Sharp Objects mental health check in: Falling

Episode 7, debut 8/19/18: Amy Anne Marie Fox/HBO. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Episode 7, debut 8/19/18: Amy Anne Marie Fox/HBO. Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Wind Gap reveals itself to be the real villain of Sharp Objects.

Hello there. Are you watching Sharp Objects on HBO? Are you curious to learn more about mental health and addiction? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Sharp Objects will delve into some serious territory when it comes to women and mental health issues. As a therapist focusing on substance abuse treatment for over a decade, my hope is to sherpa us all through this limited series by providing some real-life context for the disorders and behaviors seen on screen. Ready to dive in? Let’s go. This week, our focus is on Munchausen’s by proxy and toxic secrets. 

Hoo boy. After six episodes of slow and pensive character development, Sharp Objects really kicked us in the teeth with some pitch dark plot twists. Sure, we all knew that Adora (Patricia Clarkson) was a devil mom, but the actual reveal of her delusional actions (and associated mental health disorder) was horrifying. The truth was out there all along, but no one in Wind Gap was able or willing to confront it. So more children died. And here we are. In a car with Amy Adams having a freak out panic attack to end all freak out panic attacks.

One thing’s for certain – we’re in for one hell of a finale.

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To be completely fair, it hasn’t been established beyond a shadow of a doubt that Adora is guilty of killing Ann and Natalie, but she is most definitely guilty of slowly poisoning her daughter Marion to death two decades ago. The show does a great job of establishing that Adora suffers from something called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) via exposition from a harried nurse (Cristine Rose) at a methadone clinic.

(Side Note: I’m not in love with the way the methadone clinic was portrayed here. We’re in the midst of an opiate crisis in this country, people, and helpful medication assisted therapies such as methadone and Suboxone have a bad rap as it is. I’ve worked at a couple methadone clinics throughout my career, and they’re not full of slobbering, half-sentient patients with disheveled children lolled over their laps. They’re places for people to go in order to get much-needed help, and media portrayal shouldn’t continue to reinforce these negative and harmful stereotypes. End of rant.)

SHARP OBJECTS — photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO — Acquired via HBO Media Relations
SHARP OBJECTS — photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO — Acquired via HBO Media Relations /

MSBP is a disorder that has been covered in pop culture before. Remember the little girl who led Haley Joel Osment to the tape of her mom poisoning her in The Sixth Sense? (Memory refresher here.) Adora is very obviously doing the same exact thing. Only she’s not having any of this generic household cleaner stuff. Nope. She’s going to town and mixing up bespoke batches of poison for her kiddos. Many people who suffer from MSBP have had childhoods with withholding or abusive parents, which does apply to Adora. But she certainly doesn’t get a pass for childhood trauma here. No way. Once she KILLED HER CHILD, that may have been a warning sign for her to seek out help.

Yet, the thing is that no one in Wind Gap ever seeks help for their maladaptive behaviors, or even calls out their neighbors when they see something amiss. There has been evidence of this collective behavior in previous episodes, but the show has been steadily building upon the idea that the shared consciousness of a town can become toxic. This week we heard a quick exchange between Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) and Chief Vickery (Matt Craven) in which they both agree that “pretending it doesn’t exist” is the best way to move through their world. When an entire community – including the ACTUAL CHIEF OF POLICE – turns the other way when problems arise, it’s bound to beget more problems. And while we don’t exactly know who the killer is quite yet, we can go ahead and place the blame squarely on Wind Gap itself. In Sharp Objects, Wind Gap itself is the one villain to rule them all.

With residents that turn a blind eye to evil and murders aplenty, Wind Gap is a town that could have been pulled directly out of a Stephen King novel, but it’s a type that certainly exists in the real world. In small, close knit towns, sometimes people don’t want to confront negative things, so they bottle all those secrets up inside instead. Then, those secrets serve to eat people away from the inside out. Just. Like. Poison. What a shocker.

SHARP OBJECTS — photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO — Acquired via HBO Media Relations
SHARP OBJECTS — photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO — Acquired via HBO Media Relations /

Wind Gap operates much in the way a dysfunctional family does: Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel. Anyone caught openly emoting – like poor John Keene – is suspect, and anyone who tries to point out danger – aka: nurse Beverly – is quickly discredited and silenced. Just like Camille, the town chugs forward on a steady diet of mean-spirited gossip, pills, and alcohol.

Camille is certainly a product of Wind Gap. With an upbringing so focused on hiding the unpleasant, it’s no wonder she never sought out the help she deserved, instead finding it in the most inappropriate places. The encounter between Camille and John Keene (Taylor John Smith) initially seems very touching and sweet, given that the two understand what it’s like to feel unspoken pain and want to connect in a genuine way. Even their sexual connection is organic and understandable. That is, until the cops come barging in and they snap back to reality. The reporter on the case sleeping with the prime suspect? Who also happens to be eighteen years old? Bad choices all around, Camille.

The social poison that was planted in her long ago has completely eroded Camille’s life due to her consistent and conflicting desires to express who she really is, but keep it all inside at the same time. When Richard (Chris Messina) surveys the hotel room, he disdainfully says to Camille, “One bad thing happened and you blame the rest of your life on it.” To Richard – a man who only sees Camille as a tortured woman from a lovely, privileged upbringing – it makes sense, but what he doesn’t take into account is the pervasive nature of Wind Gap’s collective toxic secret keeping.

Yet, Richard does provide Camille with a key to opening at least one door of painful realization. Emotionally drained, she slides into her car and sees a folder of information that Richard has left for her. Shocked by what she finds – a ream of documents showing that Jackie attempted to get Marion’s medical records time and time again – she heads over to Jackie’s house to obtain the truth.

When Camille sits down and confronts Jackie about Marion’s death, the poison metaphor is called upon yet again by Ms. Jackie herself. She’s got a tall Bloody Mary in front of her, and she unravels a story about why drinking a bad drink is preferable to telling the truth or refusing to partake. It’s easier to just shut up and be polite. But then the drink doesn’t sit quite right, eating away at the insides, and causing untold internal pain. The Wind Gap curse is at it again, folks.

A popular saying in 12-step meetings goes, “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” Wind Gap lives by no such maxim. The town’s secretive ways have allowed Adora to continue to move through her life with zero consequence. Her controlled demeanor and insistence that everything even remotely unpleasant is salacious exemplifies the beating heart of the town. Will she face consequences for her actions or will the poison take down everyone in a karmic chain reaction?

Next. Sharp Objects Mental Health Check In: Cherry. dark

Please Note: If you feel as if you need to reach out after watching a triggering event on TV, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline at 1-877-SAMHSA7. If you or someone you know are in immediate crisis, do not hesitate to call 911.

‘Sharp Objects’ airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO.