What is to blame for the Preaker women's cycle of cold, self-loathing, and controlling behaviors, which alternate in erratic and unpredictable waves? Is it societal expectations that primarily affect women? Is it Wind Gap's claustrophobia (and humidity)? Is the house haunted by bad vibes? Perhaps. But last night's episode of Sharp Objects suggests that the Camille (Amy Adams), Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and Adora's (Patricia Clarkson) behaviour stems from a more immediate source: Adora's mother, Joya, who died soon after Camille was born and doesn't appear in the show.
Sharp Objects, so far, has been a show about what mothers do to their daughters. Amma and Camille's warped personalities are the direct result of Adora's personal brand of treacly cruelty. While speaking to Camille, Alan (Henry Czerny) let on that Adora's behaviour can be explained by her own mother's meanness. "She would stand guard over this house like a witch," Alan said of Adora's mother, Joya. He recalled how Joya would come to Adora's room in the middle of the night and pinch her. "She was worried Adora would die in her sleep. You know what I think? She just liked to hurt people," Alan says. His story reveals two important facts about Joya: She was malicious, and she was compulsive. A grown woman who pinches her perfectly healthy daughter awake throughout the night is not a grown woman fully in control of her impulses.
Alan brings up Joya in an effort to make Camille more empathetic towards her mother. Instead, Alan ends up explaining her mother. We can only understand Adora if we understand her twisted upbringing.
Adora is Wind Gap royalty. She inherited the pig farm from her parents, meaning that she and Alan never have to work. In addition to a fortune, she also inherited Joya's overbearing method of mothering. We can glean more specifics about Joya from the book. "Adora was overly mothered," Jackie explains to Camille in Gillian Flynn's novel of the same name. "Never saw your grandmother Joya smile at her or touch her in a loving way, but she couldn't keep her hands off her."
Jackie isn't referring to hugs and kisses. Apparently, Joya was constantly fiddling with Adora's body in an inappropriate manner. When Adora had a sunburn, Joya used to "strip off her shirt and peel the skin off in long strips." Or if Adora had a smudge, instead of rubbing at the smudge, Joya would "grab her head and lick it."
After hearing these stories, Adora's controlling tendencies probably make more sense. No wonder Adora is constantly monitoring her daughters' wardrobes. No wonder she treats them like dolls. That's how her own mother treated her.
But from this description, it's obvious Camille is nothing like Joya. Camille runs from responsibility and avoids mothering roles. Yet for some reason, Alan in the show and Adora in the book both liken Camille to Joya. “You remind me of my mother. Joya. Cold and distant and so, so smug," Adora tells Camille in Flynn's novel. In Alan and Adora's mind, comparing Camille to Joya is a subtle way of expressing their disdain for Camille.
Camille and Joya may share the same cold disposition — but the real similarity exists between Joya and Adora. Joya shaped Adora in the same way that Adora shaped Amma, Camille, and Marian. Watch out, because Adora has an inner Joya, and who knows what pinch will awaken her?