Through three episodes, The Sinner is proving to be one of USA’s most fascinating summer shows. It may be overly ambitious at times, but we’d much prefer that to not being ambitious enough at all.
The biggest thing that the show does need to probably figure out how to pay off lies within its title, and some of the flashbacks that we’re seeing to Cora’s childhood and the relationship that she has with her sister Phoebe — someone who clearly cared about her deeply and one of the only people who understood her. Phoebe was terminally ill, and the two sisters seemed to sate a certain curiosity about the world. Cora took a severe punishment for bringing home a magazine about sex, and had to repent to her sins in a way that looked and felt very much painful.
The reason that Phoebe likely died after Cora left was because she didn’t have too much left to live for. There’s an interesting relationship between guilt and responsibility here that the show could easily explore — Cora had a right to live and see things through her lens, and maybe her sister wanted to live vicariously through her. Yet, there is still no denying that this relationship was tragic in the end thanks to the religiously-slanted and at times abusive parents who seemed intent on controlling every aspect of their lives.
We saw the two parents again in the present as the investigation raged on, but they hadn’t spoken to Cora in years and weren’t too much help. We’re still not ruling them out as suspects, though, and the same goes for JD — he and Mason got into a tiff at the end of the episode as he continued to try and do some investigating of his own. This could in turn lead to Mason’s own legal struggle.
Cora enters a plea
To the disdain of Ambrose, she decided to go with “guilty.” Much of his pain seems to stem from the knowledge that somehow, she can’t be what she claims to be. She said that she went on a heroin bender after the fourth of July. Yet, she doesn’t know how to shoot up. She has a huge missing gap in her mind, and we saw that mysterious masked man (is it even a man?) and the wallpaper in the closing seconds of the episode. She has many signs of this being an insanity case, given that there is the sound trigger, the lack of memory, and the history of trauma. She may not have publicly had problems, but these were brimming underneath the surface for some time. Some were secrets, but others were secrets from even herself.
The Ambrose / Cora dynamic is easily the best part of The Sinner. Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman are both tremendous in their work together, especially since Cora doesn’t really seem all that interested in believing in herself. Therefore, Ambrose does it for her to the extent that he comes across as overly attached to the case over dinner. His own life is being impacted by this, but we get it — he’s frustrated since he sees something more here and he can’t quite pinpoint what it is. It’s too bad the Cora feels roughly the same.
This episode certainly provided another twist ending, but where it goes and how it ties everything together remains to be seen. We do worry slightly about the show biting off more than it can chew, but its quality to date makes us want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Grade: B+.
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Also, be sure to head over to the link here in the event you want to preview the next episode of The Sinner when it airs on USA. (Photo: USA.)