In an effort to do HBO’s new limited series Sharp Objects justice, we at Gaming Historia have written not one, but two articles about the premiere episode Vanish. Prepare to dive into the story and character dynamics of this pointed–pun intended–drama.
**I did my best to avoid spoilers, but read no further if you do not wish to know more about “Vanish“!**
Like the majority of Gillian Flynn stories, Sharp Objects takes place in rural Missouri. And as a Missourian, it is always fascinating seeing how small towns in the good old Show Me State are portrayed.
The episode begins with a summertime, hazy flashback of our young protagonist, Camille (portrayed by Sophia Lillis) rollerskating with her sister. We see the deserted streets of their quiet town Wind Gap and brief glimpses of their enormous Victorian home. After sneaking past their mother back into their house, you begin to get the feeling that this is not some warm, peaceful memory.
Young Camille enters her bedroom and it shifts to present day where grown Camille (portrayed by Amy Adams) is asleep in her apartment. The memory turns when her younger self unfolds a paper clip and begins to press the sharp end into the top of her hand. Present day Camille jerks awake. This moment embodies the over-arching promise of the series: there will be violence. And seemingly innocuous objects can inflict the most damage.
A down-trodden adult replaces the laughing and happy young Camille. Working as a writer for The St. Louis Chronicle Camille’s editor, Frank, sends her on an assignment to her hometown of Wind Gap to cover the story of a missing girl. During their exchange, it is apparent Camille is less than thrilled about returning home. Frank asks her about Wind Gap and she begins to rattle off basic facts about the town’s population and proximity to Tennessee. Some of the greatest writing of the episode comes when she says in Wind Gap, “You’ve got your old money and your trash.” Franks asks, “Which are you?” Without missing a beat, Camille replies, “Trash. From old money.”
She plays it off as light-hearted, but it is increasingly obvious how little she wishes to return home. Frank insists, to the point of pulling the “I am your boss” card, essentially forcing her to take the assignment. We don’t get to see much of Camille’s adult life in St. Louis before she packs her bags and heads down to Wind Gap. We do, however, begin to see her dependence on alcohol.
Camille’s drinking is a constant during this first episode. Don’t let that plastic Evian bottle fool you, she is downing vodka like its water. On her way to Wind Gap, she stops at a cheap motel and dumps out the contents of a paper bag: booze, cigarettes, and candy. She meticulously organizes the mini bottles of vodka sorting the full from the empties before getting into the bath. Another constant during the episode is her flashbacks. It seems like every time she has a quiet moment to think, these memories plague her like ghosts.
The episode is lighter on the side of plot development and more about setting the mood. The majority of the episode consists of Camille traversing Wind Gap. Among the myriad of old and new faces in town, one of the most intriguing characters we meet is her mother Adora. One of the first things she says to Camille is, “The house is not up to par for visitors”, essentially treating her like a stranger.
Adora makes it clear she is not happy with Camille writing an article about the missing girls. The strain and discomfort between the two are palpable. Camille still calls her “Mama” even as she cowers under icy stare. Adora stresses to her that everything Camille does will reflect on her and that because she moved away, she does not know anything about the people in Wind Gap anymore. Like moving away was some cardinal sin. It is worth noting that Adora has a peculiar tendency to pull out the eyelashes on her right eye. We are constantly reminded of this tick throughout Camille’s flashbacks and even in present day.
Another interesting character is Camille’s half-sister, Amma. She is present early on in the episode, a young, pretty girl scantily clad rolling around on her skates. At one point, she even disrupts a memorial for the missing girl with her friends. During their first interaction early on in the episode, Amma recognizes Camille but doesn’t reveal her identity. Along with her multiple eye-brow raising lines about being “incorrigible” and “letting pretty things die”, Amma is not all that she seems.
Vanish set the stage for the season to come, and poses the question: how does our past affect us in the present and dictate who we are today? Camille’s flashbacks serve to remind us of the lasting effects of her past trauma. Instead of laying out a procedural crime-thriller, this episode focuses on character dynamics. The two big revelations during this episode are that the missing girl’s body is found and we finally see the physical scars all over Camille.
Adams portrays Camille quite skillfully: presenting a dry wit, and ultimately quiet exterior, with deep, psychological torment lurking below the surface. It is clear that this girl has been through something. The last few moments of the episode clue us into the physical toll her past trauma has taken. Coupled with her apparent alcoholism, we are presented with a woman simply looking to find relief from all her psychological trauma.
After just one episode, Sharp Objects presents a story about how people treat each other in the wake of a tragedy. But the underlying layer of that story is the relationship between Camille, Adora, and Amma. The dynamic between each of the characters is shrouded in past traumas that have clearly not been addressed or resolved. Each moment is charged with the potential of what could happen, and you end up holding your breath during each exchange. That is exactly my sentiment for Sharp Objects: intrigued by the mystery, but holding my breath because terrible things are in store. And I wager they will come from the most unexpected of places.