Episode two of Jean-Marc Vallée’s mystery thriller starring Amy Adams shows the intimacy of death, from its gruesome harbingers and messy wake to its power to unite grievers across time. Dirt follows the citizens of Wind Gap in the days that follow the murder of a second teenage girl.
Camille (Amy Adams) is haunted by parallel deaths that run across her lifetime. The investigation of the recent murder of two young women in her hometown trigger frightening flashes of memories from the death of Camille’s sister, Marian when she herself was an adolescent. Vallee shows the blurred lines between Camille’s memories from childhood and her current investigation through half second flashes, like the hallucinations of an overtired or drunk person out of the corner of their eye. At the top of this episode, Camille wakes with a start to see a vision of her own deceased sister wearing a black funeral dress. Later, Camille sees a micro-second of the latest dead girl wearing the funeral dress. The psychological effect of this technique is jarring, a frightening interruption to reality that ties the two dead teens together across 20 years of time in Camille’s mind. These half-seen moments evoke an uncertainty about what is real, what is memory, and what is nightmare.
It seems the whole town is united to grieve the death of Natalie Keene, the latest young woman to die in Wind Gap. Her body was found propped up like a doll in an alley a few days after Camille arrived in town, all the teeth pulled. At the overflowing funeral services, Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) reminds the sheriff — while assisting him with his tie — to keep an eye out for any interlopers. Speaking too much to the family or otherwise inserting themselves into the situation could be the sign of a guilty conscience. Interestingly, Camille herself fits both of these descriptors, and if she wasn’t there on assignment, her erratic behavior might make her a suspect. She attempts to take notes during the services, much to Adora’s (Patricia Clarkson) embarrassment.
Adora’s reaction to the funeral services is poignant and disturbing. She too lost a young daughter, and flashbacks show that twenty years ago her own grief caused her to neglect Camille. Adora also has a habit of pulling out her eyelashes when under duress. This condition, known as trichotillomania, an impulse-control disorder that makes it difficult for sufferers to curb their self-destructive tendencies. Camille may have inherited the need to self-harm from her mother. Throughout the episode, Camille tries to resist cutting. Adora seems aware of the disorder, instructing Camille not to cut her own apples. The long-time family housekeeper collects all the knives from the kitchen following breakfast — perhaps a rule whenever Camille is in the home. Indeed, carved words creep into the frames of many scenes in this episode, both on Camille’s body (“fornicate” and “dirt” are seen scarred on her skin), and in the side of the car Camille drives (first the word “scared” which later becomes the word “sacred”).
At the wake following the formal funeral services, Camille takes a break from catching up with her catty former classmates and sneaks into the room of the young murder victim to find a perplexing combination of typical teenage paraphernalia (canopy bed, bulletin boards covered in magazine cut-outs, pink and purple accoutrement), a macabre pet spider that Camille later sets free, and a list of people Natalie liked and disliked scrawled on the mirror. Interestingly, Ann (the girl whose body was found in a creek earlier that month) had been on the “like” side, then crossed out and placed on the “dislike” side in angry, all capital letters.
The adults pour out of their own homes to pack into the living room of the mourning family, while instructing their children to stay close to home. The murders have made parents paranoid — throughout the episode empty parks abound and children are scolded for straying from their front porch. Even Camille’s teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), is instructed by their mother Adora to stay home and eat ice cream rather than attend the funeral services for her friend. Camille later finds Amma grieving in a familiar way — sneaking liquor out of a mini-mart in a Sprite bottle. The only children that Camille manages to find are playing a messy game of catch in an empty baseball field. They don’t appear afraid of this adult stranger asking them questions. The little boys direct Camille to a “former friend”, who tells Camille that he witnessed Natalie’s abduction by a “woman in white.” Their conversation is cut short by the boy’s mother, a cancer patient with a meth addiction who is unfazed by the gun her son casually wields. Camille later checks out the boy’s story with the sheriff (Detective Willis is busy pulling teeth out a pig’s mouth to test how hard it really is), and the sheriff tells her that they don’t consider the child credible due to his circumstances and history of lying.
Camille’s editor encourages her to file the story, but later that evening, Camille is interrupted from writing about the murders in Wind Gap by Amma’s screams. Adora holds Amma and strokes her hair while repeating to Camille that she wants things to be nice. It seems that both Adora and Amma share a need to keep up appearances, as Amma is seen earlier in the episode tending to her dollhouse, a tiny replica of their own home. There is a certain on the floor spot, both in the dollhouse and in the real house that gets repeatedly scrubbed despite never appearing dirty. Could it be a Shakespearean “damned spot,” the vestiges of which only the guilty can see?
Sharp Objects continues Sunday nights on HBO.
Dirt was written by Gillian Flynn and Marti Noxon and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
Photos and video credit courtesy of HBO.
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