Wednesday, August 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - The Trauma of Cora's Past is Causing Her to Shut Down in 'Part III'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 1.03 "Part III"

Ambrose unearths a startling secret about Cora that changes the course of the investigation. Mason takes matters into his own hands.

The main narrative of The Sinner has proven to be purposefully unreliable. It forces the audience to always be wary of the information that's being presented. In the last two episodes, a seemingly life-changing detail of Cora's past is revealed that would re-conceptualize the entire case and make it much easier to understand. But then, the story is picked apart and questioned. Did Cora have a history with her murder victim? Is Cora a heroin addict? It would be so easy just to take these details at face value and close out the case. The outside world has no problem labeling Cora as a crazy person or an addict. They wish to philosophize about her case in the abstract with their elitist views. The actual conversation around Cora though is so much more complex and nuanced than that. Only the people who are actually in her world and experiencing this will understand that. It's a kind of mystery that doesn't play well in a rigid court system. She has the competency to pass the psych exam in order to stand trial. But she's still clearly damaged and broken. She's suffering from trauma of some kind. It's a past that Harry needs to understand before being able to let this case go. But Cora's action still carry consequences. The system may be moving on long before the truth actually comes to light.

So, the big twist of "Part III" is that Cora has the scars of a drug addict. It once again ties into the Fourth of July holiday weekend from five years ago. That proved to be a pivotal turning point in Cora's life. She left her family and started doing drugs. After a few months, she got into a rehab program and eventually moved in with her more supportive aunt. It's the simple story of someone resorting to drugs to escape the problems of the real world and coming to regret that decision shortly thereafter. It's an easy story to accept because it is more commonplace in this world. That's a horrible thought but it's true. There are drug addicts laying on the streets who have a story worth sharing. No one feels the need to actually pick them up and help them out though. Cora was fortunate in that regard to have a Good Samaritan find her and help her get clean. Of course, she doesn't actually remember any of this. Her mind is like a maze where she just has a bunch of fragmented pieces. She's still clear traumatized but the images are nonsensical. She doesn't have the context to understand this horror. She wants to accept the easy solution as well because it means not having to face the fact that something much darker happened to her.

And yet, that's something that Cora and Harry need to do together. Early on in this episode, Cora has so much hatred for Harry. She is angry with him because he played that song and harassed her until she had another violent outburst. In the span of this episode, she goes from hating him to realizing that he's absolutely right in there being something else going on in her life. She has no definitive memory of what happened in the two months following the fourth of July five years ago. She believed she was a drug addict living on the streets because that's what she was told. She internalized that because of the way she was raised. This was her punishment and she needed to face it in order to move on with her life. This is what she was told had happened to her. It didn't matter that she had no recollection of it. She just had to deal with it. She had to keep it hidden from the people she came to love. She told Mason that the scars came from a bad illness she had as a child. That story tracks especially if she told him about her sister and her upbringing. It's a story that her mind could eventually rationalize as well until she forgot that those marks were even there. But they are. She believed she knew the truth. But this episode only reveals that her life is just as mysterious to her as it is to everyone else.

Of course, this big revelation happens after Cora enters her plea yet again. In the moment, she is unsure of what to do. For this entire season so far, she's wanted to plead guilty. She committed this crime and wanted to be punished for it already. She needed all of this to just end. She needed the police and the press to stop invading her life and the people she loves. She wanted something better than that for her family. But it can also seems like she is giving up. Mason desperately needs her to put up a fight. He can't accept that his wife is gone in an instant. He has no idea what's going on. He believes he knows the truth based on the things Cora said back when they were married and what Caitlin is telling him now about the investigation. It could be very frustrating that Cora isn't at least being open to her husband about her life as she has experienced it and how it relates to her current situation. Her being confused by it doesn't bring the clarity that he needs right now though. He needs an explanation for why his wife is gone and why his son will be raised thinking his mother is an addict and killer. That's a life he doesn't want. Cora is thinking about that as well. She needs to see her son again. She needs to be a comforting presence in his life while she is still capable of doing that. Mason doesn't bring him along though because of the latest revelation about the drugs. He fails to understand. Cora is upset that she can't offer anything better. It's because of Mason that she contemplates pleading not guilty. She wants the opportunity to at least present a case at trial and possibly win. It's a long shot but it offers much more hope than the alternative.

That's something that Cora clearly feels the desire to do. In the courtroom, she looks around and sees Mason's face. His is the face of a hopeful future. One where happiness could potentially be in her life again. She's been so defeated for so long. She didn't think there was anything in her life worth going back for. But now, she may be willing to fight for her family. And then, she catches a glimpse of her parents in the courtroom and immediately returns to her guilty plea. It's a swift and startling action. It's her once again returning to her roots and the way she was raised. It's because of the religious extremism that she finds it difficult to lie when she gets caught. In the past, it's a simple situation of her and her sister bonding over a trashy magazine. To them, it's an escape into the real world. They are at the age where they are questioning whether religion can actually make people sick or better. They don't necessarily believe that. Their parents do but they are growing more and more frustrated as well. When the magazine is discovered, Cora breaks down and tells the whole truth immediately. It's something she needs to do because the punishment won't be as severe if she continues the lie. Cora recognizes this as a destructive pattern forced on her because of her parents. She tells the therapist she would want her younger self to be willing to run away from all of it. She did ultimately run away too. She had escaped the clutches of her parents and their beliefs for several years now. They've had no contact. Phoebe is dead and her mother is now sick. And Cora doesn't have any reaction to that. And yet, she spots her parents in the courtroom and all of this learned and instinctive behavior comes rushing back. She makes the plea without even thinking. It's a jolt of an experience. One that will come to define her entire life because it means she can never take it back. This is the end of her story in the eyes of the courts. She'll be transferred to start her sentence for the next 30 years. But the story of the show isn't over with yet. There's still so much to be learned about Cora's past. But will it make any difference? Will Harry and Cora even have the chance to present it to people willing to listen and be affected by whatever they uncover?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part III" was written by Derek Simonds and directed by Antonio Campos.
  • Harry and his wife are growing more and more intimate with each passing episode. Sure, she isn't sure how to react when he has an accusatory reaction to their guests wanting to talk about the case and the impact of drug use. But they still end the night having sex. It seems mechanical and forced. But that's the point as well. It's suppose to be awkward with a hint of love.
  • Of course, things won't be working out for Harry forever. He's trying to make things work with his wife. But he's still feeling the pull to be with his dominatrix friend. He just randomly spots her at the grocery store and needs to follow her around. She provides him with something no one else does. That's ultimately just too alluring for him to ever deny.
  • Mason ends up in custody as well. He gets into a fight at a bar with J.D. He confronts him because he believes him to be responsible for getting Cora into all of this mess with drugs. It's clear this story is going to be important because J.D. is played by Justified alum Jacob Pitts and he taunts Mason with information he clearly doesn't have. But it also feels like the show is deliberately stalling with providing the actual truth of this case.
  • Caitlin has really been a good friend to Mason throughout this whole experience. She may not be good at her job by leaking all of this sensitive information without knowing the whole story. It's proven to be really damaging. And yet, Caitlin isn't afraid to also say that Mason was a dick in high school when Harry asks for more information about him.
  • Cora's aunt visits her in jail but the audience doesn't get to see that interaction. Instead, it just alerts Harry to someone new he should investigate in order to learn more about Cora. She proves to be very beneficial in talking about the time post-recovery. But she's also a woman filled with guilt about not pressing for more details about what happened to Cora during her disappearance. Instead, all she did was get her a job.