USA’s The Sinner
Season 3: Part I
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Derek Simonds
* For recaps & reviews of Season 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part II, click here.
Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer) is taking a weed break in the bathroom, using Visine and mouth spray to keep the suspicion away, given he’s a teacher at a preppy school. Everyone seems to think highly of him, from his colleagues on staff to the kids in his classes and in the hall. Mr. B is highly supportive of his students, working to ensure they genuinely learn and grow.
We meet up with Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) again— now Detective-Lieutenant Ambrose. He’s facing the potential twilight of his career and shuffles around “like a goddamn zombie” because of stress-induced sciatica. His friends are retiring, too. He believes the “station needs continuity,” unwilling to let go of the job quite yet. We do see a new chapter in Ambrose’s life we’ve not seen so far: his daughter, Melanie (Leslie Fray), and his grandson, Eli (Luke David Blumm). Melanie isn’t thrilled about her dad living like a hermit out in the woods in a house that used to be “an old army barracks,” as if he’s purposely isolating himself, fortifying his psyche behind those stony walls. All the same, he does want to be involved in his daughter’s life.
There’s certainly something not quite right in Jamie’s life, despite the fact he has a loving wife, Leela (Parisa Fitz-Henley), who’s also carrying their first child. He holds his hand over the barbecue while grilling, nearly touching the flame. Then someone’s at the door: a friend from college, Nick Haas (Chris Messina). But Jamie isn’t happy to see him, apparently having told him not to show up. There’s some lingering trouble between them. Nick’s mention of “not this time” is a deep, dark well of potential.
Things become awkward once Leela invites Nick in for dinner. She tells him about their life, and suddenly he’s prying very hard into their relationship. He mentions being in the business of “private equity.” Glaringly obvious there’s a disturbing reason for Nick being around, not solely because The Sinner trafficks in unsettling stories.
Dt. Ambrose is called out in the middle of the night to the scene of an accident on private land. He sees a bloody, dead Nick poking out through the vehicle’s windshield. At the hospital, Jamie is patched up, though lost in a sea of memories from the crash. He’s spaced out when Leela shows up, glad to see he’s okay. The cold, dead look in her husband’s eyes suggests there’ll be many secrets to unravel.
A little later, Jamie sits down at the station to discuss everything with Harry. He walks through the night, getting to when they went for their drive. He can’t remember everything too clearly because of having a few drinks. He remembers Nick going too fast and then they lost traction before the car was thrown around “like a big hand was just shaking the car.” Then they crashed. Jamie survived only to watch his friend trapped in the wreckage. He says things don’t seem the way they were before, like his house and his hands and everything else aren’t his own anymore. He has curious things to say about how Nick looked at him while dying. This one’s going to stick in Harry’s craw.
Harry speaks with Sonya Barzel (Jessica Hecht). She’s the one who owns the land where the accident happened. He asks whether she knows either of the men involved in the crash, and if there would be any reason they were coming to see her. He shows her their pictures. Sonya claims she doesn’t know them— curious she takes a moment before answering, like maybe she’s not telling the truth. She does ask if the men were “armed.” One thing we know about The Sinner is that many lies get told, by many people.
“You don’t get to tell me where to go”
Poor Jamie’s haunted, seeing Nick standing across the road like he’s still alive. He sees his hand wrapped in a bandage similar to his friend when he showed up at dinner, bleeding from the centre. He’s falling apart. Speaking of coming apart, the autopsy’s being done on Nick and curiously one of the things Ambrose notices first is the “knife wound” in the deceased’s palm, which didn’t come from the crash.
Harry and fellow detective Vic Soto (Eddie Martinez) look for Nick’s cellphone, missing from the items recovered at the scene. They go back to the destroyed vehicle, unable to find it. Harry sees evidence Nick was struggling after the crash. He finds a bloody fingerprint on the volume knob in the car, where Nick wouldn’t have been able to reach. Did Jamie turn up the music to drown out noise? Or was he turning down loud music Nick might’ve had playing on their drive? Hmm.
Suddenly, an accident becomes a “possible crime scene” instead. And that doesn’t help Jamie any when he returns to the scene, where Sonya catches a glimpse of him. At home, Leela gets a brief visit from Harry while her husband’s running errands, and the detective plants a little seed of doubt in her about the relationship between Jamie and Nick. A flashback to Nick upset that Jamie wrote him “out of history” by never telling his wife about their time at college. Quite a few possibilities here. Nick might’ve only been alluding to wild college frat boy stories. Or, he might’ve been alluding to something more intimate, perhaps even darker. While Leela was off in the kitchen during their dinner, she heard her husband getting aggressive towards Nick about his “fucking games.”
Back at home that evening, Jamie continues to have visions of his dead friend. He watches Nick sneak into their home, pick up a knife, and, while Leela’s talking, put the blade to her throat. He slices Leela across the neck, prompting Jamie to jump, reaching for his wife. And it, naturally, scares the shit out of her.
Eventually, they turn up Nick’s old Blackberry. It’s heavily secured, illustrating how serious the man took his privacy. At the hotel where he stayed, Dt. Ambrose searches the place. He finds one of those folded up paper fortune teller things— the kind many of us played with as kids. Inside the various folds are the names of colours and numbers, as well as a couple arrows. What does it mean?
In other news, pings from the cellphones at the accident reveal there’s over an hour between the time of the crash and the time when Jamie called 911. Quite a suspicious detail, even if nobody else sees what Harry’s seeing. On top of that, the phone was found after being tossed from the car, and when they turned it on there was still power. Harry wonders if Jamie turned it off. Once forensics have a gawk, they determine there are no prints whatsoever on the phone, so Jamie definitely wiped it clean.
In bed, Leela asks Jamie about his relationship with Nick, suggesting the guy might’ve been “in love” with her husband. Father Gore wondered from the moment Nick was at the door whether there was an intimate thing between the two. And Jamie admits they experimented in college. Is it possible Nick WAS in love, deeply, with his friend, then it turned into something obsessive and scary?
Judging by the flashback from their drive, it could have more to do about a bond over Sonya. They were obviously headed for her place. When Nick wouldn’t slow down Jamie pulled the handbrake on him, sending the car flipping on its side. When Jamie crawled out of the wreckage, he saw Nick sticking out of the windshield, bleeding out. Nick tried to get his phone out, dropping it, and Jamie turned it off, watching his friend die.
“Should I tell her?”
An amazing opener for Season 3, giving Harry Ambrose a new case to stress over.
Poor guy never catches a break. Then again, nobody else can get to the truth like him.
Part II is next time.