In “Falling,” the penultimate episode of the HBO mini-series Sharp Objects, shocking revelations untangle some knots in the twisted history in Wind Gap
The dollhouse has been a reoccurring symbol in Sharp Objects. A perfect miniature replica of the Preaker manor, it represents the obsession with control all the generations of Preaker women share. While the forces in and out of their influence cause cracks to form in their carefully curated facades, the dollhouse is always at the whim of the woman presiding over it. Adora (Patricia Clarkson) sits in the captain’s seat at the start of this week’s episode, at one point literally prying the dollhouse away from Amma (Eliza Scanlen). She’s trying to give both her daughters “the blue,” a medicine Camille (Amy Adams) recalls from her deceased sister Marian’s sickness. “You know what my favorite part of getting wasted is?” Amma asks her sister, “Mama takes care of me after.” While Camille resists the blue concoction (as she did in her youth), Amma lies back and takes it.
Elsewhere in town, Ashley (Madison Davenport) is panicked as the police search the place. Rumor has it that her boyfriend John is getting picked up by the police today, the prime suspect in the murder of the two young women in Wind Gap. Desperate for attention, Ashley finally caves to police chief Vickery’s (Matt Craven) questioning. Ashley admits that John would never sleep with her, the verisimilitude of this confession coming into question later in the episode.
Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) is at a methadone clinic looking for information on Marian Crellen — Camille’s dead little sister. She suspects Muchausen’s by Proxy syndrome, a mental illness where someone makes another person sick in order to take care of them. Richard suspects Adora immediately, and the nurse won’t confirm his suspicions but she does say, “nothing more laudable than a woman who puts all her energy into a sick child.” The nurse tells him that he should be worried about the other child, presumably Amma. Indeed, back at home Adora is guilting Amma who doesn’t want to get back in bed. Amma admits to her mother that she’s not really sick, just hung over, and Adora flies off the handle. She suggests that if Amma doesn’t need her mother to take care of her, perhaps she doesn’t need her mother to do her laundry, clean her room, or even pay for her. Amma eventually gets back in bed and allows her mother to treat her like an invalid in order to keep the peace. “You can never be as good as someone dead,” Amma tells her mother, in a state very similar to that of her dead sister Marian’s.
Camille, desperate for a drink, drives over to the primarily Latino side of town that her regular bartender refers to with a racial slur. It just so happens that John is there too, trying to have one last beer before he gets arrested. “People think I did it just because I cry about it,” John tells her. “It’s because you’re a guy,” Camille supposes. John proceeds, at Camille’s coaxing, to give a coldhearted and emotionless admission of guilt to her, describing how and why he killed both Ann and Natalie. “See,” he finishes his beer, “I can tell stories too.” A tearful moment later, John suggests a different story, that he misses his sister so much he wants to die. This second admission feels honest, and he follows it up with a crucial clue: his sister Natalie’s fingernails were painted after she was abducted — when her body was found, she was wearing nail polish, something she never tolerated when she was alive. “I was dead the minute it happened,” John says of his sister’s death, before going to turn himself into the police. “You are too,” he tells Camille, and dares her to prove otherwise.
Camille takes John to a motel to sober up before he’s questioned, a move picked up on by the police who race over there to try and apprehend him. The next few moments of John undressing Camille to see her scars are fraught and tense, not only because of Camille’s own reluctance to show her body, and their age difference, and the impending violation of Camille’s relationship with Detective Willis, but also because the audience knows the police are about to burst through the door at any moment. The stakes, and the implicit brevity of this encounter, couldn’t be more palpable. John reads the words carved into every inch of Camille’s body as she sits naked on the motel room bed. Rather than hiding her scars from him and controlling every moment of their sexual encounter as she did with the detective, Camille lets John take the lead. Camille’s intimacy with John is different what she shares with Richard. Camille and John share a deep pain that they see within one another. Their connection is about healing and vulnerability as much as it is about lust — perhaps more. A flashback to Adora running her fingers down Camille’s back indicates how John doing so reminds Camille of a feeling — perhaps the feeling of someone caring for her.
John reveals that Adora knew both of the dead girls, Ann and Natalie, just before the police chief and the detective bust down the door of the room. “This room fucking stinks of you,” Richard tells her, unable to separate his feelings about Camille from his understanding of the case. He was the only person close to figuring out what Adora might be up to with her daughters — potentially with the dead girls, too — and his own fury about Camille betraying him may prevent him from digging deeper. His final act of good will towards her is leaving a stack of Amma’s medical records in her car. Camille goes to Jackie’s house where Jackie offers her a selection of pills, the fruits of her various diagnoses. Jackie reveals that she knew Adora was poisoning her daughter.
The question remains, does Alan know what his wife Adora is up to? In the final moments of this episode, Camille races home to try and help Amma, while Alan reflects on Amma’s coming of age. Memories of his daughter in younger years dancing in his arms blend with images of her today, healthy and dancing with him. He puts on his headphones, choosing not to acknowledge the horrors happening in his own home, choosing instead to underscore his life with the swirling fantasy of an orchestral soundtrack. Alan’s attempts to escape his distasteful reality enable others to perpetuate it.
“Falling” was written by Scott Brown and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
Photos and video credit courtesy of HBO.
Missed the previous episode? Read the recap here.
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