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‘Sharp Objects’ Is a Master Class in Weaponizing Southern Manners — 6 ‘Nice’ Lines That Cut to the Bone

"Bless your heart. Bless your heart very much."

Amy Adams Sharp Objects Episode 4 Ripe

Amy Adams in “Sharp Objects”

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Sharp Objects” Episode 4, “Ripe.”]

“Sharp Objects” waited until its second episode to define its local flavor. When Camille (Amy Adams) runs into Detective Richard Willis in the local dive bar, the Kansas City cop asks the born-and-raised reporter to help him understand the small town culture.

“Educate me about Wind Gap,” Richard says. “Because, I’ll be honest with you, I can’t quite get a handle on it.” Camille takes a beat, but her summation is fast and pointed.

“If someone says ‘bless your heart’ what they really mean is ‘fuck you.'”

The scene continues, and Gillian Flynn’s well-chosen words dance through other characters and color in various backgrounds — not to mention distract from a valuable point about the killer — but it ends with those words. Camille jokingly calls Richard a “sick fuck” and he responds with Wind Gap’s slang for “fuck you.”

This, in essence, is what “Sharp Objects” is built on — a surface that, sans context, looks clean and wholesome, but hides a darkness. With the murders, Wind Gap is being forced to face the darkness, and they’re the catalyst for Camille to take a look inside her own painful past. Yet even when the worst happens and Camille keeps discovering dead bodies of young girls, as she does at the end of Episode 4, “Ripe,” the pleasantries remain.

Thankfully, Flynn and the “Sharp Objects” team have provided the Cryptex for viewers to crack the code. “Ripe” provides a few key examples of passive aggressive sentiments elevated to high art, so below IndieWire has collected the best of the lot and broken down what makes them so effective. Southern hospitality may prevent many Wind Gap residents from bluntly saying what they feel, but the meaning is never lost. In fact, it’s often more powerful.

“I’m certain that occasion will not arise.”

The best example of manners being cleverly contorted into verbal weapons comes early in the fourth episode. When Camille is ready to go have lunch with her mom’s “friends,” she stops in the kitchen and sees her mother isn’t even dressed. Citing the cut on her hand, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) says she’s not coming.

“It’s barely a scratch,” Camille says.

“To you, maybe,” Adora replies.

This jab is subtle enough it may have slipped by unnoticed, but Adora is clearly commenting on Camille’s history with cuts, and Camille knows it. From there, things only escalate quickly. Adora mentions how, without her there, the other women can talk about her, and then sarcastically quips she’ll “luckily” have Camille there to “defend” her.

“I’m certain that occasion will not arise,” Camille says.

What a perfect double entendre. The polite interpretation of “occasion” is that Adora won’t be gossiped about behind her back, but it’s clear Camille wouldn’t defend her if it did — the intended verbal cut.

Sharp Objects Episode 4 Patricia Clarkson Henry Czerny

Patricia Clarkson and Henry Czerny in “Sharp Objects”

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

“I assume you’ll have the usual.”

Long before Alan (Henry Czerny) confronts Adora about her questionable relationship with Sheriff Vickery (Matt Craven), he makes it clear he knows what’s going on between the two old friends.

Looking to speak with Adora about her upcoming party (get ready for next week!), the local cop knocks on the Crelins’ door to be met with resistance. Amma (Eliza Scanlen) doesn’t seem all that excited to see him, and when Alan cautions that Adora is resting, it’s clear by his presence in the doorway that he doesn’t want Vickery coming inside.

Nevertheless, Amma overrides her father, calls her mother, and Vickery is told to wait in the living room. That’s when Alan makes himself known: “I assume you’ll have… the usual,” he says, noting the growing consistency of the sheriff’s visits as well as his butler-like role in serving him.

Later, during Vickery’s visit, Adora confirms their flirtation with the exchange:

Vickery: “That’s what I love about you Adora. You never pull your punches.”
Adora: “Is that the only thing?”

Alan’s pained prowling in the background of his own home is enough to convey his displeasure, but how he stands up to Adora is intriguing; it shows he’s not just her puppet — or, at least, he doesn’t want to be — and hints at fractures within the real-life dollhouse. Intruders are disrupting their perfect home: Adora blames Camille’s presence, but Alan notes it’s not always their daughters. Some things rot from within.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

This line, delivered by Camille’s editor Frank (Miguel Sandoval), isn’t an attack, but it is polite discourse with a double meaning. As Camille recounts what’s happening in Wind Gap, it’s revealed that Frank talking to her while working on the house or sneaking in an extra drink; he’s receiving chemotherapy. So when she says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” his response — “Unless it kills you” — isn’t as much of a warning for Camille’s delicate mental state as it is a direct reference to what he’s injecting into his veins. Chemotherapy isn’t a cure, it’s a treatment, so Frank could either recover and become stronger or die from what’s already killing him.

Sharp Objects Episode 4 Chris Messina

Chris Messina in “Sharp Objects”

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

“You smell ripe.”

Ripe is typically a good word. If a fruit is ripe, it’s ready to be eaten. It’s at its peak. But there’s no mistaking Adora’s episode title-inspiring comment as a compliment. During the mother-daughter debate, a rare vulnerability creeps into Camille, and it seems for a second like Adora is going to sympathize with her; that the two will connect as they’ve been unable to thus far.

“Now, you come back here, and all I can think is…” Adora says, letting the final verdict linger long enough to inspire hope.

“What? What mama?” Camille asks, with tears in her eyes and sorrow filling her lips.

“You smell ripe,” Adora says — a final, brutal blow that sends her daughter scurrying out of the house.

To be clear, Adora is shaming Camille for having sex; a pleasure that seems not only rare for the young woman, but difficult given her scars. She doesn’t want the detective to see her that way, hence the brief, clothed foray out in the woods, and yet her mother doesn’t see that. She sees an opportunity to make her feel even more awful about herself; to break her down yet again.

On a different day, perhaps in a different world, Camille would’ve come back with…

“Bless your heart. Bless your heart very much.”

And it all comes full circle. The line that started it all — or at least was literally interpreted for the audience — is now an accepted code between Camille and Richard. After their discussion about what happened in the woods years earlier, Camille ends their conversation with a swig of whiskey and the coded “bless your heart.” Even if you didn’t remember the scene from Episode 2, odds are you caught her drift.

Since “Ripe” isn’t the only episode to feature particularly biting charm, please list your favorites from past episodes in the comments. Tune in next week for more Southern-proud passive aggression, and for more on the series, check out this week’s episode of Very Good TV Podcast below.

Grade: A-

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

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