The finale of Sharp Objects feels disturbingly, deliberately unfinished and unresolved. Yet somehow, the story is also as complete as it needs to be. The series, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel of the same name, created and showrun by Marti Noxon, and directed by Big Little Lies director Jean-Marc Valée, was always more interested in its sense of place, and the general atmosphere and the specific feelings those elements evoked than it was in really truly getting to the bottom of its pot boiler-y plot — the mystery of who was killing girls in the fictional (and dysfunctional) Missouri town of Wind Gap. Over the course of its eight-episode run, the emphasis on atmosphere, the slow-burn gothic unease and menacing disquiet of its setting and of Camille Preaker’s (Amy Adams) past that’s literally etched into her skin, gradually and effectively turned to madness.
It’s fitting, then, for a narrative as driven by its protagonist’s past as it is her present that any true resolution seems likely to be found in the future. To think that Adora (Patricia Clarkson) being put behind bars and her doormat husband, Alan (Henry Czerny), presumably being shipped off somewhere as well, would fix things for Camille would be like thinking a washcloth would sufficiently scrub the scars from her body. And so it is that, with the help of a disturbing and salacious mid-credits scene that reveals Amma (Eliza Scanlin) to be the killer, that a pat resolution proved much further away than originally thought.
The moment is underscored moments earlier by Amma's words, “Don’t tell mama,” and an abrupt cut to black. But Sharp Objects — that is Noxon, Flynn, and Valée — was already miles ahead of its main character, setting the table for this divergent, deranged, and gleefully vexing finale that was part coda, part winking “get a load of this” directed at the audience. As finales go, ‘Milk’ was discomfitingly breezy at times, yadda yadda-ing over moments of character and plot that any other series would have doubled down on for a potential Emmy reel. The dearth of those moments, then, becomes a dead giveaway in hindsight, a redoubling of the series’ soap operatic tendencies and languorous, sweltering, vodka-soaked atmosphere — the combination of which feels in step with the story's toxic heart.
There’s a satisfying squalidness to some of the formulaic turns Sharp Objects takes in its final hour. The series is determined to wallow one last time in the fetid matter of its own narrative. As such, the first half is distressingly murky. Adora’s home is revealed to be the house of horrors Camille and all those watching knew that it was. Yet, despite the lesson of Big Little Lies, that there’s no such thing as a “limited series,” Sharp Objects finds real tension in Camille’s gambit (a plan that also affords Clarkson a well-earned victory lap as the vainglorious Adora). Yet, with the exception of the music blaring from Alan’s beloved high-end stereo, the finale never quite builds to the expected crescendo, opting instead to move forward with such haste as to leave things deliberately unsettled.
The blunt end offers no real resolution, and to its credit, Sharp Objects never sells the audience on one. So much is left unseen, unsaid, or unheard (as is the case when Amma visits her mother in prison) that the audience is effectively denied closure, even when Camille is falsely led to believe she may have found some. Like Camille’s memories and her scars, the unsettled, nagging foulness of the narrative never fully goes away. Instead it leaves viewers with something alluring and vexing, a potent reminder of how the consequences of what transpired extend well beyond the margins of its story.
That fascinating incompleteness flirts at times with being inconsequential. The police’s main suspect, John (Taylor John Smith), appears in a perfunctory interrogation scene, the insinuation of which is that he’s "their man” whether he committed the crimes or not. But once Camille opens the door for Adora’s “help” — following what may be the frontrunner for Most Uncomfortable Family Dinner Scene on television this year — Sharper Objects’ murder board goes right out the window. Pieces begin falling into place in seemingly inexplicable ways, like Richard’s (Chris Messina) well-timed arrival at the Crelin estate, with Camille’s editor Frank (Miguel Sandoval) in tow.
The brusque manner in which the finale makes quick work of its characters’ fates, shipping Adora off to prison, disposing of Alan, and affording Richard a half-assed apology in Camille and Amma’s hospital room (before the latter delivers the final word) reinforces the notion that Sharp Objects, like some other series in recent memory, actually brought its story to a close in its penultimate episode, 'Falling' and that the finale serves more as coda than climax. This somehow works in the series' favor; it lets the series brush away the plot and settle back into that stifling, dark place it so clearly wants to be. For a series that excels in making atmosphere into a narrative all its own, there’s perhaps nothing more suiting than leaving its audience teetering on the edge of resolution.