USA’s The Sinner
Season 2: Part IV
Directed by Jody Lee Lipes
Written by Jessie McKeown
* For a recap & review of Part III, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part V, click here.
“Every day a Minotaur hunts me,” Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) reads from the journals Dr. Poole, who killed himself after he and Dt. Heather Novack (Natalie Paul) tracked him down regarding his connection to the Mosswood Grove cult. Amongst the writings is a picture of someone we’ve yet to see.
Meanwhile, in jail, Julian (Elisha Henig) tells Vera Walker (Carrie Coon): “I can‘t tell what‘s real.” She tries to tell him it’s nothing but a dream. Except this is an erasure of reality, something cults are good at, and Vera’s definitely been influencing this kid in the wrong ways for a long, long time. Julian’s starting to understand the gravity of his own situation, though.
The cops track down a complaint against the doc from years before, from a woman at a psychiatric institute. Harry knows the place, because of his mother’s psychological history. It occupies a bad place in his mind. Despite that, they track down the woman, Carmen Bell (Jamie Neumann). She used to live at the commune. She went to the doc for an abortion, and instead got a hysterectomy. She also talks of “the purple lake,” where she suggests looking for any lost people. Then she goes wild after seeing the picture from the doctor’s journal. Holy shit. The whole thing gets exponentially creepier per episode.
More flashbacks of Heather and Marin (Hannah Gross), as the latter keeps leaking bits of Mosswood into their daily lives, using their rhetoric and terminology. Heather’s happy to just enjoy life, but Marin’s unhappy, she doesn’t understand what it is she wants. She further denies the relationship between them when Heather gives her a kiss as consolation, running off into the night. A sad, worried, and drunk Heather ends up going with her father, Jack (Tracy Letts), to look for Marin. They find the young woman on the road, where Jack argues with her.
Present day, Heather’s dealing with people trying to push Harry out of town. Everybody knows his history with the Cora Tannetti case, and some law enforcement worries he’s trying to get Julian off of the charges. It’s only Dt. Ambrose digging for the truth, concerned with knowing why rather than simply swallowing the accepted version of events like everyone else around him— a the last beacon of hope for good police work in Keller.
Harry gets a call from Vera to come see her. When he goes, he gets a call from her son beforehand. Julian’s trust for his mother is starting to fade, unsure if she’s telling him the truth. The detective tells him straight, no bullshit. After their conversation, Harry goes into Mosswood Grove with Vera. She plays a tape for him, of Bess McTeer (Ellen Adair) confessing a troubling “fantasy” about Julian. The recording is part of “the work” from one of their sessions, a form of therapy. The detective has to understand these sessions more in order to make sense of the tape, so he wants Vera to conduct one with him. She takes him to see the rock in the barn, telling him a bit of its history. Harry mentions the dream Julian has, which Vera claims is only the “old hag“— a prominent “archetype” in certain cultures, including my own here in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Back at home, Heather goes to talk with her dad. Jack can’t remember what Marin said to him that night, though he remembers the night itself. We see a flashback of Marin showing him a tattoo from Mosswood: a labyrinth. He draws it for his daughter, unsure of what it actually means. She searches for answers online, coming upon a picture of a man called Lionel Jeffries, the so-called “Beacon“— the same man pasted into the journal of Dr. Poole. She discovers Jeffries worked in reenacting trauma in various ways. This led to a scandal, in which he was alleged to have physically/sexually abused patients.
Heather’s further tracked an address – Niagara Falls, at that – from a package Dr. Jeffries book came in to a book depository. It leads her to a storage unit, in Julian’s name, containing books by Jeffries, files, and a bunch of tapes. She watches one of the tapes. A man with a bloodied face talks of seeing his father, reliving traumatic memories. Behind him, and a crowd of people, is the rock. The man rushes up next to the camera, pounding and beating someone, presumably the doctor, reenacting trauma through a violent form of “play.”
In the woods, Vera and Harry walk and talk, about him, about Julian, of the past, and all things in between. It’s, at times, antagonistic. She’s a pretty crafty person. Then again, the detective’s no slouch, either. He gets lost for a minute, after twisting his ankle. All of a sudden the woods are vast and terrifying. He eventually makes it to a shack, where Vera’s cooking, as if she expected all this journey. Harry’s angry, too. He doesn’t like “playing games.” Once he calms down, he has tea with Vera, she tells him of the Beacon and their practises. It’s the typical New Age-type of bullshit. Including some typical Freudian psychoanalysis, even if Dt. Ambrose does actually have issues with his mother. Add to that the usual sexual interests of cult weirdos, and you’ve got Vera in a nutshell! It’s almost as if she’s trying to hypnotise the detective. She uses the heartbeat sound, like her therapy sessions with Julian.
And then, Harry wakes in bed at the motel, unaware of what’s really gone on.
Jesus, The Sinner has gotten better every step of the way. I say this a lot, but it’s true. That’s the mark of the great shows— whereas some lurch on, one way or another, the masterpieces continue to get better, and they draw you in more every time. Pullman is amazing, as are Paul and Coon. Three great actors leading this season.
Part V is next time.