Big6 Blog: The Sinner – Part I Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 1, 2018)

One of 2018’s biggest television surprises was USA Network’s limited run series, The Sinner, both starring and executive produced by Jessica Biel. Adapted from the Petra Hammesfahr German crime novel of the same name, it was a critical and mainstream success. Borrowing some of the cryptic elements of True Detective or even the better parts of shows likeĀ Bloodline or Ozark, marrying that with a solid piece of original source material, and placing Biel in the lead role all worked big time. Bill Pullman’s Harry Ambrose was a flawed detective dealing with personal issues and a near obsession to the Cora Tannetti case, but the performance and the character were both exceedingly compelling.

Thus, when Season 2 became real for USA and Biel chose to step away, as the Cora character’s story was seemingly closed (as it was in the novel), Ambrose became the one that stuck around. Biel remains an EP, however, so who knows, maybe Cora could pop back up. It might be more gimmicky than this series needs, however, so I wouldn’t expect it. As for Ambrose, a detective can ALWAYS find another case you see, and Pullman’s work was certainly good enough that he could become the most recognizable star if need be. Then it was announced that Carrie Coon, the best actress on television consistently over the past three years or so, was joining to play the role of Vera, and my anticipation jumped.

The Sinner was dark, though not as dark as the book it was based on, and if there was one critique to lodge against it, it’s that the ending was so positively ordinary in every way. It seemed to be building to something massive, but it went with something straightforward and, in the eyes of some, underwhelming in the end. I thought it concluded well, because I like it to feel plausible rather than supernatural. The explanations and Cora’s fate all coincided with logic and common sense, which grounded the series on its way out the door.

Season 1 weaved a simple crime into a web of mystery, flashbacks, fractured memories, and unsettling revelations from the past. If Part 1 of the 2018 story is any indication, we’re doing that time warp again, but in an even more creepy and confusing way than before. The tentpole moment is the death of Adam Lowry and Bess McTeer, which occurs in a small motel in Keller, New York. We see the two and the 11-year old Julian we think is their son run into car trouble on their trip to Niagara Falls, forcing them to stop. The next day, the two adults die very shortly after consuming matching cups of tea given to them by the child. Immediately we realize the kid is actually Biel this time around.

Ambrose gets a phone call from an old friend’s daughter (she’s a lesbian, which we find out because…well maybe we’ll learn the reason later on), who is now a detective in Keller. Harry is actually a Keller native, so that ties him to the area and gives the entire thing a little of a Sharp Objects feel in that Camille is back in Wind Gap and now Harry is drawn back to a town he also chose to leave because “the soil won’t stay quiet.” He got to the bottom of the Tannetti mess, so perhaps he can be helpful here. Heather Novack (Natalie Paul) is the young upstart’s name, and she read up on what he accomplished a few short months ago.

He quickly figures out that it was indeed Julian that killed his parents, discovering the jimson weed out back that the boy mixed to make the toxic and fatal tea. How and why this boy would know that it could and would kill Adam and Bess if consumed in that fashion is yet to be determined, but what we understand is he’s a disturbed and peculiar kid. Elisha Henig sells the shock and the heavy breathing well, but it’s the blank stare that seals the deal. He won’t match Biel, because child actors simply can’t pull it off, but alongside the rest of the cast, he’s going to be solid.

The actual murders themselves are similar to Cora’s in that we know from the start who did it and instead are asked to determine the why and also the justification for what took place. When we see Julian with Vera, that’s just weird television. The strange pulse machine as the boy draws what feels like pure darkness on a piece of paper and just Coon’s cadence as she asks staccato questions of the boy was striking. I wrote in my notes she was some kind of deranged or agenda-driven psychologist of some kind, but as we find out at the end of the episode, that’s not exactly the case.

“I’m his mother.”

Say what?

Not that it’s surprising that the character would be important, but that we assumed up until that moment that the two people Julian killed were his parents. We even see the exchange pre-coitus where Adam and Bess joke about the former being an awful father for leaving Julian alone at the breakfast bar. But, apparently not, or maybe in some way so, or…we just don’t know yet.

No S&M or bondage for Harry Ambrose thus far, which is a welcomed change. It was effective to create a more unseemly setting, but if we don’t go down that road again and Ambrose instead has those nightmarish flashbacks of the fire and what may have been his own mother sitting on that bed when he was a lad, that’s better. He’s troubled, but he doesn’t have to be a sexual deviant. My guess is there’s going to be PLENTY of evil before all is said and done over the next two months.

In addition to finishing up Sharp Objects and covering Better Call Saul weekly here at the Big6 Blog, I’ll also be reviewing each episode of The Sinner. Right now, we just have a lot of questions as to what Julian’s issues are, and how bad a person Vera Walker might turn out to be. It was a good start. There is a ton of mystery surrounding the double homicide and the rationale that led to the killings. Unspooling all of it to get to the truth is going to be entertaining. My prediction today is… The Sinner will be better than Sharp Objects, and potentially by a substantial margin. The pacing of the premiere was strong, the cast is solid, and I’m looking highly forward to following along and sharing my thoughts with you right here each week.

Good start. Intriguing story. Many questions. Seven weeks to get to the bottom of it.

I’m @JasonMartin. Other names for jimson weed, per my research, include devil’s snare, hell’s bells, thorn apple, and devil’s trumpet. Charming plant.

Blogs

Big6 Blog: WWE’s Hounds of Justice Return

Big6 Blog: WWE’s Hounds of Justice Return

By JASON MARTIN (August 21, 2018) It’s a good thing WWE had that main event angle ready to go, because much of the three hours that preceded it was forgettable filler at best. With the exception of the opening segment, where Roman Reigns lived up to the promise and the story that defined much of…

Big6 Blog: Better Call Saul: S4E3 “Something Beautiful” Review

Big6 Blog: Better Call Saul: S4E3 “Something Beautiful” Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 20, 2018) If there was one truthful statement about Breaking Bad, it was that we all eventually felt lasting sympathy for and a rooting interest in Jesse Pinkman. Despite the shady past, he represented the redemption story in a series full of people that turned out to be nothing like what…

Big6 Blog: Sharp Objects: Episode 7 “Falling” Review

Big6 Blog: Sharp Objects: Episode 7 “Falling” Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 19, 2018) It’s not a coincidence that the best episode of the limited series came in the penultimate, where the drama always hits its highest point, and also because Gillian Flynn, author of the source material behind the show, co-wrote the hour with Scott Brown. We focused much more on the…

Big6 Blog: The Sinner – Part III Review

Big6 Blog: The Sinner – Part III Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 15, 2018) Everything about The Sinner is working this season, and the culmination of the meeting with Dr. Sheldon Poole provided one of those endings that leaves an audience breathless for the next episode. What wasn’t surprising in the least was that the good obstetrician was indeed a Mosswood member. As…

Big6 Blog: The Complexity of the Maryland Football Tragedy

Big6 Blog: The Complexity of the Maryland Football Tragedy

By JASON MARTIN (August 14, 2018) Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got a problem, and I have a strong sense I’m not alone in this feeling. A 19-year-old young man, Jordan McNair, is dead. He was taken far too soon, and he was taken in large part because he was asked to do too much in…

Big6 Blog: Better Call Saul: S4E2 “Breathe” Review

Big6 Blog: Better Call Saul: S4E2 “Breathe” Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 13, 2018) “I decide what he deserves. No one else.” Gus Fring is just one of those characters, folks. He’s one of those select few that speaks in such an authoritative and cold way that any line immediately becomes more effective. As I said last week, Better Call Saul is usually…

Big6 Blog: Sharp Objects: Episode 6 “Cherry” Review

Big6 Blog: Sharp Objects: Episode 6 “Cherry” Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 12, 2018) I thought Camille was smarter than she proved to be this week, but honestly, we should have known better. She’s as damaged, if not more so, than anyone on the show. I was waiting to see her spit out the ecstasy tablet Amma passed her, but instead, she took…

Big6 Blog: The Sinner – Part II Review

Big6 Blog: The Sinner – Part II Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 8, 2018) Carrie Coon is just perfect in everything she does at this point in her still young career. She’s able to do various things in any role, but consider how well she plays Vera Walker as both someone who cares for her son and simultaneously has some level of control…

Big6 Blog: Better Call Saul: S4E1 “Smoke” Review

Big6 Blog: Better Call Saul: S4E1 “Smoke” Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 6, 2018) If “Smoke” is any indication of the season at hand for Better Call Saul, it’s going to be another gem. This was undoubtedly a more serious opener, a little slower to move, but you can’t rush through and bullet your way around a moment like the death of Chuck…

Big6 Blog: Sharp Objects: Episode 5 “Closer” Review

Big6 Blog: Sharp Objects: Episode 5 “Closer” Review

By JASON MARTIN (August 5, 2018) It’s not that this week’s Sharp Objects was bad, but after a very promising and illuminating case-heavy fourth episode, this one felt like filler. The problem is in a limited series, where you have eight episodes, filler shouldn’t be a consideration. Things did happen during “Closer,” but once it…

Headlines