Review: USA Network TV Series 'The Sinner'

July 01, 2020
The Sinner

WE’VE just finished watching three seasons of USA Network’s “The Sinner”, a murder-mystery series where someone dies at the start then an investigation is conducted by Bill Pullman as Police Detective Harry Ambrose, the link in all three episodes. 

Season 1 starts with Jessica Biel as Cora Tanetti, an ordinary housewife who suddenly stabs to death a man on the beach for no reason at all. Folks think it’s an open and shut case as Cora quickly admitted her guilt although she has no apparent motive. 

But Det. Harry is totally relentless in pursuing the case until he gets to uncover a crime that happened to Cora five years ago, before she was married and had a kid, but which she has totally forgotten after she was held captive and injected with drugs for two months. Jessica Biel is totally convincing and sympathetic as Cora, who has lost her memory so we don’t wonder that she got Oscar and Golden Globe best actress nominations for her performance. The viewer is as clueless as she as to what really happened to her in the past. 

Season 2 is about a 13-year old boy, Julian, who poisoned to death his parents in their hotel room while they’re on their way for a vacation in Niagara Falls. Det. Harry is again assigned to the case and learns that the dead couple are not really the boy’s parents and that the woman who claims to be his real mom has mysterious connections with a cult and it’s later revealed that she’s also not Julian’s real mom.

The recent Season 3 is the most complicated of all. And also the most implausible as it tries to be profound but only ends up as so convoluted. It starts with a car crash where the driver is killed and Det. Harry is called in to look at it. 

Matt Bomer plays Jamie Burns, a teacher who’s the surviving passenger in the car, and the driver, Nick (Chris Messina), is his college friend who’s just visiting him and his pregnant wife, Leela (Parisa Fitz Henley), in their home in Dorchester, NY. 

The accident occurs at the estate of a painter, Sonya (Jessica Hecht), who says she doesn’t know both men. As he investigates, Harry realizes that right after the accident, Jamie could have immediately called 911 for help but he waited and called only when Nick has already bled to death. Jamie has denied that he has seen Nick before that night but Harry discovers that he has actually met with Nick some days ago in Manhattan. 

As they say, the plot thickens. Jamie gets from bad to worse and becomes totally unhinged, seeing Nick haunting him and killing more people along the way. What we can’t understand here is Harry could have locked him up right away after uncovering his lies, specially after he took Jamie to a doctor for psychological evaluation and he escaped, but he let the psychotic Jamie get away. 

In each season, we also uncover Harry’s past little by little. In Season 1, we learn he’s trying to save his marriage and tries to reconcile with his wife, who gives him a chance, but he has his own personal demons and proclivities where he allows a fat waitress to inflict bodily harm on him while they’re having sex. In Season 2, we learn that like the boy Julian, he too has big issues with his own insane mom who even tried to burn their house down. 

In Season 3, he tries to reconnect with his own daughter and grandchild, but his morally ambiguous behavior makes his relationship with Jamie murkier and needlessly complicated. They both come out as very flawed characters. At one point, Jamie even buries Harry alive and he would have been dead had Jaime not had a change of heart and unearthed him. Jaime says they are now connected with each other, like him and Nick before, and he believes that he and Harry reflect parts of themselves in each other. 

At this point, we’re already bored as we don’t sympathize with any of the characters anymore and we don’t buy its explorations of toxic masculinity. We also don’t buy Nick’s interpretation of Nietzche’s Ubermensch or superman concept, but we persisted until the show’s unexciting conclusion. 

What saves the show from being a total bore is the persuasive acting of Matt Bomer as the tortured Jamie, with his haunted look effectively reflecting his frazzled mental state and emotionally isolated core. In contrast, Bill Pullman is unconvincing as the beleaguered Harry. 

The problem is that he has a mouth that seems to be smiling or smirking even in a very serious dramatic situation. The only persuasive thing he did is to walk with a noticeable limp as his character is supposed to be suffering from sciatica.