SEASON 2: PART VII and PART VIII
Starring: Bill Pullman, Carrie Coon, Hannah Gross, Natalie Paul, Elisha Henig, Tracy Letts, Ellen Adair, David Call
Director: Tucker Gates (Part VII), John David Coles (Part VIII)
Writers: Jesse McKeown (Part VII), Bradford Winters (Part VIII)
Based on the book: The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
Choices. We all make them. Whether good or not, they affect us and the life we lead. Victim or perpetrator, innocent or guilty, the consequences of choice don’t discriminate. They direct the path we take and have no hesitation in bringing others along, intentionally or not.
In some cases, people are able to live with those choices without giving them much thought. However, with the more difficult and perhaps even bad ones, it’s not so easy. With those, some don’t cope well, something both seasons of The Sinner have made abundantly clear. Cora, Harry, Vera, Marin, Heather, Julian, Lionel, among others, have all made choices that had some bearing on the crime. The slow and exposing these choices is part of the reason this show excels.
On the surface, The Sinner is about a crime. But on a deeper level, it’s a study about the consequences of choices. Vera (Carrie Coon) was complicit with Lionel’s (Brenna Brown) actions at Mosswood, choosing to turn a blind eye to them, for a time. She then chose to care for Julian as a way to atone for all of her past behaviors. As long as he was safe, so was she of the consequences of those deeds. But those deeds, she did them. And ultimately, she can’t escape them. At least not fully. And she’s not the only dealing with the fallout of choices.
Heather (Natalie Paul), Marin (Hannah Gross), whose black hooded costume wasn’t the brightest idea, and Jack (Tracy Letts), they all in a way contributed to Julian’s crime. And by the end of the season, they have to face this fact. In an interesting twist though, it’s Julian (Elisha Henig) who deals with his choices most maturely and responsibly, opting to do the right thing.
The Sinner is outstanding in its ability to pull us along, manipulating us into believing one thing while something else may be true. In the first season, this was done extremely well. However, the problem with this kind of successful storytelling is that once you do it, viewers expect it (think M. Night Shyamalan). It leads producers to try and keep secrets while misdirecting viewers. And so, as I watched this second season, I found myself questioning the validity of every clue provided. Were they part of the main mystery or just red herrings? And the sophomore season didn’t disappoint. Each clue, each secret that was slowly revealed, served to clarify and explain the events and ultimately expose those who made the choices leading to the crimes. For the most part.
Season two had a few missteps. We know Julian is the killer. That was clear from the first episode. It’s the why to which we sought answers. And while those we get are satisfying, they’re also frustrating as they’re incomplete. Unlike Cora (season 1) who had a clear motive to kill, Julian’s motive is never fully clarified. Of course, one can argue that he was brainwashed into a set of beliefs that would have pushed him to act as he did.
However, the morning he actually poisoned Adam and Bess, why did he do it? And what about the car found in the lake, the most frustrating (and weak) misdirection. There was a build-up over a few episodes to strongly hint that it would contain the body of either Marin or Lionel. But it turns out to be none of them. It was a cheap red-herring in an otherwise strong show.
The big reveal was quite a shock. Heather (and viewers alike) had already figured out that Marin was intrinsically linked to the events. The flashbacks were clear evidence that something was off between her and Marin. And though it was hinted at that it could be the sexual tension between the two (again, a bit of a red herring), it turns out that the truth is far worse and tragic. For the astute watchers (and lucky guessers) there are a few clues along the way that hints to this particular reveal, one that is in line with the choices and consequences theme.
The performances were outstanding. Carrie Coon was brilliant, deftly hiding her motivations. Her behaviors never fully revealed her allegiance, unless seen in the light of a mother’s willingness to do whatever was needed to save her child. Bill Pullman was outstanding yet again. He commands the ability to show the pain of Harry’s past in his face and his interactions with such ease. Elisha Henig gave life to a conflicted boy taken away from one mother and then from another. It couldn’t have been easy for him to portray this character who’s thrust into ‘our’ world, having to face the consequences of actions that weren’t advertised as evil by the belief system of Mosswood. Yet he performs it convincingly.
Hannah Gross was brilliant as well, playing the broken-spirited girl who tries to escape her life, finding solace at Mosswood and in drugs. If only she could have featured more. And finally, rounding out the main actors, Natalie Paul was an excellent addition. In a cast of imperfect characters, she stood out as the guilt-ridden, heartbroken rookie detective.
Parts VII and VIII were assembled interestingly. Several scenes and events already shown in previous episodes were revisited. However, this time from the perspective of exposing the crime and involving the proper characters. For a story that had been zigzagging on its way to the destination, its resolution was pretty straightforward. A calm and relaxed approach, compared to the heightened suspense carried for most of the season.
Though the story was resolved, there were a few questions that were left unanswered. Who else from Keller was involved in the criminally misplaced therapy at Mosswood? Though hinted at, what did happen to Lionel? Was there any vindication for Carmen? Will Andy (David Call) get the recognition he deserves for all of his help during the investigation? I get that not all questions can be answered, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more answers.
Season two of The Sinner was brilliant. The story was engrossing, addictive and packed the emotional punch season one did. Where sophomore seasons can be weak at times, this was not the case. It was a gamble to exclude Jessica Biel from acting duties, but it paid off. Carrie Coon and Natalie Paul were both outstanding. Part VII and Part VIII continue to provide excellence and satisfyingly conclude the story. The Sinner season 2 is a must watch!