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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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!

Manipulators

I’ve begun reading The Talented Mr. Ripley and am finding the character, Tom, very interesting in a ‘look at that crime scene’ kind of way. I only vaguely remember the movie, but so far the story of the novel is about a small time con artist, and very charming man Tom Ripley being sent to Europe by the father of a friend of his, in order to convince that friend to come home to America and be with his ill mother. Tom, who barely remembers this friend, is able to somehow steer the conversation in such a way that his expenses and ticket are paid for by the father.

So far, Tom has been working his way into the friend, Dicky’s, life, and watching him do it is very entertaining. Something about manipulative people is interesting to me, maybe because it’s a skill I don’t perceive myself as having, or being able to use with a clear conscience. Tom, however, is not a cold, calculating manipulator, but an emotional, spontaneous one that sometimes doesn’t even seem to realize what he’s doing.

I vaguely remember from the movie where the story ends up (I think) but am excited to find out how it gets there.

The City and the City, by China Mieville

I finished reading The City & The City and was impressed, intrigued and am interested in reading some of his other books.

A murder investigation in a foreign city which is actually two cities who spend their days ignoring each other… what could go wrong?

I found this crime novel to be very creative, and though it is not quite fantasy or sci fi, it is not exactly in our world either (this city obviously doesn’t exist, though its location is real enough). Nothing supernatural is involved, besides the strange powers of the human mind to be blind to the things we train ourselves to unsee.

The story was quite engaging and exciting, and the mystery very gripping. Only at the very end did it lose a bit of steam, when it fell into the cliche of the hero and villain having a long conversation to explain all of what happened while pointing guns at each other. Otherwise, a very satisfying read and I’m glad I picked it up.

I’d recommend it to any fans of crime dramas, as well as fans of speculative or weird fiction.

Fargo season 3

I finished this on my long plane rides too and from Singapore these past weeks, and enjoyed it quite a lot. I could not get into season 2, and gave up about halfway through and had no plans to watch this season until a co worker highly recommended it. I’m glad I gave it a chance!

The season is about the rivalry between two brothers, but also about predatory corporations, and about truth, and reality, and about how perception can be reality. It’s also about random life screwing you over, which seems to be a theme in Fargo.

The ending left me a bit disappointed, not because it was ambiguous, but because of what it said about a certain character.

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Nikki Swango, who until the very end seemed to be the hero of the show, in her last act, murders an innocent person. This seems a downer note to end on, and put a kind of black mark on her character. True, she was never an up and up citizen, but she seemed to have a good heart, good intentions. This final act also kills her, so maybe that is some kind of symbolism or something, but I didn’t like the way it left me feeling.

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Overall a very good season, well written, and very artistic at times. Highly recommended!

Replay, by Ken Grimwood

replay

The worries I wrote about in my previous posts on this did not come to be, and the book ended up being less infuriating than Harry August, but also less interesting.

Jeff Winston is living twenty-five years of his life over and over again. Each time he dies of a heart attack at exactly the same day and time, at age 43, and wakes up at age 18 to do it all over again. The things he chooses to do with his lives, however, are rather simple and mundane.

He makes a lot of money in one life, by placing bets and buying stocks based on his foreknowledge. But he doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with that money. Doesn’t travel anywhere interesting, or fund any interesting research or start any crazy projects. He just lives a life as a rich man, then dies.

One life he reconnects with the ‘one that got away’, living another normal life with a woman he loves, and starts a family.

After the repetition starts to get to him, and he is distraught that not only will he never see his daughter from his previous life again, but that she’s been completely erased from existence, he lives a life of debauchery, drugs, endless meaningless sex, and eventually isolation. But still, nothing particularly interesting. He stays inside the US, and predictable parts of Europe. No exotic locations or experiences other than drug trips and multiple-partner sex.

When he finally meets another ‘replayer’, who is trying to do something, with big plans that have global scope, he ‘disagrees with her methods’ ie, disagrees that she’s doing literally anything beyond the normal, and gets mad at her about it.

I’m puzzling over the point of this book. It is really well written, and full of nostalgia and melancholy, but I’m not sure exactly what it is trying to say. It seems to be making a point that no matter what you do, life is full of pain that you can’t prevent, so don’t worry about what you’re going to do next, and just enjoy the moment… I think? ‘Don’t question it, just appreciate it’ is another thing it seems to say.

Claire North did a lot more interesting things with the concept in her book, but still seemed to have a somewhat similar message, in that the character who was after answers was the villain.

There isn’t really a villain in Replay, other than time, I suppose, but it has the same feel–that questioning and seeking answers is a waste of time, or is in fact harmful, and you should just enjoy your life and love those around you while you can.

I suppose this is a good message–but when I’m reading a book about a guy who is impossibly living his life over and over, I’m sorry, but I want answers! I’m not going to nod and smile and heave a sigh of relief when he decides to just live his life with his wife and kids and enjoy the moments. That’s not what I want to read about, nor do I imagine it is what anyone who would pick up a book with this premise wants to read either.

Over all this is a very will written book packed full of nostalgia and melancholy. The tone is very consistent and perhaps it is more directed at older people looking back over their lives and pondering their decisions. I recommend Claire North’s book higher for the much more interesting things she does with the concept, but Grimwood’s version is much less irritating in the way the story is framed.

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber

I recently discovered that my favorite movie in recent years, Under the Skin, was based on a novel by Michel Faber. I’d never heard of him and decided to try this unusual, sci-fi drama.

The plot centers around a Christian Missionary, Peter, who is traveling to a distant world to minister to alien creatures. This sounds comical almost, and quite naive, but it fits the character well. The story is written in a very serious way, despite what the plot might make you think.

When Peter arrives on the alien world, after going to sleep on a ship and ‘jumping’ with some kind of space bending technology, he finds his task of spreading his religion to be easier than he imagined.

This part of the story, though, however interesting, is not the focus of the writing. The plot comes to center around Peter’s relationship with his wife and the world he left behind back on Earth. His focus on the things at hand on this new world, and the distance, both physical and emotional, are separating him from everyone and everything else.

I’ve said many times before that characters are vivid. By this I mean I can picture them clearly in my head, that I can imagine mannerisms and hear voice with ease. But these characters Faber has created are something even beyond that. They are so real that it feels they must have been based on actual people that Faber knew intimately. The personalities are so rich and deep, I found pieces of myself in almost each one.

The alien world, and the aliens themselves are also quite detailed and creative. I was able to imagine them quite clearly, which is often a problem for me in these kinds of stories. But even though the faces of these creatures were completely inhuman, Faber was somehow able to paint a clear image of them in my head.

This was a beautiful and deep story, and I very much enjoyed listening to it. The narrator did a great job as well. I love finding sci fi stories like this, where the focus is on characters and story, instead of action or explosions or war.

Despite my great enjoyment of this, the end was not very satisfying. Though many questions were answered, I felt it lacked a certain force, or meaning. But maybe that fits with the theme of the story. Its not about any specific event or struggle, but about life. Life goes on, and on, and things fall apart. And then they stop.

A great story and I recommend it to sci fi, or literary fans. Check it out!