“Closer” was the most unsettling and deeply traumatic episode of Sharp Objects thus far, exploring Wind Gap’s perverse history of hatred and violence.
It occurs to me that there are happier, more uplifting ways to start my week than by watching and writing about Sharp Objects, which continues to be a deeply traumatic and uncomfortable experience. The fifth episode, “Closer”, was the most unpleasant yet, which by some bizarre logic also constitutes the best yet; a show like this one, which challenges us to look at ourselves, each other, and the world around us, reveals the most when it slices the deepest.
Of particular focus in “Closer” is Calhoun Day, a bizarre Wind Gap tradition in which teenagers re-enact the story of the wife of a Confederate soldier who refuses to betray her husband’s location even while being raped and beaten. It’s a grotesque celebration of the town’s insistence that women and girls should suffer in silence, a past that Wind Gap still defiantly refuses to learn from.
It’s all about appearance. The lawns are draped with balloons and flags; the floors – ivory, from before preservation was a thing – are polished; the dresses are zipped and the suits are adorned, dripping Southern regalia like stalactites from the time-locked nest of a hateful history that ceaselessly repeats itself.
Calhoun Day says a lot about the people of Wind Gap, about how willing they are to contort the truth until it matches the lies, and how comforted they are by silence; by the keeping of secrets, by the internalising of trauma. That’s why they want their children to re-enact it each year. Their summertime indulgence is to let the festering wounds of the past seep into the present, where fathers and brothers fight over murdered girls, and the entire town looks on. “Closer” brings the sinners within touching distance of their sins.
It speaks to the deep delusion of Wind Gap’s citizens that they don’t realise what they are or what they’ve done. To them, Calhoun Day is a celebration of the town’s indomitable, immovable spirit, its longstanding traditions and resistance to an encroaching dishonest modernity, not its legacy of violence and prejudice. Adora, peering in disgust at Camille’s scars, doesn’t see the words – f**k, wrong, vanish – as a cry for help, but as an attempt at vengeance. “You’re ruined,” she says, “And all out of spite.” The idea that she was in no small part the cause of her trauma never even occurs to her. It never occurs to any of them.
What occurred to me during “Closer” is that I know who murdered Ann Nash and Natalie Keene. Amma plays the lead role in this year’s Calhoun Day recreation, tied to a stake and lapped by paper flames. Withering gazes criss-cross the audience, a Cat’s Cradle of unspoken accusations and resentments. But Amma looks outward, to who’s watching, and sees Camille distracted by Richard. Her face betrays a desperate need for attention and approval, which she later gains by disappearing into the woods, hiding in the creaky hunting shack where depravity adorns the walls and blood – old and new – soaks the floor. Her lust isn’t for attention in general, but for Camille’s specifically. Her sister represents an unwillingness to conform; pain proudly displayed, womanhood unfettered by lingering expectations. The murders are performative. What better way to resist Wind Gap’s hereditary mistreatment of women than to strangle its girls, to pull their teeth, to display them, rotting, for all to see?
“Closer” was the fifth episode of HBO’s Sharp Objects. Check out our full series coverage.