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TV Series Review

If this mystery was a game of Clue, we'd all be winners.

Everyone knows who killed Frankie Belmont: It was Cora, with a paring knife, on the beach. Scores of people saw her do it. The local paper ran a huge picture of Cora on its front page, her white shirt covered in blood.

So it's not a question of who. It's a question of … why?

Det. Harry Ambrose is determined to find out why a young mother would suddenly stab someone who was apparently a stranger to her. He won't feel right about her going to jail—or going free, for that matter—until he knows why she did it.

But to find that truth, a truth that Cora herself insists she doesn't know, he'll have to peel back layers of lies and half-truths as if they were onions.

And plenty of tears may be shed before he's done.

Open Case

We get a sense that Cora's secret—perhaps one she keeps even from herself—stems from her childhood.

Cora, we learn, was raised in an oppressively Catholic home. Her mother doted on her seriously ill sister, Phoebe, and blamed Cora for Phoebe's sickness.

"I know it's hard, but you can't give Him reasons to punish us," her mother tells 8-year-old Cora. "One bite of chocolate, and He could take Phoebe's life." Cora is, in her mother's eyes, little more than a little sinner.

Thus the show's title. And thus begins the emotional and spiritual dysfunction in Cora's life that, presumably, lead to that grisly attack on the beach. But that's far from the only baggage Cora's carrying around, which can make The Sinner a very problematic show.

Hating the Sin …

Given the conceit of The Sinner, violence is pretty much a given. We see blood gush and seep and drizzle. At least one person dies in a terrible manner.

Sex is an integral, inescapable, element of this mystery, too. We see lots of it, including movements, acts and skin. (Nothing critical is shown. This is still a basic cable series, after all. But it's pretty graphic, even if it avoids outright nudity). We learn of both hetero- and homosexual relationships. Some of what we hear about involves sexual assault and incest.

People drink. They swear (sometimes using the s-word). There are references to some pretty mature subjects, including abortion and attempted suicide.

But perhaps the most interesting—and potentially the most troubling—aspect of The Sinner is its spiritual underpinnings. You see, while Cora is clearly guilty of murder, she's also a victim, too. And one of the contexts in which she feels most victimized is at the hands of people of faith during her childhood.

As a child, we see that Cora prayed fervently and devoutly. She believed in a good, all-powerful God who held the lives of Cora's family in His holy hands. But she can barely stomach the idea of God now. "Hours and hours I would beg God to help us, and for what?" she tells someone. When in prison, she's offered protection and companionship by fellow inmates who regularly pray together. She rejects them and walks away.

Cora has obviously been scarred by her religion. As such, The Sinner offers a powerful-but-difficult take on the power of religion not to heal, but to traumatize.

Many of us have known someone who was victimized by a person (or persons) in their faith community. We know that religion can be misused, doing terrible damage to its victims. But, hopefully, we also know that if bad religion hurts, genuine faith heals—indeed, it's the only real source of healing we may have in this world.

Will The Sinner come to the same conclusion? Maybe. But I doubt it. And even though the show could potentially foster discussion among mature Christians about some significant issues, the problems we need to wade through to get to that discussion may be just too much.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

The Sinner: Aug. 8, 2017 "Part II"



Readability Age Range



Jessica Biel as Cora Tannetti; Bill Pullman as Harry Ambrose; Christopher Abbott as Mason Tannetti; Enid Graham as Elizabeth Lacey; Robert Funaro as Ron Tanetti; Eric Todd as Frankie Belmont; Grayson Eddey as Laine Tannetti; Patti D'Arbanville as Lorna Tannetti






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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