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The Sinner - Pilot - Review: Jessica Biel Is Stunning

"He's gone now"

Part I

Hey guys, for everyone that has read my preview, this might sound a bit repetitive, but for anyone who hasn't The Sinner will have an eight episode limited run, it is based on Petra Hammesfarh's book of the same name, it's written and created by Derek Simonds and the pilot is directed by Antonio Campos. The story follows Cora Tannetti, Jessica Biel's character, a seemingly typical mom from Dorchester. She has a Husband, Mason (Christopher Abbot), and a little kid called Laine, and everything seems just fine until out of the blue she kills Frankie Belmont (Eric Todd), a supposed stranger, in plain daylight in front of half the town.

The truth is, anyone who's observing up close can tell something's wrong with her, she seems to be battling depression, and maybe a little bit of obsessive behavior, and we don't know how recent this is or if she's been like that for a while. She has some marriage problems, though they don't seem to be anything out of the ordinary, and she goes to the beach with her family, just like many others that day. There's a moment, when she gets into the water and swims far past the designated area and almost drowns herself, where we can see the clear warning that something is about to happen, there's a tension in the air you don't expect to see on a sunny day at the beach. Once she gets out of the water Mason tells her he was worried, but she says she just wanted some quiet and proceeds to sit down and eat a pear.

There are two couples in front of them listening to music, and when Big Black Delta's "Huggin & Kissin" starts to come from the phone, Cora has an immediate reaction, she seems to get in a dissociative state, she can't stop looking at the way Frankie and his wife, Leah (Teri Wyble), start getting almost intimate, until she loses it and stabs Frankie multiple times with the same knife she was using on the pear. Mason manages to get her off of him but it's too late, once she's no longer with the knife in hand she gets closer to Frankie's girlfriend but they stop her again and she gets arrested right away. There's a little detail that might escape you before knowing the importance of this song, and it's that it was a song played by a band Frankie himself had in college, something that will probably tie in with Cora's history with him.

Now, the way this whole thing unfolds seems to point to her having been assaulted at some point in her life. Cora is in true shock as they strip her naked and clean the blood before getting her in a cell. No one understands why she did what she did since she swears she never met Frankie before, but there is so much proof, that they are willing to let it go. Everyone except Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), because every story of this sort needs an investigator that isn't able to let it go until he has the whole story, and here is where the story truly focusses and we see what The Sinner will truly be about.

Detective Ambrose is clearly a unique character, but they seem to want to build his character to be intriguing and it doesn't have the desired effect. He's apparently married and he has an affair with a prostitute that steps on his nails, so there's some sadomasochism aspect to it, and it is strange, but it doesn't seem to add anything all that interesting to his character. This doesn't mean Bill Pullman isn't compelling, he really is, and I hope there's more to him than this.

Mason struggles with being there for his wife, he witnessed what she did first hand so he doesn't even know if he should be there for her, and I won't say Christopher Abbot is bad, but he doesn't give us enough for us to care for his character, maybe we shouldn't, or maybe we will later, that is yet to be determined. When he finally goes to visit her, she tells him she's going to plead guilty, that there's nothing more to it, and she tells him he should move on. She thanks him for being a great husband and tells him he gave her a better life than she ever expected, he can't manage the situation and leaves abruptly.

Except for Bill Pullman, most of the cast is unknown so they probably put all their chips on Jessica Biel, but boy does it pay off, when she's on screen you can feel her unrest, you feel her trauma, even when you don't know exactly what's going on. And you want to, you want to know everything that happened to her until this moment. This is made absolutely clear when we see Cora in a cell crawling out of her skin, not being able to sit still, she's crying, hitting the walls and she seems to be re-playing the song that set her off in her head over and over again. She begs for the sleeping pills we saw her take in the beginning, and this makes us wonder if replaying that song in her head is not so rare. This is where Jessica Biel shines the most, we can feel her desperation coming out of the screen when she falls to the floor and starts praying.

Here, we get just a little bit of Cora's backstory, we see religion being a big part of her family's life, a flashback of her, praying with her father, and a different one, where her mother shows her baby, Phoebe, and tells her she's sick because Cora herself had taken all the strength out of her when she was born, in a way blaming her for her sister's illness and telling her God only gives them what they can handle. She shows young Cora a sick baby, practically blue, and tells Cora that the only way Phoebe will live is if they do every single thing God expects of them. This is some intense family dynamics that will probably be further developed over the next few episodes and the first thought that comes to mind is that she got blamed for messing up and somehow causing her little sister's death.

Detective Ambrose starts his investigation by talking to the witnesses, first Mason, who tells him Cora said something odd to Leah, Frankie's wife: that she was safe now he was gone, this is nothing surprising to us, but it is to him and sets him even more on his conviction that there's more to the story. Later, he talks to Hobbs, Frankie's friend who was right there, and he asks him why he didn't stop Cora. Hobbs is hesitant in answering but he finally says there was something that gave him pause, he says he saw Frankie grab Cora after she stabbed him the first time, that's why he thought he had it under control, but then it seemed like he saw who she was and he just let go.

This scene, the flashback illustrating what Hobbs saw, was utterly mesmerizing, Eric Todd had a very brief appearance here (though he'll probably appear in some flashbacks), but what he did was amazing. The look in his eyes when he sees who is stabbing him, the look of surrender, almost peaceful, was heartbreaking, and somehow it makes you feel for both of them at the same time.

After hearing this, Detective Ambrose rushes to Cora's arraignment, he wants the judge to know Cora was probably in a fugue state and her case needs to be seen in a different light, that she has to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, and here is where the episode ends, leaving us in shock, even if the implications of what we just saw are not surprising.

Now, this is something that worries me, there seem to be some mysteries that are way too predictable, hopefully this is only to mislead us, I truly hope that it's not as simple as to say Cora was blamed for her sister's death and got abused in college, because that would be disappointing, and it takes the charm of the mystery away. This doesn't mean it's not something worth watching, it's a dark, gorgeous show and it finds a way to captivate the audience even when the pace is slow, so here's hoping they continue to hypnotize us over the next seven episodes.


"Every single thing he expects of us we have to do."

"I wanted some quiet."

"What part of getting stabbed seven times is under control?"

What did you guys think of the episode? What do you think of The Sinner so far? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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