Ripe, the fourth episode of HBO’s miniseries Sharp Objects, may have left many feeling a little jaded this past Sunday evening. With a slow-moving storyline, its understandable why viewers might find it difficult, at this point to swallow the emotional roller coast that is Camille Preaker’s return to her hometown of Wind Gap. However, what most dismiss as unnecessary imagery, overused recollections, and meaningless connotation is all extremely valuable and thoughtful content presented with the sole purpose of bringing us to the end.
Read between the words.
Sharp Objects Recap: Episode 4
Ripe picks up literally off the roadside where Episode Three, Fix, left off. We left our flawed heroine, Camille, having her first actual breakdown since arriving in Wind Gap. The vivid memories of her young rehab roommate committing suicide threaten to ruin the tight grip she has on herself. Still, Camille moves onward pushing through another treacherous day in her loathsome hometown trying to answer the one question that has everyone peeking out from behind closed doors:
Who killed Ann Nash and Natalie Keene?
The episode opens with back-to-back scenes of Detective Willis, Chief Vickery, and Adora waking to the new day, each revealing just a detail or two more about their characters. Willis wants out of Wind Gap even more than Camille does, Vickery is a very average old man, and Adora is as delicate as the flower she thinks she is.
Camille arrives home only to further reminisce on memories of Marian, her mother’s egotistical grief, and ignorance on the day of her birthday. Amma, leader of the mean girls huddled in her room, asks Camille for forgiveness of the poor way she treated her and her “boyfriend”, Detective Willis, the night before. The posse passes around a joint creating slanderous pictures of John Keene. Camille remains detached, yet intrigued.
Adora, suffering over the wound a simple thorn prick could cause, declines meeting her own friends with Camille for brunch. Like any good reporter, Camille meets with the head hens of Wind Gap regardless, well aware of the opportunity she has to pry information from the women. Although no time is specified, context clues point to it being a morning hour, the women have their long-stemmed glasses full and are more than happy to spill the latest gossip all over the table. Jackie and the others blabber about everything from who they think the murderer in Wind Gap is, coming up with speculations all on their own, to what type of bra certain women in town should wear.
The true martyr of this episode seems to be John Keene. He visits his family home to take care of his debilitated mother who’s been hitting the bottle harder than Camille, understandably. Vickery follows him around town like a long, dark shadow, the people in town spread their poisonous opinions of his potential role in his own sister’s death, and Amma’s crew bully him the only way 13-year old girls know how to, with nasty pictures. On top of all Wind Gap’s negativity, John is let go from his job at Preaker Farms. He claims his spot on the list of the town’s pitiful pariahs. Even Ashley shallowly tries to tempt him sexually, but he storms out on her.
The local teens are practicing putting on a play on the history of Wind Gap in preparation for Calhoun Day, an annual celebration the town puts on to commemorate its abysmal place in the greater part of modern society. Amma, who is either a true feminist or is playing a great game at pretending to be one, tries to rewrite history by adding in her own dialogue of an all female militia. The chaperone, Mr. Lacey, is nonplussed by her shenanigans and exits for a quick smoke break. Amma, clearly seeking his attention, follows along to justify her opposing take on history. Obviously something happened between the two of them, or something is about to as he disregards her subtle advances pretty quickly.
Camille catches a tender, heartfelt moment between Amma and Adora reminding her of how she could never get close to her mother like that. A painful reminder of the distance between them, the sting of unwanted jealousy, and a slight pang of fear.
“.. the sting of unwanted jealousy, and a slight pang of fear.”
Later on, she meets with Willis out by the lake, holding him up on the second of those three questions he promised her in return for mapping out the local hot spots. We are indulged with more detail in his life and source of empathy as a novice animal shelter volunteer wanting to seek justice for the animals that are abused (which obviously makes him an all-around saint of a man, right?). They discuss town conformity and the length people will go to avoid being treated like an outcast as well as the murders. Willis comments that the act of pulling out the girls’ teeth gives the perpetrator power, a power equal to rape.
Camille and Willis reach the creepy sex shed in the forest complete with Polaroids of women being debased, nude, and raped. An odd environment for a hangout spot, but a place known to be one where the two girls used to play. Willis believes he is close to figuring out the identity of the murderer. He remarks that someone in town knows something because people are getting nervous. He continues to attempt prying more information from Camille about her past as she fights off what can only be a bad memory she has of boys approaching her in the woods. Willis then attempts something bolder by kissing her. Though she refuses, Camille takes charge by guiding his hand to the real part of her body she desires him to touch.
Vickery visits the Crellin home to speak with Adora, Alan clearly ticked at his presence and Amma equally as vindictive. Alan flashes a bite mark on his hand before leaving Vickery and Adora to talk alone, a curious blemish raising red flags everywhere. Vickery urges Adora to cancel the celebration of Calhoun Day as the town murderer has yet to be caught. Adora, very unhappy with his request politely threatens him in return, claiming to have the power to have him removed as chief in the town. In a town where women are considered to have no authority, Adora holds all of the cards. As a way to ignore that topic, Vickery tells Adora that between Camille and Amma “one is in danger and the other is dangerous” while Alan silently watches them through the door crack.
Camille arrives home to Adora remaining alone in the dark. As if she is unable to hold a mouthful of water, Adora blurts out how Camille was always so willful and never sweet. She tells her that when she was a little girl she wanted to put her hair up in curlers and instead Camille cut her hair off. Camille attempts to correct her, knowing that was actually a story Bob Nash told her about Ann, but Adora carries on in traditional dramatic fashion. She describes Camille’s willfulness as a way to punish Adora for being born.
Alan and Adora have an awkward disagreement, Alan wondering how she has no compassion for him, but can talk to Vickery all night. Adora, somehow turns the blame on Camille leaving Alan to end the argument with no fight left in him against her. Adora turns to her medicine cabinet and picks a poison of her own, one of the very few traits she shares with Camille.
Vickery visits Jackie O’Neill to ask her about what Adora isn’t saying about Camille, but she gives him nothing. Simple. Bless his heart.
John and Camille both wind up at the local bar. He asks her if she ever got over loosing a sister, but she says hasn’t. They drink together, discussing Natalie and he tells her about how she was angry at a girl for stealing her pencil in school so she took it back and stuck it in her eye. Talk about willful. They conclude that they’re all weirdos, John, Camille, Natalie, and Ann Nash. John then comments that Ann and Natalie would sometimes fight and that Amma was the only one who was able to keep them from tearing each other apart. Camille had no idea her strange younger sister even knew them. She races home to confront her about this revelation, but Amma is not there.
Ripe ends with a dizzy montage of flowing scenes including previously shown memories, Alan entering Adora’s bedroom, Amma and her friends rollerblading by the dashboard light, the grim premonition Camille has of her finding Amma dead like the girls in the sex shed. It all ends with Amma stopping in the road with the headlights of the car shining on her doe-like, but mischievous eyes.
Though filled with scenes jumping from one character to the next, it was easy to see the common theme in Ripe. The women in town seem to be taking control back from the men in it. That, or they’ve always had it to begin with.
It’s no secret that Amma rollerskates circles around the town, that Camille was the “hot ticket”, and that Adora calls the shots as far as social niceties in Wind Gap. Amma makes a shockingly mature comment on men being the ones to write history, so they would obviously write it to make themselves look good. It’s a bold statement made by such a young girl who has only used her feminine characteristics to wreak havoc. It proves there is more depth to Amma and how skewed point of view can be depending on the author of any story. In a way, Wind Gap is still representative of that historical thinking, aside from the central female characters we’re given in Sharp Objects.
Ashley attempts to use her sexual prowess to keep John wrapped around her finger, but the young debutante wannabe has so much left to learn. On the surface it seems like these older women in town get what they want by using their looks and bodies to sway the opinions and thoughts of others, but what they weaponize is so much more complex that the men around them don’t even realize its being utilized: their brains.
“These women are smart, cunning, sly, willful, and calculating.”
These women are smart, cunning, sly, willful, and calculating. When we were introduced to Wind Gap, its not hard to see a town with ideals stuck very much in the past. Women are depicted as homemakers, belittled wives, weak whimsical thinkers, and choice sexual objects here on this planet to serve man at the table and in the bedroom. What is surprisingly unfolding, (slowly I might add,) is the hidden side to these women and how they are truly the ones that run the town.
Camille’s refusal and then immediate control over Willis, although sexual in nature, is a maneuver displaying dominance over her own body. Her self harm channels the struggle to control what goes on around her, so by refusing a man the advantage of romancing her, and then physically manipulating him to her own sexual benefit is a very willful tactic. Adora’s total rejection of Alan and his feelings, as well as her threats against Vickery put her at the top of the food chain as a territorial being. She can manipulate attention, influence those around her to conform to her mood, and lay down the law in Wind Gap. Even Jackie is able to stand firm against Vickery when he tries to intimidate information from her. Somehow the men believe they are superior, all the while the women whisper and speculate and plan and lure and compel all behind sweet smiles.
Like poor naive Ashley thinks, anyone can use sex as a persuasive behavior. Higher thinking without the return of a favor, however, is a more discrete and profitable approach to being truly in control, a quality Amma, Adora, and Camille have mastered.
In Wind Gap, superficial power is built off of traditional ideals, measured popularity, and conformed community standards. Real power is complex, nuanced, and hidden within the narrow cracks of a seemingly harmless appearance.
Now, I know I can look at each episode and analyze the story to pieces, but coming from an audience’s standpoint I can understand the frustration. Sharp Objects, Ripe in particular, is saturated in expository material. Those who are less likely to dissect dialogue or summon meaning from a specific angle are more than likely to be bored at this miniseries midpoint. Hopefully, most viewers show up next week as the preview shows more movement within the plot as Calhoun Day approaches. My hope is that this mid-lull period finally sets into bloom as there is still so much more to be told.
“This episode can liken itself to that stagnant stage of ripening a fruit goes through before it can be eaten. Not yet sweet enough to enjoy, but ready for picking all the same. Ripe is necessary development.”
There is always an off episode in a show or a miniseries acting as a necessary filler. Ripe shouldn’t cause viewers to lose interest too soon as it was an episode purely made for exposition, it’s purpose to set up the last half of this mysterious story. It could be seen as a pointless episode we could live without as far as Sharp Objects goes for many viewers, but they should be sure to keep in mind that the flaws we ignore can sometimes be far more important and powerful than we thought…
Be sure to tune in on Sunday as Camille nears the truths she’s been seeking out in Sharper Object’s fifth episode, Closer, only on HBO.