Warning: Spoilers for Sharp Objects episode 3, “Fix,” ahead.
If there’s one thing Gillian Flynn is wont to do, it’s to flip the typical gender narrative. You think men are the only ones who get to be bad? Well, you must not have read any of her work. You think women can’t be cunning, manipulative, and violent? Get a load of Gone Girl. You think the men run the conservative town of Wind Gap, while the women sit around and gossip? You won’t after watching episode three of Sharp Objects.
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At first, it looks like everything in Wind Gap will play the way we expect. Toxic masculinity is alive and well in Chief Vickery (Matt Craven), who seems to be sure our killer is some male trucker or “Mexican” who rolled in from out of town and declares the interloping detective (Chris Messina) “talks like a woman from Wind Gap.” Not to mention that the entire county is ready to blame John Keene (Taylor John Smith), the sensitive brother of one of the victims, for the murder of Ann and Natalie because he outwardly grieves her death, “crying all over town.”
But as the episode progresses, the Rockwell painting begins to smear. In one corner you have Adora (Patricia Clarkson), who tends to her rose garden in heels and a pristine Sunday dress, who makes enough house calls with the Chief that her maid knows his “regular” drink order. Her slaughterhouse is responsible for the majority of the town’s employment, and with that comes control. And in the end, it’s all about control in Wind Gap.
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Despite her traditionally feminine appearance, it’s becoming apparent that Adora decides who speaks in Wind Gap and to whom. When she interrupts Camille’s (Amy Adams) interview with Ann Nash’s father, she takes away his voice and power in the situation, not to mention her daughter’s. When Adora’s husband suggests he stay the night with her when she seems distraught, she bats him away with a dismissive, “I don’t think that will be necessary.” Iconic.
Adora’s not the only woman in Wind Gap who uses a Stepford Wife persona as armor. Ashley Wheeler () is meant to set the audience on edge as she sits dutifully next to John, her grieving boyfriend, during his interview with Camille. Dressed in her cheerleading uniform, despite school being out for the summer, she brings iced tea and acts more like a wife than a girlfriend, hand perpetually on his leg as she reshapes his answers to fit a more polite narrative. When he begins to lay into the town of Wind Gap and looks like he’s going to reveal something less than positive about Ann Nash, she cuts him off, reminding Camille and John that he has “a lot of sorrow in his heart” for the other dead little girl. The interview does not progress much after that. There’s a level of delusion to Ashley, and also a sinister undercurrent of manipulation. Camille, our stand-in during her interviews, was rattled by the display.
However, there’s no-one more unsettling or open about their power as Amma (), confident she’s taking both Camille and Adora for a ride. When Adora finds her in her teenage short skirt get-up, she calls it “playing dress-up” and neither the audience nor Camille can be sure which of the many versions of her is real. Is she the naive little sister (probably not), the popular girl with a mean streak, or something more malevolent? One thing is for sure: She has Adora and the rest of the town wrapped around her finger. She’s confident enough to roll up on a detective and her older sister past curfew and drunk, to harass them, unafraid of any consequence. Earlier in the episode she tells Camille that her best friends love her and would do anything she tells them. It sounds like a threat.
The only female lead who seems to lack control at the moment is Camille, whose outward appearance and actions don’t seem to hide much of her true motive or persona. This is just one of the many attributes that make her an outsider in Wind Gap. Adora calls her dangerous, but as her flashbacks to her time in some kind of institution and the scarring on her body suggest, the biggest danger Camille poses is to herself. She may need to take a page out of the Wind Gap women’s book to get anywhere in this town—or her own investigation.
Sharp Objects airs on Sundays at 9 P.M. EST on HBO.