SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the “Sharp Objects” finale, which aired Aug. 26 on HBO.
After eight episodes and a deep dive into the psyches and trauma of the population of Wind Gap, Mo., “Sharp Objects” revealed the dark truth about the Crellin women. Adora (Patricia Clarkson) was responsible for her daughter Marian’s (Lulu Wilson) death, effectively poisoning her slowly over time with a concoction of mixed pills, but it was Adora’s youngest daughter Amma (Eliza Scanlen) who was the true murderer of the missing girls.
“To me, Adora is the nurture of the whole town. She’s sort of the keeper of all of the secrets and the person that’s presented this perfection as an ideal, who obviously is really sick,” executive producer Marti Noxon tells Variety. “In that way I feel like she kind of owns the evil, including Amma’s. No matter what Amma did…it all felt as a reaction to Adora.”
Adora’s instability was first tipped off at the beginning of the season, presenting as her being a trichotillomaniac. The seventh episode revealed her to be struggling with a deeper mental illness in Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Her eldest daughter Camille (Amy Adams) was fighting demons of her own, namely self-harm in the form of cutting and alcoholism, and her younger daughter Amma was shown to be troubled with a splintered personality before it was revealed she was a murderer.
While nature or genetics played some part in Camille and Amma’s inner darkness, equally hard for them to fight was the nurture aspect of their upbringing. When Camille tried by refusing her mother’s concoction as a child, her mother turned away from her, and she felt unloved. Amma, by contrast, gave in to her mother’s medication, but still, it wasn’t enough. And in turn, the abused ended up becoming an abuser.
“Amma has split herself into so many different people — she’s such a fractured person — that yes, there’s a part of her that’s so desperate to get control of her life, but also to get her mother’s attention,” Noxon says. “She’s doing something to others that’s been done to her, but it does feel like something she can’t help. It feels like an inevitability, what she ends up being. It doesn’t get her off the hook, but I don’t know that the girl can help it.”
Although one of Noxon’s main goals for the limited series was to “expand the world” of Gillian Flynn’s novel, she knew she had to end the story in the same place as its source material. “If I watched a series based on the book and they changed the ‘who did it,’ that feels like you’re messing with the canon,” she says.
With the “who” of the mystery solved for her and her writers from the beginning, Noxon shares they ended up talking a lot about the “when” of the reveals. Ultimately they decided to go with the two-part reveal, starting with Adora’s disease in the seventh episode, before sending Camille and Amma out of Wind Gap, as in the book, only to pull the rug out from under Camille who learned that her little sister was actually responsible for some of the crimes with which their mother was being charged.
The balance of how much time to spend with Camille and Amma in the aftermath of Adora’s arrest was tricky, Noxon admits, because “we felt like if we took too much time after the resolution of the Amma/Adora/Camille story, people would start to get like, ‘Well why are we here?’ But if you made it too quick, people wouldn’t understand what the hell [was going on].” But she felt it was important to show the after effects of what both women had been through, and admits there was something intriguing about giving Camille and Amma a new beginning of sorts before Camille found the murdered girls’ teeth in her sister’s dollhouse.
“There was also something about the idea that what you might have expected at certain times and gone, ‘No I’m wrong,’ is exactly right,” she admits.
The dollhouse was such a central part of the book, Noxon notes, that she spent a lot of time with director Jean-Marc Vallee and production designer John Paino throughout the season to embrace it as an iconic piece of imagery but not make it too central to tip off its true importance.
“A lot of it was written — her interactions and the way she speaks to it, but also those guys just embraced it and took it even farther,” she says.
Camille’s interactions with the dollhouse in the finale, from her first watching it suspiciously from afar to making her way over to actually confirm her suspicions and handle the tooth, were “very, very specifically scripted,” as well, Noxon admits. Much of the action in this final scene was to pay respect to the way it went down in the book, as well.
However, one thing the book did not have that Noxon felt it was important to add was a glimpse at Amma’s violence. The quick flashbacks, which Noxon calls “the coda to the coda” and which showed her killing the missing-turned-murdered girls of Wind Gap, came in the middle of the credits sequence.
“All of that was a subject of a lot of discussion because we really wanted to add some clarity to the hows of it without opening a Pandora’s Box of too many questions,” Noxon says.
While she admits to toying with putting these flashbacks into the episode proper, ultimately, she didn’t want to “take away from the emotion of Camille in the reveal.”
After all, Noxon points out, Camille at the end of the series is “a much calmer, more centered version of the person we’ve seen in the past,” and her reaction in the moment reflects such growth.
“Some part of her must not be entirely surprised. This is a pretty fractured girl,” Noxon says of Camille. “[But] this story is really about her personal journey, and the things she does are not about getting the story, it’s about getting the truth.”
But since the truth came at the end of the finale of a limited series, it is up to viewers’ imaginations to decide what Camille may do with what she’s learned.
“It is the great emotional quandary at the end of the book: ‘Oh God, just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in,'” Noxon says, but “part of the reason why we really leaned into the relationship with Curry was the idea that there is this world of wellness, and that maybe the fact that she wasn’t crazy about her mother has created a healing in her, and she’ll do the right thing.”