Two episodes into its eight-episode run, HBO's Sharp Objects is already one of the most compelling shows on television. Based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, the series follows Amy Adams as Camille Preaker, a reporter based in St. Louis, as she returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the kidnapping and subsequent murder of two local girls.
It's a premise that's similar to a number of crime shows that have found great success in recent years, notably on HBO. Girls have been killed, and someone must find out why, tracing a tangled web that leads them to something deeply wrong in a small forgotten town, and by extension, us. But in Sharp Objects, that doorway leads to a different kind of narrative, one that's interested in something far more interesting: your own head.
Sharp Objects is one of the most beautifully constructed shows on TV. It's the only show I can recall seeing that plays like a novel feels, slipping in and out of a character's dreams and memories from one moment to the next, wordlessly depicting the way thoughts invade waking moments with a will of their own.
A lot of this is thanks to some tremendous editing. Under the direction of Jean-Marc Vallée, editors David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, and Jai M. Vee stitch together scenes where boundaries are permeable and Camille's internal thoughts always threaten to invade our understanding of her external investigation. The movement of a dishcloth can wipe away the present to reveal a moment in the past where a little girl polished a dollhouse, doors open to rooms that don't lie on the other side, and they close on scenes we want to see more of.
You see this most in the show's funerals. This makes sense, given how heavy death hangs over Sharp Objects, and how much death can send us spiraling inwards. In Sharp Objects, it isn't just because the story is precipitated by murder, either. Camille's family is also haunted by the death of her younger sister many years prior, and — as we see in the premiere's shocking final moments — Camille has been profoundly affected by death, turning to self-harm, carving words into her skin at some undisclosed point in her troubled past.
At the funeral for Natalie Keen, the second girl to end up murdered in Wind Gap, Camille slips back and forth between the present affair and the funeral of her sister, the sight of a dead girl in a casket yanking her back to the corpse that has never left her mind, imprinted as painfully as the words on her skin. The cuts follow a sort of dream logic — while most cinema trains you to expect a cut on the action, Sharp Objects cuts in step to Camille's drifting mind.
This mesmerizing pace is bolstered by the show's musical choices. Camille — and by extension, the show — is fond of thick, heavy tracks where melodies unexpectedly break the surface of dark, oppressive soundscapes, like "Tumbling Lights" by The Acid, the show's theme, or "black screen" by LCD Soundsystem, featured heavily in this week's episode, "Dirt." They're the kind of songs you listen to when you want to feel the world surround and swallow you whole. It's fitting for a story about a troubled woman whose traumas we only discover in fits and starts, as she flits in and out of dreams and memories.
As Sharp Objects sinks further into its Deep South murder mystery, deeper into the rage and pain that drives the deceptively monotone Camille Preaker, and entangles us in the petty grievances and homegrown suspicions of Wind Gap, Missouri, beware her dreams and memories. It's far easier to find yourself slipping between them than you think.