USA’s The Sinner
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Jesse McKeown & Tom Pabst
* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
* For a recap & review of Season 2, click here.
Cora (Jessica Biel), with the help of Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), has finally remembered what happened that night, up in the cabin near the Beverwyck Club. Or at least she remembers Phoebe (Nadia Alexander) dying, Frankie (Eric Todd) trying to save her life with CPR. She still doesn’t recall the truth about the man in the mask, the syringe scars. So Harry’s digging further into the story, the club, those involved.
And still, Cora is in jail. Trying to remember what happened. She sees that masked man. Hears him: “Tell me.” When she responds with not remembering, he soothes her with a syringe and a “good girl.” Terrifying.
So, who was trying to get her to forget what happened that night? Somebody involved with J.D. surely. But who, exactly?
Well, when Harry tracks down a private medical clinic looking for a guy named Duffy, Daniel Burroughs, a white guy and a black there both make a run for it. Things go haywire. Duffy pulls a gun, then Officer Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) puts a few shots in him. Is there more to Caitlin than we’ve been led to believe? Maybe I’m thinking too much. Either way the cops are left with half answers, seeing as how one of the men’s dead.
Who shows up at jail to see Cora? Her mother, Elizabeth (Enid Graham). Her daughter tells her about the night Phoebe died, how she met a boy, fell in love. Of course mom doesn’t want to hear any of that. Although the parents never called the police that night. Elizabeth says she heard them whisper “about Florida” and running away. But with a sick girl out there? Part of me thinks Elizabeth was happy. She’s an awful, awful woman.
In court, Cora decides to say her piece. She speaks to Frankie’s parents directly, apologising. “That is not who I am,” she weeps before telling the court about the people still out there, who held her hostage, buried her sister in the woods. However, it’s all done, anyways. She gets a minimum of 30 years in jail. Looking on, Mason (Christopher Abbott) is devastated, and Dt. Ambrose is, too.
So with our girl facing 30+ years in prison, what’s next?
One thing finally strikes me is that Harry isn’t just a masochist sexually. His job, in part, is masochism. Police work, the real stuff – not dealing with stolen BBQs like he is again, after the big case is finished – is like being in a masochistic relationship, where nothing feels good, it’s all pain. And now, returning to that regular, droning work, Harry’s truly tortured. Likewise knowing that out there are the answers to a dark puzzle, the last remaining pieces.
Meanwhile, Cora wants Mason, her little boy to move on. He won’t have any of that, he insists they’re coming back next week, and every week after that. I love the character development in Mason, as well. He’s been amazing. Abbott really brought out the emotions of this guy, and also we see how Mason went from a sort of jealous man to a wholly devoted, understanding husband.
Harry just won’t let up, though. He goes back to that clinic, seeking more clues. This leads him to find Maddie (Danielle Burgess). She’s got a little kid now, a girl named Winter. She changed her named, all of it. A “toxic relationship” with J.D. prompted the 180-degree turn in her life. She was there at the Beverwyck that night, but claims to have left before everybody else. But this also gets the detective aiming closer in the right direction, concerning J.D’s pill business.
Suddenly Cora’s been taken somewhere. To meet Harry. In fact, it’s the Belmont home, Frankie’s parents. She goes upstairs, but nothing seems familiar. Until she’s in a room where the wall’s paint is cracking; underneath is that wallpaper, reminiscent of the dollar bill. Hiding in plain sight. The key to her trauma.
Flashback to that infamous night. Frankie calls his father to come out to the Beverwyck. He rushes there and finds a dead Phoebe, Cora unconscious on the floor. His son explains what happened, wants to go to the hospital. Yet J.D. claims he’ll tell everyone about Frankie having sex with a sick girl, high on pills. This leaves dad and the drug dealer to deal with the body, and a very much alive Cora. They even cart the two into the woods in a trunk together. They dig a hole; in goes Phoebe. That’s exactly when Cora wakes up, seeing the abandoned bus in the trees. Frankie’s dad almost kills her before deciding on a different course of action.
So he brings her home, bloody and beat up. Mom’s involved at this point, Frankie is highly disturbed to see what’s going on. After that, Cora is kept in that room, tended to by the masked man in scrubs – dear ole dad – who dresses her wounds regularly, filling her veins with drugs to send her into oblivion. He and Mr. Lambert are still tied together by their nasty deeds, leading them deeper into business together; well, by blackmail.
When it’s time, Mr. Belmont digs into her arm with a needle, making her look like an addict. He brushes her hair, washes her, buys new clothes. A pretty good cover-up. Only now Dt. Ambrose and Cora, together, have completed the puzzle. So the truth is revealed, in that the Belmonts effectively killed their own son. When Cora confronts the father, she explains “I remember your eyes” and that she understands he did it for his son. Doesn’t make it any better.
Later in the car, Harry talks about understanding Cora, about blaming himself; just as she does. We get a bit of insight into his life, his past. “We didn‘t do anything,” he tells her in comfort. And finally, we take a look, briefly, at why Dt. Ambrose is who he is, a masochist, a man always trying to put himself back together. A beautiful bit of backstory in a subtle moment of dialogue.
Back in court, things are different. “Extreme emotional disturbance” takes a murder charge down to manslaughter. Cora is ordered to a psychiatric facility, rather than prison. She’ll get therapy, some genuine counselling; she’ll get help. And her family will be able to see her more, plus now they know the truth, the devastating events which led her to that day on the beach. Only two years, then she’s free. In some ways, this has helped Harry free himself, though ultimately he’s freedom is up to him. He has to find a way of dealing with the past: either his masochism, or emotional catharsis.
My favourite part of this series is that it helps us look into the lives of women accused of murder. Sure, there are legitimate cases. But there are far too many out there, most of which are likely unknown, where women have been brutalised by men, in so many terrible ways, leading to them committing a violent, or seemingly crazy act. Only to bear the brunt of the law where previously those men against which they acted were given leniency. The Sinner‘s examination of the case of Cora Tannetti is a great template for that whole idea, representing a microcosm of a harsher reality in this 8-part series.