[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Sharp Objects” Episode 5, “Closer.”]
Calhoun Day — a fictional holiday celebrated in a fictional town whose name is shared by a very real Vice President who pushed a very real pro-slavery agenda — sounds just ridiculous enough to be true. As Camille (Amy Adams) recounts to Richard (Chris Messina), the founder of Wind Gap fought for the Confederate Army, but fell in love with a girl from a Union family. When Union soldiers came to “collect’ Calhoun, his pregnant wife, Millie Calhoun, defended him and refused to give away his position…
…even when she was tied to a tree and repeatedly raped, resulting in the loss of their baby. Camille’s description of Calhoun as a “pedophile” is cut from the theatrical rendition of events put on by Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and her classmates, just as Mille’s perspective, experience, and great loss is erased by citizens only celebrating her perseverance. The town folk, led by Adora (Patricia Clarkson), choose only to champion her resistance — a resistance mimicked throughout the South toward many, many things — and if there’s an implicit demonizing of the North, that’s fine, too. They’re choosing which aspects of their dicey history to honor while ignoring how those who’ve been cut from it might feel.
The fifth episode of “Sharp Objects” does little to advance the mystery, but it does a lot to contextualize its characters, their stories, and this town. Calhoun Day is just one of the many factors which makes Wind Gap more representative of a Southern town than a Midwestern one, and a conscious choice to engage with debates relevant to their way of life. The topics in this episode aren’t solely specific to the mystery at play; they’re a thoughtful departure to speak to wider issues, just as the show has been pushing throughout its run.
“My mama says all of history was written by men, so of course they’re gonna make themselves look good,” Amma says in Episode 4.
“History is history, Amma,” her teacher replies. “You can’t change it, you’ve got to learn from it.”
Wind Gap is doing neither. To say this small town represents America as a whole is the kind of “no duh” statement that still needs to be said. Issues of historical erasure aren’t just being brought up by Amma. They’re running rampant across the country. How men shape narratives and reduce women’s roles within them is part of the discussion generated by The Reckoning. More importantly, the world just keeps on ticking even after certain “violations,” as Camille calls what happens to Millie Calhoun, come to light.
A woman lost her baby and was repeatedly raped over a century ago. Multiple children have been killed and brutally dismembered in recent weeks. Wind Gap obliviously celebrates a violent past even while it’s ignoring a violent present. Worse yet, it sees no connection between the two. Wind Gap wants to preserve its traditions even though there are systemic problems stemming from the town’s culture.
In Episode 3, John Keene (Taylor John Smith) blamed the town for losing his sister. In Episode 5, Bob Nash (Will Chase) attacked him. Both men have lost someone close to each other, but during Calhoun Day, it’s the local who lashes out at the outsider. It’s hard to blame him: He’s a grieving father, after all. But Wind Gap has a history of resistance, and while aspects of that resistance are admirable — love, family, inner strength — the town has yet to learn from, or even acknowledge, its past.
It’s worth noting that not only does Camille have to face her past in “Closer,” but her mother and sister do as well. Stripped bare by her thoughtless (or devilishly conniving) mother, Camille emerges from her dressing room covered in scars. When Amma flees and Adora says she’s “ruined — all out of spite,” Camille unleashes every bit of anger that’s been building up within her since she arrived in Wind Gap. She screams, a primal, piercing scream, barely muffled by the dress she draws to her mouth. If she can confront her mistakes and stay on the case — stay in this town — why can’t Wind Gap? It’s not a question of fairness. It’s a question of growth. Camille tells her editor she has to see this through. But the people of Wind Gap refuse to see anything at all.
“Sharp Objects” is streaming now on HBO. New episodes air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.