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 over a strange, cult like utopian group that has given us some idea of where this season of The Sinner is headed.
I’ve always been fascinated by cults and those who both lead them and are taken in by them. I’ve studied the history and news surrounding Scientology deeply for several years, and remember being transfixed by the Branch Davidians and the story of David Koresh. This group is a bit different, at least right now, in that its more of a hippie commune on the surface. However, based on what show we’re talking about, there’s almost no possible way we aren’t headed down a very dark, devious path.
The Mosswood Grove community is going to be bad, folks, and it’s going to result in some very uncomfortable revelations over the next several weeks.
Unlike Sharp Objects, which spends too much time setting the stage, The Sinner has quickly gotten to business and not wasted much real estate on anything unnecessary or tertiary. Harry Ambrose was taken from his mother’s care when she was unfit, explaining the fire we saw last week and the flashback to it we saw tonight. It makes sense for Ambrose’s past to include such a traumatic set of circumstances, because it creates a bridge to Julian Walker. The discussion of the nightmare and the hooded figure we’ve seen a few times enables Ambrose to reach Vera’s son in a way where the boy might be able to start trusting him.
One of the things that worked so well in Cora Tannetti’s story last year was that while she trusted virtually no one, Harry Ambrose was someone that proved his loyalty to her, although he never said he would get her out of jail. He simply said he would find the truth, and that he would listen to her along the way. He has a manner about him that allows for people in the worst of situations to place faith in his objectivity. He hears these people and tries to avoid jumping to conclusions, and as such he’s successful where others fail.
Vera’s whisper into Julian’s ear gets him to clam up awfully quick and play dumb on the story he originally told Heather and Harry during the initial questioning session. The tea is no longer mentioned, nor is anything else. Vera buys into none of it either, and she just wants her son out of foster care, so she can make sure he isn’t manipulated by anyone but her. We don’t know everything about her yet, but it’s reasonable to assume she likely believes in Mosswood and the teachings of bringing what’s shadowed into the light…more than anything else in her life.
Heather has a direct tie to Mosswood, as she lost her girlfriend there when the two smoked a little weed and stumbled into the area attempting to play around and spy on them. Little did she know, Marin would be drawn into the group super quickly, leading to both dropping the necklace into the flames and walking away with the man they had never met before, looking back once, then stepping into the barn. While we aren’t overtly told, we can surmise that was the last time Heather Novack ever laid eyes on her. In fact, it’s probably the final time anyone outside of Mosswood ever saw her again.
So, we’ve got Ambrose and his childhood that shares some alleles with Julian’s, and we’ve got Heather Novack and her history with Mosswood. In two episodes, our two main protagonists have reasons to be involved and emotionally invested in the case in front of them. Better yet, they’re reasons that extend far past simply solving the “why” of the crime. What that’s called is good storytelling.
Adam and Bess were part of Mosswood as well, and Harry realizes, as does Heather, that the trip to Niagara Falls was most likely a sham. It was a hoax. It wasn’t a vacation. It was an escape. People don’t usually try to escape good situations. If and when they have to leave, they simply wave goodbye. So, if the detectives are correct, that means again that Mosswood is more than just a group of eccentric nature lovers, but instead is a haven for some degree of evil. Danny Spaulding owned the car Adam and Bess used when they left, and he’s a part of the group. He’s also done time and is a registered sex offender living with minors. Vera blows that off by saying people deserve second chances and that he’s been “transformed” through “the work.”
Because it’s fiction, we could go supernatural here at some point, but Season 1 never went that direction, so I wouldn’t predict it. However, we hear from Julian that Vera can read minds and that she’s already told her son who Ambrose is (or that’s the story mom told son), and later Vera on the creepy phone call finishes by saying that their search of the property on Osborne Road would lead them to nothing, and that “I know where the monster is,” asserting Mosswood is the only beacon in a world of trash. She’s delusional or brainwashed or is responsible for doing it to others. What you can bet money in Vegas on tonight is it’s not just a normal group with no purpose. It’s possible Mosswood is partial misdirection, but there’s no doubt the conclusion of the season is going to have a tremendous amount to do with Vera Walker, even if she wasn’t there at the time of the murders.
The local paper has heard about the Mosswood angle surrounding the deaths, so the media may get involved in the story, even though there’s no comment from the police at this point. Julian is a character that’s supposed to make us uneasy, and it works well. The scenes with Ambrose and the boy are outstanding, especially this week’s reverse Q&A where we learned about the origins of the beard as well as more specifics about Harry’s mother. The discussion over the term “outsider” is one that didn’t feel fleeting. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that word returns before we reach the end of the season finale.
So many questions are still out there, including the purpose of the giant rock behind the curtain in the barn, and whether that was a blood stain Heather found before she was frightened or wary of being watched. Who was the guy with the ponytail that popped up at the motel, now that we know it’s the same guy from the Mosswood dorms? How much more does Heather’s father know about what’s going on? Maybe he really just want to go fishing with Ambrose, but he’s a savvy man, and it’s likely he has stories from the past that could inform upon the present.
I enjoy The Sinner so much more than I do something like Sharp Objects. I find the storytelling better paced and more balanced, and it’s certainly easier to watch. I look forward to writing about the show each week. Sharp Objects…I’m just waiting for that one to end, and hoping the concluding weeks ramp up the drama. I have a lot of theories and questions about The Sinner, and its something worth discussing in the way you want to talk about a good mystery.
I’m not going to reveal any of it just yet though. But, I’ll gladly listen to anything you might have to say or ask. We’ll get a little further down the road before opening up speculation. But it’s been a solid start to Season 2, which is already more compelling with the Mosswood idea than its predecessor.
I’m @JMartZone. I’m also an outsider, Julian.