Camille Preaker is unlike any character we've seen before. HBO must have known this when it signed on to adapt Gillian Flynn's book, Sharp Objects, into the dark and twisted masterpiece starring the soon-to-be-Emmyified Amy Adams as Camille; deliciously campy and creepy Patricia Clarkson as her mother, Adora Crellin; newcomer and scene-stealer Eliza Scanlen as her half-sister Amma; and trustworthy Chris Messina as her city slicker companion for justice, Detective Richard Willis. The show is also directed by Big Little Lies' Jean-Marc Vallée and was adapted for the screen by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and UnReal's Marti Nixon.
The story that unfolds surrounding the Preaker-Crellin family (namely the women) and the murders of two young local girls in the slow-moving, but secretly sinister, town of Wind Gap, Missouri, is one that will captivate audiences for the rest of the summer. Episode 1, "Vanish," gives our rage-filled murder mystery a purposeful, intense, and emotional start. Here's what happened.
"Vanish" opens with a complicated flashback. In it, two young girls — who we find out to be a young Camille (played by It's Sophia Lillis) and her younger sister Marian (Lulu Willis) — are roller skating down an empty country road, arms outstretched to graze each other's finger tips. Marian calls out to Camille, asking if she thinks that mama will notice they're gone. "You better hope not," Camille quips back. What would be a usually gleeful and adventurous moment between two sisters is instead eerie thanks to Sylan Esso's echoey and ominous "Come Down," which quietly scores their late-afternoon skate.
The two make it back to their large, southern home, where they sneak up to the wraparound porch, with open backpacks flailing, to creep back into their bedrooms. Once inside, surrounded by Pepto Bismol-coloured walls, Camille leads Marian to a closed door and opens it: the door reveals a strangely modern apartment, with an Obama campaign poster hanging above a laptop. Then they turn around and head past a mint-tiled bathroom to open up a second door. In the room is older Camille, sleeping. She's wearing long-sleeves and has her hand outstretched. Young Camille kneels down next to her, grabs a paper clip, peels back the top loop and then carefully, and purposefully, digs it into her hand. Older Camille jolts awake, and the two young girls disappear.
It's just another nightmare, Camille, she appears to tell herself, massaging the area of her hand where her phantom younger self had poked her. This is the first sharp object we will see in this episode, and it's far from the last. Half-awake, Camille answers a phone call from her boss at the St. Louis Chronicle, Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval), who tells her to come into the office.
Camille is clearly haunted by her past. She has intense nightmares and flashbacks, often involving her younger sister and her childhood home, but she has found a way to live with them. Not a healthy way, but a way. Camille drinks. A lot. She drinks vodka out of water bottles, out of glass cups, and out of the bottles themselves. When she takes out the trash, it rattles with empty bottles. She also eats junk food, smokes cigarettes, and keeps herself isolated from other people. Her boss is the only friend she appears to have. And he's about to send her to her version of hell, whether he fully realises it or not.
In his office, Frank tells Camille about a missing girl down in Wind Gap. ("The bootheel of Missouri" Camille calls it, then later adding only two types of people come from there "trash and old money." Her? She's trash from old money.) The missing girl isn't the first in the town, either. Another young girl went missing and was found murdered the previous fall. Camille, who keeps her distance from the town for reasons we will soon find out, admits she's unaware of the crimes happening there. Frank's ready for the paper's big crime exposé (he's definitely hoping for a serial killer).
Camille packs her essentials (booze, emotional baggage, more booze) and starts the drive down from St. Louis. While she's driving down to Wind Gap, she stares at her cracked iPhone, running her fingers briskly over the jagged edges. Sharp object number 2. She listens to Led Zeppelin's “I Can’t Quit You Baby” as she arrives to the town's motel. Her presence in the room feels heavy, forlorn, and already exhausted. And she hasn't even spoken to anyone yet. Inside, she heads straight to the bathroom, filling up the tub and lining the perimeter with nips of vodka. The toilet seat keeps catching her eye, and she focuses in on it. She has another flashback — one that's difficult to place. It's not her mother's home, or her own home. There’s a custodian walking by, and then a scene with droplets of blood. This is sharp object number 3. Once in the tub, Camille remembers another scarring moment from her youth: she's floating in some river water, like she's floating now, when she hears a group of boys shooting guns. She follows them, and finds their filthy makeshift clubhouse in the woods. It's a decrepit building, full of raw meat, drying out and covered in flies, and pornographic photographs of woman having sexual acts performed on them. In the present time, Camille is out of the tub on the bed, where she masturbates in the dirty motel room, staring at herself in the reflective decorative lamp.
Doing her due diligence, Camille wakes up and heads to the police station where she attempts to learn more about the two girls from the police chief, Vickery (Matt Craven). The first victim is Ann Nash (Kaegan Baron), who went missing on her way to a friend's house that was only 10 blocks away. Her body was found hung up on a clothesline by a group of hunters. The second victim, Natalie Keene (Jessica Treska), has only recently vanished, and her body has not yet been found. Vickery has no leads, and no interest in having Camille in his town. She realises just how hard this assignment (a “think-piece” she calls it) is going to be.
Next, Camille scopes out the search party for Natalie in the woods. There, she runs into a trio of three young girls on roller skates, smoking a joint. The ring leader, a tall blonde, makes a joke about the missing girls, comparing them to the "dead" town of Wind Gap. Camille doesn't know it, but this is her half-sister Amma. While in the woods, Camille also reunites with her mother's old friend Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins), who loves gossip as much as she loves spiked iced tea. Camille also finally meets the shipped-in detective, Richard, who is covered in sweat and oozing frustration.
After all this, it's time to meet mama, the reason Camille is frightening to be in Wind Gap.
Camille puts on lipstick and pops in an Altoid before heading into the large teal home with red trim. With classical music pouring out from the closed and lace-curtained windows, the impressive home is at once warm, yet uninviting. On the porch, Camille has a flashback to a conversation about ghosts she had with Marian, and whether or not they're real. "I'm not scared of them ghosts” she tells her little sister, stroking her hair. But all these years later, that’s changed, as seen by the haunting effect this entire town has on her. As if on schedule, Adora appears in the doorway and is immediately put off by her daughters sudden arrival, insisting the house isn't prepared for guests (although a daughter is far from a random guest). Amaretto sours are offered up, as Alan (Henry Czerny), Adora's quiet husband, hangs back and shows Camille his "new toy," a record player, the source of the melancholy classical music.
After being in the home for less than 10 minutes, Camille already can't take it. She heads out to a local bar, where she meets a few familiar faces including the detective. He hopes to get some conversation, not information, out of her, but Camille isn't into it. Instead, she has her interest on the young boy (too young to be drinking) at the end of the bar. It's John Keene (Taylor John Smith), the older brother of Natalie. He's wearing a hoodie, and his eyes are glued to the bar. No one is approaching to him. Isolated would be the right word to describe his current social status. Camille gets drunk on Maker's Mark and ends up sleeping in her car. The next morning, Adora is absolutely in a tizzy over the news, asking if anyone from town saw her sleeping in her car (like a drunk! it feels like she wants to say). Adora never once sounds concerned about Camille, just annoyed. Does she even like Camille? The signs are pointed to "nope." But Adora's constant judgement doesn't slow down Camille, who heads straight to the Nash's home to talk to the father of the deceased Ann.
There we learn that Ann was an interesting and unique girl. She cut off all her hair when her mom tried to curl it. She was a fan of overalls. A "plain but smart" girl as her father said. He also shares his one strange solace he found in her death: She was killed, but she was not sexually assaulted or harmed in any way. This is the first new clue that Camille gets — people in the town know Ann wasn’t raped, and think that a man not interested in women is responsible for the crimes. Vickery and Det. Richard won't be happy to hear that Camille just got her own scoop on the open case. In fact, it looks like Camille will be getting most of her scoop in the form of low-key gossip. How else do you find out things in a small town?
Afterwards, Camille is down in the centre of town when Natalie's body is found. Wearing black Converse, jean shorts, and a jacket, her lifeless body is found propped up in an alleyway. She is covered in dirt. She is also missing all of her teeth. Who would steal all the teeth out of a young girl's mouth? How did no one notice the body until the mid-day? Just moments before, Camille had been talking with John, who sat apathetically as the same group of roller skating girls stole toys and flowers off of the memorial for the missing girls. While they spoke, Natalie's body had been just a street away. Camille is clearly sick over finding this dead girl’s body, especially after just witnessing the girls tampering with the memorial.
Things only get worse when Camille leaves police station after giving her statement about the state of the dead girl’s body, when she arrives back at her mother’s house and realises that the roller skating ring-leader is her own half-sister. But instead of wearing short jean cut-offs and a tiny tee, Amma is wearing an innocent Lilly Pulitzer-esque dress, covered in lemons (a fitting choice as she herself seems sour) with a white cardigan to match her stark white socks and sneakers. She even talks differently — less like a smart-mouthed teen and more like a church-going southern belle. Camille and her previous actions now have a totally different meaning. This girl is two different people depending on who she's with. Part town rebel, part mama’s girl. Amma even has an elaborate dollhouse that she shows Camille, telling her that "it's my fantasy," when in reality, the house is far from a fantasy: It is an exact replica of the house they're standing in right now, down to the ornate pillow cushions.
Overwhelmed by her mother's stress and her half-sister's manipulation, Camille heads upstairs. But before finally resting — because let's recap: she woke up hungover in her car, then went to interview a grieving father, saw a dead body, was interrogated by the police, and met her wicked sibling — Amma plays one last trick on Camille. She basically dares Camille to enter Marian's room — the root of Camille's pain. Her very Achilles tendon. Unable to resist after hearing that Adora’s kept the room like a museum, Camille has her final flashback of the episode. She's transported back to her little sister's funeral, where she collapses on her coffin to wipe off the hot pink lipstick someone had put on Marian, who looks to be no older than 8. Adora stands, shrouded in black, picking out her eyelashes, one by one, a nervous tick she has, usually in Camille's presence. It’s unclear what caused Marian’s death, and if it has anything to do with the murders happening in the town now. Either way, it’s a brutal memory.
Damaged enough for one day, Camille heads to her room to draw a bath and pour a large glass of vodka. Next to her glass sits a razor, sharp object number 4. She takes off her robe and climbs into the tub. The camera lingers on Camille's extremities, which she drapes off the side of the tub. First her legs, then her arms, revealing the flesh-coloured words sitting on her skin. We realize that the biggest vice that Camille has is self-harm. These are why the sharp objects haunt her. This is why she wears long sleeves while everyone else is covered in sweat. This is why she cringes when everyone calls her pretty and beautiful.
The final shot reveals the largest word on her arm, "VANISH."
- So far, there's no final list of suspects, but there are two men who stood out in this episode: Ann's father and John Keene. It was weird John was fine with the girls playing with his missing sister's toys, and it was a little sus that Ann's dad was out of town the night she went missing.
- It's unclear who, if anyone, knows about the marks on Camille's body. She is always covered up, and her mom has no interest in having close contact with her. Will every episode of the show be a reference to a word on her body? Does "vanish" reference the missing girls or Camille's patience with her mother?
- The best part of the series may be the relationship between Camille and her boss, Frank. When she calls to check in on him, he tries to play hardball with her, but it's clear he's a total softie. His wife also appears concerned for Camille's safety and health. Do they know more about her personal life than we realise?
- Does playing with dollhouses as a teenager make you really creepy? Because as cool as Amma seems, I can't shake the idea of her doing some weird and dark role play in her mini-home. She has ulterior motives for Camille, and will keep pushing her buttons until she gets what she wants.
- Are Amaretto sours good?
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.