Spoilers ahead for Sharp Objects Episode 7, "Falling." "I got endometriosis, pelvic floor dysfunction – I got cysts, IC, IBS, and fibromyalgia," Jackie O'Neill (Elizabeth Perkins) tells Camille (Amy Adams) in Sunday's episode of Sharp Objects, as she pulls out various pills. "Oh, and hypochondria! I've been diagnosed, and undiagnosed, re-diagnosed, all that." But why does she have a personal pharmacy on her side table? The short answer is that Jackie's unhealthy relationship with Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson) has driven her to self-medicate. The more complicated version is that decades of secrets, small-town politics, and resentment created the women's toxic friendship, according to Sharp Objects actor Elizabeth Perkins.
Fans will recall that in the penultimate episode of the series, Marian's old nurse finally puts a name to what's been going on the Crellin house. "Munchausen by Proxy ... is when you make someone else sick so you can care for them," she says. "So you can save them. Or try — be seen trying." Indeed, Adora has been making her daughters ill for years with the contents of her blue apothecary bottle. As for Camille's other little sister, Marian, their mother likely killed her in this manner. While that on its own is horrifying, it also becomes apparent that Jackie knew about her friend's medical experimentation — and said nothing.
"There is a relationship with Adora that keeps Jackie under her thumb."
"Jackie can be a ghost, who comes in and out, and...knows all, sees all, and yet never says anything about it," Perkins says in a mid-July phone call. So how does she deal with everything she sees? "I don't think Jackie's ever sober," the actor explains. "I think she wakes up in the morning, and she has a Bloody Mary." However, Perkins explains that since Marian's body was cremated, Jackie tries to tell herself that there's no evidence anyway. As she tells Camille over drinks, "Well, what was I gonna do? Who was I gonna tell? The f*ck's gonna believe me?" "No wonder you're sick," Camille responds.
And keeping this information to herself has had a significant toll on Jackie. "So much so that she doesn't have her own life," Perkins says. "She doesn't have children of her own. There may or may not be a husband. If there is, he's not in the picture anymore. And all she has is her dreams of being on the porch at Adora's house. I don't think she has a life outside of that."
However, it's not just Jackie who's struggling to cope. There's a layer of sadness that rests over Wind Gap like molasses, and it affects everyone within city limits. When Alan (Henry Czerny) sees Adora happily grinding up pills in Episode 7, he asks how bad Amma (Eliza Scanlen) is. "Very bad," his wife responds, then telling him to go play some music. While Mr. Crellin complies, audiences later see him crying. Camille is still recovering from a childhood under Adora's thumb, turning to alcohol, sex, and self-harm. And Amma goes skating in town, doing drugs and bossing her friends around. This is the effect that Adora has on everyone around her, yet everyone seems to want more.
But however unhealthy Jackie and Adora's friendship is, it's also a co-dependent one. Jackie relies on her friend for attention, while Adora depends on her to be a punching bag. So why has Jackie kept her secrets and put up with Adora's abusive tendencies this whole time? It's never fully explained, but it's likely out of loyalty, fear, or perhaps a desperation to stay in her good graces. After all, Adora is the highest rung on the social ladder.
Viewers catch glimpses of the two women's poisonous relationship as far back as Episode 1, when Jackie tells Camille, "Your mama didn't say that you were in town. 'Course she's not talking to me right now. I disappointed her again. Probably forgot to send her a card, or something." Right off the bat, it's clear who has the upper-hand.
"There is a relationship with Adora that keeps Jackie under her thumb," Perkins says. "You know, right from the very beginning, she says, 'Jackie, stop talking.' And Jackie does. So I think that there's a hierarchy among the town women, and Adora's at the very top of it. You know, that's why she has a house on the hill."
However, it hasn't always been this way. In Episode 7, viewers see a young Camille spying on these women on the porch. They're smiling and dancing, with no trace of bitterness. Adora is wearing silky palazzo pants and does an adventurous high kick while her friend cheers her on. Jackie looks radiant, her eyes bright and focused, and she pulls young Camille in for a hug. This is clearly before Marian's death — before everything soured.
The women in Sharp Objects have obvious flaws, but Perkins says it was refreshing to be on a show that depicts imperfect women. "I do think Camille ends up empowered," the actor says, "but it really does allow us to go through that arc of her being at the bottom and not being afraid to show a woman at the bottom."
But if Camille is at the bottom, then Jackie is hovering just above it, fixing her Bloody Marys and refusing to look down.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.