The Sinner – Season 2: Part I
Starring: Bill Pullman, Natalie Paul, Elisha Henig, Adam David Thompson, Ellen Adair, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon
Director: Antonio Campos
Writers: Derek Simmonds, Based on the book by Petra Hammesfahr
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan.
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
When we last saw watched The Sinner season 1, Cora Tanneti’s (Jessica Biel) sentence had been reduced to reflect the trauma she’d endured, which had explained her out-of-character crime. It was thanks to Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), whose particular interest in Cora’s crime, led him to unearth the truth behind that July 4th weekend. His empathy for Cora likely stemmed from his own personal life, one that is mired in a failed marriage and dare I say, even some traumatic event. A broken man saved a broken woman. But Cora is in prison, so when a second season was announced, it only made sense that Harry would be the one transferring from this story to the next.
Season 2 picks up just a few months after the events of the first season. The story begins with Julian Walker (Elisha Henig) in a car with his parents, supposedly on their way to Niagara Falls as a family trip. But their car breaks down, and they’re forced to spend the night at a nearby motel. This unplanned stop brings out a noticeable tension between the two, especially when it comes to their son. He doesn’t look happy, and he’s nervous as well. He can’t sleep, and even asks to go back home. Odd behaviour, considering they’re supposed to be heading out on a fun holiday. But Julian had other plans in mind. The next morning, as they drink up their cup of tea that Julian brought them, they both die. So how does Harry get involved?
Heather Novack (Natalie Paul) is the detective in charge of this investigation. But she’s a rookie and feels a bit out of her league with this case – her prime suspect is a 13-year old boy. She remembers reading about Harry’s involvement in the Tanetti case, and he also happens to be a childhood friend of her father Jack (Tracy Letts). One quick call and it’s enough to entice Harry to return back to his childhood town of Keller.
Harry is a great detective. He’s patient and willing to exhaust all venues before coming to a conclusion. But his mannerisms around people exhibit a nervousness or anxiety, which is brilliantly played by Bill Pullman. Expecting a short visit, he stays overnight at Jack’s house. But some of his interactions are awkward – he actually offers the man money to cover breakfast. When he’s in the presence of the chief of police, he barely looks at him, trying to constantly redirect the casual conversation back to the investigation. There is no fanfare in Harry’s return to Keller. And perhaps it has something to do with his own past?
For a series heavy on flashbacks, it was only a matter of time before we saw Harry experience them as well, and they don’t seem to point to anything pleasant. What is he hiding? What happened in his past that causing him to wake up as though from a nightmare? He tells Heather, “There’s something in the soil here. It just won’t stay quiet.” Perhaps two mysteries will be solved this season.
At the center of this new crime is Julian, the enigmatic 13-year old boy who has killed his parents. Whereas viewers saw Cora stab Frankie, we don’t see Julian commit the crime, though he does confess. But right from the start it’s apparent that something is wrong with him, exhibiting signs of behavioral issues. He’s visibly fearful of something and wants to return home. Through another series of flashbacks, Julian is seen undergoing some kind of therapy (assisted by an annoying metronome ticking), but for what? And as was the case with Cora, we see snippets of memories that will likely play a key role in understanding the motive for his crime, including a hooded cloaked figure.
Last summer, The Sinner became a sleeper hit. The ingenuous way of telling Cora’s story was outstanding and addictive. And in an era of binge-watching, it was frustratingly satisfying that episodes were released weekly. Of course, this means that expectations for this new season are high, as comparisons will be inevitable. The overall structure remains the same – we know who committed the murder, but not the why. There’s also a strong suggestion that there could be two parallel mysteries in play: Julian’s motive for murder and Harry’s past experience. Let’s hope it doesn’t dilute the quality of the main mystery, though as of episode one, it doesn’t appear so.
Season 2 is off to a great start. Seeds have been masterfully planted, and there are enough questions already to pique viewers’ interest. What would drive a 13-year old boy to commit murder? Of his apparent parents! Why didn’t Julian have any luggage? Were the two victims really his parents? What’s the meaning behind the way the victims were found? Where did Julian learn about botany? What happened to Harry when he lived in Keller? What does the town of Keller hide? Why does Heather seem so nervous? And the question of questions, who is Vera? This is great storytelling, and after watching these first forty minutes, just like in season 1, you’ll be hooked!
There is no need to watch season 1 before watching season 2 as the two stories are independent of one another. However, season 1 is a must watch!
The Sinner Season 2 airs Wednesdays on USA Network. It premieres in Canada on Showcase on August 20th.