Earlier this year, Sydney Sweeney was reticent to elaborate about her character's Sharp Objects role. “It’s a bit of a spoiler,” she told Refinery29. After seeing Sunday night’s episode, “Fix,” we know, at last, who Sweeney plays on the dark HBO drama: Sweeney is Alice, Camille’s (Amy Adams) roommate at a facility for people receiving treatment for self-harm.
When Camille travels to Wind Gap for the reporting assignment, she’s only six months out of the hospital. As Camille describes in the book, the hospital is “a special place for people who cut, almost all of them women, most under 25.” At 30, Camille is significantly older than most of the other patients, including her 16-year-old roommate.
At first, Camille and Alice have an icy, awkward relationship. Alice is surly and sulks in bed; Camille is hardened and impatient. But their similar struggle with self-harm eventually prompts a reluctant Camille to take on an older sister role. In a tender moment, Camille puts lipstick on Alice to prepare for visitation day. Later, after Alice's mother visits and she’s reminded of their disappointing relationship, Alice looks to Camille for consolation. Camille is older and thus supposed to be wiser. “Does it get better?” Alice asks. “Not really,” Camille responds with characteristic frankness.
Alice is another chapter in Camille’s history of tragic relationships with younger sisters. Marian, Camille's younger sister, died when Camille was 13. And, no matter the kindness and concern Camille shows to Alice, Camille can’t spare her from the grips of her own self-destruction. One evening, Camille returns to her room with a hospital nurse and finds Alice dead on the floor. She had taken her own life by swallowing Drano. Camille has an immediate, violent reaction to Alice's suicide. Using a screw from the toilet, Camille slits her wrists.
Alice has a much more significant role in the HBO show than she does in the book, where her presence is limited to a single paragraph. “My roommate killed herself later that week. Not by cutting, which was, of course, the irony. She swallowed a bottle of Windex a janitor left out. She was 16, a former cheerleader who cut herself above the thigh so no one would notice. Her parents glared at me when they came to pick up her things,” Camille narrates in Flynn’s Sharp Objects.
The HBO show wisely gives "the roommate" a name and a significant role. Sharp Objects is a show that takes place in Camille’s mind. The show is littered with traces of Camille’s imagination, like scattered words and changed signs, as well as truncated flashbacks triggered by location. Since the trauma with Alice only occurred six months ago, it follows that memories of Alice would be raw, immediate, and take up ample brain space. So, the flashbacks of Alice’s life (and death) are much more extended and cohesive than those with Marian, who died a long time ago. But the two trigger similar feelings: Alice and Marian were girls that Camille couldn’t save.
Just as Wind Gap reminds Camille of Marian, the cracked iPod reminds Camille of Alice. She and Alice used to listen to music together in the hospital. Now, Camille drives around Wind Gap listening to her Alice's music. Camille is haunted by both girls.
Thanks to Sweeney’s riveting performance, viewers are likely to be as haunted by Alice as Camille is — especially viewers who watched The Handmaid’s Tale. With her tremulous voice and affecting expressions, Sweeney is the debutant of prestige TV in the summer of 2018. Earlier this year, Sweeney played Eden, a 15-year-old child bride, on The Handmaid’s Tale. Eden, in her own way, represented a childhood cut short.
Alice may only appear in one episode of Sharp Objects, but her presence is essential to understanding Camille.
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