Photo: Zach Dilgard (USA Network)

In the universe of season two of The Sinner, everyone is either hiding something, or grieving, or stumbling past an even bigger mystery hiding just below the surface of everyday life—and often all three. Frankly, the town of Keller is lucky its citizens aren’t all wearing tinfoil hats or filling Xanax prescriptions by now.

The biggest difference between the show’s first and second seasons lies in the scope of its plotting and sense of grandiosity. Cora Tennetti was the victim of a serious cover-up, but the boundaries of that conspiracy only extended so far. With this year’s story of Marin, Heather, Julian, and the Mosswood Grove commune, there’s a sense of expansiveness it was almost impossible the show could have ever lived up to, even if had jettisoned much of the minute, detailed character work that makes the series so engaging, and just run pell-mell into the hall of mirrors constructed by Derek Simonds’ ambitious world-building. We’ll likely never know the full extent of Mosswood’s infiltration into the town, nor the nature of Glen Fisher’s sinister machinations, but it’s not really necessary. They served as immersive window-dressing for this tale of youthful trauma, and even as we come to the end of the penultimate episode, many of the show’s multifarious threads of intrigue stand in mute testament to the inability of any detective, anthropologist, or showrunner to fully lay bare the tangled knot of complications that is small-town American life.

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The big reveal of “Part VII” is the existence of Marin, who is both alive (at the episode’s start, anyway) and the person responsible for kidnapping Julian. Given that this season never gave us a piece of information it wouldn’t rather subsequently reveal as a red herring, it’s not terribly surprising the body they fished out of the lake was some random woman with no connection to Mosswood, but it was still fun to watch Marin’s parallel story unfold in the background and margins of what we’ve been seeing for the past seven episodes. She was the hooded figure that sparked Julian’s nightmares; she was there watching when he was arrested and taken to jail; and she was waiting for Bess and Adam, who took pity on the former commune resident and tried to return her child to her.

Marin’s journey is a sympathetic counterpoint to the other stories of loss and psychological pain that have been foregrounded this season. In the last couple acts, when Marin and Julian reach an uneasy truce (she probably should’ve been a little more forthcoming upfront) and we see estranged mother and child trying to interact, it’s all the more touching for coming in the midst of a reunion we know can’t last. If Marin hadn’t been shot and killed, she would’ve been arrested; either way, her time with her son was short-lived, and they both knew it. Julian even rests his head on her shoulder briefly, before the reality of what happened with Bess and Adam comes crashing back down on him again and he has another panic attack. The ticking clock of the Amber alert actually works in favor of the characterizations here, lending a pathos and tragedy to these familial moments that might otherwise seem forced and clunky.

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Photo: Zach Dilgard (USA Network)

Just as important, Heather Novack finally gets a moment of catharsis, as her long-absent and presumed dead friend gives her a call out of the blue in order to beg for her freedom. (“You could throw them off course...buy me some time.”) The resulting conversation is thick with the weight of the past, almost cringingly terse in ways, until Heather’s tears and an “I’m sorry” prompt a straightforward “It wasn’t your fault” from Marin. The runaway mother understandably has other concerns on her mind, but it’s hard to not think Heather will ignore such a brusque exculpation. It’s another way the show bends over backwards to make sure nobody onscreen gets much peace, but it’s certainly effective.

Carrie Coon gets a big explosive moment, as Vera Walker confronts the cops raiding Mosswood and learns her adopted son has been abducted. “You’re wasting time!” she barks as they cuff her, and by the time she’s sitting in the sheriff’s office, her reticence to share feels both logical and wholly foolish, a nice summation for the normal state of affairs of characters on The Sinner. Vera is trying to keep her cards close to the vest, dispatching her own people to try and recover Julian, but in doing so she knows she’s risking losing him for good. Harry, who stares her down during their awkward exchange, only gets a few minutes of real detective work in, but they’re critical ones (albeit fairly silly—a sunflower seed on the windowsill? Nobody else noticed that?) which lead to the discovery of Marin. It’s one of those too-easy shortcuts the show occasionally takes in its police work, but coming as it does in the middle of a frantic hunt for Julian’s abductor, the amateurishness of the situation doesn’t noticeably hamper the episode.

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Photo: Zach Dilgard (USA Network)

Mostly, the fun here lies in the tension generated by these various mysteries coming to a head. Who shot Marin? Was it Julian (no way), Terry and his Mosswood gang (unlikely), or the unknown person Marin called to inform that Julian and she had arrived at the cabin (plausible)? What went down between Harry and Vera that night at Mosswood? Will we get a Scooby Doo-style reveal that Heather’s dad planned this whole thing? Even when it misses a few beats, the show is consistent in its ability to entertain and draw out the sense of steady pacing even when it’s racing to the finish line. We’ll see how many questions next week’s finale answers, but in the meantime, the life and death of poor, troubled Marin is a satisfying story in itself.

Stray observations

  • This week in “poor Julian”: Every time he starts to have a quiet moment of peace, he remembers that he murdered two people and loses it. This poor, confused kid.
  • Marin returning to Mosswood to try and reclaim Julian was a nice way to connect the dots between Vera’s inside knowledge and Harry’s dogged attempts to find out who the hooded figure was, though depicting her gambit mere minutes after Harry and Heather learn of her time with the nuns somewhat sapped her reappearance of any momentousness.
  • Harry: “What you’re doing right now is hurting him.” Vera: “Saving my son isn’t gonna save you.”
  • Credit where credit’s due: The scenes between Marin and Julian were awkward, painful, and stilted bordering on alien. It felt quite real; kudos to Hannah Gross and Elisha Henig.
  • I’d say next week has a lot of heavy lifting to do, but season one ended relatively abruptly as well, and it didn’t feel slighted, so fingers crossed. 

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