Sharp Objects is the type of show you watch and spend most of your time wondering if you’re paying close enough attention. Camille Preaker’s world is filled with hidden words, secret afflictions, and traumas that could unwind before her at any moment. And yet, all of those details and plot points proved fairly inconsequential in the end.
Warning: Many major spoilers ahead.
Sunday night’s series finale revealed the identity of the Wind Gap town murderer in a twist so shocking that, for the first time in eight episodes, Camille—the journalist (Amy Adams) who returns home to investigate the murders of two young girls—actually looks terrified. The screen then cuts to black, leaving Camille suspended in fear and the viewer (me) with multiple unanswered questions.
Camille realizes her younger sister Amma is the killer when she finds a tooth in Amma’s creepy doll house—an exact replica of their childhood home—and discovers one of the miniature bedroom floors is made of human teeth. It’s too late to do anything about it then. Their mom Adora is already behind bars. Detectives believed Adora had Munchausen by proxy, that she tried to kill Amma and Camille by poisoning them, and that she was also responsible for the murders of Natalie and Ann. Camille feels vindicated for distrusting Adora all along and whisks Amma away from Wind Gap’s small-town gossips to live with her in St. Louis.
Much of the finale’s second half lures us into believing the sisters could live a normal life together. Camille writes a gripping article for her paper about becoming Amma’s caretaker and finally forgives herself for her other sister Marian’s untimely death. Amma makes a new friend Mae in their apartment building and teaches her how to roller skate. When the sisters return to Wind Gap to visit Adora in prison, they seem surprisingly at peace with their new roles: Camille accepts that she does not want a relationship with her mom and instead waits outside of the jail while her sister visits. A new familial structure is formed, and Camille seems to have evolved—she wears a blazer to work and ever-so-slightly less black and hosts dinners with Mae and her boss. In short, she’s overcoming her traumas.
The show then rips that progression in half in its final scenes. The ending (which stays faithful to the book) is so devastating, you can actually visualize Camille’s world crashing. But it also feels cheap for a series that so painstakingly sets up and explores Camille’s bruised psyche. The whole show is about Camille’s pain and recovery, but in the end it’s Amma who was in pain and coped with it by inflicting violence on others. While yes, I get that’s the nature of a twist, there were very few, if any, warning signs, and the scope of Amma’s murderous streak was wide enough to warrant more explanation than conjecture. Ultimately, the finale felt unearned. Buried in the end credits, there’s a montage that shows Amma suffocating Natalie and Anne while her friends hold them down. (Why they participate is another detail that’s never explained.) It also shows Amma killing her new friend Mae.
Maybe we’re supposed to believe Amma was so jealous of Natalie and Anne (two girls we never see) and their relationship with Adora (which we also never get any details around), that she tortured and killed them. Or maybe we’re supposed to assume Amma is a killer caught in an abusive cycle—Adora routinely poisons her with homemade “medicines.” Either way, the series sets up these questions and never answers them, and from what I’ve heard, the book is more explicit about Adora’s abuse and Amma’s motivations for killing. The series instead spends time gesturing towards how fucked up women can be. Words that Camille has cut into her body (“OMEN,” “WICKED,” “BABY”) are also seared into the show’s visible world: they show up in posters, on walls, carved into tree trunks. The show’s subtext is literally made into text, and yet, none of those things shed any light on why Amma, specifically, turns out to be the killer.
The series follows Camille’s perspective—the whole point is that she can’t trust what she sees. Yet, missing the signs that her teenage sister is a ravenous murderer who can also drive her peers to such length feels like a stretch. And switching from this partial view to an omniscient one at the very end feels like a slap in the face to everyone who soldiered through the show’s slow, dense, and indulgent storytelling for eight episodes.
The finale’s last-minute shocker requires me to believe a number of things: that Amma was both in an incomprehensible amount of pain and capable of shielding it from the world (and all the busybodies in Wind Gap); that she is somehow free and easygoing and also filled with enough rage and/or upper body strength to rip out two sets of her friends’ teeth. Sharp Objects spent 99 percent of the time telegraphing its themes and one percent of the time telling us what happened and why. All of that seems like a waste if the breadcrumbs and the surprise ending don’t add up.