'Sharp Objects': Gillian Flynn on the Woman in White Spinoff She Almost Wrote

The author-turned-screenwriter explains how the funeral in the episode reveals more about small-town Wind Gap, and the "Sharp Objects" spinoff that almost was.
Anne Marie Fox/HBO

[This story contains spoilers from episode two of HBO's Sharp Objects.]

Gillian Flynn's fingerprints are naturally all over Sharp Objects — the HBO drama is based on her 2006 novel and she is an executive producer — but it's especially present in the the second episode, "Dirt." Flynn penned the script for that hour, which expands the world of small-town Wind Gap, Miss.

Following the discovery of teen Natalie Keene's body, everyone in Wind Gap — from town doyenne Adora (Patricia Clarkson) to her prodigal daughter Camille (Amy Adams), now a reporter on assignment covering the death; from the girl's distraught brother to nosy townspeople looking to exact revenge on her killer — comes together for her funeral. Flynn tells The Hollywood Reporter that if the series premiere introduced the audience to the story and the characters (and the mystery), the second episode was all about Wind Gap.

"It's very much getting to know Wind Gap as a place, what its mores are, what its physicality is, what its protocols are, which are very important in this town," she explains. "To me, there's no better way to understand the way people treat each other and the way people think and interact than at a funeral. That's when everyone gets boiled down to who they really are."

Flynn, showrunner Marti Noxon and star and exec producer Adams have all spoken about how important the theme of female rage is to the story, and that is especially evident in the eulogy Natalie's mother gives at her funeral. It's not a tearful walk down memory lane with her daughter; instead, it's a powerful speech about how angry she is that her daughter was taken from her. 

"Her eulogy is taken pretty much word for word from the novel. I wanted to keep it because I thought it was a very important piece to have in there, to see her say that. They're still considered outsiders in town, and only she would say that — that she is actually angry," Flynn says. "No one raised in Wind Gap would actually say that. Someone from Wind Gap would say something demure and forgiving, and proper and appropriate, and say the type of thing that you're expected to say at a funeral. That sets off this interesting ripple."

She continues, "Furthermore, her son is openly crying at the funeral, which also sets off with people — men don't cry, boys don't cry, what's he doing? That's very suspicious. Of course, that's a normal reaction and a healthy thing to do, to cry over your murdered sister, but they don't think so. They think, 'He's been crying all over town. What's that all about?' Meanwhile, his girlfriend is doing her own performance as the supportive girlfriend. As Camille says in her notes, 'Who's Jackie O?'"

The funeral has always been an important scene to Flynn, because it's where everyone reveals their true nature and the dynamics between the different groups of people in the town — rich and poor, young and old — are especially apparent. The women are gossiping, the men are boasting about how they're going to track down the killer and exact revenge, the parents are appropriately grieving.

"It is very much about those roles we are expected to play. In Wind Gap, everything is about the role that you are expected to play. God forbid, you will be damned if you do not play those roles because no one knows what to do with you if you don't play those roles. There will be hell to pay if you don't know what to do because they're very frightened of people that don't play the roles," Flynn explains. "That's why Camille is ultimately exiled or felt she had to leave, because she did not play the role for Adora that Adora felt was necessary for her to play."

Another important development in the episode: When a witness to Natalie's disappearance, a little boy whose cancer-stricken, meth-addicted mother works at the hog farm Adora owns, tells Camille that the "Woman in White" took Natalie. The police think he's just acting out and believes in an urban legend, but Camille does believe him.

"Getting to see the Woman in White finally in a flicker, which to me is so creepy," was an important moment, Flynn says. "The female mythology runs rampant all throughout Sharp Objects, mostly in the novel and, you'll see, in the TV show. That's kind of a first real flicker of that. That whole moment I've always found very creepy, to get to see that come to life. I've always wanted to do a Woman in White spinoff — the original Slender Man sort of idea, how that came to be, what the origin story of the Woman in White was. I actually sketched out a short story years ago when I was writing Sharp Objects. They always said, 'That story's been around for years. Don't pay attention.' I was like, 'Really?' Of course my weird little brain was like, 'It's been around for years? When did it come to be? Let's write this, too.' Because that has to be a story itself."

Sharp Objects airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.