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Monday
Jul092018

Sharp Objects: Episode 1 "Vanish" 

By Spencer Coile 

It’d be easy for audiences to tune into Sharp Objects with considerably high expectations. It stars two Oscar nominated actresses, Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, and is the latest prestige piece of television from director Jean-Marc Vallée. He's coming off of a fantastic year winning both the DGA and the Emmy for directing HBO’s 2017 phenomenon Big Little Lies. Add in source material from Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn, and we have ourselves an unsettling summer series to watch, which will test our patience between each episode. 

Despite the director and an acclaimed female cast, the first episode, “Vanish” introduces a story and a leading lady who are so detached, so cut off from reality, that it already feels useless to compare it to the ripe emotions of Big Little Lies.

“Vanish” opens with two girls flying through the town of Wind Gap on roller skates. They pass by notable landmarks of their Missouri hometown before finally arriving at a decadent Victorian house. They sneak in, climb up the stairs, and find a woman sleeping in bed. One of the girls takes a paper-clip and attempts to jab the sleeping woman with it. The woman wakes. It’s Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), awoken by her own dream of her younger self stabbing her. 

A reporter for the St. Louis Chronicle, Camille is given an assignment by her editor: to return to her hometown to report on the recent disappearance of a young girl – a disappearance that may coincide with the murder of another girl a year before. Battling demons of her own, Camille packs up travel-sized bottles of vodka, candy, and cigarettes and sets off to confront her troubled past.

At just an hour, “Vanish” is packed full of intersecting storylines – a map for figuring out the whereabouts of the missing girl. As Camille starts her investigation into the disappearance, we are introduced to a slew of characters, some from Camille’s adolescence, some new to her. Among them are Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins), the loud yet tragic debutante – who, rather than join the search party, has provided refreshments on the outside of the woods, Richard Willis (Chris Messina), a detective from Kansas City who was assigned to the case, and Camille’s half-sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen) all grown-up to the point that Camille does not even recognize her in their first interactions. 

And then there is Camille’s mother, Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson).

Early on in the episode, Camille explains that the people of Wind Gap come from either “old money or trash,” and Adora must be the oldest money of all. Living in the elegant house from the first scene, she dons beautiful white gowns and carries around amaretto sours with the elegance of a queen. She and Camille do not have a loving relationship – if anything, it's prickly. Adora is rife with insecurities (one crucial moment depicts her screaming at Camille that anything she does in Wind Gap is a reflection on her personally) and Clarkson shades her big moments with genuine fear and disappointment for her daughter. Clearly, there is a darkness to Adora that has only begun to surface. 

That darkness, though, manifests itself primarily in Camille who numbs the pain with alcohol and a detachment from her surroundings. When interacting with her editor, her mother,... with anyone, she is either deeply sarcastic or so stoic that others cannot read her. Amy Adams has a deep understanding for the sadness that swamps and burdens Camille. There is a reserve to Adams’ performance that will surely be broken down as the series progresses. 

SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T YET WATCHED...

“Vanish” answers one crucial question that other shows would save for later. The missing girl, Natalie Keene is found dead in the middle of town near the end of the episode. One puzzle piece to the mystery is already answered. Intriguingly, the episode does not end with this revelationas cliffhanger. It ends instead with Camille stripping down to take a bath. As she submerges herself, the physical manifestation of her grief is brought to light. Her body is covered with the scars of words she has written into her own flesh; notably the word "vanish." It’s an evocative final shot – leaving us to not only question the case Camille is covering, but Camille herself. 

There are so many tiny moments in “Vanish" that  add up to an exquisite slow burn of a first episode. What’s the deal with the iPod Camille uses to play her music? Does the doll house represent the artificiality of Adora’s home and her relationship with Amma and Camille. What else is bubbling beneath the surface? 

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Reader Comments (9)

Very promising start, Amy Adams was superb of course.
Read the book a few years ago, excited to see more of Elizabeth Perkins


With this and Dietland (and Unreal too, though it never found that s1 brilliance again) Marti Noxon is having quite a year!

July 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTiago

I very much enjoyed the pilot and didn't mind its pace, great performances especially amy and patricia, fantastic editing and soundtrack.

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterArghavan

Love the slow burn. Adams is warming up that Oscar trail with serious Emmy bait.

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

It did not work for me. Too heavy on mood and not very cohesive. Amy Adams seems miscast and the actors mostly feel stilted and awkward. Hopefully it gets better.

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJono

I love the premiere. It's so different than BLL though, but still as engrossing! Amy is acting up a storm and I can't wait to see more from Patricia.

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSTFU

Nodded along to the Adams/Clarkson casting because they're pretty obvious for this type of project. Elizabeth Perkins, though—thank god someone put her in this!

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

The setup is quite hackneyed and some of the peripheral performances are iffy. But I can tell from this first episode that the series' power will come from the pairing of Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson. Patty, who doesn't have much to do in the first episode, makes full use of her minimal screen time. Adams is quite good although her accent is shaky.

Overall, good enough to make me want to see more but I can easily see myself losing interest if it doesn't pull me in with the second episode.

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

Loved the first episode. The edits from past to present were done so skillfully and I loved the quiet depths to Amy Adams' performance. I get the comparisons to Big Little Lies, same director, big name actress coming to television but to compare these shows is kind of annoying. Big Little Lies the book was rather light and frothy and considered a beach read by many. The show was able to get much more meaning out of the book thanks to the acting, direction, and writing and it dealt with the various serious theme of spousal abuse in very intelligent ways. Sharp Objects is a dark book (as my sister said to me when I started reading the book, Gone Girl is a romantic comedy compared to Sharp Objects) so the show is bound to go into some very uncomfortable places. The setting of this story and the content is just so different that I think it does a disservice to do too many comparisons. I would say enjoy this dark and what is sure to be disturbing ride and yes Amy is going to win all the television acting awards and it can only help her Oscar buzz for Backseat.

July 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRLH

@RLH - Agreed on everything you said! I'm really weary of everyone comparing a new thing to a successful thing, when they're VERY DIFFERENT.

Super happy to see Elizabeth Perkins again. I didn't read the book but I hope her character has something to do.

July 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

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