Is anyone else watching HBO’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”? It’s based on the late Michelle McNamara’s book of the same name, which in turn is about the hunt for the Golden State Killer (one that ended after the book was released). However, the docuseries is also an exploration on McNamara’s obsessive personality, and how that both drove her search and led to her death.
I appreciated the focus on McNamara in this manner. It’s very fair—she is not blamed or made out to be a bad person. But it shines an important light on how people with obsessive, anxious tendencies can overdo it to the point of self-harm.
My own anxiety (which I’ve discussed before) used to come out in obsessive fixations. It was never with true crime, but when I’d find a new interest, a new goal, a new puzzle, etc., I would be determined to be the best at it, to solve it, to excel at it and to meet the expectations I thought everyone had of me. I still see it pop up from time-to-time, but I’m better able to manage it with medication and with better awareness of when it’s happening.
An article from Vulture about the series does an excellent job weaving those mental tendencies with an explanation for why women gravitate towards true crime. It creates a false but motivating sense of hope that we’ll find an answer to why men seem determined to hurt us. It gives us a sense of control over our attackers.
But in cases like McNamara, it can also lead us to self-destruct when we don’t find what we’re looking for—a self-destruction made easier by a culture that expects women to take care of themselves while also taking care of their spouses and their children. As such, no one is there for them, at least not until it’s too late.
In between writing and reading, I’ve been watching TV. Most of my shows are off the air until next season. While there are a plethora of things to binge on Netflix, I’m old-fashioned and like watching a series in real time once a week. The only series I’m watching week-to-week right now is Sharp Objects.
I saw the preview for the adaptation, and read the book almost immediately after. I enjoyed Gone Girl (both the book and the movie), but hadn’t read anything else by Gillian Flynn since. I thought the book was great. Fast-paced, just dark enough, interesting, and with complex women at its center. Camille isn’t perfect but more importantly, she’s not the stereotype of the flawed heroine. It’s never too much, and it’s always believable. It speaks volumes about the story when the least interesting thing about this tale is who the killer is.
I was curious to see what HBO would do with the book. I think HBO produces a lot of what’s best on television right now. I was conflicted, though, on whether Sharp Objects would be better as a miniseries or a movie. The book is pretty short, and I couldn’t imagine drawing it out for eight hours.
I’m three episodes in, and so far, it’s drawing things out at a reasonable pace. The biggest thing I’ve seen so far are more scenes with Det. Willis, namely without Camille. This makes sense and adds to the story, though I hope that future episodes will do the same for Adora. There are pieces of Adora’s past shared only in dialogue in the book, and if the television show isn’t constrained to the people Camille speaks to as she’s speaking to them, then Det. Willis shouldn’t be the only one reaping this benefit.
The show takes the “flash” in “flashback” seriously. It shows brief glimpses of Camille’s past in sudden jolts, similar to Leonard’s jogs of memory in Memento. Sometimes these glimpses are too brief — for instance, I had to tell my husband what it said on Camille’s arm at the end of the first episode — but for the most part, they are used effectively. The show also trusts its viewers to remember things from episodes past, while also repeating glimpses to let the viewer know that context is coming.
The book mostly moved in linear form. If something was remembered, it was remembered in full, right there on the spot. The show, however, breaks up the memories with the present, even when it shows more than a glimpse. This was used to great effect in the third episode, “Fix,” which shows Camille’s stay in a psychiatric facility and her roommate’s suicide during her stay. In episodes one and two, we only saw glimpses from this moment in time — the janitor with Drano, Camille and her roommate listening to music, etc. In episode three, we see more; albeit still broken up. I thought this was used to good effect overall, and a nice way to tell the story in a way unique to film. If Flynn had tried to do this in print, it would’ve been confusing. The show could’ve presented it in a linear form like the book did, but then why bother doing a film adaptation?
I believe in faithfulness to the text to an extent. I don’t think a film, TV, or stage adaptation should be exactly like the book because I already read the book, and if I want to experience the book exactly like it is, I’ll just read the book. I welcome differences, especially when it comes to how the medium conveys the story. Still, there are changes I am curious about. For instance, there is a scene in a slaughterhouse in episode three that is toned down drastically from the book, and in an adaptation that doesn’t seem to be holding back in terms of how raw it is. I’m curious why this change was made.
Overall, though, I’m enjoying Sharp Objects on HBO. Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson are running away with it, as they do in everything they star in; and Chris Messina is a surprise charm as Det. Willis. I plan to keep watching and engaging with this dark tale. I hope you’ll do the same.
Sharp Objects airs at 9 p.m. ET on Sundays on HBO.