In her seminal essay, â€śA Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,â€ť Leslie Jamison assesses the ways that women are violated and wounded, humiliated and abused, throughout our art and our culture. She describes Mina Harker from Dracula, crying out as sheâ€™s bitten and drained of her blood; Anna Karenina leaping to her doom in front of a screeching train, rather than endure another day of unrequited love and social purgatory; Sylvia Plath railing at her fatherâ€™s ghost; Mimi from La BohĂ¨me succumbing to her tuberculosis, as her lover calls her â€śbeautiful as the dawn.â€ť Jamison wonders if â€śwe may have turned the wounded woman into a kind of goddess, romanticized her illness and idealized her suffering,â€ť by associating her pain as an endemic part of her femaleness. If, by creating so many stories that center, in some core way, around a womanâ€™s debasementâ€”even a womanâ€™s heroic survival of, and perseverance through, that debasementâ€”weâ€™re saying that being debased is just a natural part of being a woman (so just grit your teeth and get through it. Or donâ€™t, as long as you leave a beautiful corpse).
Sharp Objects is quite literally about a womanâ€™s woundedness: Itâ€™s fitting that â€śClosure,â€ť the showâ€™s fifth episodeâ€”which functions as a jaundiced commentary on how we elevate and mythologize womenâ€™s painâ€”should derive narrative and emotional momentum from Camilleâ€™s scars. Though Amy Adamsâ€™ miracle of a performance has breathed the vodka-scented life into Camille, the character could easily tip into the archetype of the damaged lady heroâ€”sheâ€™s been sexually assaulted, abused and neglected by a parent, and cast off from â€śpolite society;â€ť she drinks too much, sleeps around, and hurts herself; she doesnâ€™t let anyone get too close, and sheâ€™s always sorry whenever someone does sneak a thin blade of affection through her armored heart. She could be Jessica Jones, or Cersei Lannister, or even Buffy Summers in BTVS season six. â€śCloserâ€ť seems to acknowledge both the broader ways we romanticize womenâ€™s illnesses and idealize their suffering, and its own relationship to those tropes.
The episodeâ€™s forward action occurs over Calhoun Day, where the residents of Wind Gap celebrate the rape and torture of a pregnant Confederate teenage bride who wouldnâ€™t give her husband up to a squad of Yankee soldiers. Although the residents of Wind Gap, decked out in their full-on Confederacy cosplay or their Sunday finest, wouldnâ€™t say they were celebrating Millie Calhounâ€™s rape and tortureâ€”theyâ€™d say they were honoring her sacrifice by re-enacting it, or by watching the sanitized version of it as they guzzle beer and stuff themselves with barbecue, gossip and flirt, and pretend to mourn a bygone version of the South that actually never existed.
The Calhoun Day pageant, where Amma plays the unfortunate lead, forms the center and spine of the episode. Jean Marc Vallee is immaculately merciless, juxtaposing images of charred hogs slapped down on a table-top, about to be cut into and feasted upon, with Amma, playing the woman that Camille snidely calls their â€śgreat, great grandvictim,â€ť reciting some grandiloquent lines about how her tormentors can â€śburn the treeâ€ť that theyâ€™re tying her to because sheâ€™ll never betray her beloved and her country. Here is the full lurid spectacle of a womanâ€™s debasementâ€”the most violent and terrifying moments of her life, the moments when her body was broken and rent, when she lost her babyâ€”turned into entertainment.
In her essay, Jamison maintains that, even as we â€ś[turn] female trauma into celestial constellations worthy of worship,â€ť we simultaneously loathe wounded women for so starkly reminding us of our own frailty, of the physical pain and the emotional turmoil that canâ€™t be scrubbed up and staged by singing teenagers. Jamison admits that she has cut herself in the past, and that she feels some embarrassment about thisâ€”not about the cutting itself, per say, but about the cultureâ€™s reaction to cutters, which is, like Adoraâ€™s and Ammaâ€™s reactions to Camilleâ€™s scarred body, one of revulsion and/or condescending fascination. â€śPeople want to believe in self-â€‹improvementâ€”â€‹itâ€™s an American ethos, pulling oneself up by oneâ€™s bootstrapsâ€”â€‹and here we have the equivalent of affective downward mobility: cutting as a failure to feel better,â€ť she writes. Itâ€™s ironic that one of the first times we see Camilleâ€™s full array of scars, raw white weals of words and calcified scratch marks, is while sheâ€™s shopping for her Calhoun Day attire. A woman who is ambling through her own very real, very private hellscape must gussy up so she can partake in the garish public theater of another womanâ€™s Hell.
The scene when Camille bears her body, in full, for the first time, is so unnervingâ€”not because of her wounds (although one canâ€™t help but feel a vicarious rush of pain while bearing witness to them), but because of her motherâ€™s utter callousness to them. â€śYouâ€™re ruined,â€ť Adora hisses, equating the state of her daughterâ€™s body (at least, in her opinion) with the state of her daughterâ€™s soul. Patricia Clarkson has so deftly wielded the iron fist of Adoraâ€™s cruelty inside the velvet glove of her gentility that itâ€™s natural to assume that sheâ€™s loathed Camille for failing to adhere to that immaculately lacquered version of femininity (one of our flashbacks to young Camille includes the girl tracking a spot of mud on the familyâ€™s one-of-a-kind real-elephant-ivory floor). Yet this episode introduces the specter of Camilleâ€™s father, who Adora speaks of with a combination of tightly-suppressed fear and begrudging admiration as a cold man, a man who was incapable of loveâ€”a man that, in her estimation, Camille resembles, in her â€ścoloringâ€ť and in the marrow of her bones, her inability to ever get close to anyone.
Adora makes such public spectacles of her pain (however minor it may be; that cut from the rose bush registers as an impaling at this point), and yet weâ€™ve not heard anything about Camilleâ€™s father, the man who seemingly hurt her the most, until now. Apparently, this pain is so terrible that it can only be sublimated into a similar viciousness: One could suggest that, just as Camille inflicts her pain upon her own tender body, Adora inflicts her pain upon Camille. Itâ€™s a kind of dark dance between public and private expressions of pain, which ends in a moment of truly breathtaking cruelty, even by Adoraâ€™s already-high standards of maternal menace: At the tail end of a conversation that seems like it could maybe, just maybe, offer a semblance of reconciliation, Adora tells Camille that she never really loved herâ€”and that she never really loved her because she is just like her no-good, very-very-very bad daddy.
This confession accelerates Camilleâ€™s flirtation with Richard, aka â€śKansas Cityâ€ť in a sex scene that is all the more arousing for its furtiveness. Camille and Richard consummate their attraction in a tussle of bodies that is equally awkward and urgent. She canâ€™t truly reveal herself to him. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Chris Messina and Amy Adams have a truly unique kind of chemistry: Theyâ€™re obviously drawn to each other in a very raw, physical way and yet thereâ€™s also something gentle and companionable in their burgeoning attachment.
After Adora takes Richard on a tour of the house (so that she can essentially warn him off Camille, who â€ślost her spiritâ€ť when her sister died), Camille asks him what, exactly, Adora told him. Adams reveals a sweet sliver of underbelly as Camille tries to keep her hard-ass persona intact; Messina lets us see that Richard, in turn, sees right through that hard-ass act. Richard quips that Adora told him a lot about that ivory floor, and his gently sarcastic tone manages to soothe Camilleâ€™s anxiety by pretending it doesnâ€™t exist. Yet this promise of compassion, and passion, is haunted by Camilleâ€™s scars.
The question of how Richard will react when he first sees them, or feels them under her clothes has now, in certain ways, attained a parallel urgency to the question of who killed Ann and Natalie (arguably attained a greater urgency, given that â€śCloser,â€ť which begins the final sprint of series episodes, doesnâ€™t advance the murder plot at all). Will he look at the scars as a sign of Camilleâ€™s inner weakness, a validation of Adoraâ€™s assessment that she is soul-sick and unworthy? Or will he become a White Knight, who proves his dudely valor by idealizing a woman in pain, just so he can make a show of rescuing her? Can the showâ€™s first foray into, if not love, then something like tenderness, truly last?