Wednesday, August 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Cora Deceives the Detectives Which Force Them to Change Tactics in 'Part II'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 1.02 "Part II"

Cora tries to block Ambrose's continuing investigation, while Mason struggles to come to terms with secrets from Cora's past.

"Part II" asks a very specific and intriguing question: Which of Cora's actions come from her conscious mind versus her subconscious? It's an important distinction. There are moments where she seems completely in control of her actions. That everything she has done has a simple and rational explanation behind it. She can go to jail for life because she murdered Frankie because of a personal betrayal he did against her years ago. In sharing that story, she is being very deliberate. She's aware of what she's doing at all times. She understands that the police need a story in order for all of this to end and for her to start her punishment. She does all of that for a reason. But there are other actions where she doesn't seem in control. They are happening for a specific reason as well. It just happens to be shrouded in mystery at the moment. She has triggers. Hearing that song forces her to have violent outbursts. She attacks people in very specific locations on the body. Again, it could all have a rational explanation of being traumatized as a kid from a religious family or a sexual assault from a few years ago. The show is seemingly building to an answer that will make sense in the end. But right now, it's the mystery and the questions that are driving the storytelling forward. It's important to ask these questions. The world is so uncertain. Cora may be a cold and calculating killer. Or she could be an innocent victim who has spent her entire life as an abused outsider. The show plays it both ways and that only increases the overall mystery of the show.

Cora tells Harry a very specific story about an encounter she previously had with Frankie. In the premiere, she told the detectives she never met him before that day on the beach when she killed him. For people in law enforcement, they need a motive. It helps convict the person for the crime. It provides an answer to the mystery of why it occurred in the first place. Without it, there is seemingly no solid case. But this isn't a traditional story. The prosecution could probably still emerge victorious against Cora and convict her based on her confession and the many eyewitnesses. But the motive makes it a slam dunk case. It's the only missing piece to the puzzle. Cora wants all of this to be over with. She no longer wants to be abused by a system that keeps pressing these questions. She wants to plead guilty but isn't given that opportunity. Sure, it's manipulative of the show to let the audience think that Harry missed the deadline to speak to the judge about Cora's mental state only to reveal that he called her and changed her mind offscreen. That's a very important action. It's Harry working against what Cora wants. She doesn't perceive his help to be good for her. He's operating under the belief that she wants to see her family again. But that's not true. There's nothing in her life that she's really looking forward to returning to.

And so, Cora gives Harry the story of meeting Frankie five years ago on the Fourth of July weekend. They partied and had a good time together. She got pregnant and learned that he gave her a fake name. She threw herself in front of a car and lost the baby. It felt like the only solution she had because of the way she was raised. She operated under the belief that it was wrong to have an abortion. So, she chose to try to end it all. It didn't work. She survived and had to keep on living. She eventually found happiness again. She had a baby the right way with Mason. It was only in seeing Frankie's face again that she snapped and killed him. It confirms the detectives' suspicions that the two of them knew each other and this was a crime of passion. It's a story given early in this episode that seemingly wraps up the entire mystery of the show. As such, it's not particularly surprising that it's all proven to be incorrect. The rest of the hour delves into every detail of this story and systematically proves all of it to be a lie. Frankie wasn't even in town during that weekend. But just because there's no evidence to support this story doesn't mean it's completely insignificant. It still has potential ramifications because Cora was there and did have an experience with someone named J.D. And now, Mason is out looking for the guy because he actually believes this story because he's not being told from the official police sources. It's all very complicated and shows how one action can have major consequences for many people.

That's the way Cora was raised. She was brought up under the belief that she was the source of so much pain in her family. It's so absolutely horrifying and traumatizing to watch. Her parents are devout people. That's especially true of her mother. She believes that Cora's difficult birth is the reason why her sister, Phoebe, is so sick now. Whenever Phoebe takes a turn for the worse, she blames Cora for not being devout or pure in her prayers. She's being raised to believe that simply eating a chocolate bar is a sin against God and deserves to be punished. She still eats it in an act of defiance. But all of this shows how cruel the world is that she has always known. It's understandable why she doesn't speak to her parents. It wasn't a lie from her perspective when she told the detectives they were dead. But to them, it was a lie that establishes a pattern of her being untrustworthy. She's knowingly deceiving them. The narrative makes sure to point out that it isn't as simple as that. That makes it seem very likely that all that she endured in this household as a kid won't be the only rationalization for the person she has become in life. It would be too easy to just blame the parents and how they selfishly abused their daughter with these beliefs. It's perfectly fine to have faith that God can save a child from illness. But this is an abusive relationship. It makes it so Cora has always been an outsider to the world. She doesn't believe she belongs in this family because she stands opposed to everything they believe in. She prays but it's not enough. It's not good enough and she always takes the blame. That's very harmful to her own development. It's the foundation for her later problems. But there is probably more to this story as well.

The song proves to be the trigger to force her into these violent outbursts. It happened on the beach with Frankie. And now, it happens again when Harry forces her to listen to the song in jail. She assaults him too but it proves to be a very informative moment for the investigation. It makes it clear that her subconscious mind is attacking the person in the same exact spot seven distinct times. It's a passionate and meaningful expression of anger. It's brought on by this song. But is it the exact song that does the triggering? It's well established that the song comes from a band Frankie was in for a short time. But Frankie and Cora didn't have any interactions before she killed him. So how could she have heard this song previously? It's a mystery. Perhaps it just needs to be a similar type of song. That coupled with the visuals of the intimacy between Frankie and his girlfriend was enough to trigger her on the beach. Meanwhile, Harry is being abusive to her in his interrogation just like so many other people have been throughout her entire life. That appears to be a pattern as well. That's why she has the same outburst at him. Those connections seem valid. And yet, they could just as easily be proven wrong somehow as well. The mystery is still ongoing as to what's the truth and what's a lie. Cora is purposefully being cryptic every step of the way. She's aware of some things and not others. Sex and intimacy are potential triggers as well. But that will need further exploration in order to pan out to being something substantial in this investigation. Every time it seems like the detectives get closer to solving this case, it only spins further out of their control and understanding. Perhaps they'll get lucky eventually. But it seems much more likely that even in the end the characters may not fully understand what is happening within the mind of Cora.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part II" was written by Derek Simonds and directed by Antonio Campos
  • Harry is also in the midst of a separation with his wife. She feels like he doesn't even notice her anymore - like she could disappear and he wouldn't even remember her. He's living with his partner which is somewhat awkward as well. And yet, things do seem to be looking up for Harry. His wife does allow him to come home because he's willing to put in the work to better connect with her. But that change is hard and he has to truly be committed to doing the work.
  • There are moments where Harry seems separated from reality as well. In a way, that connects him to Cora thematically because they both experience similar things that normal people don't understand and question. But in the context of the show, it could also be saying that many people are often off in their own minds with no awareness of the greater effect it has on their lives.
  • Caitlin was sympathetic to Cora in the police station when she was first brought in. And now, she's a comforting voice for Mason as he goes through this uncertain time. They have known each other for years and have reconnected because of the case. That familiarity is what makes her break protocol and tell Mason classified information. That could be a mistake because he's only getting half the story without the proper context to understand it all. Moreover, he's acting on that information too.
  • Even in prison, Cora finds herself all alone as well. She's still forced to confront religion. It's right there in front of her. She can't escape it. But she has such a bad association with faith and prayer that she can only see this group as monstrous even though they do seem like they want to give her a place to belong. They can help protect her from the women who are willing to take advantage of her isolation.
  • It is absolutely ridiculous that a bartender would remember a face in the crowd from five years ago. Cora wasn't a regular at this bar. She just was a customer during what was probably a busy night. And yet, Harry is able to get a ton of detailed information out of this woman. She points him in the direction of some blonde friends who come have useful details to help better understand Cora.