(This post contains some spoilers from the first episode of “Sharp Objects.”)
In many ways, HBO’s adaptation of “Sharp Objects” — the 2006 debut novel from Gillian Flynn, who rocketed to fame years later with “Gone Girl” — stays very true to the book.
Lots of specific details in the eight-episode miniseries are the same. Camille (Amy Adams), the alcoholic journalist who returns to her Missouri hometown to write about a possible serial killer targeting young girls, tells her editor that she’s “trash, from old money.” Camille’s mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), pulls out her eyelashes when she gets anxious. Camille’s half sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), has a fixation on dollhouses.
But there’s one major difference, at least in the premiere that aired Sunday night: The miniseries takes a much deeper dive into the relationship between Camille and her little sister, Marian (Lulu Wilson), whose untimely death altered the course of Camille’s life.
The series opens with two young girls roller skating home from school, looking blissfully happy — turns out it’s a flashback to the childhood versions of Camille and Marian. The giggle as they take off their skates, throw backpacks over their shoulders, and run into a huge mansion, walking quietly to avoid their mother. Then they go upstairs and see a woman sleeping in bed. Young Camille takes out a paper clip and is about to slice into the woman’s hand . . . and she suddenly wakes up. Viewers quickly learn that the woman is grown-up Camille, who is having a disturbing dream about her younger self.
Although the book mentions the closeness of the sisters, it focuses more on how Camille, the narrator, was affected after Marian’s death as a child. (And, of course, the cause of death; but no spoilers about that here.) However, the multiple TV flashbacks help show just how close they were, which provides more insight about why Camille went into such a spiral after she died.
One flashback shows Marian in bed, looking quite ill, while Camille keeps her company. While chatting about random things, like the cracks in the ceiling, Marian stops breathing — a terrifying moment that sends Camille running to get help. Another scene features Marian lying in Camille’s lap, who is playing with her sister’s hair. Marian starts talking about ghosts and the afterlife, and Camille becomes furious.
“Stop that. That kind of talk is for quitters,” she snaps. “Are you a quitter?”
Marian looks wounded. “I’m not a quitter,” she says. “Why are you mad at me?”
One of the most disturbing scenes of the episode is young Camille at Marian’s funeral. Devastated, she leans over Marian’s coffin; then gets angry, as she tries to wipe the lipstick off her sister’s lips. Her mother and the priest have to pry Camille away from the coffin, and she is dragged out of the room kicking and screaming, knocking over flowers.
The funeral meltdown is one of several Camille-Marian moments that isn’t in the book, and the episode already hinted that the ghost of Marian is still a heavy presence in the house. Moments before grown-up Camille gets the courage to go back into Marian’s bedroom, which still has an IV pole by the bed, she has a somewhat odd conversation with her teenage half sister, Amma.
After telling Camille that their mother keeps Marian’s room as a shrine to her late daughter, Amma admits that she misses Marian, even though she didn’t actually know her.
“Well, Adora talks about her all the time,” Camille points out.
“Was she perfect? She was, wasn’t she?” Amma asks.
“No,” Camille smiles. “But she was close.”
Amma steps forward and gives Camille a big hug. “But now we can be sisters,” she whispers.