“Ripe” was the best episode of Sharp Objects thus far, as Camille took Richard on a tour of Wind Gap’s wooded murder scenes and the show began to crunch into a higher gear.
HBO’s Sharp Objects is about many things – murder, lies, secrets, legacy. But it’s mostly about women and girls, particularly those stifled and repressed by the small-town South and its rigid hospitality. “Ripe”, the best episode of the miniseries so far, only marginally shunted the on-going double-murder investigation forward. But it started to reveal a generational mosaic of interconnected traumas and anxieties that have scratched their place in Wind Gap’s pristine façade. Somewhere, where the lines criss-cross and interlace, is the killer of Natalie Keene and Ann Nash, and the reason why.
When the past unspools behind Camille’s eyelids, her memories are populated almost exclusively by girls: Amma, her sister; Alice, her roommate at the psychiatric institution; the dead girls, Natalie and Ann; her mother, Adora. And herself, as a child, watching her mother pluck out her eyelashes in frustration, or gazing at the grimy walls of the hunting shed where some unspecified trauma has occurred and will likely occur again, or prodding local wildlife as the local predators amass behind her.
In “Ripe”, Camille led Richard on a tour around Wind Gap’s wooded murder hotspots, in exchange for on-the-record questions about himself and the case. They bond over the bottle, as always, but also over their shared outsider status. All of the crimes that Camille details were fed life-giving oxygen by the town and its outmoded expectations. Two lesbians committed suicide; years later, the daughter of one of them began sleeping with as many men as possible to dispel the association. Three lives ruined, at least. Elsewhere, in a clearing, the local football team had their way with a cheerleader that flashbacks indicate was Camille. What they don’t indicate is whether she was a willing participant or not. Neither does she.
“Most first dates,” says Richard, “are dinner and a movie.” Camille pretends not to consider the escapade a date, although their burgeoning chemistry suggests it is, unconventional or otherwise. Their romance is Camille refusing a kiss only to stuff Richard’s hands down her jeans instead. But it feels transactional, too. Camille is ahead of Richard, and ahead of us. She’s accumulated loyalty and facts that she’ll likely deploy later; a woman using her womanly charms to arm herself in the best way she can. It’s a cynical point of view, but Wind Gap is a cynical town, and Sharp Objects is a cynical show. By its own tight-lipped logic, those who know the most are the ones in control, such as when Adora, casually flirting with Chief Vickery, offhandedly suggested that she could quite easily have his ranking stripped if the mood took her.
In response to that implied threat, Vickery tells Adora that she has one daughter who is dangerous, and another who’s in danger, though he doesn’t specify which is which. I think it’s obvious. The constant flashbacks to Camille’s adolescence aren’t just there to flesh out her character; they’re obvious parallels and contrasts between her and her half-sister, Amma, who in the present is mean-spirited, emotionally unstable, and dangerously rebellious. “Ripe” shows Amma as alternately vulnerable and sinister; in one moment apologising to Camille for her behaviour last week, and sharing a rare moment of tenderness with Adora; in another moment trying to seduce one of her teachers. There’s no doubt in my mind that the killer in Wind Gap is female – it would be a betrayal of the show’s themes if they weren’t. But I have a growing suspicion that it might be Amma, or at the very least that she knows much more about it than she’s letting on.
The ending of “Ripe” seems to confirm as much, as John Keene, recently fired from the pig farm owned by Adora, lets slip that Amma used to be close with both of the dead girls, and that all three used to play in that old, abandoned hunting shed in the forest. The final scene was so choppily edited that it could just as easily not be a cliffhanger at all – just the impression of one. Either way, it seems appropriate that the truth, or at least the lies that have been told to obscure it, be left to fester a little longer.
“Ripe” was the fourth episode of HBO’s Sharp Objects. Check out our full series coverage.