USA’s The Sinner
Directed by Antonio Campos
Written by Derek Simonds
* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 4, click here.
Cora (Jessica Biel) lies in bed, in jail, dreaming of home. She later talks with a psychologist, who takes her back through old memories of being 13. She’s asked what she’d tell herself, back then. She replies: “Run.”
Out on a trek, in a stark juxtaposed shot from the inside of Cora’s cell, Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and his semi-estranged wife Faye (Kathryn Erbe) are hiking, and he is sweating it out fierce. At the station, he’s not entirely thrilled with the psych report, as it doesn’t seem out of whack. He’s wondering about the song that played on the beach, the one which triggered the exact identical response in the interrogation room with her. Psych says it’s possibly linked to PTSD.
Harry: “So, she‘s somewhere else, and she‘s stabbing someone else.”
At home, Mason (Christopher Abbott) is continually dealing with the fallout, the media attention. His wife calls, asking to see their boy. She’s in a bad space, though the father doesn’t sound averse to bringing him to see his mom. One ray of light in the life of Cora. Only that doesn’t turn out so well, once Mason doesn’t bring their child to see her, realising this could and likely will be a long, difficult road. After finding out things from the cops about her former life.
Harry goes to see the Laceys, adopted family of Cora – Elizabeth (Enid Graham) and William. They say she ran away five years, about the Fourth of July, a day before. Of course mom calls the girl selfish, so on. Sick little Phoebe died only weeks after Cora ran off. It’s obvious just from being around them something wasn’t right between the two adopted parents and Cora.
Note: We keep getting the wallpaper imagery, and now we’re going deeper inside. A great visual representation of going deeper into the walls of a home, discovering what’s actually inside as opposed to whatever it might look like on the outside.
We see more of Cora having nightmares. Terrible ones. She loses her mind in the night, having a dream of a woman telling a man to “give her another hit” and then someone steps right down on Cora’s chest, it cracks. As guards come to subdue her, she pleads they don’t put anything in her arm. When they pull up her sleeve they see the dried, cracking wounds of an old injection site, a veritable crater. Same goes for her other one, too.
Before Cora met her husband, after she left home, she got hooked on heroin. But there’s a deeper story. And Dt. Ambrose is going to get digging. He finds out something else, that Cora had a new visitor recently: Margaret Lacey (Rebecca Wisocky), the cool aunt. Seems Cora disappeared a long while, then showed up at a detox centre. Elizabeth refused to have a “whore” and a “degenerate” living with her, so aunt Mags took her. Yet she blames herself for ignoring the “signs” of something larger wrong. Like a large, jagged scar on the top of Cora’s head, one her aunt never discovered the story behind.
Quick flashes to the old Lacey home, Cora as a teenager. Dad isn’t happy sharing a room with his daughter, so long. There’s many nasty things going on beneath the curtains here. So then dad takes sick Phoebe, transplanting her back into the room with Cora, where the two girls eye each other with a strange emotion running like a current between them. Afterwards, they have an awkward discussion. And Phoebe, for the one slowly dying, is surprisingly more free than her sister, knowing about sex, even reading a stashed magazine she took from the hospital.
The further Harry gets into the details, the more he sees a sort of spiralling abyss into which he’s falling. Someone named Caleb Walker brought Cora into the rehab facility several years before. It also didn’t look like she was a regular junkie, she was clean, wearing new clothes. Strange, no? Meanwhile, Harry’s got himself a problem. He might be fixing things up with his wife, but he’s still hooked on his dominatrix lover; she purposely spills oranges in a grocery store, watching him as he dutifully picks it up.
More flashes back to the past. Elizabeth finds the magazine from the girls’ room, and so Cora takes the blame, admitting to her apparent sins. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” she and her adopted mom pray together, kneeling painfully on a line of dry white rice (at least that’s what it looks like) in penance. It’s the little sister who later must try getting through to the older, to show her all this religious stuff is bullshit. That’s when the two bond mischievously over makeshift communion, wine and crackers, lying on the floor next to the crucifix together. Interesting to see how the young would choose to worship Jesus over how the older, more foolish deem it necessary to be afraid of God, to be scared of his power. These two merely tell Christ they love him, caressing his wounds.
Phoebe: “Cora, God doesn‘t listen.”
Sitting around with people at home, Harry has to listen to other people talk about their perceptions of Cora’s case, from what they know in the media. One guy’s pontificating too hard for his liking, so he gets a bit mouthy. That night he and Faye try connecting physically again.
Mason is still looking for J.D. and he’s tracked him to a bar. They wind up in a bit of a fight after the guy’s nonchalant about the whole ordeal. This puts the cops on Mason, luckily Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) helps as much as she can, what little she can.
Back at prison, Harry brings in the tools of the trade, asking Cora to show him how she shot up heroin. Except it seems she doesn’t know much about the process, really. So, what exactly happened to her back then? Was someone force feeding her the drug? Oh, I’d bet on that. She barely remembers the two months she was gone; “fragments,” she tells Dt. Ambrose.
Was Cora forced into prostitution? It seems like an almost human trafficking-type scenario, a pimp plying her with heroin to sell her off. I can’t help believe it’ll never be so simple; ugly, but not simple. We get a last flash, of that room with the black wallpaper, a man in a strange mask, kind of like a ski mask, and he asks: “How are you feeling today, Cora?”
Whoa, this episode – like the one preceding – blew the lid off my expectations. There’s so much more to this story than I ever thought. Can’t get enough of the mystery, plus the well drawn characters like Harry Ambrose, who make the picture that much more complete. I’m frothing for the next episode! Part 4 is next week.