother’s primary maternal duty towards her baby.
4. ‘BABY GIRL’
If Adora is the nurse, this scar pairing – which appears at least three times in “Milk” – spells out exactly what role Camille is playing. We’ve seen ‘BABY’ and ‘GIRL’ before, but here they underwrite just how deeply Adora’s dream has been realized: she’s always wanted Camille to be vulnerable – to need her, as she says in this episode. We’ve never seen her so affectionate towards Camille, and in this scene, she can barely hide her glee at her daughter’s transformation into a weak, helpless child.
The last time we saw this word was when the full extent of Camille’s self-harm was made apparent in episode five’s fitting room scene. It appears on a velvet chair in “Milk” when Camille wakes up, clearly still feeling worse for wear, and surveys her surroundings. Like so many previous hallucinations, then, it’s an example of Camille’s subconscious making a connection between one of her scars and her current state of mind.
6. ‘ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS’
Adora clearly takes this maxim to heart.
When Camille realizes her sister never went to get help after all – “I need to stay [Adora’s] good girl” – she envisions ‘FICKLE’ on the side of the dollhouse. The word is a plain-spoken indication of Camille’s disappointment in a scene that references something that is spelt out very clearly later: Amma’s infatuation with the people she loves most.
8. ‘OMEN’ to ‘MEN’
At the hospital, a nurse – a real one this time! – gives Camille a shot, the needle puncturing the ‘O’ in her ‘OMEN’ scar like a perfect bullseye. The needle and the nurse’s hand obscure the first letter for a few seconds so that the scar reads ‘MEN’, reversing the show’s gendered focus for a moment.
As Richard tells Camille Adora is going down for poisoning her daughters and killing Ann and Natalie, ‘ICEBOX’ appears near the door handle, seemingly suggesting that the drama is about to cool down. And it does, for a while.
This scene also features a cool memento for the behind-the-scenes crew of Sharp Objects: the names of the doctors listed on the patient board behind Richard just happen to be those of two of the show’s set dressers, Gabriel Chrislock and Eric Ramirez. Given the ingenious, meticulous design work we’ve seen and dissected throughout the show, it’s only right that the team get an onscreen shout-out.
As abstract as this word is, I’m inclined to think it’s a coronary command in this instance. At the exact moment it appears on a pillar outside the house, the gentle piano music that’s been playing over the scene is abruptly cut short so we can hear Adora deliver her plea in court – surely a heart-stopping moment for Camille.
Returning from a prison visit with Adora, Amma walks past a trash can that serves as a vehicle for Camille’s thoughts. Like ‘ICEBOX’, ‘BACK’ implies a sense of relief: Amma is safely back from the visit; things are back to normal. However, it’s also a commentary on the way Camille’s effective adoption of Amma has forced her back to Wind Gap, her least favorite place and the backdrop to her most traumatic memories.
12. Mae’s hands
This shot is especially interesting. Having dinner at Curry’s house, Camille notices words written on Amma’s friend Mae’s (Iyana Halley) hands. Apart from ‘CALL MOM’, they’re writing-related – ‘READ BOOK’ and ‘TEXT A’ – which ties in with what Mae says about her future ambitions: she wants to be a writer like Camille. Amma follows Camille’s eyes and her gaze lingers, as if she too can see the words. But if you rewind, the words don’t seem to be there in the moments leading up to this shot. And when they seem to disappear again, the word ‘MILK’ is suddenly visible. Are the words more figments of Camille’s imagination? That would give them fresh meaning – particularly ‘CALL MOM’.
13. Post-credits scenes
Sharp Objects ends with a bang: we’re given only seconds to process the seismic effects of the truth before being hit by a black screen. The ferocity of the cut inclines us to take a few moments to catch our breath, but even that brief relief is cut short. Throughout its eight hours, Sharp Objects has borrowed many of the conventions of cinema, but until “Milk”, the post- or mid-credits scene wasn’t one of them. Snatches of shaky images fill in all of the blanks left by the final scene: we see a flashback to Amma killing Anne and Natalie, aided, it should be noted, by her roller-skating friends. Natalie’s blood on the carpet – a detail that perplexed John – is explained in a shot of her lying, open-mouthed, by the bed in the carriage house.
And just before we glimpse Amma dressed in a floaty white gown at the edge of the forest (vindicating James Capisi’s testimony), we see Mae’s hands desperately clinging to a fence. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that her nails are painted a gaudy pink where previous scenes had shown them to be plain. Something John said about his sister in the last episode floats up to the surface of our memory: “Her fingernails were painted. When they found her, someone painted her fingernails. Natalie would never do that.”