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TV Series Review

If USA's The Sinner was a game of Clue, we'd all be winners.

The murder mystery, now in its second season, leaves very little doubt as to whodunit. In the first season, it was Cora, with a paring knife, on the beach. In the second season, it was 11-year-old Julian, with poisoned tea, in a hotel. Scores of people witnessed the first murder. Julian himself confessed to the second.

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

Detective Harry Ambrose delves into these mysteries in search of those ever-so-elusive answers. Sometimes, the culprit might not be the ultimate killer. Perhaps someone, or something, is pulling the strings—a homicidal Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain.

But with each case, Ambrose leaves himself vulnerable to undoing the ragged stitches in his own battered soul, and his fellow detectives and police officers sometimes do the same. Just as some of Ambrose's cases may have more than one suspect (despite what the blood spatter suggests), so each crime's victims often go beyond the bodies lying on the floor.

Open Case

In the second season, the killer at the center of the story is young Julian, who poisoned two people who were thought to be his parents. Not so fast: When Julian's actual mother shows up to reclaim the boy, the case takes on new, sinister layers.

See, they belong to a local group who live on a compound known as Mosswood. It's either an idealistic, utopian commune or an infamous cult—depending on which side of the fence you stand on. Vera, Julian's mother, practically runs the group, and Julian was born in it. He's the only kid on the organization's premises, actually, since the other cult members have pushed personal and familial relationships aside for "the work."

To earn Julian's trust, Ambrose unspools painful elements in his own backstory. But he's not the only one confronting the past. Ambrose's new partner, Detective Heather Novack, has had her own experience with the cult: losing her lesbian lover to it. And the show will likely continue to expose many more unseemly secrets along the way.

Hating the Sin …

Given the murder-mystery conceit of The Sinner, violence is pretty much a given. We see blood gush and seep and drizzle. People sometimes die in terrible, terrible ways.

Sex is an integral, inescapable, element of these mysteries, too. We see lots of it, including movements, acts and some skin. (Nothing critical is shown, however. This is still a basic cable series, after all. But it's pretty graphic, even if it technically avoids explicit nudity.) We also hear about both hetero- and homosexual relationships. Sexual assault and incest have all been on the narrative docket as well.

People drink. They swear. They verbally reference some pretty tough subjects, including abortion and attempted suicide.

But perhaps the most interesting—and potentially the most troubling—aspect of The Sinner involves its spiritual underpinnings. The show weaves religious elements into its violent fabric; and that faith—be it Cora's fervent childhood Christian devotion in Season 1 or the murkier spirituality found in Season 2—can give the show a complex, sinister shadow.

Many of us have known someone who was victimized by someone in his or her 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.

The Sinner's take on faith is layered, but often problematic. And even though the show could potentially foster discussion about some significant issues, the problems we need to wade through to get to that discussion may just be too deep.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Aug. 30, 2018
Aug. 8, 2018: "Part II"
The Sinner: Aug. 8, 2017 "Part II"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

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; Jessica Biel as Cora Tannetti; Grayson Eddey as Laine Tannetti; Patti D'Arbanville as Lorna Tannetti; Carrie Coon as Vera Walker; Elisha Henig as Julian Walker; Natalie Paul as Heather Novack; David Calls as Andy 'Brick' Brickowski; Hannah Gross as Marin

Director

Distributor

Network

USA

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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