“Milk” provides a near-perfect end to the year’s best season of television, as Wind Gap’s murderer is revealed and old wounds continue to fester.
In a lot of ways Sharp Objects has never been about the murders of Ann Nash (Kaegan Baron) and Natalie Keene (Jessica Treska), even though their killer has always been intimately tied to Wind Gap’s festering legacy of trauma. But it’s that trauma – the poisoning, literal and otherwise – which has been the focus of Jean-Marc Vallée’s miniseries, and the stellar finale, “Milk”, made sure not to conflate an arrest, a conviction, or a revelation with any kind of ending.
Plenty of viewers will be disappointed with “Milk”; for saving the reveal until the final moments, and nestling clarification in a mid-credits montage. After Adora (Patricia Clarkson) had been convicted for the murders, Camille (Amy Adams) took Amma (Eliza Scanlen) with her to St. Louis, where she befriended another girl, Mae (Iyana Halley), who promptly went missing herself. The clues led to Amma’s dollhouse, where a secret room, its floor tiled with human teeth, revealed that Amma was the murderer all along. “Don’t tell Mama,” she begs.
Of course that’s what she’d say. Amma has always been too clever and manipulative for Adora’s sinister ministrations to fool her. When Camille ingested the poison in “Milk”, ostensibly to save Amma from the ordeal, Amma had the opportunity to flee and alert the authorities – and she didn’t. Her mother’s deep sickness wasn’t a surprise to her; it had been her entire life. What better way to ensure the affection of a woman whose only means of showing it is to spoon-feed her children antifreeze and rat poison? All Amma ever wanted was care and attention from her mother. She got it in the only way it was being offered.
This explains why she’d so relish the deaths of Ann and Natalie, who were competing for Adora’s affection, and Mae, who was competing for Camille’s. It explains why she’d be so devastated at Adora’s arrest and conviction, and why she’d be so emotional when visiting her in prison. The “Milk” of the title is that of mothers; the life-giving nectar by which loving parents nourish beloved children. Amma was weaned on a bitter, toxic simulacrum, and in return, she became bitter and toxic. Trauma begets trauma. Hurt people, they hurt people.
Camille’s sacrifice was heroic because she broke the twisted cycle of a town in which to break gender or familial norms is to be sentenced to death. She took out her anger and aggression on herself. She carved her flesh and willingly ingested Adora’s corrosive elixir. She had to become an outcast in her hometown to do it, but it seems a small price to pay. She, not Amma, is most reminiscent of the Greek goddess Persephone, a virginal woman who was abducted by Hades and made queen of the Underworld, and thus unable to return to the life she lived before: “Because even when she’s back with the living, they’re afraid of her because of where she’s been.”
Camille will likely wear the taint of Wind Gap forever, regardless of whether or not she turns Amma in to the authorities – which was left ambiguous by “Milk”, and is largely beside the point. What matters is that she was able to return to the living, while so many stayed behind in the thrall of that time-locked, Gothic underworld. Alan (Henry Czerny) confirmed his complicity in Adora’s abuse, convincing Amma to stay in the house, and lying openly to Detective Willis (Chris Messina) when he came looking for Camille. Amma’s roller-skating friends (played by real-life sisters Violet and April Brinson) held her victims down while she strangled them. Chief Vickery (Matt Craven) flaunted whatever was going on between him and Adora, and was – intentionally or not – wrong about everything. Amma was the killer, and Adora was the cause, but everyone was guilty.
“Milk” asks a final question, but doesn’t provide an answer. Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval) reads aloud from Camille’s article her postulations about whether she enjoys caring for Amma because she’s kind, or because she’s sick like her mother. I suppose we’ll never know. But Sharp Objects has been such an elegant exploration of how to live with trauma and abuse that we can perhaps speculate – like Camille herself, I’m leaning towards kindness.