Sharp Objects ended its hauntingly beautiful eight-episode run on Sunday with a series finale that will leave many viewers reeling. Let's just say, if you thought the reveal that Marian (Lulu Wilson) died as a result of Adora's (Patricia Clarkson) Munchausen by proxy was only scratching the surface of the truth, even you probably didn't predict the episode's final moments.
To get the inside story on the chilling culmination of Camille's (Amy Adams) story, TV Guide had Sharp Objects showrunner Marti Noxon and director Jean-Marc Vallée walk us through the finale, sharing their insights and addressing some of the episode's lingering questions along the way.
"Something you have to wrestle with after the show is over, is what's going to happen to those women now?"
CAMILLE FACES THE TRUTH
The finale begins as Camille arrives at the Crellin home, still emotionally raw from the recent revelations about Adora and terrified for Amma's (Eliza Scanlen) life. While she plays along with Adora's performance of domesticity initially, politely partaking in tense conversations about the death penalty and the underworld over dinner, as soon as Adora suggests giving Amma more "medicine," Camille fakes sick, allowing Adora to give her the poison instead.
While many viewers were probably shouting at their TVs, "Go to the cops!" when Camille allowed herself to be poisoned, Vallée sees Camille's actions as a misguided attempt to right the wrongs that have been haunting her for her entire life.
"There's a death wish. And the death wish [exists] in order to do finally the right thing. 'Maybe it should have been me instead of Marian? It should have been me. I've never been loved. It should have been me. I'm going to sacrifice myself in order to save Amma,'" the director explains.
Though it nearly kills her, giving herself over to Adora's deadly caretaking allows Camille the opportunity to finally confront her mother about Marian's death and find closure within the pair's most intimate discussion yet. It all happens while Camille sits naked, incapacitated and helpless in a clawfoot tub while Adora pretends to dote on her ailing daughter. It's the closest we've seen the pair get, and the closest we've probably seen Camille get with anyone up until that point.
"To me, that was the most important scene in the series, in a way," Noxon says. "And what I felt was that there is freedom in truth. To me, the whole show is about a few things, but Camille's whole arc is about the pursuit of truth, and there's such an important letting go, I think, that happens when someone finally says you're not crazy, in whatever way they say it. ... Even though Adora tries to explain or defend [her actions], it's still an admission, right? So everything changes for Camille in that moment. It's the closest they've ever been because they're not just lying to each other."
Eventually Richard (Chris Messina) — who seems to be one of the only men in Wind Gap not complicit in Adora's abuse — arrives at the Crellin home with reinforcements to arrest Adora (who puts on high heels for her perp walk in a perfect unscripted moment). But while the chaos is erupting downstairs, Camille, who has managed to extricate herself from the tub, lies back on the tiled bathroom floor, thinking these are her last minutes on Earth. And with her dwindling time, Camille takes the opportunity to sink back into the comfort of her memories, imagining she's her younger self and Marian is there, watching over her and loving her, even now.
"Camille's relationship with her sister was one of the only pure things that she had. And a lot of this feels like she was doing it for herself, but she's also doing it for the memory of that relationship and having people know the truth," Noxon says. "So, it felt to me that she was always her little angel and she shows up to tell her she can handle it and she's still there for her."
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
After Adora's arrest, we see how Camille and Amma pick up the pieces in a montage that shows Camille returning to St. Louis with Amma in tow, Camille turning her apartment into a real home, and a tearful Amma visiting her mother in prison while Camille waits outside. Gone are the surreal interruptions of Camille's memories and singular point of view, as well as the muggy claustrophobia of Wind Gap. Everything feels lighter and more open; there's a feeling of peace and cathartic release that culminates in Curry (Miguel Sandoval) reading aloud Camille's article, in which she grapples with her new role as Amma's caretaker. And though, Camille admits, there are times she worries she has her mother's disease, for now she believes she enjoys caring for Amma purely because of kindness.
It's a beautiful speech, and the first time viewers have gotten that kind of direct insight into Camille's interior life. And after eight episodes spent in the swampy depths of the darkest corners of her subconscious, Camille's uplifting words feel like a much needed dose of hope. "Her internal monologue is so strong and beautiful ... in the book. And you hear it there for the first time," Vallée says. "There's such a beautiful humanity to this speech, to this paper that she wrote, which is where she says she tends toward kindness after all, but she doubts that [she doesn't have] her mom's disease of taking care too much of Amma. But that's not how she feels. And we feel there's some hope."
But just as you begin to adjust into this new, idyllic reality, Sharp Objects pulls the (dollhouse) rug right out from under you once again.
"This whole house is an image of perfection that becomes destruction."
"DON'T TELL MOMMA"
Throughout the season, we saw how Camille was affected by her mother's abuse through her cutting, her drinking and her inability to understand how to care for others or let herself be open to being cared for. And while we saw glimpses of Amma's own struggles, just how deeply she was affected by Adora's abuse didn't become clear until the series' final moments.
When Camille finds a blanket for Amma's dollhouse in the trash, she goes to return it to its proper home and begins exploring her sister's meticulously constructed miniature. But when she sees a stray human tooth stashed in the dollhouse bathroom, Camille looks closer and is horrified to discover that the missing teeth of Ann Nash and Natalie Keene have been repurposed to recreate the tiled floor of the bathroom — the same one Camille nearly died in not so long ago.
A sheepish Amma interrupts Camille's discovery and utters three chilling words: "Don't tell momma."
"[Those words say] everything," Vallée explains. "In her eyes, 'I'm this doll that she's dressing up.' She tells Camille right there in Episode 1, 'But I'm incorrigible, just like you are. Only she doesn't know it.'"
"There's this dynamic of lies, of portraying perfection and this whole house is an image of perfection that becomes destruction," he continues. "It is a horror house disguised as a perfect house. ... It's an amazing punchline where there's nothing else after this but cut to black and crank up the volume. Go to end credits and think about 'what did I just hear?'"
It's a far cry from the ending of Gillian Flynn's original novel, which saw Camille turn Amma in for Natalie and Ann's murders, visit her half-sister in prison and even learn insights into why Amma killed the girls. In the book it's then, after Camille knows the full truth, that she shares her thoughts about caring for Amma because of kindness, a monologue which ends the novel on a feeling of hope. But even though the series ends on the heartbreaking revelation about Amma, Noxon insists some remnants of the book's happier ending remain because Camille still has what she was looking for through the entire series: the truth.
"I would argue that even with the Amma reveal, it's going to be shattering [for Camille], but it's not the same," Noxon explains. "It's not her mother and it's still the ongoing legacy of what her mother did. So, it's horrifying and it's one more family relationship destroyed by this horrible thing, but she still has the truth. She still has that this really happened and that Amma is obviously a perpetrator, but perpetrators make perpetrators. But that's something you have to wrestle with after the show is over, is what's going to happen to those women now?"
As for Amma's friend May, who not-so-coincidentally disappeared right after she expressed interest in following Camille's path into journalism in front of Amma, those of you who stuck around long enough to see the first of two (yes, two) credit sequences know that poor May did in fact meet the same fate as Natalie and Ann. But the sequence also revealed a startling piece of new information as well; in between the shots of Amma attacking May, we saw glimpses of the murders of Ann and Natalie... and Amma wasn't acting alone.
Book readers won't be shocked at this reveal given that Flynn's novel goes into great detail about how Amma manipulated her posse of pre-teen friends into helping her commit the heinous crimes. Unfortunately, Noxon just wasn't able to find the time to fully explore that aspect of the murders in such a short series. "That was a place where just visually we didn't see the whole scenario," Noxon explained. "We don't win 'em all."
BUT IS THIS REALLY THE END?
Noxon, Vallée and the whole team behind Sharp Objects have reiterated time and time again that this is a true limited series, so fans shouldn't expect a surprise renewal like what happened with Vallée's last HBO project, Big Little Lies. But that doesn't mean Noxon and Flynn haven't thought about what a second chapter of Sharp Objects would be.
"We have certainly talked about it," Noxon says. "To me, the idea of sort of a second novel from Gillian Flynn shown on the screen would be exciting, but I think just because of the team that we were able to assemble, it's going to be pretty impossible to do it again. Those ideas have certainly been kicked around, but right now they feel like pipe dreams."
BONUS: ANOTHER MYSTERY, ANSWERED
There are a lot of provocative questions Sharp Objects raised over the course of its eight episodes, and then there was this one: What is up with Amma's obsession with roller skating?
We couldn't help but take the opportunity to ask Noxon about this inexplicable hobby while we had her on the line, and there actually is a pretty great explanation.
"It was something that Jean-Marc brought to the project and honestly, I didn't understand it either until I saw it in the show," Noxon admits. "But we have this whole sort of quality of ghost-like apparitions and things appearing out of the blue in Camille's mind, and somehow it gave those girls a very ghostly ominous presence because they could move so quickly from place to place. It ended up being really, visually, a really beautiful choice.
"But in terms of the technical reality of why she loves roller skating, I'm sure she saw it in a music video."
You can stream all of Sharp Objects now on HBO NOW and HBO GO. Don't have an HBO account? Download the full season at iTunes, Google Play and other retailers.