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‘Sharp Objects’ Review: Amy Adams Soars to New Heights in Episode 3, As Camille Stares Down an Angel of Death

The actress' measured rage is extraordinary, while her character's self-doubt is heartbreaking.

Sharp Objects Episode 3 Sydney Sweeney Amy Adams

Sydney Sweeney and Amy Adams in “Sharp Objects”

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Sharp Objects” Episode 3, “Fix.”]

Given the flashy, time-hopping structure of “Sharp Objects,” it’s easy to overlook the range of emotion Amy Adams displays in just one episode. In the series’ third hour, “Fix,” she flirts with “that guy from Kansas City,” conducts a delicate interview with the father of a dead girl, screams into her steering wheel at her mother, apologizes to her mother, worries about her secretive half-sister, and the whole time she’s remembering her tragic stay at a rehabilitation facility in St. Louis — not to mention teetering between buzzed and black-out drunk.

These scenes call on an effortless charm, then an apprehensive fortitude, outright anger, forced humility, contemplative concern, and restrained self-loathing, respectively; Adams is always on point, while Camille is always on the edge of hurting herself. The scars tattooing her body prove as much, and in Episode 3 the motivation becomes clearer. As a child, she lost her sister. As an adult, she lost her close friend in rehab. Now, she’s wrapping herself up in the deaths of two more girls, while her mother constantly chastises her for being crass and uncaring.

Death haunts Camille — quite literally in the episode’s last frame. Hurtling down the highway after a bad experience with Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and the unshakable memory of Alice’s (Sydney Sweeney) death, Camille puts the pedal to the metal and flies down a dark country road. Then she sees her: a young woman in a white gown standing next to a green mile marker for St. Louis. In the moment, Camille reads the sign as “spiteful,” right after she imagines carving the word “fix” into her arm. Is she driving headfirst toward death, or is death following her? Either way, escape isn’t an option.

Sharp Objects Episode 3 - Eliza Scanlen

Eliza Scanlen in “Sharp Objects”

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

It would be easy for an actress to constantly push Camille beyond her limits, to lean on her drinking as a crutch for uncouth behavior and wild mood swings. Instead, Adams remains honest to each moment. When Camille looks at the nurse with exasperation, pleading for her iPod, you can see the difference between distress and pleading. Camille isn’t put-upon then, as she is later; she’s just silently asking for a personal favor. That’s why when she goes big — like screaming in the car or wailing and writhing as the guards carry her out of Alice’s bathroom — her pain is cutting instead of overwhelming. Where others could’ve gone big and broad throughout the series, numbing the audience with an onslaught of misery in the process, Adams builds her performance with precision in order to penetrate the audience.

In other words, she’s in total control as Camille is spinning out. Most of “Fix” illustrates why the character is disturbed by and drawn to Wind Gap at this moment. She’s trying to understand death, as it relates to her life. Is she to blame for her sister’s death? Is she to blame for her roommate’s? Is she to blame, if not for the girls’ deaths in 2018, then their family’s ongoing hardships? She’s not the killer, but is she a killer?

Yet her questions run even deeper. She’s in a job that demands she confront reality even when she’s drinking to escape it. Whether her trip is healthy or destructive can be seen in the reactions of her editor and his wife, who worry about the reporter from their happy home in St. Louis. Camille’s family life, meanwhile, is no respite, not when Adora (Patricia Clarkson) is ready to undermine her at every turn. Be it for making her own breakfast or doing her job, Adora is ready to correct and coddle her daughter simultaneously. She’s berating her into submission, but Camille won’t submit.

Adams understands each of these aspects, and evokes them quickly and thoroughly. Whether it’s a quick flash to her inner thoughts spelled out in cuts and highway signs, or a steady deconstruction of a woman filled with conviction and doubt, the five-time Oscar nominee is infusing life into her role as called upon. Her efforts may be easy to overlook, but their impact is impossible to forget.

Grade: A-

“Sharp Objects” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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