In the beginning I wanted to review three seasons of The Sinner all separately but then I went on and binged all of it in a few days. In other words, it made sense to talk about each season of The Sinner in one post. This one will most likely be a bit of a long one so grab some coffee, take your time and let’s bring on the sinners.
These reviews are essentially spoiler free. I have hid some in plain sight for those who have seen these seasons or do not care. The spoilers are hidden between brackets and to see them, just highlight the text between.
The Sinner is an anthology crime drama series that revolves around one particular detective Harry Ambrose played by Bill Pullman. So even though the show is technically anthological, Ambrose’s character arc does build season to season. So I wouldn’t necessarily call it anthological because we have one central character throughout the series. It’s especially important to note that there’s a lot of character development happening with Ambrose so skipping seasons is not an option.
For me anthological means each season can be viewed as separate, with different characters for instance like American Horror Story. So if you were thinking you could skip seasons, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’d miss out on Ambrose’s development as a detective as well as his own backstory that is revealed piece by piece.
The first season is based on a German crime book written in the 90’s which I haven’t read. Pretty sure season 2 and 3 are not based on the book but are created by Derek Simonds – creator of the show.
In the first season we follow Jessica Biel’s character Cora. Right from the beginning we see that she is struggling with something. She has a loving husband, a kid she adores but there’s inherent darkness in her that is shown right away. Then she flat out kills somebody on the beach (this is not a spoiler, it happens in the first episode). This immediately pulls you into the first intriguing season of The Sinner. You have no idea what is happening all while you are following Ambrose trying to make sense of it.
Ambrose is very invested in Cora from the start and you can tell that he is a detective that goes the extra mile. While others try to chuck it off as a clean cut murder, Ambrose has his doubts. Pullman is great here. He plays Ambrose as this approachable guy but he clearly is not perfect. He becomes obsessed with Cora’s case to a point where he goes above and beyond to find out what exactly drove Cora towards murder.
Jessica Biel is not in my list of actresses who’s career I follow. She has been just there but never really stood out. Here she is wonderful and I hope she finds more television roles like this. Is she perfect? I don’t exactly because Cora’s character is so complicated. It is hard to say if the disconnect was due to Biel or the character. I think it’s most likely influenced by how Cora was written. She has a wall up and even though that wall is being knocked down episode after episode, there’s still a disconnect at the end. Still, there are moments where Biel is simply flat out amazing.
The first season slowly unravels the mystery and honestly, what a ride! Gradually the pieces are starting to fit together and we get the full picture we didn’t expect. (I loved how the murder was connected to it all and basically just unraveled another mystery. To have your memory wiped away like that is a great plot twist and the whole sister story line was just the right amount of sad.)
Is the first season of The Sinner perfect? Not really. There are plot points that feel far fetched, some characters feel unnecessary but as a whole, I can’t really want to nitpick on anything. It was a strong opening season and gave The Sinner a strong platform to carry on from. Keep in mind that it was supposed to be a miniseries but ended up being so good that they are now looking at four seasons… at least.
Let’s get one thing out right now – this is my favourite season of the entire three so far. It starts off with this kid, Julian, going to Niagara Falls with his parents, then suddenly, he kills them. Talk about a hard hitting first episode! Then the whole situation gets even better when a cult is introduced to the mix. There’s something about cults that just tickles my brain in the nicest way possible. Again, Ambrose is thrown in the middle of this, invited back to his hometown on behalf of a new detective needing help. Ambrose being Ambrose throws himself in deep and well, the rest is why season two is my favourite of the bunch.
There are multiple twists in this season and even though I guessed two of them I didn’t mind. I feel like it didn’t matter by the end because the story was still compelling. Besides, I didn’t know my guesses were going to be right! (The fact that Julian’s mom was alive was a very quick guess from my part. It made so much sense since the beginning. And the more we got to know Heather’s dad, the less I trusted him. I think I figured out his evolvement pretty early on. Not entirely but after one particular flashback it was clear to me. His constant need to distract the conversation with food just made no sense to me but I’d like to think that this twist worked for many others better than it did for me.)
In this season we get to know more about Ambrose’s past and why he left his hometown behind. He hardly visits and here we sort of find out why. This season also shines a lot of light into Ambrose’s own personality and it slowly starts to make sense why he needs to seek for truth.
It took me a while to figure out where I stood with the currently last season of The Sinner. In a way, this is the least interested I was in the main mystery and yet, it’s probably the best season to date. The thing is, it was a heavy season to watch during a time where I didn’t felt 100% me. It deals with depression and mental health in a way that it’s almost… scary to watch. Matt Bomer and Chris Messina elevate The Sinner to new heights in this. They deliver two very compelling characters, acted to a point where I can never look at them the same way ever.
While the other two seasons focused on a mystery of a crime, the third season of The Sinner is more focused on the mystery of the criminal. It’s more personal, more of a character driven season than the rest and it dives into the unraveling of a person. It follows Bomer’s character Jamie and his… gradual fall into something dangerous. Needless to say it’s fascinating, yet it does result in a slower season.
Messina as Nick here is… I just loved him. (He is basically a hallucination throughout the season but that doesn’t matter. There is a scene in the final or second to last episode where Messina cuts Bomer’s hair. Man, that was for some reason the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that Bomer strips naked in this so it’s not like I wouldn’t have other scenes to chose from.) They also found an actor to play the younger version of Messina and he (Ryan Stiffelman) is an absolute gem! The way he spoke, I could hear Messina, it was almost eerie.
The season has again been built around Ambrose and here he is dealing with his own demons. He again attaches himself to Jamie’s case as he has done so for the past two seasons but this time there are consequences. Not sure how these consequences will spill into the next season but I’m sure they’ll find a way. Here Ambrose’s need to seek out for the truth also becomes more harmful than helpful.
Like I said, it’s not my favourite season but if I think about it, it’s the season that I could keep writing about. There is a very strong death theme woven into this season and there are many-many moments I could analyse just based on this. Strong visuals and symbols carry this season from start to finish, all while Bomer, Messina and Pullman deliver their strongest performances.
What I also love about the show was the cinematography. Yes, it was a bit too dark at times but that’s given for crime mystery shows. The tones and the atmosphere felt right and to have all three stories take place in such a small community made it all the more intimate. That being said, the third season was a bit tad too dark and I think the balance was off.
If you made it this far, I guess it’s clear that I really love this series. The element of having different sinners as the main villains in each season is fascinating to me. The fact that we have one character to always rely on (Ambrose) sort of helps to view The Sinner as a whole. Plus, the entire show has a nice theme of crime – if that makes sense. It’s not clear cut right from the beginning and it does take a while to unravel.
Definitely excited for season four. So far the show has improved and gotten better, elevating itself in certain areas. While there are things that work better in season one, there’s also things that work for season two and season three that don’t work for the rest of the seasons. Yes, Bomer and Messina stand out acting wise yet season two plot was more compelling to me personally. It is what it is. I just hope season four pulls out all the stops and at this point, I have no doubt it will.3