By JASON MARTIN (July 8, 2018)
I’ve seen the first few hours of HBO’s newest miniseries, Sharp Objects, and plan to continue screening the project over the next few days. I’ve come to two early conclusions, which may or may not make sense, but I will explain them both to you. First, this is an extremely slick, well-produced and well-structured piece of television. That fact shouldn’t come as a surprise, and without doubt, Sharp Objects will be this year’s Big Little Lies, but likely with even more impact, and it will win plenty of hardware. Amy Adams is an A-list star and her performance is tremendous.
She will win an Emmy for it. Book it.
My second takeaway is that I don’t think anyone who views this series will be better off for having done so. I had similar feelings when I exited the theater after screening Gone Girl a few years ago. Gillian Flynn is a talented writer, but her stories are pretty much disgusting. They’re filled with unlikable, flawed, nearly evil people. There’s not a sense of actual goodness behind any of it, and if Sharp Objects ends in the same fashion as Gone Girl, there’s also no true redemption in the end. Perhaps there will be, but Flynn trades in trash. She does it well, but it’s simply a fact.
Oh, and it’s also without question the biggest television event of the summer.
From moment one in “Vanish,” we see the foreboding dread and darkness that will accompany this eight week story. Camille Preaker is damaged and indeed is also self-injurious, and she’s carved the word “DRUNK” on a wooden table in her shambled St. Louis apartment. When she gets the assignment that sends her back to her hometown in Wind Gap, Missouri to work up stories on the disappearance of 14-year old Natalie Keene, she goes to her beaten up Volvo and we see the word “DIRTY” traced on the trunk through the dust. As she drives, she smokes Parliament cigarettes, frowns, sighs, and drinks liquor out of a glass bottle on the road.
In her hotel room, she empties a bag filled with chocolate, smokes, small liquor bottles, and a few snacks. And then, we get back into her mind, which we first saw in the opening sequence as the younger Camille, played by the 2017 It remake’s Sophia Lillis. Preaker’s childhood was difficult, with a socialite and overbearing mother, who we meet thanks to Patricia Clarkson, whose work as Adora Crellin is spectacularly good. She’s an awful human being, but one that also never got over another daughter’s death.
The first episode moves deliberately, but without much speed, which is by design. We’re almost drunk along with Camille as she returns to Wind Gap and we see very little within this place to make us want to stay there. Preaker picks the seediest motel imaginable and drifts into visions of her past as she reclines in the bathtub. Included in the visions are memories of her biking in the woods as a kid, finding and entering a small wooden shack covered in the most graphic of sexually abhorrent photos and potential torture devices and sadomasochistic tools. We then see her seemingly aroused in bed thinking about it just after that moment.
My exact wording in the next note needs to be mentioned here: Yeah, this is trash.
Police Chief Vickery (Matt Craven) doesn’t want Camille there, as he doesn’t want the St. Louis Chronicle or anyone else causing added drama to the area and doesn’t want the case turned into a sideshow or a publicity hub. After refusing to comment, she gets a little out of him when she mentions Ann Nash, the FIRST girl who disappeared months before. Preaker is headed to her family’s house, but wants to get the story from him first if he’s willing. He says a few things, but we don’t hear any of it, except as she recites it to her editor, Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval).
Much of the opener is spent informing us about just how miserable Camille’s life is, and why she’s taken to extreme self-harm. She goes to her childhood home, where we meet her mother and stepfather, deciding to stay there rather than the Holiday Motel, but where we also realize her demons are still alive. Her mom wants her to stop investigating and not to question Bob Nash (Will Chase), thinking her morbid story is unacceptable. She seems more worried about how it will make HER look than her daughter, but that’s likely the point of the character. Selfish and damaged, which also doubles for Camille, who sees nothing past her own problems.
And then there’s Camille’s half sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who plays with a dollhouse to appease Adora but when her back is turned, is engaged in mischief with questionable friends and seems to idolize the rebellion and “give a crap less” attitude of the “incorrigible” Camille. We didn’t realize it until we see her back at home, but Amma was in the town square just before the discovery of Natalie’s body, which is the climax of “Vanish.” It leads Camille to congratulate Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) on getting his “serial,” to which Willis responds you wish for something and then it happens and you realize how wrong you were.
Bob Nash is a creepy, overprotective father that, after losing Ann, has dealt with suspicions from others within Wind Gap’s 2000 person population as to whether he was the perpetrator. Further, if he was, perhaps he also abducted and killed Natalie Keene. He’s one to watch, although it’s too easy to think he played any kind of role in it. He’s distraught and potentially violent, as we see him yell at his daughter for failing to knock when she enters the bedroom, but it won’t be him. We don’t see his wife, who is “at the store,” but that might have been a cover.
Towards the end of the episode, Preaker enters her sister’s room, which Adora has maintained like a museum. We see flashbacks to the funeral and some of the visitation, including a tough moment where Camille touches her sister in the casket and moments later is dragged kicking and screaming and weeping away by multiple family members. Then, in the homestead bathtub, we see she’s got the word “VANISH” on her right forearm. She also fell asleep in a car outside a bar drunk several minutes before.
Again, this is a solid opener featuring good music as she likes Zeppelin and clearly survives through her music. The show will do well and will receive plenty of acclaim. It’s 2018’s The Sinner more than it is Big Little Lies, but the former was actually better than the latter, so that’s a compliment. I think it’s high concept garbage when it comes to the emotions involved and the ugliness of the story itself, but I hope for a positive ending. Gillian Flynn knows how to tell a tale, but it’s not the world’s easiest watch.
That said, I’ll be covering it weekly as we approach the fall premieres, so keep it right here at the Big6 Blog for episode recaps immediately as the credits roll on the east coast airings.