Sharp Objects makes Wind Gap seem like an awful place to live. The primary economic activity is pig slaughtering, everyone is subject to the whims of a nightdress-wearing god queen whose clipped enunciation hides a deep well of narcissism, and two young girls have been brutally murdered in the past few years.
Still, all of that is more or less endemic to the kinds of towns where stories like Sharp Objects — stories where dead girls turn up in the town square and broken people try to piece their mysteries back together — take place.
Wind Gap has one up on all those other towns though. Wind Gap has mean teenagers, who are scarier than anything else in that hog-eat-hog town.
Wind Gap has mean teenagers, who are scarier than anything else in that hog-eat-hog town.
Teens on their own are pretty scary. They’re not quite children and not quite adults, and anyone who remembers being a teen (or is a teen) can speak to how difficult it is to navigate that liminal space between childhood’s structure and the freedom that comes with age. There’s a wildness to teenhood — a slightly uncaring, boundary-testing sense of immortality that comes across in the vodka-stealing, rollerblading girl gangs that prowl through Wind Gap at all hours of the day or night.
In the third episode of “Sharp Objects,” however, the background creepiness of Wind Gap’s bored teens begins to feel like something more than the vaguely southern gothic ennui the previous two episodes exemplified.
In that episode alone teens swindled a convenience store owner, joke about how uncool the most recent murder victim was, and stayed out past curfew with a killer on the loose. Amma rolled down to her family’s slaughterhouse to do some potentially weird stuff to a baby piglet. And in the episode’s climax, a cabal of drunk teens confronted Richard and Camille in the parking lot and gently terrorized that pair of grown-ass adults until they bent to the will of the teen mob.
That scene, which took place after Camille and Richard came to some kind of truce with their respective investigations, reads as one of the more threatening events in a show literally about child murder. Amma and her crew cornered the adults and lobbed insults at them, teasing them about their relationship in the exact sexualized and inappropriate manner that young people at their age are only just learning to weaponize.
Adult behavior is constrained by the lessons in civility and propriety that living through their teenage years hammered into them. All humans have a capacity for cruelty, but by the time most people graduate high school they’ve learned to temper their worst impulses in favor of maintaining the social order.
Teens don’t have to give a shit about that yet, which is why Camille and Richard are so easily cowed by the barrage of nastiness spewed from Amma and her friends. The girls are firing verbal guns they haven’t yet learned to handle responsibly, a point that’s exemplified when one of Sharp Objects‘s fast flashbacks alludes to Amma’s story about Camille and “all the boys” being connected to a sexual assault.
Of course Amma and her girl gang aren’t the only scary teens in Wind Gap. Episode 3 also gave audiences a closer look at Ashley Wheeler, the cheerleader girlfriend of John Keene, whose sister Natalie Keene is the town’s most recent murder victim.
Ashley’s spookiness is entirely different to Amma’s uncorked barbarism. She is poisoned honey, as wealthy and popular as she is obsessed with her social standing in the town. When Camille arrives at Ashley’s house to interview John, Ashley is wearing her cheerleading uniform despite it being the middle of summer, and her calculated attempt to appear as a wholesome belle supporting her “sensitive” boyfriend comes across as artificial and slightly dangerous.
Ashley’s polished appearance and need to control her boyfriend’s narrative is reminiscent of Camille’s mother Adora, whose place at the top of Wind Gap’s social pyramid is solidified by her money and performative fragility. In the cases of both Ashley and Adora, their masks of propriety hide a pathological obsession with how the town perceives them, with the underlying threat that anything that damages their reputation is subject to hasty and potentially violent cauterization.
What would teen queen Ashley Wheeler do if John Keene’s grief over his sister’s murder jeopardized her future as a part of Wind Gap society? What would Adora Crellin do if Camille’s blatant inability to maintain the family reputation caused lasting damage to their place in the town?
The longer one thinks about it, the more sinister the possibilities become. And Wind Gap is just boring enough to give people a lot of time to think.
There’s a lot to fear in Wind Gap. An unnamed killer, bars full of day-drunk men, children with guns, the Woman in White, controlling parents, and nosy neighbors are just a few. Almost none of them are as frightening as the young people who were raised in a dangerous town and are not yet capable of channeling the permeating dread of their environment into something productive, or at least something not blatantly sociopathic.
The teens of Wind Gap are the town’s unrestrained Id, and the Id of Wind Gap is something truly terrifying to behold. Here’s hoping they all survive long enough to know better.