Sharp Objects blunted by twist ending

This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen HBO’s Sharp Objects, you’re in for a treat, go watch it. Then come back and read.

 

Sharp Objects is a show you have to pay attention to. It’s smart, and subtle, and you can miss entire plot points if you look away for even a few seconds. What I loved so much about Sharp Objects wasn’t the story as much as how it was told. That is, the story was shown, rather than told. You pick up clues, make inferences, put together implications and build for yourself the picture of what’s going on. It is supremely satisfying to be treated like an intelligent, observant, perceptive viewer.

And that’s why the ‘twist’ ending was such a shock to me. Not because the the actual revelation that Amma was a killer was a shock, there was enough hints and cues and clues throughout this very thoughtful and subtle show to put it together–if we’d been given the chance. The shock was that a show this subtle and evocative felt the need for something as trite as a twist ending at all. I expected a show like Sharp objects to leave me thinking, puzzling, wondering, with as many questions as answers.

Instead Sharp Objects ended like a teen slasher movie with the best buddy who you think has been helping the whole time suddenly baring fangs or pulling out a knife. Oh no, what a twist. Amma may as well have stepped into frame covered in blood and holding a handful of teeth.

At the very least if they’d cut it with Camille finding the tooth in the dollhouse (which had the nice out of focus shot of the doll sitting limp in the window to remind you of the original murder scene), you’d have a moment to think about it for yourself. You might think: ‘why would Amma have teeth… did she take them from her mother… or…’ then your mind rolls back over the show, you make connections, you get that ‘oh, god…’ moment. It’s satisfying to be shown instead of told the answer.

But we get it rubbed in our face by Amma showing up like a ghost who lost their jump scare violins ‘Don’t tell mama!’ And if that wasn’t enough, we have the post-credit scene to really hammer it home for any dummies in the audience who didn’t catch on. It left a disappointing taste in my mouth after such a monumentally impressive show.

All this leaves aside the question of why we need twist endings anyway. I know Sharp Objects was based on a novel, so to leave out the twist would have been a disservice to the author and fans. But why does a good show or movie need a twist at all? Why do so many authors and directors feel obligated to include one? Wasn’t it surprising enough that Camille’s own mother was the killer without having to flip everything on its head in the last seconds of the entire show?

Sharp Objects was about so much more than just who killed those girls. In fact, while watching it I was hardly ever concerned with that question. I wanted to know about Camille’s history, her family, her past and future. And I got to learn all that and more. That is what got me excited while watching Sharp Objects. Ending on a goofy twist that puts all the focus on the ‘who dunnit’ aspect seems like a major disservice.

Anyone who stuck with this show to the end is not going to be afraid of subtlety and ambiguity. Those aspects were the hallmarks of this exceedingly sharp show. It’s a shame it had to end in such a blunt way.

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My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk

I love reading about artists. I can usually identify with those kinds of characters pretty well. This story was an interesting look at the ‘miniaturists’ of 16th century Istanbul. And what held my attention most, was the way they looked at art.

In that time, ‘style’ was seen as a flaw. If anyone could tell your work from that of any other artist, that meant that you were making mistakes. All this is surrounded by a murder mystery, where trying to find out who drew a certain picture is central to the plot…

I also found the connection between art and religion interesting. The miniaturist (painter/drawer) saw himself as trying to depict the ‘essence’ of whatever he drew. For instance, if he drew a horse, he was not trying to draw any particular horse from reality, but the purest form of ‘horse’ that existed, as if the horse that God saw. After drawing a horse a million times, the artist could draw it from memory, using only his minds eye, even if blind… some of the miniaturists would even blind themselves on purpose, to keep their art from being distracted by the outside world…

An interesting and exciting and educational read.

Mystery on the side

I’m listening to another Nabokov novel, and no surprise, it’s great. This one is about a struggling businessman who also seems a bit mentally unstable, running across a vagrant who happens to look exactly like him.

The instant he sees this face, a plan sparks in his mind. You can tell, but, you don’t know what that plan is… and that is the mystery. Not how he is going to do something (he’s going to do it by using a look-alike in some way) but what he is going to do.

Since it’s Nabokov, I automatically suspect that this guy is way less smart than he thinks he is, and also that there is a lot going on between the lines. I’ve not yet discovered much, but it is fun searching for it.

Mind Hunter

I finished this disturbing series on Netflix recently, and for anyone interested in crime or serial killers, this is a must-watch.

What stuck with me most, though was how they so expertly build up the uneasy anxiety when in the room with these killers. Even though (or perhaps, because) the interviewees speak and act for the most part like normal human beings, there is a tensity, and sense of needing to get the hell out of there is so strong in each of the interviews, that I found myself leaning forward in my seat and clenching my hands. The effect is memorable and unsettling.

I don’t know if it was a movie magic effect, or just my own perceptions, or something somehow conjured by the actor–but Edmund Kemper’s eyes are so dead and empty. And when that emptiness is juxtaposed with the jovial and friendly way that he speaks about murder and rape… the result is sickeningly effective.

The final scene of the final episode really magnifies what I’m talking about…

A great show, recommended!

The Looking Glass War, by John le Carre

The Looking Glass War , the second le Carre novel I’ve read, was much different from  The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It was about a completely other department, in fact, called ‘the department.’ The department doesn’t usually send spies out into action, but they think, hey, why shouldn’t we do that too? And a huge mess follows.

That is pretty much the book in a nutshell: people who really shouldn’t be doing a thing, trying to do it and screwing up royally. But the way he writes it is so subtle and expert that it is just fascinating. The characters are so well drawn, that you just KNOW people like that in real life. The arrogance, the flippancy, the disregard for people with better knowledge and experience, the hubris. So many times I put my hand over my face and said ‘you idiot.’

But it is not a caricature, or overdone, or a straw-man. I went back and forth the whole book thinking ‘wait, maybe they know what they’re doing?’

This whole novel seems to be a foil for his other characters, to make them look even more competent. Well, it worked.

My only complaint is that reading about incompetence is much less intriguing than competence. But, this was a great read nonetheless!

Spies

I started The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels) which is my first Lecarre novel. It took me a bit to get into it, but now it is interesting. The character, Leamas, Is pretending to be a drunken failure (at least I’m pretty sure he’s pretending) and is currently working at a library as an assistant, and annoying the heck out of the librarian. I think the idea is for him to become an exile, and be looked down on by all his fellow agents enough that he is approached by the other side to try and turn him… I think. Anyway, its fun, and something you have to think about a bit which is always good. Hope it continues that way!

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley did not end the way I expected, though, if I’d noticed that it was part of a series maybe I would have guessed.

I really enjoyed this book. The protagonist, Tom, is a disgusting creature, but consistently interesting. He, like any good villain, does not realize what he’s doing is wrong, he has perfect justifications for it and only the mildest bit of guilt.

I also liked his constant paranoia about being caught. He’s sure he’s messed up somehow, or forgotten something, or that people will see through his lies. That part makes him likeable enough to keep reading through the terrible things he does. His relief and surprise at constantly not being found out is identifiable, as well as the bit of arrogance and self satisfaction that comes along with it.

The end, though, as far as story structure goes, seems a bit of an anticlimax. He does so much stuff that all builds up to… him not being caught. I was expecting him to come crashing down and get captured, or at least be found out and have to flee. But everything goes exactly as he planned in the end and he escapes with the treasure, so to speak, and no harm to him at all.

I’m somewhat curious about the other books in the series, just to see if there is some kind of arc other than him becoming a soulless killer with no consequences.

Enjoyable book, though!