“The exploration of Munchausen by proxy syndrome in Sharp Objects spotlights a very real form of abuse.”
Title: Sharp Objects
Episodes Reviewed: Season 1
Creator: Marti Noxon 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Marti Noxon 👩🏼🇺🇸 (8 eps), Gillian Flynn 👩🏼🇺🇸 (8 eps), Ariella Blejer 👩🏽🇺🇸 (7 eps), Dawn Kamoche 👩🏾🇺🇸 (7 eps), Scott Brown 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Vince Calandra 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), and Alex Metcalf 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Laura Hindley of Strong Female Lead 👩🏼🇬🇧🌈
Based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel of the same name, Sharp Objects stars Oscar-nominated Amy Adams as the troubled journalist Camille Preaker. Camille returns to her small hometown of Wind Gap to report on the murders of a young girl. As she delves into the history of her fraught relationship with her mother Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson), she also begins to uncover links between her family and the murdered girls.
The miniseries was adapted by Marti Noxon, most famous for her writing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite the two decades that have passed since the cult classic, Noxon still demonstrates a love for complex, kick-ass women—this time found in Camille, Adora, and Camille’s sister Amma Crellin (Eliza Scanlen).
Beyond strong characters, Sharp Objects also boasts a standout soundtrack. Having impressively secured the rights to four Led Zeppelin songs—a band notorious for declining such requests—music supervisor Susan Jacobs also oversaw the interesting use of diegetic sound; that is, the music that echoes source noises within the scenes themselves. This reverberation of sound, speech, and music pulls the audience straight into the evocative environment of Wind Gap.
One does have to wonder, however, whether the team responsible for music choices were aware of the multiple accusations of sexual assault against the band—including attempted rape and child abuse. Given the show’s main character, who is a victim of sexual assault herself, paying royalties to Led Zeppelin feels, at the very least, extremely distasteful.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Adams’ portrayal of the emotionally damaged Camille is absolute perfection. Showing strength in women is important, but showing weakness is too. While it could seem negative to watch Camille drink copious amounts of alcohol to suppress her childhood trauma, and to exhibit a history of severe mental health issues, that’s actually what makes her so compelling and authentic. When Camille speaks to an old Windgapian acquaintance, she remarks with brutal honesty, “My demons are not remotely tackled, just mildly concussed.”
Anchored by this complex female lead, the narrative of Sharp Objects feels more delicate and introspective than your standard crime drama. Author Gillian Flynn confirms her priorities, saying that the goal was always to tell the story of generational violence among women. She just happened to “wrap [the story] in the town and these murders.”
Once the audience is introduced to Camille, flaws and all, we’re shown glimpses of her backstory and we slowly come to understand why she is the way she is. As TV critic Lindsay Zoladz remarks, “The forms of violence we condemn often sit uncomfortably close to the kinds of violence we condone.” Nothing could be truer when it comes to Camille’s mother, who has a pivotal role in her daughters’ issues.
Speaking of Camille’s mother, Clarkson delivers an outstanding, chilling performance as the sinister Adora, who we eventually learn has Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Simply put, she purposefully makes her daughters ill so that she can care for them. It’s no surprise, then, that her other daughter Amma is an erratic confusion of identities and quite possibly a sociopath. Meanwhile, Amma could have been tricky to portray well, but the young, Australian Scanlen delivers an unnerving depiction of Wind Gap’s tormented mean girl in one of the show’s most impressive roles.
Wind Gap is a fictitious town but it’s situated in Missouri, a state ranked a lowly 36th out of 50 U.S. states for ethnic diversity and home to some of the country’s most segregated neighborhoods, including the high-profile city of Ferguson. This backdrop of unrest presents the perfect opportunity to explore racial inequality.
And they do—but Sharp Objects remains centered on white characters while people of colour are relegated to supporting roles. The latter do play pivotal parts, especially when providing insights into how it feels to be Black in a predominately white town. But the commentary on race in Sharp Objects feels theoretical and academic, rather than lived in.
For example, writers tackle inequality by showing that white privilege is deeply embedded in characters like Adora, or even Camille. Even though Gayla (Emily Yancy), the Crellins’ longtime maid, fulfils a number of more intimate roles within the family, she ultimately remains at the beck and call of her employer. The divide is unmistakable as we watch Gayla silently tidying the kitchen between meals and dutifully tending to Adora’s amaretto sours, and while the conclusion drawn from these scenes are correct—that racism exists despite white participants being “nice” to Black people—there’s no real progress being made by the show, as Sharp Objects simply reinforces stereotypes of Black women as “the help”.
The only other character of colour we meet who lives in Wind Gap appears midway through the series, when Camille apologises to a former classmate for the unpleasant way she treated her in high school. Although the classmate’s Blackness is never specified as the reason for Camille’s behavior, viewers can read between the lines.
This isn’t to say major changes in casting need to be made. So the Crellins and Camille are white—fine. But wouldn’t it have been more enlightening to delve into Adora’s character through the eyes of Gayla, the sole person who spends the most time around her? Topics of gender discrimination, as well as violence committed by women, are written with such maturity that the show’s approach to race feels that much shallower.
There are no LGBTQ characters in Sharp Objects. However, due to the show’s small cast of characters, narrow focus, and its contained, 8-episode run, their absence feels more like a missed opportunity than it does an outright offence.
No sequel appears to be planned, but if a Season 2 does get made then LGBTQ characters could be an interesting way to explore the show’s existing theme of social inequality.
Bonus for Disability: +1.00
The exploration of Munchausen by proxy syndrome in Sharp Objects spotlights a very real form of abuse. Anna Silman of The Cut interviews an expert on the topic, Marc D. Feldman, who reveals that Sharp Objects does a good job of portraying the terrible phenomenon. He confirms the plausibility of each character who is affected, from Camille to Amma to Adora and her husband, and ends his interview saying that he “wants people to know about it, and not view it as mysterious or dubious.”
Considering that a piece by Elite Daily goes on to provide official, National Institutes of Health-approved symptoms in children who may be suffering from this form of abuse, so that others around them may see the signs in real life, it would seem Sharp Objects is helping to fulfill Feldman’s hopes that more people can understand
Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.94/5
There’s a reason why Sharp Objects scores a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93%. The trainwreck of Camille’s family is impossible to tear your eyes from and their twisted lives resonate with the viewer, long after the credits roll.
Writers do shed some light on how silent racism can manifest itself in small-town America, but they could go so much further. Particularly during these extreme times, when overt racism is actively goaded on by the American president, the show’s approach feels tentative—especially for a work that wants to be important.