USA’s The Sinner
Season 2: Part I
Directed by Antonio Campos
Written by Derek Simonds
* For a recap & review of Season 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part II, click here.
A family on the road to Niagara Falls breaks down. They’re forced to pull off the road and then look for a place to stay for the night, finding a motel. The young boy, Julian (Elisha Henig), is disappointed not to see the Falls yet. The parents – Adam (Adam David Thompson) and Bess (Ellen Adair) – argue over things outside. That night, Julian is more upset, wanting to go back home, but mom’s able to calm him down.
In the morning, the family waits for their car to be fixed. Julian gets some tea for the family while Bess and Adam spend a moment alone in the room. They joke a little. She calls him “a bad father” and they laugh over it. Then they have sex before their boy gets back, though he interrupts them. He’s got a couple cups of tea for his parents— nothing for himself.
And that’s because, eventually, his parents succumb to poisoning. But why would a young boy poison both his parents? Not to mention he watches them slowly perish in that motel room without doing anything. Afterwards, he turns off the shower, wipes his mother’s face and caresses it. Jesus.
Local cop Heather Novack (Natalie Paul) meets her colleague Andy Brickowski (David Call) over at the motel. They’re both fairly shocked at what’s occurred, given that it’s a small place. Inside the room, they find the two corpses. They see there are rocks over the eyes of the deceased— was it the son who did this, seeing as how nobody else touched the room? There’s also a window left open in the bathroom, as if someone sneaked inside. Out in the woods, Heather finds young Julian hiding: he has no shoes on and he’s urinated himself.
We catch up with Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), whose life has changed some since last we saw him. He’s not entirely doing better. His family life isn’t perfect. His nails are looking better, suggesting he might not be engaging in his masochistic tendencies, at least not as much. At a bar, he drinks, but he gets a call from Heather. Turns out Harry knows her father, Jack (Tracy Letts)— they’re from the same town of Keller. Heather wants “another set of eyes” on this latest case, unsure of what to do. It’s already evident we’re going to get a look at the dark skeletons in Harry’s closet.
Our detective heads back home, the first time in many years. Harry meets a grown up Heather. He discovers she didn’t tell her higher-ups about inviting him, especially not Chief Tom Lidell (Jay O. Sanders). Despite that he’s there, and he starts digging in on the crime scene. The kid isn’t saying anything about what happened to his parents, either. Harry and Heather go to a foster group home where Julian’s being kept for the time being. The kid gives them small pieces of info, such as their Niagara Falls destination. Other than that he seems traumatised, as he remembers the last agonising throes of his mother’s life. He only speaks cryptically before going into hyperventilating state of heavy breathing and partial feral-like screams. Very spooky.
We have a flashback. A psychiatrist named Vera (Carrie Coon) has a talk with young Julian, she uses a bit of audio therapy to try and help him. She doesn’t get much in the way of answers. Until the kid mentions he “became shadow Julian.” This is where we start to see more of his character expand. As Season 1 of The Sinner taught us, though: never act as if you’re sure of the story or the plot, it could end up anywhere from here.
More investigation. Heather and Harry talk to the motel’s manager. The man saw Julian at the breakfast bar making tea. He thought the kid was sick because he had a handful of tissues with him. The manager also mentions Julian had to have come in through the rear, which leads Dt. Ambrose right to a patch of vegetation, including jimsonweed— a potent, toxic plant. Harry takes it with him to talk to Julian, and the kid clearly knows about the plant’s toxicity. This is when the boy admits to steeping jimsonweed in the tea. The older detective tries to reach out to the boy, to help. But there’s something very wrong with Julian.
With a confession and evidence, things look cut and dry for this crime. Others see it as a “sign of the times” that kids are killing their parents. But really, it’s just a small town grappling with an ugly crime they’re not used to in a more rural space, as opposed to the big city. Meanwhile, Harry wants to try digging deeper. He knows there’s more than meets the eye. He also knows there’s “something in the soil” in Keller, making it an usual place. He suspects Julian’s story is darker than it already seems. And when the investigation proceeds more, clues come to light suggesting not all is what it appears on the surface with this family.
Note: I don’t think it’s insignificant there are Carl Jung texts amongst the family’s belongings. Particularly The Undiscovered Self re: Julian’s possible dual personalities. Additionally creepy there are no kids belongings in the luggage. Hmm.
Then, we find Vera at the police station claiming to be the mother of the boy. Oh, lord. Already more mysteries.
A stellar opening for Season 2! I fell in love with the first one, due to both Jessica Biel’s performance and Pullman’s, too. Here, it’s nice to see more of Ambrose as a character get fleshed out. Pullman is wildly underrated, in my opinion. Can’t wait for Part II next time.