While I’ve had specific problems with Gillian Flynn’s novels, all of them nail the darkness that can live in the hearts of women and how rage curdles when given no “appropriate” outlet. Sharp Objects managed to capture most of that message with Adora and Camille, though the biggest shock of all was bungled. Jean-Marc Vallée pulled a similar move in Big Little Lies with keeping attention off the killer until the very end, and while it does keep the focus on the overall story rather than the whodunnit, it means that the finales have landed with a less than satisfactory or clear understanding of their central murders.
While Camille was our window into the world of Windgap, her struggles made it all too easy to glide over the many contradictions of her younger sister that hinted at how unstable she was. Amma willingly accepts her mother’s poison the way Marian did, but manages to sneak out and live her own life the way Camille did. She played the part of Millie Calhoun in the Calhoun Day pageant as a sainted victim (an event entirely made up for the show) but also presented her version of Millie Calhoun as a rebellious leader, who trained women to fight for themselves after the men left to go to war. She idolized Camille for her independence and maturity, mocked her for being an adult in the face of teenaged taunting, and openly competed with her for Adora’s affection. But Camille had already left home and was never really a threat to her position with Adora, the girls that Adora attempted to mentor were. She experiments dangerously with drugs, alcohol, and sex at the age of 13 and ominously says to Camille that when you let boys do things “it’s like you’re doing it to them.” Still, it felt at times as though the show was deliberately obfuscating the malevolence of Amma’s actions for the sake of a more shocking pay-off later.
While the family dynamics were covered in depth, Adora’s position in the community was only briefly shown through her friendship with Police Chief Vickery, which read more like a romance most of the time, and a few scenes of her friends. Adora’s attempt to mother Ann and Natalie are what led to their deaths. She was drawn to them for the same reasons they made good victims; both were more independent and outcast from the larger social circle of Windgap. Adora’s intentions are murky as always, did she intend to make these two victims of her “care”? As replacements for Amma as she sensed her daughter straining against her aggressive forms of protection? Or simply expand her circle of influence via some new, younger, confidantes? We get very little information about Adora’s interactions with these girls, since the time is spent on her interactions with the characters around her. The show chose to use flashbacks in very specific ways (as visuals only, no dialogue or voice-over) that I think was generally very effective in building the mood they wanted. But it did leave some big questions with no explanation, and Adora’s social interactions with the murdered girls is one of them.
In the end, Adora poisoned all three of her daughters, and I think the show was able to communicate this clearly. It’s hard to say where her rage came from; it’s hinted that her own mother’s treatment of her and the expectations placed on her had a part, but she herself would likely dismiss that as a central cause of her own anger that drives her to weaken and harm those who are dependent on her. She killed Marian with poison. She maimed Camille with callous disregard. And she turned Amma into poison herself. Camille’s rage is written on her body, on every inch of it that she can reach, but it’s all turned inward. Amma, in some ways, took after both women. She targeted those who would be vulnerable to her social status and she allowed herself to be poisoned and used by others. By the time Camille got there, she’d built up too much of a tolerance to be cured.
Header Image Source: HBO