Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), the tortured journalist at the center of Sharp Objects, can’t forget the past. Wind Gap won’t let her. In nearly every scene in Sharp Objects, Camille’s synapses are triggered by the familiar (and loathed) landscape of her childhood town, dredging up some flash of memory. When Camille’s back in Wind Gap, she’s attached to her reputation, one so persistent that even Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and her friends, 14 years her junior, recall her past as a promiscuous beauty.
In Sunday night’s episode, “Ripe,” standing before the old hunting shack where Camille had a formative childhood experience, we witness the widening gulf between the hardened story Camille tells of her past — and the actual trauma of it. Camille’s version of what happened at that shack is tainted by the social mores of Wind Gap, where kids party hard and don’t use terms like “sexual assault” to describe their murky sexual experiences. But to Richard Willis (Chris Messina), an outsider to the mental twists that mark Wind Gap, that’s exactly what happened to Camille all those years ago, when she was a cheerleader meeting the football team outside the shack.
So far, in Sharp Objects, the woods have represented mystery, danger, and things that generally fall under the category of No Good. When Camille first arrives to Wind Gap, a search for Natalie Keene is being carried out in the woods. Though her body turns up in town, it’s understandable why the townspeople's’ first instinct is to look in the woods — where else would a murder take place but there? Months earlier, Ann Nash’s dead body was found there, too.
These deaths are two in a long, long history of crimes occurring in the wilds outside Wind Gap. Camille leads Richard through a highlight reel of the woods’ most significant sites of violence, from a double suicide by a stream to sexual assault outside a hunting shack. While we’ve seen this hunting shack in flashes before, this is our first prolonged, holistic viewing of that dilapidated structure in the woods.
In Gillian Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects, Camille narrates her first encounter with the shack when she was a girl. “Ribbons of moist, pink flesh dangled from strings, waiting to be dried for jerky. The dirt floor was rusted with blood. The walls were covered with photographs of naked women. Some of the girls were spreading themselves wide, others were being held down and penetrated. One women was tied up, her eyes glazed, breasts stretched and veined like grapes, as a man took her from behind,” she writes. Even before the traumatic incident occurs, the hunting shack lies at the intersection of sex and violence and hidden, illicit things. Clearly, this location is someone’s personal fantasy. A teenage Camille is turned on by the juxtaposition of sex and darkness: “At home that night, I slipped a finger under my panties and masturbated for the first time, panting and sick,” she says.
Not long after that first encounter, a 13-year-old Camille finds herself back at that shack – or, as the football team called it, “the end zone.” This time, Camille isn’t a passive observer of the violence against women — she’s a victim of it. Camille recalls the traumatic story to Richard with a nonchalant air, not identifying herself as the central subject. “This is where the football team would have their way with that week’s lucky cheerleader,” she says, as if this behavior is normal, expected to occur between kids in a small, boring town. Before knowing Camille is talking about herself, Willis brings up the obvious: This behavior should not be condoned. “Some people would call that rape, you know,” he says.
So begins a conversation that reveals the extent of Camille’s damage, the distance from acknowledging the trauma of her past. In Camille’s mind, this incident was consensual, another chapter in her long string of promiscuous incidents that cemented her reputation. Willis, who represents the law and rationality in Sharp Objects, has an alternate view: “I think those guys took advantage of someone way too young to make an informed decision.” Suddenly, Camille has to reconsider the story she has told herself for years. Was she too young? Was this formative experience, which she uses as an evidence of some dark personality trait, actually not the product of her own agency, but the product of assault?
After hearing Richard's apt dissection of the incident, the flashbacks to the "end zone" are much darker. Teenage Camille (Sophia Lillis) in her cheerleading uniform uses a stick to goad a beetle in the soil. She has power over the beetle, sure — but the older boys, blurry in the background, have power over her.
Still, for Camille, this site possess a potent sexual connotation. The first time she sees the cabin, she masturbates. The second, she has sex with the football team. Now, as an adult, she and Richard have their first sexual encounter. It’s a strange one, devoid of any tenderness and kissing. Camille motions for Richard to place his hands down her pants. It's like masturbation performed by another person.
While Camille can experience pleasure, she can't submit to the vulnerability that actual meaningful connection requires. As this scene reveals, Camille has internalized a story that says she is a dark, twisted person, thus pushing her away from other people. Instead, she should reread the entirety of her past in Wind Gap, from her traumatic home life to the hunting shack incident. She wasn't a problem child — she was unloved. She wasn't casually agreeing to have sex with five football players — she was raped. Camille should see these incidents not as evidence of what she did, but of what was done to her.
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