USA’s The Sinner
Directed by Antonio Campos
Written by Derek Simonds
* For a recap & review of Part 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 3, click here.
After the surprising, devastating first episode, The Sinner continues as Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) faces the court after committing a brutal and spontaneous murder on the beach. She pleads “guilty” and prepares on facing the consequences of her actions. Detectives Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and Dan Leroy (Dohn Norwood) watch on, as does the terrified husband Mason (Christopher Abbott). Now, Cora’s ordered to psychological testing, to see if she’s fit to stand trial.
After the court adjourns, Mason comes across a police officer he knows from back in the day in school, Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller). He tries getting info out of her, but she’s too professional for that. Inside, his wife gets a visit from Dt. Ambrose, who knows that she knows the man she killed, Frankie Belmont. Although she denies it. However, it’s like she’s resigned herself to being guilty. As if she believes she’s guilty, knowing something more than she lets on.
Flashback to her life as a girl. Her father rants and raves about not being able to sleep in his own bed. Clearly, their love life has suffered because of their sick child. Meanwhile, dad looks to be sleeping in bed with one of the other daughters, young Cora (Jordana Rose), only eight. And there’s something not quite right about it, either. Christ. So much ugliness in her past that’s yet to be uncovered.
Dt. Ambrose keeps on trying to suss out the truth. He talks to Frankie’s wife, Leah (Teri Wyble). Apparently the husband once told his friends about a girl with whom he had a relationship, something tragic happened. They had an “intense connection” but the girl was damaged. Later, an accident nearly ruined his whole life. Hmm, all about five years prior. This is interesting, ramps up the mystery to a serious degree. The intrigue’s already high, but now my Spidey senses are TINGLING!
Flashback to Mason first meeting Cora, the latter waiting tables in a nice little place. They talk a bit, he chats her up. After she’s off they go for a stroll together, getting to know one another, the usual first meet/date type of thing. It’s cute. Very sharp juxtaposition against where we are now. What this does is show us their connection, particularly we see why Mason’s so torn up. It isn’t like she wound up a serial killer. This sudden outburst of violence in her life is totally inexplicable to him, so to see their beginnings as a couple is kind of poignant.
We get a look at some of Dt. Ambrose’s rocky relationship with his wife (Kathryn Erbe). They go to therapy, but the separation between them is shocking. Not entirely surprising, still shocking. He’s not exactly the doting husband, having left her in the hospital once to go spray his plants at home. Even when she calls him out on it he’s poised to argue rather than admit he fucked up. Typical man blinded by his own bullshit.
Another flashback to young Cora, her aunt Margaret (Rebecca Wisocky) leaving a treat with her before leaving. They’re all together in vigil for her little sister Phoebe, sick, frail. We see the first semblance of a second life for Cora. Aunt Peg gives her a Delicieux chocolate bar, a little treat she takes to a secret hiding place. Where she’s got other items most likely from her aunt. She stashes them, so nobody will find her special items. Sort of how she’s stashed away all the secrets of her previous live, so deep down and in the dark that even her husband has no idea what’s gone on.
Those closest to her, then and now, they don’t truly know Cora.
In the interrogation room, Harry gets Cora to start talking. She met Frankie in a bar five years ago on the “Fourth of July,” though he went by a different name, J.D. They took some pills, drank, dance. The song she heard on the beach that day is the one he used to play endlessly. They had sex, of course. A couple weeks later? Pregnant. She panicked, not even having Frankie’s phone number. So then she finds out he gave her a fake name.
And she stepped in front of a car on the road. No longer pregnant, banged the fuck up in the hospital, she was still clinging – for a while – her religious upbringing. Before realising God’s shit. Cut to five years later, she stabs Frankie to death on the beach. All good, right? Well, Harry doesn’t seem convinced. Not yet.
Flashback to Cora and her mom Elizabeth (Enid Graham). The little girl kneels in the yard in the middle of the night, praying to God for her sister. The recurring theme is religious fanaticism. Mom found the stash, the chocolate bar. She says “one bite” could mean God will decide to let Phoebe die. Holy fuck. It’s like everything wrong with Cora’s sister is blamed on her, in some way. A life of having sin heaped upon her, sin that isn’t her own.
Another flash to Mason and Cora in bed together, what looks like their first time. Or at least the first time Mason is about to go down on her and she almost cracks his neck in half, squeezing her thighs around his throat. When he asks what happened, she replies: “I don‘t know.” Although we know, at least in part. There’s a terrifying trauma in there somewhere.
Caitlin, talking to Mason, lets slip bits of the story concerning his wife and Frankie, the secret history. Naturally, it rocks him. All the while Dt. Ambrose continues combing through evidence, to find a better answer. He goes to Carl’s Taproom, where Cora met Frankie. The bartender remembers her, though confirms a different man than Frankie being with her, also mentioning she was extremely drunk. Might be possible something non-consensual happened that night. Cora is absolutely not telling the whole truth.
The big news? Harry gets over to Frankie’s parents place. Turns out, their boy wasn’t even on the same coast as Cora that Fourth of July. Oh, shit. Moreover, the cops are coming up with more lies she’s told. They have to dig much, much deeper.
Another flashback to young Cora, her mom, sick little Phoebe. “You‘re not doing your part,” the hideous mother says. She makes Cora tell her sister she isn’t better because she’s “a sinner” and took the chocolate bar. This poor little girl grew up having to bear the brunt of all the supposed sins her parents blamed on her. That could really fuck a girl up.
Ambrose: “The truth is my job”
In the interrogation room Harry presses Cora harder than before. He’s getting pissed off about her lying. He even puts on the song she heard that day. You can see by the look in her eyes it dredges up horrible memories. Finally, she jumps on top of the detective, pounding him and screaming: “I‘m gonna kill you!” WHOA.
Mason comes to see his wife. He mentions J.D. and knowing him before they met. He’s also getting pissed. The person he pledged to love in sickness and in health won’t tell him the truth. This sends him off looking for J.D. in any place he can think, old buddies from his younger days. Uh oh. I feel something bad coming.
There’s also a tenderness we see in Harry, after he and his wife start their reconciliation. While they eat dinner a bird flies into their patio door. He picks it up, nurturing the bird and helping it fly once more. Not long later he also has an epiphany about Cora. She smashed him on the chest in specific places. Right where she stabbed Frankie. And she hit Harry the same amount of times she stabbed him, too. A pattern. She’s subconsciously repeating that pattern. I assume it’s got something to do with what happened to her as a girl.
But there’s really no telling. Cora is an enigma, wrapped in a mindfuck. Who knows what the key will be to unlock all her mysteries.
Honestly, the first episode was good! Enough to get me into the whole concept. This episode blew me out of the water. I never expected the twists that came here, nor the final little revelation Harry has about the wounds. Interested for Part 3. So much dark, dangerous stuff to explore.