Sunday, July 29, 2018

REVIEW: 'Sharp Objects' - Camille Journeys Deeper into the History and Trauma of Wind Gap in 'Ripe'

HBO's Sharp Objects - Episode 1.04 "Ripe"

Camille agrees to show Richard some of Wind Gap's crime scenes, though the tour opens up old wounds. Alan confronts Adora about her sharing confidences with Chief Vickery, who is concerned about the Crellins hosting the annual "Calhoun Day" attended by Wind Gap's youth. Fired from his job at Preaker Farms, John shares off-the-record revelations with Camille that raise fresh concerns for her.

There is generational pain and trauma that permeates throughout Wind Gap. It's not just specific to the Preaker family of the past or the Nash and Keene families of the present. This is a damaged community that would rather just smile and forget about the rapes and murders of the past. They would rather just believe that their community is close-knit and peaceful. They don't want to believe that anyone who has been a member of this community for a long time could ever be behind such gruesome violence. And yet, there's been no progress made on proving that either Bob Nash or John Keene is the killer in this case. Those are the theories that are currently popping up all over town. The residents are willing to alienate those two individuals for various reasons. With Bob Nash, it's easy to do because he seems overly aggressive and a seemingly abusive parent. With John Keene, it's much more complicated because it delves into feelings about masculinity and what's expected in this community. This is a town of conservative and traditional values. They are the people who have reverence for the statues that mark important moments in the history of the area. But they are also vicious people who can be so cruel to outsiders and anyone who isn't willing to conform. Everyone accepts the gossip and hatred of the town as well. Adora doesn't feel up to going to brunch with her fellow socialites but is also mortified that they will have nothing to do but gossip about her and the damage going on within her own family. Those are the fears that actually exist within these family units. They are afraid of the perception this town has of them. They are afraid that it only takes one bad decision or impression to completely change or destroy a life. Camille has had a lifetime of experiences in this community. She is forever shaped by her upbringing here. But the show is doing such careful and precise work showing how every single character is defined by the patterns of this very specific town. The patterns are definitely repeating themselves across the generations as well.

Camille takes Richard on a tour of the town to point out all of the crime scenes where brutal atrocities have occurred. She is doing so for selfish reasons. She wants to get him to answer questions on the record. She is doing her job as a journalist in order to better cover the story and report back what she believes her assignment to be. And yet, Frank is still pushing for more personal details from her. He wants to understand what it's like for her to be back home. He wants to know that she's actually dealing with the baggage she carries around because of her family trauma. Instead, she only only continues to repress it with thoughts about sex. There is so much trauma in her past. It's forever shaped who she is. But it's also key that she would rather talk about the pain and misery of someone else than dig deeper into her own issues. She starts this episode desperately looking for Alice's phone that she tossed out of the car. That was an act of defiance. And now, it's a comfort for her to find it again. It's meaningful because she is fixated on images of her dead roommate from rehab. Her being in Wind Gap again is forcing all of these issues to the surface. That was a truly brutal and traumatic time for her. She was willing to kill herself after seeing what Alice had done. And now, Camille continues to be confronted by the brutal realities of this world. She can outline the tragic poetry of two women in love killing themselves while also condemning the daughter who was forever fighting against that identity. She can argue with Richard about the validity of rape in this small community and its myriad of secrets in the woods. But at the end of the day, she is still haunted by that shed and the events that occurred there when she was younger.

Both Natalie and Ann were drawn to the shed in the woods as well. Richard doesn't see it as a big deal on the tour of crime scenes throughout the city. It's a location he already knows about. But he doesn't see the history of the location the same way that Camille does. She grew up here and experienced the ways that the community treats teenage girls. They are conditioned to act a certain way. Even the ones who seem to defy the natural order of things get trapped in these vicious cycles. Young Camille would like nothing more than to celebrate her birthday and have close personal connections with her family. Instead, she is out in the woods examining insects while teenage boys ogle her with insidious intentions. But again, she doesn't have clarity on the situation because she has been programmed by this world not to think of it as that big of a deal. Richard is making the argument that the individuals involved were too young to give willing consent. But Camille understands what she was doing in the woods during those days. She had awareness of the situation even though she looks back on it as a traumatic experience. All of these feelings are so complicated. They are difficult to unpack because Camille doesn't quite know what to do with them either. She steps into the shed and sees the visuals of teenage boy prowess and the need to conquer. Richard sees it as the echoes of history not being able to tell him anything new about the case he is currently working on. He's perceptive enough to glimpse that Camille has been triggered in some way. But he's completely susceptible to her suggestion of reaching down her pants and pleasuring her as a form of distraction.

It's in that moment where Camille is trying to take control of the situation once more. It's also clear that she too is susceptible to the perceptions of this town. She intended on keeping things strictly professional with Richard. She saw him as a valuable resource who would be willing to go on the record because he is looking to make a name for himself. He doesn't like being in Wind Gap at all. But he is here to do a job. He sees Camille as a resource as well even though the town isn't willing to talk about the various demons she has been fighting. He sees her as capable and intelligent. He positions this venture in the woods as a date. That sets the tone right away that things are about to become sexual between the two. But Amma was pushing for that as well. She was already proclaiming Richard as Camille's boyfriend. It's a source of gossip and teasing amongst her friends. But Camille really does stick Richard's hand down her pants and then kisses him in front of the family home. She may be doing this out of pure repression or rebellion against her family and this community. She is choosing to ignore the pains of the past for the pleasure of the present. But it's still the choice she is making right now with her immediately getting pushback from her mother. Adora is in such a controlling and domineering space right now. She has Chief Vickery on a leash willing to share everything about the case with her even though she doesn't extend the same courtesy. That's power and status in this world. She wields it. But she is also so disappointed and upset with her daughter. She wants to believe that Camille was simply born hating her. It's only now that she has the clarity that Camille is always going to be a wild child who will choose to defy her at every turn. As such, she believes she's justified in putting her down time and time again. But every single time she does that, it only continues the cycle of abuse and Camille's own hatred towards the rest of the world.

Progress is made on the case when Camille is in that headspace though. That's so potentially damaging because it could be inferring that she has to go to the brink of sanity and stability in order to solve this mystery. Her body is already a battlefield. She's fighting to maintain control over her disease. But she still finds herself drinking at the neighborhood bar almost every single night. There she has multiple interactions with a number of pivotal people in the investigation. This time it just happens to be John who is once again very upset about the ways he is being pushed for his sister's murder. He doesn't understand how people are expecting him to be over it so quickly. He loved his sister. And now, this tragedy has ruined his life. He does find a compassionate kindred spirit in Camille. She is able to tell him that things won't get better with time. Yes, that's depressing and stark but it's the truth to her situation as well. It highlights how the past isn't allowed to stay buried for the families who endured the pain either. This community will remember what happened to Ann and Natalie even if they don't talk about it regularly. Right now, it's the biggest gossip that has the whole town talking. That gossip just leads to John getting fired and not being able to do anything throughout his day. He continues to be looked at with suspicion and doubt. It's the only lead that Chief Vickery seems to be pursuing. But in the moment, Camille has a different theory. One that sends her spinning and needing to protect Amma. She learns that Amma also had such close friendships with Natalie and Ann. They were actually a tigh group of friends. That could infer that Amma is bound to be the third target of the killer in this community. Or it could tease that her anger also fueled her into hurting her closest friends. Both seem like distinct possibilities. Right now, the chaos and confusion of the moment is all-consuming. Camille doesn't know how to react to this news just yet. She returns home to an empty bed in Amma's room. She is still choosing to defy the curfew and Adora's rules for conducting oneself. At first, it seemed like pure teenage rebellion. But now, it seems like Amma is also pushing her reality to the brink in order to see what happens next. That could be sending her on the same dark path as Camille - with her older sister not being able to give her any helpful answers or clarity at all.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ripe" was written by Vince Calandra and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
  • Everything starts off this week by showing how the various characters wake up in the morning. It's disorienting for Camille because she's on the side of the road looking for Alice's phone. Meanwhile, Chief Vickery and Adora have their routines of being cared for by their spouses or their staff. And then, Richard just resents the fact that he has to spend another day in this town that he despises while still trying to get to the bottom of this investigation. It shows the love but also the apathy they all have.
  • Alan is just now starting to pick up on how close Adora and Chief Vickery are. That's a relationship that comes from years of trust and understanding. But only now is Alan seeing it as being comfortable and lived in. He's perplexed about his wife being able to be so open and honest with Chief Vickery and not her own husband. He wants sympathy throughout all that they've been through as well. Instead, she keeps him at a distance.
  • Of course, it's also very interesting to watch Adora just assume that she's under attack and Alan is trying to hurt her in some despicable way when he makes these demands. He just wants some understanding and compassion. He wants to be the person she talks with openly. Instead, she just sees it as an assault on her beliefs in the world. As such, it proves that no one truly loves her in the way that she desperately wants it. That is her actual tragedy in all of this.
  • Adora is close to Chief Vickery and willing to tell him so much. But she is still ashamed to talk about Camille's problems. Vickery understands that Camille is dangerous. He is worried about her and the effect she is having on the community. He sees that she is asking dangerous questions that will rile people up more. But both Adora and Jackie are willing to keep Camille's struggles a secret just so the chief can't weaponize them against her.
  • Camille is on the outside looking in throughout a lot of her life when it comes to her family. Alan isn't her father but he's such an important figure in this family. She wants a connection with Adora after seeing how easy it is for Marion and Amma. And yet, Adora only pushes her further away by saying that she is too difficult and willful. These are important distinctions that drive the story forward. But it's also enough to get Camille to spring into action once she realizes the extent of the threat against Amma.