Sunday, August 26, 2018

REVIEW: 'Sharp Objects' - Camille Struggles to Find the Truth About Adora and Amma's Actions in 'Milk'

HBO's Sharp Objects - Episode 1.08 "Milk"

Concerned for the safety of Amma, Camille puts her own life in jeopardy as she gets closer to the truth behind the shocking mysteries surrounding the Wind Gap killings.

The power of suggestion and perception is such a potent and damning theme of Sharp Objects. Since this story began, the investigation has only been looking at two suspects - Bob Nash and John Keene. The community of Wind Gap wanted to believe that it was someone in Ann and Natalie's personal lives who was capable of this horrible act of violence. Keen viewers knew that it was unlikely to be either of them though because that would make for a very lackluster murder mystery. That didn't stop the suspicion against them and the assumption that they could be falsely convicted for this crime. In fact, it's fascinating how as the investigation intensified against John, Bob mostly just disappeared from the narrative. After the bike was pulled from the lake, he stopped being looked at as a suspect. John suddenly became the killer for the investigation. Chief Vickery and Richard were so certain that it was a man as well because of the strength required for pulling out the teeth. Because the show was so focused on the story of female rage though, it always seemed inevitable that one of the women of the ensemble would be revealed as the true killer. That certainly seemed to be the case with the revelation that Adora was responsible for Marian's death because she was poisoning her child in order to care for her. That coupled with the discovery of the bloody pliers makes a damning case against her for being Ann and Natalie's killer as well. But again, it's the simple explanation given so that everyone involved can understand and move on with their lives. As such, it's very compelling to watch as the show spends less time on the legal ramifications on this action and how the psychology of it has impacted the characters. Camille and Amma are broken because of what their mother did. But in the end, the evidence against her doesn't line up exactly which allows the show to still be full of surprises in its final act while proving that no one ever truly knows what is going on in the mind of another individual.

Camille returned home knowing that her mother was responsible for Marian's death. She suddenly realized the scope of her sister's illness and the destruction Adora has wrought on the family for all of these years. She couldn't simply return home to St. Louis and the comfort of Frank and Eileen. She had to stay and fight for Amma. She walks into the house with determination. She is then immediately greeted with the picture of a perfect and happy family sitting down for supper. She is forced into joining them which is Alan's one big, assertive moment of the entire season. It's in this moment where Camille is surveying the land to understand the depravity involved in every action. She is looking at her mother with content. But she is still doing as she is told. She eats the food that is laid out in front of her. She sees Amma as compliant in this relationship. She is looking to be cared for by her mother. She wants her mother's love. Camille wants that too. She has been deprived of it for so long. Even when she was a teenager, Adora alienated her because it was simply easier to get what she wanted from Marian. As such, that led to her death and Camille taking out her anger on her own body. Those ramifications started playing out long before Marian died but the effect was still present while she was suffering. And now, Camille sees just how easy it can be to get this loving relationship from her mother. All she has to do is submit. She has to fall ill and be cared for. Of course, the show leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not the pain Camille feels in the moment is real. Has Adora spiked her food to ensure that she has two daughters who need her? Or is it a complete psychological break for Camille where physical pain manifests because of the anxiety and trauma brought on by this revelation? Either option is completely justifiable. It just leads to Camille being sick in bed and allowing her mother to tend to her wounds while she only gets sicker thanks to the medicine.

Camille never knew that this was going on until faced with the hospital reports. She didn't know that her family was twisted in this way. She thought she understood the psychology behind her cutting. She chose to act in defiance of her family because of the battlefield on her body. But now, she sees things from a new perspective. She is joined in that endeavor by Amma who has complete awareness of what's going on. She knows that her mother makes her sick with the medicine. She knows that Adora just wants to care for them. Amma welcomes it as well. She wants to please her mother. There is a split in her personality. She is a sweet, wholesome girl at home who submits to her parents' demands. And then, she is the wild party girl who is fighting back and forcing others to submit to her suggestions. That's a powerful dichotomy and one that proves quite dangerous and lethal as this finale plays out. Camille is looking to her sister for support. They have gotten so close over the course of this season. Camille thinks it would be a smart idea for Amma to spend some time with her in St. Louis. That is immediately shut down at the dinner table. It's Adora still trying to control her family's lives. Right now, Camille is afraid that she is about to die just like all of the other young women in her life. This is the trajectory that has always been inevitable for her. It's just a mystery of whether Adora will kill her or she will do it herself. Help isn't coming. Amma would rather obey her father than run from the house to confirm to Richard that this is where the threat truly lies. Richard's sudden presence at the house is enough to spark hope for Camille. But he didn't come here because he was summoned with urgency. He just wanted to check up on Camille. He certainly sensed that something was wrong. But it wasn't enough to push past Alan and walk upstairs. He doesn't know what's going on and Camille is too weak to call out for help.

And so, it seems like Camille and Amma are about to drift away and live out the rest of their lives as the sick children of Adora who need her loving support. Adora is this way because her mother abused her. She was scarred for life because of what her mother did to her during her upbringing. But even that has to be seen as a lazy excuse. Adora is not right in the head because she is willing to hurt the people she is suppose to love the most in the world. This has always been a story about estrangement and anger amongst a family. They have never understood each other. Adora could always present a calm and controlled demeanor. She was very demanding. She forced her will onto the people around her. She has screwed up her children because of that. She similarly moved beyond these blood relations to try and control Natalie and Ann as well. They were Amma's friends who needed to taught how to be proper women in this world. Adora has always teased that she had close bonds with both of the dead girls. She chose not to talk about that relationship. It was even kept from Camille for a long time that Amma was friends with Natalie and Ann. She still learned it eventually. That's what allows this link to emerge with Adora being the killer. It's a very miraculous turn of events as well. In fact, it's surprising just how much Frank Curry gets out of all of this. At the end of the season, he manages to beat cancer, get the personal story he wanted from Camille and be the hero. It's because he takes action after that distressing call from Camille that the police come into the home and rescue Camille and Amma. He has the awareness to worry even though he has been pushing Camille all season to do things she wasn't comforting doing. It still allows things to have a picture perfect ending. Adora is sent to prison. Amma moves to St. Louis with Camille. Camille delivers a meaningful and personal article to the paper trying to wrap her head around the complicated feelings for this case. And everyone can agree that Richard is a douche who simply couldn't help or understand Camille when the situation truly called for it.

But again, the resolution of the central mystery isn't what this finale aspired to be. The show has always just used this mystery to tell a captivating and personal tale about a very specific family. Camille and Amma seem to emerge from this better. It does make Camille a better writer while Amma finally has some good influences in her life. But it's so compelling to see Camille wrestling with her feelings about being Amma's guardian. She has never been responsible for another person in her life. And now, it's up to her to ensure Amma bounces back from this trauma. She is supportive of her by staying in bed with her all night while also taking her to prison to visit Adora. Even though their mother is now a convicted killer, Amma is still thriving for that connection. She is dependent on it. She may never move beyond that feeling. She will forever be chasing it. She may have just replaced Adora with Camille. She has a new maternal figure in her life. Camille doesn't always know what she's doing though. She worries that she is only caring for Amma now because she has the same compulsion as her mother. She feels the need to care for people. She is dependent on it and will ensure that her sister will always need her after being betrayed by her parents. Camille wants to think that it's the right thing to do and it comes from the goodness in her own heart. But she worries about the ramifications of her mother's actions on her own psyche. She fears that she will turn out just like her even though she has pushed her away for her entire life. When she submitted to her demands, it was just as lethal as when she was blissfully ignorant to what was going on. As such, she can no longer just avoid the difficult trauma of this family. She wants to be a good influence for Amma. But her sister is already destructive. Camille is confronted with the truth. Amma actually killed Natalie and Ann. And now, it seems likely that she has killed her new best friend, May, as well. It's such a bleak and horrifying way to close the season. It still provides no easy explanations either. Camille didn't know why her mother needed to pull the teeth. And now, she doesn't know why Amma needed to do so either. But the teeth line the model mansion that Amma decided to keep despite all of the horrors that happened in that house in Wind Gap. It may come from complete jealousy. Amma doesn't want Adora or Camille to give their attention or love to anyone else. Or it could also be Amma choosing to release her anger on others instead of on herself like Camille has done. This was an extreme personal story for Camille. She returned to Wind Gap for work and learned everything about her family. Even upon her return home to St. Louis, she finds herself still living with a killer she can't understand. That's absolutely chilling.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Milk" was written by Marti Noxon & Gillian Flynn and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
  • How complicit is Alan in all of this? Is he aware of what his wife is doing and choosing to keep her secrets? Or is he completely oblivious or refusing to accept what's actually going? Either way, he is complicit in the death of one daughter and the poisoning of the other two. There is the suspicion that he was a willing accomplice when the police are framing their story about the teeth. But there's no proof that can help anyone understand what's going on with him.
  • Alan is all alone in that mansion now though. Adora has been convicted and Amma has moved away. The family reputation has been ruined. Will this force him to change his life and realize that he deserves better than all of this? Or will he simply retreat into the known and stand by Adora's side? It will be lonely in that house all by himself. He may be haunted by all the trauma inflicted on his family there. But it seems unlikely that he'll move out because his love for Adora is too great.
  • Jackie also goes to visit Adora in prison. It may just be to gloat. It's a power move to prove that she wound up on top even after keeping quiet with her fears for all of these years. She still expresses the Wind Gap pleasantries when she runs into Camille and Amma. And yet, the sisters never want to see her again. They don't want to host her for a visit because they only see a person who lied to them for years.
  • There is great power in ambiguous endings. The show chooses to tease a little bit more information about the darkness within Amma over the closing credits. There are smash cuts of her hurting her friends. But it's still just a tease of what probably happened. It still doesn't explain her actions. It just proves that she was capable of doing these things. She is now the woman in white lurking at the edge of the woods instead of her mother. And yet, she is just as controlling and menacing as Adora too because she was able to coerce her friends into helping her kill Natalie and Ann.
  • The creative team has already said that the show won't be producing another season of content. That's probably the right decision as well. There has been a trend in the industry as of late to bring back successes even if they were designed for limited runs. This story reaches a finite conclusion here. Even the ambiguity over the ending needs no more real resolution. It's a haunting conclusion because it's left up to the audience to decide what the fallout will continue to be for the Preaker family.