I have always been both highly impressionable and terrible with money. Everything I watch makes me want to buy something, even when there is no deliberate product placement involved. After the one-two-punch of Stranger Things and The Quiet Place, in which the characters used fairy lights to warn of of encroaching monsters, I went out and bought fairy lights for my apartment. A few days after seeing Super-Size Me and not being able to quash the dark cravings it awakened, I took my deep sense of shame and self-loathing to McDonald’s and ordered a six-piece McNugget meal. And most recently: After bingeing the press screeners for Sharp Objects, a dark Gillian Flynn novel turned series about self-harm and intergenerational trauma, I have found myself browsing websites for vintage nightgowns and burning with an insatiable desire to go roller-skating.
For reasons unclear to me, Marti Noxon’s Southern Gothic murder-mystery Sharp Objects is absolutely full of roller-skating, even though it is set at some vague point in the 2000s, by which point roller-skating in public was a lot like that joke about how “the hardest part of roller-skating is telling your parents you’re gay” — outdated and offensive. Since then, roller-skating has been relegated to the status of ice-skating’s dorky cousin, with no telegenic Adam Rippon or Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to make it palatable for a new generation … until now.
The series opens with young Camille (played here by Sophia Lillis, later by Amy Adams) and her little sister (who we soon find out is deceased) ominously gliding through the country roads of Wind Gap, Missouri, on eight wheels, their arms outstretched in some sort of creepy If you’re a bird, I’m a bird pose. (This was presumably back in an era when roller-skating was still a normal activity for a teenage girl to participate in.) Yet when we time-jump to the the present day, we find that roller-skating has remained a family tradition and is now the transport mode of choice for Camille’s other cool, mean-girl little sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) and her two equally cool BFFs. It’s just one of many ways that Wind Gap is an idiosyncratic world unto itself — a place out of time, with its own strange traditions and ways of being.
Throughout the show’s first three episodes, Amma and her teen girl trio rock around town on roller skates. They have very specific roller-skating outfits, consisting of some combination of high knee socks, denim overalls, Daisy Dukes, crop tops, minidresses, and bomber jackets, their long manes tossing in the wind like something out of a Forever 21 mood board. Naturally Amma does not wear a helmet, because she does not fear concussions any more than she fears a serial killer on the loose. By the scene where Amma was zipping casually through a convenience store on skates to steal a bottle of vodka, I could feel my wallet starting to burn.
I never thought roller skates could be chic, but the way Amma wears them — along with an impression of permanent teenage disdain — imbues them with the chunky coolness of 2018’s ugly sneaker trend. Such is the marketing power of things worn by cool teens; I know that I will regret purchasing them in a month, and yet I am filled with a voracious urge to do so anyway. (See: discarded fidget spinner, unused Kylie lip kit, and a whole Ziploc full of barely-worn chokers.) Plus, roller-skating seems like such a fun activity to do with your friends! It’s an easy way to get around without having to have a driver’s license, a marker of in-group solidarity that is as practical as it is distinctive. What do my friends and I even do together? Go for avocado toast so we can’t afford to buy houses? Walk on our feet? Look at each other’s Instagrams while sitting opposite each other in silence? Very lame in comparison. Conversely, when done alone with headphones in, roller-skating seems like quite a nice meditative experience, whether you’re plotting evil schemes or merely thinking about what you’ll have for lunch that day.
Of course [dons critic hat], Amma’s skates serve a purpose beyond merely looking cool. They serve as a marker of generational continuity between Amma and Camille, though the two sisters don’t really know each other. Skates symbolize freedom, a way to escape the confines of the cosseted manor in which Amma lives with her imposing mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson). As Matt Zoller Seitz puts it in his review, Amma literalizes the idea of a “‘fast girl’ by zipping around the county on roller skates with her flirty, giggling friends.” And of course, there’s something deliberately creepy about the whole roller-skating thing — the temporal incongruousness of it, its languorous rhythm, the way you glide a few feet above the ground like a ghost, the sound of wheels zooming down country roads echoing like spooky Wind Gap ASMR. Amma’s ability to glide past you — or away from you — at any time contributes to making her a slightly unnerving figure. When you’re on skates, your movements are unpredictable — one minute you can be loitering outside a convenience store, the next you can be tearing off down the road beside someone’s car or doing doughnuts around them, creating a sense of instability in both the other characters and the viewers watching at home.
Or at least, that’s what the savvy cultural analyst part of me thinks. My other half — the craven shopper who definitely owned more than one Juno hamburger phone — has been busy browsing used skates on eBay and contemplating how cool I’ll look commuting to work on my new wheels, cruising through Lower Manhattan with my knee socks pulled high, Wind Gap–style.