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Sharp Objects shows that men can’t comprehend a dangerous woman in “Fix”

The men of Sharp Objects believe women just talk and gossip. They’re so wrong. 

Sharp Objects episode 3
Amy Adams in Sharp Objects.
Anne Marie Fox/HBO
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Before it debuted, Sharp Objects was frequently compared to last summer’s Big Little Lies, due to both shows being splashy HBO miniseries with big-name casts. But Big Little Lies, among other things, told a story about its female characters’ struggle to prove their innocence in a town that knew better. And Sharp Objects’ third episode, “Fix,” is the inverse of that. It’s all about women who are fully capable of murder, and a town that doesn’t want to believe it.

“Women around here, they don’t kill with their hands,” Bob Nash (Will Chase) — the father of one of two girls that’ve been murdered in the small Southern town of Wind Gap, Missouri — tells Camille (Amy Adams), when she visits him. “They talk.”

In the aftermath of two ritualistic and grisly murders that happened less than a year apart, Wind Gap’s citizens don’t seem to be terribly concerned about their lives being in danger. The parental warnings being issued to the town’s children are weak (and several of the kids are sneaking out on a nightly basis), and life, for the most part, seems abnormally normal.

What Wind Gap’s residents are more concerned about is playing a game of whodunit and speculating why each of the victims was targeted. They seem more entranced by the spectacle of it all, and in some ways, Camille — who’s now finished with her initial story — does too. People’s interest in the murders is rooted more in morbid curiosity than in personal safety. Finding the killer is more about closing the loop on the story than it is justice.

Sharp Objects has focused heavily on this sentiment in its past two episodes by unpacking Wind Gap residents’ opinions on who the murderer might be — and heavily hinting that it won’t be anyone they expect, specifically because few folks in town seem to believe the killer could be a woman.

“Fix” is all about how Wind Gap views its women

In “Fix,” getting away from how the town of Wind Gap thinks about and treats women is as impossible as Camille getting away from a bottle of vodka. It seems like every interaction between two characters contains at least a slip of a remark about the women of Wind Gap, or rather, how the women of Wind Gap are viewed and treated in the town.

Many residents of Wind Gap clearly believe that women are only good for one thing: gossiping.

“That boy from Kansas City talks like a woman from Wind Gap,” Sheriff Vickery (Matt Craven) tells Camille in reference to Detective Willis (Chris Messina), reinforcing what Nash told her.

This sentiment builds on what we’ve seen in previous episodes: Adora worrying about Camille sullying her reputation around town; Camille having to deal with her own Wind Gap legacy; and Wind Gap’s mean girls whispering away at Natalie’s funeral.

The implication seems to be that a woman from Wind Gap could never be capable of anything more than mindless talk, let alone murder. But we’re not really meant to trust this characterization.

The people spreading the “all women are gossips” generalization are all men who have been doing their fair share of talking too. The sheriff, for example, hasn’t been particularly successful at his job — keeping the town of Wind Gap safe — so his remark about how women in the town keep talking and how men like Willis should know better than to act like them feels more like frustration coming from an incompetent character than an objective observation.

It’s also obvious that the women of Wind Gap know how to take advantage of what others think and expect of them.

Take Camille’s sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who shares a drunken chat with Camille in the first scene of “Fix.” She’s figured out how to alter her behavior in front of the girls’ mother, to her benefit. Amma knows how she’s expected to behave, and that she can wriggle out all kinds of freedoms as long as she maintains a certain image — that’s why we see her wearing different outfits and putting on a different demeanor when she’s at home. No one, including Adora, suspects her of being capable of more.

But as Amma reveals to Camille during their chat, she’s nowhere near as innocent as she seems.

“They do anything for me,” she says of her friends, flashing a sly hint that she might be capable of more nefarious things than she appears to be. “I just ask, and they’re my besties.”

No one knows what Wind Gap’s women are capable of

Full disclosure: Although I’ve seen (and loved) the movie adaptation of Gone Girl, I’ve never read Gillian Flynn’s books. I don’t know how Sharp Objects ends. With that said, I fully believe the Wind Gap killer is a woman, by virtue of the fact that the show’s male characters are outright saying women aren’t capable of murder.

I keep coming back to what Nash said: “Women around here, they don’t kill with their hands.” Granted, a sullied reputation in such a small town can probably feel like a punishment worse than death. And we don’t know how much Nash is exaggerating or how much he fully believes his statement.

But in Sharp Objects’ first three episodes, we’ve seen various male characters get asked about their alibis, have their possible motives explained and explored, and have their pasts delved into. Meanwhile, no one has been asking where Amma or Adora was on the nights of the murders, even though Adora tells the Sheriff in “Fix” that she personally knew both of the dead girls. We also don’t know exactly why John Keene’s suspicious, clingy “Jackie O” girlfriend Ashley is suddenly in the picture, but no one except Camille seems to care.

These women all seem like potential suspects, but they’re being dismissed because the general thought in Wind Gap is that women are harmless. Yes, they talk, but they aren’t seen as “strong” enough (to pull the victims’ teeth with pliers) or heinous enough to commit violence of the type that killed the girls.

And “harmless” doesn’t just refer to the harm they might pose other people but also the harm they’re capable of inflicting on themselves, as we see in a flashback to Camille checking into a psych ward and befriending her cellmate Alice. Camille and Alice both engage in self-harm, but Camille seems to be the only person who can sense how troubled Alice is or notices the extent of her cutting. The scenes feel safe. Alice shares a playful relationship with the nurse. And that all comes crashing down in the final sequence when we find out how Alice died.

There’s something deeper beneath the surface of each one of Wind Gap’s women, something that possibly belies the person they’re presenting as in public. Writing off the town’s women as harmless gossips fails to recognize what kind of people, perhaps monsters, some of them might be. Which makes it no surprise that the sheriff hasn’t found the murderer yet — he’s underestimating half the population.