Sharp Objects Finale Recap: "Don't Tell Mama"

Photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO.
"I'm bleeding as fast as I can." Those are the first coherent words said by Camille (Amy Adams) in the positively nail-biting finale of Sharp Objects. She's laying in a hospital bed with a needle stuck through the "O" in Omen written in the crook of her right arm. Her blood is being drawn; it will eventually be revealed that it contains a near-deadly mix of anti-freeze, prescriptions, and rat poison. She's sick — really sick — at the hands of her own mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson). Standing over her, still in shock from seeing her scars for the first time, is Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) who informs Camille that he and Chief Bill Vickery (Matt Craven) plan to charge her mother with the deaths of Natalie Keene (Jessica Treska) and Ann Nash (Kaegan Baron). At this moment, with only 15 minutes left in the finale, "Milk," the villain is confirmed. The killer is caught. Camille and Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who is lying in the hospital bed next to her, are safe. She and Amma are survivors of a house of horrors, run by their mother and her silent, but severe, condition of Munchausen by proxy.
But of course, nothing is really what it seems in Wind Gap. Not only are the women capable of harming their own children, but the children themselves can be rotten to their core.
In the very last scene of the episode, we learn at the same time as Camille that Adora isn't the Woman in White, the fairy-tale-like villainess snatching up children in the woods like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. In fact, the original myth of "The Woman in White" is not nearly as sinister or evil as the story of the actual town's killer. The killer is a cruel, and jealous Amma, Wind Gap's very own Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. It's this outgoing, popular, spoiled teenage girl who, using her mother's pliers, ripped out Natalie and Ann's teeth, one yank at a time, while her two minions, Jodes (April Brinson) and Kelsey (Violet Brinson), held them down. It's Amma who hit one girl with rocks in the river until she stopped moving, and who strangled another just weeks later. It's Amma who stares John Keene (Taylor John Smith) dead in the eyes and spits out "Baby killer," knowing that she is really the one responsible for these two tremendously disturbing murders. It's Amma, who in her journey to be her mother's "good girl" is driven to be very, very bad.
In the first half of the episode, we fully believe Adora is the killer. She has the motive (her Munchausen boy proxy consumes her, just like Camille's obsession with writing words on her body), the means (Ann's body was found on her pig farm, and Alan (Henry Czerny) could have easily assisted his wife in the crimes), and she has the opportunity (she was close with both girls, and has an ample amount of medicine and poison to knock either one out). Her total lack of empathy towards her own blood (Camille) and lack of responsibility for Marian's death (she inadvertently confirms that she cremated Marian (Lulu Wilson) without telling anyone, thus covering up the fact that she accidentally killed her), indicate that she could kill two unruly teen girls and show little to no remorse. Once Adora is found out to be the type of mother who purposefully makes her children sick in order to have them need her ("See how nice it is not to fight?" she tells Camille as she vomits bile into a porcelain tin. Later when Camille's nearly lifeless body is floating in a tub, she whispers "I’ve waited for this for so long... for you to need me") it's easy to fill in the gaps. She didn't want Camille to talk about the case because she knew who did it. She wasn't that strict with Amma because she knew that the killer wasn't really out there. She was cozying up to Chief Vickery because she knew he'd never look into a woman he fancied — or a woman at all. But time reveals all secrets.
As Camille gets sicker, she urges Amma to escape the house. Barely able to stand (Camille's crawling sequence gives off extremely Killing of a Sacred Deer vibes). Camille allows Adora to keep feeding her the homemade brew in order to distract her. Instead of taking advantage of her sister's sacrifice, Amma sneaks back in her room to play with her dollhouse and eat a piece of chocolate cake, wearing that same floral crown which is now matted to her sweat- and vomit-soaked hair. Once Richard arrives for the second time — the first time, Alan turned up his classical music to drown out Camille's cries, proving that the music in the show is used as both a tool for captivity and for freedom depending on who is controlling it — with Camille's own guardian angel Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval) in tow, Camille is found, a crumpled ball on her mother's bedroom floor.
Adora's arrested, and Amma cries out in agony at the sight of her mother being taken away in handcuffs. The next time we see Adora, she is entering a plea of not guilty in a courtroom. (John, who had previously been arrested, is free of all charges after an emotional, and impressively acted, interrogation scene, but he isn't free of the memory of his little sister.) After that, we see Adora in an orange jumpsuit, seated behind a plate of bulletproof glass in the visitor's area of a local prison. She's in the process of being charged with the murders of the two girls, and possibly even for Marian's death. Alan is living in the house alone, and Amma has moved to St. Louis with Camille, just like they discussed (while high on drugs) in episode 6. Everything seems great. Which means something is terribly wrong.
A too-sweet montage of Camille and Amma shows Amma settling into Camille's apartment, even making friends with a neighbor girl named Mae (Iyana Halley). She teaches her new friend how to roller-skate and invites her to hang out at the apartment and at Frank's house. They make a tiny, and almost healthy, little family, Camille and Amma. There are adjustments: Amma wants constant attention, craving the touch her mother so often forced up on her. Amma also starts dressing like Camille, and so badly wants Camille's approval. As their relationship deepens, Camille struggles with the idea that she may have her mother's same desires to have someone wholly depend on her. In her final assignment (which, from Frank's excerpt, will win her some awards), she notes that the line between caretaker and captor have blurred beyond recognition for her.
"Do you wish I was a writer like you?" Amma asks one night, when Camille is tucking her into bed. Camille tells her she just wants her to be happy. "You make me happy," Amma tells her with a wicked grin, "I could eat you up." The comment makes Camille cringe, but Amma's always thrived on discomfort — maybe it's a reaction to the non-stop comfort of living under Adora's roof. Part of the joy she feels when seeing others squirm, like Camille, is the power that comes with it. When Adora poisoned her, her mother thought she had the power, but really it was Amma pulling all the strings. She signed off on every sip, because she enjoyed being cared for and doted over like that.
The long-awaited twist comes during the final breath of the episode, when Camille is walking to throw out an empty container of milk (the episode's title, the drink poured for Amma the night she deemed herself Persephone, and the liquid that makes your teeth strong), only to find the mini-replica comforter Amma made for her dollhouse. Curious about it being in the trash, she walks into Amma's room to return it to the dollhouse. Reaching inside the eerie and childish plaything, Camille finds a loose tooth in the toy Amma's been obsessed with and protective over from the very first episode. Inspecting the tooth, Camille's eyes wander down to the floor of the room she plucked it from: The replica of Adora's ivory bedroom floor is completely made up of the teeth of Natalie, Anne, and Amma's latest victim, her new friend Mae, who she had strangled earlier that day. The question of missing teeth had been the final unanswered question from Adora's trial.
In this moment, Amma's motives for murder finally become obvious. She can't stand to see anyone receive admiration or attention from the people, mostly women, that she has deemed as hers. When Adora started mentoring Natalie and Ann, Amma saw them as a threat. But instead of being mean to them, she befriended them. She easily gained their trust, and then she made a plan to get rid of them. With her two friends by her side, she dressed in white, lured each one into the forest, and murdered them. The logistics of how Amma, Jodes, and Kelsey moved around the bodies or kept their mouths shut during the entire investigation is unclear, but thanks to two haunting final post-credit scenes, we know that Amma killed the two Wind Gap girls, and poor Mae, with her bare hands. Amma's final smirk after whispering, "Don't tell Mama," as Camille gapes at her like she's seen a ghost, sent shivers down my spine.
That gut-wrenching moment is why the show, and specifically this finale, is so brilliant, so intoxicating, and so potentially the best hour of television ever made. It plays with our emotions in a way that doesn't feel cheap or coy. People, specifically women, are complicated creatures, worthy of the slow and thoughtful examination that the show's director Jean-Marc Vallée, and its writer-creators Gillian Flynn and Marti Nixon, give them.
And, once more for good measure (since we shouldn't bank on a season 2), here are all the sharp objects that flashed in the final episode.
Sharp object number 1: a knife. During the macabre Thanksgiving-like feast in the dining room, Camille flicks her eyes over to focus on the large carving knife laid out next to the formal ham in the center of the table. This is before she drinks the milk, and then, I believe, pretends to feel ill in order to distract Adora from further poisoning Amma, and instead feed her the mysterious liquids in her glass blue bottles.
Sharp object number 2: fan blades. Laying in Adora's bed — the first time she has ever been allowed in the off-limits room — Camille is writhing in pain. The mix of rat poison, prescription pills, and other toxins is entering her bloodstream, and she's getting weak and nauseous. To get through it, she imagines hot afternoons spent with Marian. She stares at a large, bladed fan propped up in her mother's window and fades in and out of the her memories and current surroundings.
Sharp object number 3: razor blade. As Camille weakens at the perilous hands of her mother, more and more flashbacks of items she has used to harm herself flood in. She remembers the razor blades, the blood, the feeling of it all. As she weakens, the thoughts of hurting herself strengthen.
Sharp object number 4: an IV needle. After being saved from the confines of her mother's bedroom and bathroom, Camille intensely watches the nurse insert a needle into a vein on her right arm. The camera lingers as she slowly pushes it deeper into her skin. This controlled, and monitored, use of a sharp object is one we haven't seen with Camille before. It feels like a moment of clarity. These needles, sharp and tempting, serve a real purpose: to help, to heal, and to recover the body.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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