Each week, I will recap the latest episode of Sharp Objects, which is currently airing on HBO. (Check out the recap of last week’s episode here.) The series’ second episode was the latest to air, and it was the first of three of this season’s eight episodes that were written or co-written by the novel’s author Gillian Flynn. The other two episodes that she has written will be the season’s final two.
This week’s episode was a much slower burn than the series premiere, which I think was a blessing. The main character this week was really the town of Wind Gap itself. We get to see how its inhabitants deal (or actually, do NOT deal) with the numerous tragedies that have visited the town. We learn more about the two murdered girls’ cases and how their investigations are going. And we see Camille’s past and present blend together with more shocking frequency.
So let’s talk about “Dirt.”
Obligatory warning: mucho spoilerage ahead, so consider yourselves warned!
Last week’s episode, “Vanish,” ended with the discovery of the body of Natalie Keene, a teenage girl who had been missing and whose case was the primary reason Camille had returned to her hometown. “Dirt” begins with Natalie’s funeral.
The entire town attends the funeral, and Camille uses the opportunity to take notes for her investigative write up – quite literally. She sits next to her mother Adora and her friend Jackie (played by Elizabeth Perkins), with a notebook and pen. Jackie tells Camille that the Keenes usually keep to themselves, and Adora unnecessarily admonishes her for talking so loudly, instructing her to use her “indoor voice.”
As Natalie’s family walks down the aisle to the front of the viewing room, a flashback appears in front of Camille’s eyes. She is 15 years old and at her sister Marian’s funeral. Only Adora is in the viewing room in this memory. Camille walks up to her and lays her head on her mother’s lap for comfort. Adora pushes her away, walks up to the flower arrangements, and destroys them. The flashback ends.
Camille notices that Natalie’s brother, John, is understandably inconsolable, but she is intrigued by his girlfriend sitting next to him. “Who is the Jackie O?” she writes in her notebook, making a point to learn more about her. Adora sees Camille writing and tries to wrestle away the pen from Camille’s hand, humiliated at the thought that someone might see her taking notes. Camille leans over to get her purse, and her dress rips on the side under her arm, revealing numerous scars. She gets up and leaves quickly.
Camille makes her way to the local store to buy some sewing supplies to fix her dress, so she can attend the wake. At the store, she sees her sister, Amma, with her friends pouring some vodka into a Sprite bottle. Amma comes over to Camille and asks to borrow money to pay for the spiked soda. She warns her half-sister and her friends to be careful, because girls her age are going missing. “Not the cool ones,” quips Amma.
Camille drives from the store to the wake and parks her car. Still inside the car, Camille retrieves the pack of sewing needles she just purchased and grabs one. She rolls up the sleeve on one arm, and we can see part of a word carved into her skin long ago. “SCA” is all we see, until she leaves her car to go inside the Keene house. When she closes her car door, we see “SCARED” written over the door handle.
As she enters the house, Camille hears numerous whispers from the Wind Gap residents, all about or directed at her. “Is that really her?!” “…such a bitch…” But it’s difficult to tell if the whispers are real or imagined. She walks over to the table where the liquor is and begins to drink. She hears “Jackie O” – John’s girlfriend – whisper to another person that the Natalie that was described at her funeral by her mother is not the Natalie she knew. And an old friend of Camille’s mentions to her that John’s uncontrollable sobbing at his sister’s funeral is suspect, saying that his sorrow seemed “a bit too much.”
Camille wants to learn as much as she possibly can about Natalie, so she goes to the girl’s bedroom and looks around. The walls are adorned in bright pink, which seems to clash with the bug-print pillowcases and sports equipment lying around. She notices a mason jar containing a spider that Natalie had been keeping as a pet. She takes the jar outside and releases the spider. Natalie’s father sees her, and Camille walks over to him to offer her condolences.
After the wake, Camille drives through town and notices that there are no children playing anywhere. Yard after yard is adorned with empty swing sets and forgotten bicycles. Eventually, she sees some kids playing on a baseball field and decides to pull over to talk to them. One of the kids mentions to her that a local boy, James, saw a “woman in white” take Natalie and believes that she is the one who killed her. (There is local folklore about a “Woman In White” who snatches children in the middle of the night.) When Camille asks why James didn’t report this information to the cops, the boy replied, “He did.”
Camille goes to James’s house and sees him through the living room window. He is by himself watching cartoons, and when Camille asks if his parents are home, he holds up a revolver and replies, “Why? I know how to take care of myself.” Camille asks him about the woman in white that he saw, and James says that he did see Natalie walk toward the woman in the woods and believes that she is the one who kidnapped and killed Natalie. He also said that he told the police but they didn’t seem to take him seriously.
James’s mother is home after all and tells Camille to leave her son alone. She asks the mother about the woman-in-white story, and the mother says she’ll talk, but only for $50. Camille leaves.
Back in town, local police chief Vickery is repairing a stop sign, and Camille confronts him about James’s eyewitness account. Vickery seems dismissive and tells her that he is from a very poor part of town. Camille asks him if eyewitness testimony is dependent on the person’s socioeconomic status. Vickery retorts that James’s mother is a cancer patient (as well as a meth addict, he feels it necessary to point out) who wears white hospital gowns. So perhaps James, who has been known to tell tall tales in school, is referring to his mother when he speaks of a woman in white. Camille says that perhaps his story is true, that someone is wanting to make the “woman in white” story real by playing the part. Vickery says that is absurd and that only a man could have committed these crimes.
At the local bar, Camille runs into Detective Willis and asks him about the woman in white. He also dismisses the story, stating that a man had to have murdered the girls. He bases this on statistics and on the brute strength needed to remove both girls’ full set of teeth. When Camille asks him how he knows how much strength would be required to do that, he admits that he tried it himself on the butchered head of a large pig.
Back at her mother’s house, Camille calls and checks in with her boss Frank and provides him with the latest info she has gathered. She tells him about seeing Natalie’s room and how it didn’t look to her like it would have matched Natalie’s personality. Frank asks her if she got proper permission to see Natalie’s belongings from her parents, not because of legal issues, but because of ethics issues. Camille lies and says Natalie’s mother gave her a tour of the entire house.
Her interview of minor James earlier without a guardian present in the episode was also an ethics breach, and these actions might come back to haunt her in a future episode.
As she sends off her latest report via email to her boss, Camille hears a scream from downstairs. She rushes to the living room and sees Adora holding Amma, who is apparently suffering from some sort of fit. When Camille asks if she will be okay, Adora snidely remarks that she is tired of Camille’s drinking. She also mentions that she wanted to help Natalie, because she reminded her so much of Camille. While Amma is inexplicably suffering from some sort of medical issue (that is never explained) in her arms, Adora seizes the opportunity to hurt Camille.
The episode ends with a distressed Camille in her old bedroom, with the needle from earlier in her hand. She lifts up her shirt and begins to poke and prod her stomach with the sharp object.
I really enjoyed “Dirt” and its change of pace from the series premiere. To see how the entire town of Wind Gap brushes tragedy of all forms under the rug was frightening. In one of the episode’s first scenes, Detective Willis learns from the local barber that when the first victim, Ann, was found in a local creek last year, the townspeople removed all the rocks from the creek, carried them to another location, and smashed them to bits. The barber posited that they thought by getting rid of the things that bore witness to the crime, future tragedy would be prevented or avoided.
This kind of “magical thinking” (that Detective Willis called it) is evident throughout the entire episode: Amma’s stated belief that none of the “cool girls” should be concerned about the killer’s presence in town; Chief Vickery’s dismissal of a potential eyewitness account because it doesn’t fit his preconceived notions of who could be the killer; John’s grief over losing his sister being painted as overreaction or not genuine; and even a lack of explanation for Amma’s sudden fit in the final scenes all play out virtually unquestioned.
Be sure to return next week for a recap of Sharp Objects third episode, “Fix,” which will air on Sunday, July 22, at 9 p.m. EST!