[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the first episode of Sharp Objects. Read at your own risk!]
Summer is supposed to be all about sunshine and no-strings-attached fun, but HBO apparently wants to make it about murder and the twisted psyche of women trapped in a cycle of abuse. After much hype, the network's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel Sharp Objects finally debuted Sunday, and thankfully it appears to have been worth the long journey to screen.
It should surprise no one that Amy Adams is outstanding in the premiere as Camille Preaker, a high-functioning alcoholic/journalist whose boss sends her back to her Missouri hometown, Wind Gap, to cover the murders of two young girls. But it's clear by the way her boss presents Camille's new assignment that the trip is equally, if not more so, about his desire to help Camille find closure with her past. But you don't need her boss' concerned words to know that something is deeply troubling Camille.
When she packs for the trip, her suitcase is basically just a sack filled with miniature bottles of vodka, a handful of candy and a pack of cigarettes. And when Camille is seen meticulously organizing her grab bag of vices, the juxtaposition between the care with which she treats her addiction and the care with which she treats herself is startling. (The fact that Camille's phone screen is cracked to all hell is also extremely telling and exactly the type of attention to detail I appreciate in my HBO dramas.)
So it makes sense that when Camille does arrive in Wind Gap, she does just about everything to avoid going home to face her estranged mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson). She stops by the police precinct to interview the chief, Vickery (Matt Craven), and joins the latest search effort for the second missing girl, Natalie Keene. It's during the search that Camille meets a callous teen girl on roller skates and a sexy detective from out of town, Richard Willis (played by the true Best Chris, Chris Messina).
Eventually, the sun sets and Camille runs out of excuses to postpone returning home. And right away one of the reasons Camille didn't want to go back is clear: Adora is insufferable. Rather than be excited to see her eldest daughter, Adora is only concerned that Camille's unexpected arrival means she wasn't able to prepare her performative duties as a Southern homemaker, not to mention that Camille's association with the murders is both uncouth and could reflect poorly on Adora. But while it's clear that Adora has no reservations weaponizing her façade of fragility and proper manners to manipulate Camille, there's also the sense that Adora is masking a real pain as well, with the tightly-wound woman unconsciously pulling out her eyelashes during the heated discussion, an anxious tic that hints Camille isn't the only one struggling to keep all of her pain hidden inside.
We get a closer look at what is troubling both women when Camille settles into her childhood bedroom, where she's immediately transported back into the past to the night her younger sister Marian died of an undisclosed illness. (There's a surreal quality to Sharp Objects, which weaves together the past and present to an often beautiful, but disorienting effect. It would be hard to capture this effortless blending of memory and time in a short recap, and so I'm not even going to try. Some things you just need to see. You'll live.)
Unable to face this grief, Camille sneaks out and goes straight to the local bar Sensors (terrible name, but it looks like a fun place to hang, if I'm being perfectly honest). In a far too relatable moment, Camille immediately finds herself sucked into a conversation with someone from high school she has zero interest in, but the arrival of Willis provides an easy escape. The pair banter back-and-forth, and it's clear that Willis is the only one in town who's truly capable of keeping up with Camille's wit and who can see through her attempts at manipulation. But when Camille refuses to engage on any real level with him, Willis tires of the games and leaves Camille to get sh--faced with the townie bartender until she passes out in her car.
After a brief pit stop at home during which — surprise, surprise — she's gifted by another lecture on appearances from Adora, Camille heads straight to the house of Bob Nash (Will Chase), the father of the first murder victim, Ann. It doesn't take much for Camille to set Bob off, but I can't really blame him. His daughter was murdered and many Wind Gap residents suspect him of the crime. But if you ask Bob, the real killer is Natalie's brother, John Keene (Taylor John Smith). That's when Bob drops the revelation that Ann wasn't sexually assaulted — evidence he claims points to John Keene, whom he suspects of being gay.
But while the victims weren't raped, they were mutilated. Shortly after Camille's visit to the Nash house, she notices a commotion near the town square and goes to check it out, where she's joined by the trouble-making teenager she met earlier. That's when they see Natalie's body has been discovered, placed in an alley and with all her teeth pulled out.
When Camille returns home, haunted by images of Natalie, she discovers the girl she keeps running into is her half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who has purposefully kept her identity from Camille. However, gone are Amma's roller skates, short shorts and f--- you attitude; within the walls of Adora's expansive home, Amma is only the dutiful, demure daughter, complete with a big bow in her hair and a dollhouse despite the fact she's probably almost old enough to drive.
It doesn't take long before Camille and Amma extricate themselves from Adora's presence, allowing themselves their first honest conversation since they met at the search for Natalie Keene. At first all Amma wants to know about is whether Marian was as perfect as Adora makes her out to be, but she's soon buttering up Camille, complimenting her and saying how close they're going to be now because the two of them are so similar. Although Amma's words are nice, there's a sinister element lurking underneath them. It's as though Amma sees Camille's darkness and rather than turn away from it, she wants to draw it out so they can revel in the pain together.
As if this wasn't disturbing enough, after this chilling talk Camille decides she's finally ready to face Marian's room, which has been kept exactly the same since her death all those years ago. While she surveys the sickeningly sweet room, we're offered glimpses of Marian's funeral, from which Camille had to be carried out of the service kicking and screaming after furiously trying to rub gaudy pink lipstick off Marian's face.
After reliving this painful memory, Camille proceeds to do what we can already tell is her M.O.: escape into music, alcohol and a hot bath. Only this time, we see that Camille's entire body — which up until now has been carefully hidden by long sleeves, pants and good editing — is covered with the scars of words Camille has carved into her body. The camera lingers on one word in particular: vanish. Probably not an omen of good things to come.
Sharp Objects airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.