USA’s The Sinner
Season 3 Finale
Directed by Derek Simonds
Written by Piero S. Iberti
* For a recap & review of Part VII, click here.
* For a recap & review of the Season 4 premiere, click here.
Jamie Burns has just murdered the police captain. He’s mumbling about T. S. Eliot’s “prickly pear” and watching ants crawl around the golf course bunker. He goes for a bite to eat and stares at a young woman taking a picture of her cupcake. We simultaneously see Lt. Dt. Harry Ambrose saying goodbye to his murdered friend, surely sensing in his bones there must be a connection to Jamie. He starts asking around for a location on the former teacher, putting out a BOLO for him. Vic Soto starts taking the lead in the captain’s absence, and everyone’s hoping they’ll catch their boss’s murderer before anyone else gets hurt in the process. On top of everything, Harry’s been left a note by Jamie, stashed in the dead captain’s pocket. Inside the envelope is actually the paper fortune teller, along with names, such as Morris, the captain, Sonya, as well as Harry’s daughter Melanie and grandson Eli. Oh, shit.
And where’s Jamie right now?
He’s waiting for Eli to get out of karate.
This puts Harry into high gear, also phoning Sonya to tell her Jamie’s out hunting for a new “potential target.” He tries to tell the artist she needs to leave her house, in case the psychopath might come after her next. Thankfully she heeds his warning. But the detective is more than worried about those near him.
None of it’s exactly an easy thing for Harry to have to explain to Melanie, especially considering the somewhat rocky relationship they’ve had over the years. All he cares about is keeping his loved ones safe. Right now they have to track down Eli, who’s in the wind. Harry needs to further explain the Jamie situation to his daughter, but he can’t even talk about that openly. His need to keep people at arm’s length isn’t the best sort of emotional headspace for the current situation.
Sonya hasn’t left. She’s at home when Jamie arrives. They have a strange, frank discussion. He admits: “I came here to kill you.” Sonya says she’s not sure he actually wants to. Sonya believes she sees “the struggle” in him. Is it really ‘struggle’ when a guy’s out killing people? Nah. Jamie goes on an existential rant about God and death and all sorts of nonsense— like a failed student of philosophy blaming his shortcomings on the universe rather than accepting the hideous rot growing in his soul. The conversation soon finishes and pulls out his knife, preparing to stab Sonya to death. She’s used her alert for the cops and they’re already pulling onto the property, managing to prevent Jamie from killing her. However, again, Jamie’s in the wind.
In the aftermath, Sonya tells Harry she simply wanted to try and survive this “test.” A bit wild. Also incredibly presumptuous of her to think she could save someone who’s literally snapped mentally. In the meantime, Harry’s going after him despite any reservations on the artist’s part. He believes Jamie is trying to “make a point,” like this is a big story the teacher’s telling that’ll come to a spectacular finish. Ambrose knows the former teacher is attempting to push him over the edge, believing they’re the same and that they’re headed for a similar fate.
Where does Jamie go next? To see Leela. A little too late, given the deadly path he’s been carving out around New York recently. That doesn’t mean Leela doesn’t feel for him. It just means it’s all the more difficult for her to try tearing herself away from him. She reaches out for her estranged husband’s hand, as if going back to a time before all this horror. The divide between them in the window is like the perpetual divide forever keeping them apart— just because Leela cares for Jamie still doesn’t mean she can bring herself to be with him again.
“Maybe we’re all hypocrites.
Maybe that’s the only way through a life.”
Later, Jamie calls Harry from Eli’s phone telling him to come meet alone. So the detective heads back to his place, slowly making his way around the house and looking for any sign of Jamie, who soon blindsides Ambrose and takes him at gunpoint. The ex-teacher brings grandpa and grandson inside together. Harry’s forced to put Eli in a chair and place headphones over his ears. He does so, instructed by Jamie’s gun, and attempts to assure his grandson things will be okay.
Now the two men are going to play the paper fortune teller game: three options will kill Eli, one option will save the boy. Jamie rages at the detective for the supposed betrayal, upset that he was pulled into a legal web and left “on the fucking edge” all alone. The whole thing unravels fast. Jamie fires off a shot trying to scare Harry, but the detective pushes, yelling at him. And it forces Jamie to get careless. Harry rushes Jamie and the gun goes off. Eli runs and Harry tries to follow in spite of his sciatica. This puts Harry in the woods alone, bleeding from just under his right arm, and running in the dark from a gun wielding Jamie. They soon come face to face when Jamie puts away his gun, looking for hand-to-hand combat in the dark forest. Not a good idea because Ambrose can fight. He’s able to get away and back to the house— more importantly, back to a gun.
Where do they end up? Harry finds Jamie again. The psychopath continues to insist his and Nick’s way of living is the right way to live. He tells the detective it’s a search we all have to undertake, and if we don’t our lives will just continue to go wrong. He, once again, tells Harry: “We‘re the same.” He tells the detective to face things, or it’ll only come back again and again, in one form or another. That’s when Harry shoots Jamie in the stomach, going outside to call Soto and an ambulance. He goes back inside to sit with his friend-nemesis while the guy bleeds out on the floor calling to him for help.
Jamie tells Harry there was no need to shoot. He asks why the detective always hated him. Then he starts to notice the loss of feeling in his legs, screaming for the ambulance. Harry calls Vic again trying to ask how long it’ll be and the reception cuts in and out too much. The only thing he can do is a put something under Jamie’s head and try to calm the guy. But there’s little hope with Harry’s place being so deep in the woods. Because of Harry’s own past traumas he can see past even the worst of others, into their humanity. He tells Jamie: “You‘re not alone.” He says dying is something we all do eventually, and it calms Jamie. An oddly sentimental, emotional moment between these two damaged men as the light drains out of Jamie’s eyes.
Everything’s over and Vic thinks Harry did a fine job all around. That’s not how ole Dt. Ambrose sees it, believing he made a mistake and should talk with FID (Force Investigation Division) about it. Soto tells him to relax. The thing is done now. But we know that Harry carries these things around with him long after the cases are over. His work truly changes him. Next, we see him with Sonya again and they’re trying to get back to normal. They talk about Jamie dying and it breaks Harry down to tears. This is the most emotional we’ve seen him in the whole series. Sonya makes him feel safe enough to let that part of himself out, like it’s years coming out in those years.
An amazingly beautiful, if not occasionally disturbing finale.
The Sinner could go for another five seasons, as far as I’m concerned. Watching Harry Ambrose not only solve cases and encounter interesting suspects/others but also discover things about himself and genuinely try to grow from those discoveries is pure magic TV. Bill Pullman’s one of the great unsung actors of his generation. He’s been in many things, yet never seems to get enough credit. Jessica Hecht and Matt Bomer were both fascinating this season, offering so much intensity in their respective ways, as was Parisa Fitz-Henley an awesome addition to the cast.
A different but wild, exciting, and particularly existential season.