Sharp Objects Recap: Episode 1 “Vanish”
The highly anticipated show Sharp Objects premiered on July 8 on HBO. Adapted from the bestselling novel written by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote Gone Girl), this eight-episode drama is executive produced by Flynn and directed by Big Little Lies‘ Jean-Marc Vallee.
Each week, I will recap the latest episode of the series. And I feel it is necessary to point out that I have not yet read Flynn’s book. If Sharp Objects is anything like Gone Girl, then I know I am in for a big plot twist at some point, and I can’t wait to find out what it is!
Obvious but obligatory warning: this recap will be chock full of spoilers, so beware!
The series premiere opens up with shots of a sleepy town, and we soon learn that the town is Wind Gap. This seems to be taking place in the late 1980s, because of an “Elect Bush” sign in a shop window, as well as the older model cars that line the streets. Two girls enter the scene, and they’re skating down an old road. These girls are sisters, the younger one asking the older one if she thinks their mother will notice that they are missing from home.
The girls skate to a large two-story house, remove their skates, and run to the front door. They sneak inside, not wanting to be seen by the two adults in the house (presumably their parents) and slowly make their way upstairs. The older sister, who is about 15, quietly opens a bedroom door. We see a 2008 Obama “Hope” poster on the wall (so much for this taking place in the 80s) and, in the next room, a woman (played by series star Amy Adams) is sleeping in bed. The sisters quietly walk up to the sleeping woman, and the older sister grabs a paper clip, bends back the wire to expose the sharp end, and stabs the woman in the hand.
The woman, Camille Preaker, wakes up – it was all a dream. She is one of the two sisters, now grown up.
Camille gets out of bed and drives to her job as a reporter with the St. Louis Chronicle. Her boss, Frank, wants to give her an assignment covering a story in Wind Gap, Camille’s home town. Frank is surprised that she is not aware of what the story could be and asks her if she ever talks to her family who still live there. “Not if I can help it,” she responds. Frank informs her that a young girl was murdered in the town last year, and now another girl has gone missing. And he tells her that this may be an opportunity for her to “flush some things out” and to get back on her feet… that the story “could be very big, if you do it right.” Camille very hesitantly accepts the assignment.
Camille prepares for her trip by packing her things, which mostly consists of candy bars and small bottles of vodka. As she gathers her computer for her trip, we can see the word “DRUNK” carved into her desk. And shortly after, when she places her things in the trunk of her car, we see “DIRTY” written on the top of the trunk.
Camille leaves St. Louis and makes her way to Wind Gap (drinking vodka from a water bottle the entire trip), and she eventually pulls into the local Holiday Motel. She unpacks her things (and by “unpacks,” I mean she empties a paper bag filled with liquor bottles and packs of cigarettes onto the bed) and draws a bath. Disconnected and confusing (to us) flashbacks from her past cut in quickly and unexpectedly, and she tries to wash down each one with more alcohol.
The next day, Camille makes her way into town to join the search party efforts and meet the locals to get some information for her research. She doesn’t turn up much, except for running into some family friends. At the end of the day, Camille leaves and drives past the Holiday Motel where she has been staying. She ends up at a gated driveway and punches in the correct code to open the gate. The house at the end of the driveway is the same house we saw at the beginning of the episode in her dream.
She walks up to the porch and sits in a chair, and another memory returns. This time, she is 15 again, and her sister is lying next to her. Their conversation is about death and ghosts. Camille must have been talking aloud in step with her memory, because Camille’s mother, Adora (superbly played by Patricia Clarkson), realizes that Camille is on the porch and meets her at the door. Camille explains that she is in town on business, and Adora responds, “My house is not up to par for visitors, I’m afraid.” But she eventually lets her in and announces to her husband, “Alan, Camille’s here.” And Alan replies, “Who?”
There is no sign of her sixteen-year-old half-sister, Amma, who has only been mentioned twice in the episode so far.
Adora leads Camille upstairs to her old bedroom, because Camille has asked to stay at the house for a few days. However, while lying in her old bed, another memory explodes onto screen: the two sisters are lying in the same bed, and Camille’s younger sister experiences a medical scare – perhaps a seizure or a severe asthma attack. Camille cannot handle the stress of being back in her old home, so she promptly leaves to go to the local bar to forget.
At the bar, she sees the brother of the girl who is currently missing and walks up to talk to him for her story. But she stops when she sees Detective Willis, who is working the case, walk up to her. By the time their conversation is finished, the missing girl’s brother has left. So Camille goes to her car to leave. She turns on her music from her nearly broken-in-two phone (lots of Led Zeppelin in this episode, which I love), and the next scene shows her waking up in her car in the early morning hours. She presumably drank herself to sleep.
She eventually returns to her parents’ home, and her mother calls her in to the kitchen. “I’m happy you’re here,” Adora says to her daughter, “…but please, don’t embarrass me again. When you’re here, everything you do comes back on me. Understand?” And when she learns that Camille slept in her car, her only concern is if anyone saw her.
Every story needs a villain, I guess.
Camille stocks up at the local liquor store (at 9:30 in the morning) and heads over to see the family of Ann, the girl who was murdered last year. The father recounts the events of the day Ann went missing, and he becomes immediately angry when she asks him where he was that day, asking her why she is taking notes on his whereabouts. He eventually calms down, but Camille is not able to determine if the girl’s mother is still in the picture. The father says she is at work, but Camille doesn’t believe him.
In town, Camille sees some teenagers playing with donated stuffed animals left at a makeshift memorial for the missing girl, Natalie. And the girl’s brother is there, too – the same guy Camille saw at the bar. She tells them to stop, but one of the teenage girls tells Camille that there is no point in letting all the flowers die, and that the things of the memorial do not belong only to Natalie’s family.
Camille hears a screaming woman in the alley and runs over to her, only to discover that the missing girl, Natalie, has been murdered and placed in the alley! In the next scene, Camille gives her statement to Detective Willis (“Congrats, Detective. Looks like you got your serial after all.”) and returns to her parents’ house.
After Adora reprimands Camille for not calling her earlier to let her know she was okay (this is the first time Adora has shown any concern for Camille’s whereabouts in this episode), half-sister Amma comes down from upstairs. Camille instantly recognizes the girl from the makeshift memorial – Amma was the ringleader who said there was no point in letting all the flowers die, etc. It’s made clear that Amma knew who Camille was, but Camille did not recognize Amma, because “Adora had stopped sending those Christmas pictures a while back.”
The sisters walk upstairs, and Amma asks Camille if she has seen Marion’s room. (Marion is the name of Camille’s younger sister.) Amma says that Adora keeps the room like a museum. This is enough to pique Camille’s interest. When Amma closes her bedroom door, Camille opens Marion’s. And now her flashbacks are centered around Marion’s funeral, combined with visions of Natalie, who was found earlier in the alley. The flashbacks are very traumatic and show how Camille refused to accept the truth that her sister was gone.
The episode ends with Camille drawing another bath and drinking heavily. As she steps into the bathtub, we can see that nearly every inch of her body is covered in old self-harm scars. It was at this point that I realized that Camille had been wearing the same long-sleeved, long-pants outfit for the entire episode.
I loved watching “Vanish”! I was captivated the entire time, and I spent most of my time trying to piece together Camille’s memories and flashbacks. There were many flashbacks that still do not make any sense to me, which is understandable after only seeing one episode. But I am definitely going to require a rewatch to see what other clues and snippets I can pick up on.
Come back next week for a recap of Sharp Objects second episode, “Dirt,” which will air on Sunday, July 15, at 9 p.m. EST!