In a sinister, singular season, ‘Sharp Objects’ cuts deep

September 7, 2018

There will never be a second season of “Sharp Objects”—HBO president Casey Boyd confirmed as much a few weeks ago. But where other programs would see this as a judgment, this is a blessing for “Sharp Objects.” Adapted from a Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, “Objects” is a stunning and self-contained meditation on truma, self-harm and southern hospitality. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it would be irresponsible to recommend this show without content warnings galore. That said, this mini-series is absolutely worth watching.

Over a woozy eight episodes we return to Wind Gap, Missouri, hometown of journalist Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), pushed to come back to Wind Gap to cover the murder and investigation of two little girls. The premise is vaguely reminiscent of “Twin Peaks,” another groundbreaking show about an investigation into a gruesome small town crime. But where “Peaks” delighted in providing dreamlike, charming interactions between townsfolk, “Objects” is adamant that there’s nothing good beneath the surface of Wind Gap. And at the center of this rotting, broken place is Adora, Camille’s mother and town power player, and Amma, Camille’s teenage step-sister.  

This is a premise ripe with potential pitfalls—starting with Camille, who could easily fall into any number of “traumatized female protagonist” tropes. Thankfully, Amy Adams does not give bad performances; Camille never comes off as anything less than a totally realized human being.

Adams is yet another big-name actress to pivot into television to great effect, though the behind-the-scenes talent is equally impressive. The last big adaptation of a Flynn novel was 2014’s “Gone Girl”—also a critical and financial success—but that film was directed by David Fincher, a notoriously cold and meticulous auteur. On the other hand, all eight episodes of “Sharp Objects” are directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who helmed the Oscar-winning “Dallas Buyers Club” and broke into television last year with “Big Little Lies.” Vallée’s style is much more intimate than Fincher’s, using lots of dark, moody, handheld shots to create palpable atmosphere in every shot.

But the real power of “Sharp Objects” comes from the editing. The entire show is filtered from Camille’s subjective perspective, and you get the sense that due to the things she’s experienced, the barriers between past events and the present are broken. It’s a device that’s really well suited for a novel, where the narrative can flow seamlessly between time periods—something that Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” does very well. To compare anything to “Beloved” is extremely high praise, and not coincidentally “Beloved” and “Sharp Objects” are both stories about motherhood, pain and distinctly female suffering. But to successfully capture the fracturing of time in a visual medium is easier said than done (if you want an example of a failed attempt, look no further than the movie adaptation of “Beloved”), but in “Sharp Objects,” Vallée and his team of editors pull it off.

This is seriously impressive filmmaking. There’s a cohesion between the images Vallée conjures, Adams’ performance, and the cracked way these aspects fit together that’s pretty spectacular.  

But this is not an easy watch. It’s a dark show, both literally and figuratively (I tried to watch an episode one afternoon in a bright Skyline dorm and could barely make out anything that was going on). As the season progressed, I found myself returning to “Sharp Objects” due to its quality as much as a desire to finish, so that I could look away from the hard truths the show spotlights. This got under my skin, and there were many moments when I simply couldn’t look at the screen. I’ve never seen a piece of media present self-harm in such a brutal, honest light.

Because in a lot of ways, that’s the point. Set in a town that embraces its southern “heritage,” Camille’s job is to uncover the truth, horrible as it may be—a job directly at odds with her mother’s unfeeling love of a beautiful surface. “Sharp Objects” is a slow show, clearly eight parts that build to one whole. There’s a single “bad” episode here, as the tedious sixth installment lags, but by the time “Objects” reaches its finale, you’ll be glad you got there. Well, maybe “glad” isn’t the right word, but satisfied for sure. A self-contained masterpiece, “Sharp Objects” is some of the best TV this year.

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