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The Sinner - Part I - Review: Mommy Issues

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"What were they planning on doing with him?"

The Sinner came back with a punch, the second season of this antology managed to build up tension to a gruesome end and all that before the opening theme, and then it set up to build the tension again until those shocking last few minutes, this was all brilliantly executed, filled with possible mysteries along the way. From the beginning, we knew there was something off, but it's hard to put your finger to the exact details that don't really fit. They look like a family, the man and the woman seem a bit jumpy but the kid seems relaxed and that makes you think things look okay, the woman is especially sweet to Julian as she sings a lullaby to him when he can't sleep. In hindsight Julian looks shocked, even a bit appalled when she starts singing and his wish to go home takes on a whole other meaning.

One of my main concerns this season is that most of the weight relies on the acting chops of Elisha Henig, he's 14 but definitely looks younger. Usually, this is not the best thing, there are very few kids that at such a young age can be as good as, for example, Iain Armitage who's now only ten years old and stole the show first with Big Little Lies and now Young Sheldon, that's the kind of talent a show like The Sinner needs. Now, given the nature of this show, we will probably only know exactly how well he's served the role once the season is over, once we know what each look meant or didn't mean. For now we can see he's definitely talented and he's been acting for a while, his resume is even longer than many adult actors, with titles like American Vandal, Mr. Robot and Grey’s anatomy on it and he was pretty good on Alex Inc., so, hopefully, he will be up to the task and do justice to a show that depends so much on its performances.

Back to the story, when the car breaks down in the middle of the road, they’re forced to stay the night in a motel close by and the next morning Julian brings them poisoned tea. He watches them die slowly, he's certainly horrified by what he's seeing but then he arranges the bodies, covers them up and puts rocks on their eyes, which is next-level serial killer. Now this would certainly traumatize a kid, but in this case that would definitely just add up on top of the previous trauma, since the kid was clearly already dealing with some issues before, like his nightmares of hooded figures, his panic attacks, and the flashbacks we see with Carrie Coon, who at first I thought was his therapist but turns out to be his mother, in theory.

Newly appointed Detective Heather Novack finds the kid standing next to a tree, barefoot and it looks like he wet his pants, which sometimes indicates abuse or in this case it could just be about this trauma he's clearly endured, not only in his past but now seeing these people die, even if he caused it. Novack is apparently the daughter of an old friend of Harry Ambrose's so she calls him and asks for help, she doesn't want to screw up such a delicate case but she doesn't want to look weak either so she asks him to say it was his idea to help out.

We learn Keller, New York, is Ambrose's native town, and soon we know it's a place he would rather not step into if it wasn't because the suspect's age intrigues him so much, he actually hasn't been there for fifteen years and even then he was almost forced to it because it was to attend the funeral of Heather's mom. We learn he and Fay are officially over, we do continue to see bits of the weird side stories he had last season but this time it seems at least we'll get more of a backstory for his character and that does sound intriguing.

At dinner with his old friend, for example, the fact that he didn't remember important things from his teenage years and the attitude he had towards not remembering makes me think perhaps he himself has blocked a lot of it out pointing at the possibility that maybe his dark past is a lot darker than we could imagine, there's definitely something very rotten there, we even get what seem like flashbacks of his mother who apparently died in a fire, she looked very unwell or, at the very least, severely depressed. He also seems like he's always unsettled, uncomfortable everytime he's not investigating something, there's something about normal human interaction that just doesn't sit well with him, even his reaction to his friend inviting him to lunch seemed off, like he doesn't want to owe anything to anyone in Keller, making sure he's not tied up to the place in any new ways.

When Heather asks him why he left for Dorchester we get a little bit of backstory to the place, he says in the 1800s it was filled with evangelicals until Joseph Smith saw God and started Mormonism, spiritualists, talking to the dead, he says they called it the Burnt Over District. This clearly foreshadowing some sort of cult connection to come, that and probably Julian's hooded figure from his nightmares. We get a few flashbacks of him talking to Carrie Coon's character (Vera, as per IMDB), where he seems to have hurt another kid, she says hiding his feelings only makes things worse and when Shadow Julian comes knocking he has to let him in, which is creepy as fuck, maybe this is related to some sort of split personality disorder, only time will tell.

They go interview the kid at the foster home where Ambrose notices he has some sort of rash. There are some quesions he answers and some he doesn't but once we know how the episode ends some of the answers take on a different meaning. For example he says his parents died, but he says it in such a matter-of-fact way that makes me think he's talking about different people, no the ones that died at the motel. Then he says they had to go back to the beginning but it's unclear who's "they", then he has some sort of panic attack that was quite creepy.

They say toxicology will take a week but when they go to the motel Ambrose sees Jimsonweed, also known as Devil’s Snare and many other satanic names, it apparently has medicinal uses but it irritates the skin to the touch and ingesting it in high doses, it can cause death. So they go to see Julian again with this and he confesses, but Harry still wants to know why so he tells Julian that once they charge him the media will be alerted and no one will listen to him. Then Julian seems to be close to saying something about his mother but then he stops himself and asks why he can't just go home.

There's something Ambrose still wants to understand so he decides to stick around a while longer and asks Novack to hold off on filing charges until toxicology comes back because once it becomes a circus everything will be harder. Then they find the car on the side of the road and a few things don't match up, it seems there could be something off about what was the origin and destination of the trip, they find the woman's wallet but no ID which is strange, but weirdest of all they realize there's not one thing that seems to belong to the kid, and they wonder what they were planning on doing with him that he wouldn't need belongings. That realization gave me chills, even more so when Vera shows up at the police station saying she's Julian's mom, now the way she said it, the small pause, made me think there's more to it, not to mention the fact that in this show things are rarely what they seem.

So this is one of the biggest mysteries the episode raises, who are the kid's parents? I thought at first maybe Vera was the foster mother and his birth parents were dead before or they were the couple in the car and they had kidnapped him, but he didn't look like a kidnapped kid, not by strangers at least. The woman did call the man a bad father so I thought maybe he was the father and Vera is the mother. But the woman kinda behaved like a mother, a lot more than the guy, that’s for sure. Eventually, given the apparent cult angle they're going for and the fact that Harry was talking about the origin of some cults that are usually big on polygamy, there is a possibility that every woman in the cult is considered the mother and every man the father of every child, for now that's the theory I'm going with. From the promo it's clear Very is very much insane intense so it will definitely be a masterclass on acting from Carrie Coon so I'm very much looking forward to that.

"There’s something in the soil here, things won’t stay quiet."

What did you think about the season premiere? What are your theories about this one? Let me know in the comments.

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