A Look At Season 2 of The Sinner
The Sinner was one of last summer’s more intriguing discoveries. A limited series, it turned the formula of the simple mystery drama on its head — we saw the murder committed, and we had no doubt as to who the killer was — she even went so far as to confess to it before the first episode was half over.. What unfolded over eight episode was a slow look inside the motivations of self-confessed killer, portrayed in a tour de force by Jessica Biel. But much like any other series that centers around a single crime that gets renewed, one wonders what the series could do for an encore. And the answer is, something even creepier.
Just like Season 1, the second season of The Sinner opened with a murder. What made the opening sequence far more unsettling wasn’t just the unexpected deaths, it was the killer — a nine-year named Julian Walker. Taking place in a small town in upstate New York, a local policewoman named Heather Novack quickly realizes she’s out of her league. She calls the detective at the center of Season 1, Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman, who continues to perform at the height of his powers) who grew up in the town, and is an old friend with the cop’s father (Tracy Letts). Reluctant to get involved in a new case or return to his hometown, Harry finds himself drawn in to an even more baffling set of circumstances.
Julian confesses to the crime, and to poisoning his parents. It quickly becomes clear that the victims were not, despite all appearances, Julian’s parents. And by the end of the first episodes, things become even more confused with the appearance of Vera Walker, who claims to be the child’s mother, and who is also the head of a ‘community’ that the towns calls a cult.
Carrie Coon has very quickly become one of the great discoveries of the new Golden Age. In both The Leftovers and the most recent edition of Fargo, she demonstrated the ability to play the Everywoman, who tries to find normality and decency in the world, even though everyone is tuned against her. In The Sinner, she’s playing the antagonist (one won’t go so far as to call her the villain yet, even though it sure looks that way) who even when saying the right things always seems to have her own meanings. We saw in the first episode that she was responsible for some kind of indoctrination ritual with Julian, and even though Julian immediately changes his tune as soon as he sees her, its not clear yet whether its because he wants to please her or because he’s terrified of her. At this point, we can’t be sure of anything about him. But we are relatively certain, as is Heather, the policewoman who called Harry in, that the people Vivian leads are very dangerous.
Given how crowded the world of anthology series seems to be at the moment, one could understand how loathe some viewers would be to take on yet another one, no matter how well acted or written. It’s still not clear if the series is capable of avoiding the pitfalls that doomed True Detective in its second season. But Pullman and Coon are both great actors, who for whatever reason have never received the praise they’ve deserved. And if nothing else, The Sinner, like Mr. Robot, demonstrates how good USA can be at producing edgy, fascinating series, instead of the more traditional procedural shows we usually get. I’m willing to give this series a chance while I wait for Fargo to come back.
My score: 4 stars.