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'Sharp Objects' Episode 2 Recap: 'Dirt'

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“Sharp Objects” is a new HBO limited series that covers topics like trauma, self-harm and addiction. We’ll be reviewing each episode, and analyzing what it means for the mental health community.

Editor's Note

This post is a review of episode two of “Sharp Objects” and contains spoilers. If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Camille sees a young girl we haven’t been introduced to yet standing by her door when she startles awake. There is no girl, just a black dress hanging there, but this is how she wakes up the morning of the funeral for Natalie, the latest young girl to be murdered in Wind Gap.

As Camille gets ready for the funeral, wearing a dress her mom lets her borrow, Richard, the detective who’s working on the case, gets a shave by a local barber. When Richard asks him why he thinks folks are leaving flowers where Natalie was found dead, the barber tells him people in the town are superstitious. They think if they honor the dead, their own families will be safe. The detective cynically calls this magical thinking, but you get the feeling this kind of thing is important in Wind Gap. Later in the episode, Camille runs into a woman who’s taking down all the Natalie’s “missing” signs, just like she did for the first girl who disappeared and wound up dead. While the town collectively doesn’t seem to process negative emotions well, they turn to superstitious acts to make it “better.” Leaving flowers, tearing down signs. The barber tells the detective when the first girl was found in a river, people from the town collected rocks from the river and destroyed them. This is how they cope with tragedy.

Back at Camille’s house, Camille starts to cut an apple with a knife, and her mom, Adora, swoops in and takes it away. This is the first hint we have that Camille’s mom might be aware of her struggle with self-harm. We don’t yet know when she started self-harming, whether she did it when was living at home, or started after she moved to the city. Before the funeral even starts, Adora is irritated Camille is there on assignment. When Camille takes notes during the funeral, Adora stops her, taking the pen from her hand. We also notice during the funeral that Adora has a habit of picking out her eyelashes, something the creators of the show clearly want us to notice.

In a surprisingly honest and vulnerable speech, Natalie’s mother talks about both the grief and anger she feels about the death of her daughter. This is the first time we’ve heard someone talk about the murders in the town with such clarity of emotion.

It’s horrible to lose a child, but it is unbearable to lose her this way… To a murdering fiend. I know I’m supposed to be forgiving, but I am furious. I know what good people say: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I wish I could be that gentle. I want revenge. I want justice.

— Natalie’s mom

It’s maybe (not?) surprising then that Natalie’s family doesn’t seem to fit in. The family hosts people from the town after the funeral, and we hear people whisper that Natalie and her brother — who is inconsolable during the funeral — were suspiciously close. A group of women gossiping with Camille say they wonder if the brother is gay. At one point, as Natalie’s brother and mom are keeping to themselves, a woman who appears to be the brother’s girlfriend makes a comment, “No wonder they’re not part of this town.”

Camille sneaks into Natalie’s room. The walls are purple (her second favorite color), but her room has the markings of someone who isn’t a “typical” Wind Gap girl. She is a tomboy and keeps a pet spider in a jar. She also has a list on her mirror of people she likes and hates.

Natalie’s father tells Camille that Natalie was friends with the first girl who was murdered, Ann, but they had a falling out. He clearly doesn’t like Ann’s father, who is kicked out of the house for reasons unknown.

Earlier, during the funeral, Camille’s dress rips, so she gets a sewing kit to fix it. While she’s at the store, she runs into her half-sister, Amma. She’s supposed to be home, but instead, she’s rollerblading around town with her friends, secretly pouring vodka into a Sprite bottle. When Camille tells her half-sister she should be home because someone’s killing little girls, her friend replies, “Not the cool ones.” This again implies that the murderer might be targeting young girls or families who don’t fit in.

Camille is tempted to self-harm with the needle she uses to sew her dress. She takes the needle and presses it into her thumb. She traces one of the words on her wrist. After lying to her boss, Frank, about getting permission to check out Natalie’s room, she takes the needle and writes the word “liar” on her jeans. Old coping mechanisms are hard to give up, and with her constant drinking, Camille still hasn’t figured out how to deal with the emotions going home brings. At the wake, Jackie, a friend of Camille’s family, says she’s impressed by how well Camille has been tackling her demons. Camille responds, “My demons are not remotely tackled, they’re just mildly concussed.”

As far as what we learn about the actual details of the case: both Detective Richard and the Wind Gap police chief are convinced the murderer is a man, partly because Natalie was found with all her teeth pulled out, which takes strength. (Richard knows this because he tried to pull teeth out of a pig’s head to see how hard it would be.) This is despite an 8-year-old boy who says he saw Natalie taken by a woman in white. The “woman in white” is part of the town’s folklore, and when Camille suggest to the police chief that maybe someone wanted to make it real, he dismisses her. He’s convinced it’s a man, although there doesn’t seem to be any real progress made on who this man actually is.

At the end of the episode, Camille’s half-sister Amma throws a very strange fit. She starts thrashing and screaming while her mom holds in her in a hug. This is interesting to me — Amma, who is clearly one of the more popular girls in her town, acts mature and un-afraid outside of her home. When she’s with her mom, she regresses and acts more childlike, suddenly emotionally affected by the death of the two girls. Since her mother, Adora, seems so manipulative, I can’t figure out which version of Amma is closer to the real her.

Our rating: 

This episode left me wanting a little more, and I’m enjoying how both the mystery and details from Camille’s past are slowly coming together. I’m also continually impressed by the subtle and quiet way the show represents Camille’s deep struggles. For something as stigmatized as self-harm, which most people assume is just something people do for attention, it’s important to show how someone struggling with it could exist in the world among us. It’s neither dramatic or over-the-top, but is presented as the true coping mechanism it can be for people. Despite her struggles, there’s a lot of humanity in Camille. She’s someone who’s constantly carrying the weight of her past, and while things will eventually come to a boiling point I’m sure, I think the intensity will be more significant considering how hard Camille tries to hide her troubles under her sleeves.

Discussion Question:

How does the dynamic of a town affect the mental health of the people who live there? What does a supportive community look like, and what can potentially learn from Wind Gap about the traits of communities that are not helpful for people struggling with their mental health?

Originally published: July 16, 2018
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