HBO’s artfully deranged miniseries “Sharp Objects” came to an end on Sunday night after eight riveting episodes full of crime, sweat and ghoulish familial relations.
Those who read Gillian Flynn’s novel, upon which the show is based, were primed to accept the twisted story of the Preaker-Crellin women: Camille (Amy Adams), Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and Amma (Eliza Scanlen). But viewers new to the fictional town of Wind Gap, Missouri, were left with quite the surprise ending.
It’s a surprise that might not have made much sense, unless you stuck around for the show’s two mid- and after-credits scenes. (Warning: spoilers below.)
In the penultimate episode of the series, we learned that Adora, the disdainful but seemingly put-together mother, has something called Munchausen syndrome by proxy ― a psychological disorder in which a caregiver, usually a parent, makes their patient or child sick in a gambit for attention.
This form of abuse led to the death of Camille’s sister Marian. Its current victim is Amma, who has built up a tolerance to the poisonous concoction her mom spoon-feeds her. When Camille finds out ― courtesy of the medical investigation of detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) and the Bloody Mary-induced confession of Wind Gap fixture Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) ― she decides to sacrifice herself, submitting to her mother’s care in an attempt to let Amma escape.
The plan, which takes up more than half of the finale episode, almost fails, until the police ― called by Camille’s cancer-stricken editor back in St. Louis ― arrive to find both girls near death’s edge.
Adora is arrested, assumed to be the person behind Wind Gap’s unsolved murder cases, the killer of teen girls Camille and Richard have been looking for all along. Meanwhile, Adora’s kept husband Alan (Henry Czerny), privy to the at-home abuse of his daughter but somehow incapable of stopping it, escapes the situation unscathed. Amma ends up moving in with her half-sister in the city, an arrangement that seems to be best for everyone ― until Camille recognizes the flittering of Amma’s mood swings.
When Amma makes a new friend, who bends to her whims like the roller-skating accomplices back in Wind Gap, Camille takes notice. Back at her apartment, she kneels by Amma’s relocated doll house and spies something she hadn’t noticed before: Adora’s infamous ivory bedroom floor has been recreated with teeth.
The clues click into place: Amma’s queen-bee status came in handy when she needed to recruit friends to help murder the girls, Ann Nash and Natalie Keene, whose teeth now line the grisly base of her prized toy.
When Amma appears in the bedroom doorway, she doesn’t fight the epiphany. “Don’t tell mama,” she whispers. The screen falls black, and Led Zeppelin’s “In the Evening” is the only thing to fill the void.
That’s where the show ends. Or so we think.
If you stick around for the credits, director Jean-Marc Vallée has left a grim treat for the audience in the form of two extra scenes.
In one, we watch as Amma’s friends hold down a girl ― either Ann or Natalie ― who’s screaming for her life, as Amma strangles her. Cut to a scene of Amma torturing her new friend in St. Louis.
After the credits roll some more, we get a second glimpse of Amma, this time entering the woods as the Woman in White, a figure seen by the sole witness to Natalie’s murder.
In two hazy sequences, we get more of what we might have expected all along ― bread crumbs that help piece together this slow-to-unfurl murder mystery.
But if we look back, the hints were always there. If you were one of the conspiracy theorists who put their odds on Alan as the butcher, think again.
Everyone in Wind Gap assumed the killer was a man.
From the moment the show began, it’s apparent that the townspeople suspect a man committed the heinous murders of two teen girls: either Natalie’s brother John (Taylor John Smith) or Ann’s father, Bob (Will Chase).
But one-liners sprinkled into the later episodes clue viewers in. A woman is almost certainly to blame, even if everyone thinks the ladies of Wind Gap are only good for gossip.
In Episode 3, Bob tells Camille during a visit, “Women around here, they don’t kill with their hands. They talk.” And take Richard and Bob’s confrontation at Calhoun Day in Episode 5. “I’m telling you, we’re gonna get this guy,” Richard tells Bob, who asks, “You gonna strangle him and rip out his teeth?”
Then, in Episode 7, Amma’s friends have a quick chat with Sheriff Vickery (Matt Craven) while rollerblading down the street. “Word of advice,” he tells them, shortly after John’s arrest. “You keep your eyes open. Some drunk comes flying down this road, he’ll hit you before he sees you.”
“Or she,” one of them says. “Don’t be sexist, Chief.”
Amma was always a chameleon.
Throughout the series, we see Amma go from being a caring daughter in a babydoll dress to a rebellious mean girl in a short-shorted girl squad. She’s sweet and obedient one minute, cruel and haphazard the next, flinging lollipops into her sister’s hair unprompted.
One revealing moment occurs in Episode 5, when Amma, filled with rage after reading Camille’s article, steals her sister’s clothes from the dressing room while she’s trying on outfits for Calhoun Day. This prank forces an emotional Camille to show her scars to her mother and sister, who then flips the switch from naughty to nice.
“If I can [survive in Wind Gap], you can,” she tells Camille.
We’ve seen Amma act this way before, talking about her wishy-washy relationship with Ann and Natalie or how her friends do “whatever I want them to.” She’s emotionally manipulative.
The clues were there, they just looked different.
Gillian Flynn has her own murder-mystery shorthand, of which Gone Girl fans are likely aware. Maybe the detectives in Flynn’s story aren’t pinning suspect photos on cork boards or whiteboarding evidence, but clues rear their heads in other ways.
Amma hung out at hog slaughter houses, and in dilapidated sheds and parking lots. She was obsessed with a dollhouse replication of her family home. She kept a secret cellphone. She even wore white in the woods.
Yes, we’re still craving some answers, but the show’s constant hesitation, its withholding nature, is what made it so enthralling to begin with. Showrunner Marti Noxon and her team didn’t tie everything up in a nice bow; we’re left to wonder whether the Preaker-Crellin women have and will continue to pass down deviance. Is Alan still in that mansion, blasting one record at a time?
We might never know. Thankfully, a second season isn’t happening (yet). So that’s it people. Sorry. Goodnight. Sleep tight. Nightmares will certainly be in your future. Let’s hope HBO’s miniseries-making factory realizes how valuable that is.
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