Who knew? Who knew that Adora (Patricia Clarkson) was deliberately poisoning her daughter to keep her childlike, needy, and sick? Who knew that Camille (Amy Adams) left Wind Gap because deep down she knew that her own mother was responsible for her sister Marian's (Lulu Wilson) death? Episode 7 of Sharp Objects, "Falling," is one of the most haunting episodes of television ever. Finally, we see exactly how dangerous and depraved Adora, and Wind Gap, can really be.
Immediately after her night of drugs, booze, and bonding with Amma, Camille wakes up in a white gauze nightgown that seems out of character for her. Her mother must have disrobed and changed her in her sleep. The last we saw her, when Marian's ghost was warning her to get out of the house, Camille was messed up, but not so completely zonked as to not remember changing out of her clothes. The energy is strange — Adora is present, gazing over her. She has a basket full of blue bottles containing mysterious liquids that she insists on feeding to Camille. She's treating her like a child, like her child, behaviour which the audience, like Camille, knows to be wary of. Camille pushes her away and escapes to the bathroom, leading Adora to move on to her next patient, Amma (Eliza Scanlen). Amma knows this doctor-patient game well, and allows her mother to spoon feed her "medicine." Camille comes to check on her sister, still remembering that only hours earlier she had asked her to take her back to St. Louis with her. “Did she give you the blue?” Amma asks mindlessly while playing with the dollhouse. “No I didn’t want it,” Camille tells her, already having changed back into her uniform of black long-sleeve shirt and pants. “Do you know what my favourite part of getting wasted is? Mama takes care of me after,” Amma tells Camille as if it's a triumph to be treated like a 4-year-old. “I think you can take care of yourself,” Camille replies. “I want mama. And she wants me like this,” Amma bites back.
"This." This weak, barely coherent, and drugged state of being will progressively get worse throughout the episode as we learn, through the investigation of Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina), that Adora has Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (MSP): she makes her children purposefully sick so that she can take care of them, and give the illusion that she is not only a doting mother, but also a great nurse, and ultimately, the wounded parent of a dead daughter. It's unclear if Adora meant to kill Marian, or if she got carried away one night, and made her sinister cocktails — which consist of crushed pills and thick syrups — too strong. But we know that she is responsible for all of Marian's unconfirmed "conditions." Hospital records reflect that she hopped from doctor to doctor, always changing Marian's ailments, and never letting a nurse get too close to her daughter.
What's strange is that Amma almost consents. She treats it like a transaction. When she is "this," Adora is happy, doting, and at her beck and call, but when she rejects the mysterious mixtures being forced down her throat, Adora snaps. She threatens to stop providing food, attention, and even a home to Amma if she doesn't take the homemade "medicine." Later in the day, when Amma's friends come over to see her, Adora briskly tells them to go away and not come back, and then goes to Amma's room to confiscate her phone. Is she keeping her own daughter hostage? Can Camille save her?
Alan (Henry Czeny) is home the whole time, watching Adora experiment with a bowl of yellow pills like a crazed chemist in the kitchen. Is he an idiot, or an accomplice? As he reminded us in an earlier episode, Marian was his daughter, too, and he mourns her death in solitude because of Adora's detachment from him. So why isn't he taking the time to help Amma, who is sweating, puking, and hallucinating, upstairs? Instead, he puts on his headphones and starts listening to "Down in the Willow Garden," a twangy, morbid Appalachian ballad about a man who poisons and kills his lover, only later to face the consequences for her death. The lyrics sound a lot like a confession — "My race is run beneath this sun/ The devil is waiting for me/ For I did murder that dear little girl" — but who is confessing? During the scene, Alan's memory flashes back to him dancing around with a giddy Amma. Did Alan help Amma or Adora kill Ann and Natalie? Or is he feeling guilty about something else?
While Adora is torturing one Wind Gap teen, Camille is trying to save another. She is in the next town, eager to find John Keen (Taylor John Smith) before the police do. He is about to be arrested, and Sheriff Vickery (Matt Craven) is elated. Somehow, he has a prime suspect after doing literally zero police work, except for gossiping with Adora and Jackie O'Neill (Elizabeth Perkins). Richard, on the other hand, is caught up in Camille, Marian, and Amma's medical records in his quest to crack Camille's code. The curse of gossip has taken hold of our hapless men. John's demise was brought on by his girlfriend, Ashley (Madison Davenport), who turns in evidence to the police after Vickey promises that she'll be seen as a hero around town. “He’d never have sex with me” she whispers, before revealing drops of blood she found under his bed, which is ultimately what her real issue with John is — his lack of attention and intimacy towards her.
At the next town's house-turned-bar, Camille buys John bourbon shots to chase his tears. No two people have ever looked sadder, and their grief is translating into lust. “Prove you're not dead," John challenges Camille, before the two head to the El Camino motel. There, Camille has the most intimate experience she has ever had with a man. She lets John touch her scars, and read the words out loud to her. “Drained", "Cherry", "Sick", "Gone", "Wrong", "Wicked.” It's her nightmares, her regrets, her story — all written on her. The two have sex, and it's extremely emotional. For a brief moment, they each feel peace. But nothing about Wind Gap is serene, and the spell is broken when Vickery and Richard charge in. Richard is disgusted to find Camille in bed with John, and he absolutely overreacts.
"I think one bad thing happened and you’ve blamed the rest of your shitty life on it, but really you’re just a drunk and a slut," he tells her. His piercing words cut her deep — the only sharp object of the episode. Still, even as a jealous asshole, he does still share Marian’s autopsy report with Camille which leads her to visit Jackie at home. Over Bloody Marys (a nice play on words) she finds out Marian was secretly cremated by her mother, thus erasing any hope of proving that she died by medical malpractice at the hands of Adora. Knowing this, Camille finally allows herself to put pieces of the puzzle together she's been avoiding. She allows her drunk, doped up (she takes a pill from Jackie's stash) brain to imagine the worst possible scenario: Her mother is the woman in white, luring young girls into the woods. And then killing them.
- Amma won't let her mother, or Camille touch her dollhouse. She is obsessed with it. Is there something hidden away it in it? A message? An illegal item (we saw her take ecstasy near it once, and she has been known to roll joints in her room)? A clue?
- John tells Camille that he loved Natalie because she “was never bad, just herself.” The same could be same about Camille.
- Jackie's house, much like Adora's, is a direct representation of her personality. It's eccentric, loud, and verging on tacky. There's the painting of herself over the fireplace. There's the baby grand piano that looks untouched. There's the knock-off Waterford crystal fixtures, and the bowls of miscellaneous pills placed throughout the living room. Like Adora, she has used and abused the leniency of the local doctors and hospitals to be prescribed little pills for every ailment under the sun. The big difference is that she did it to herself (most likely out of boredom), not to her helpless child.
- The final image of Amma, grey and gaunt, adorned with a gothic flower crown, is striking. The brief, but jarring, flash of her reminds me of two characters, one from Greek mythology (Dionysus), and one from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (Ophelia). Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, pleasure, and madness. We've seen Amma in each of these states, multiple times. The wines (or vodka shooters) and other vices, the pleasure of being the queen bee of her clique of friends, and the madness of being Adora's daughter, sick on hallucinations. Ophelia, who died in a river wearing a flower crown, is driven to death and self-harm after a loved one (her father) is killed by her lover (Hamlet). While this isn't exactly Amma's story, it is reminiscent of the circumstances of Ann and Natalie's deaths: both killed in the woods, both died too young, and both once full of blossoming life.