Wednesday, August 23, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Cora Journeys Through the Depths of Her Mind in Search of Answers in 'Part IV'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 1.04 "Part IV"

With Ambrose's help, Cora struggles to recover missing memories, which lead Ambrose to a new suspect.

In "Part IV," The Sinner is utilizing both flashbacks and memories. They aren't the same thing. The flashbacks are being told directly to the audience. They aren't played as Cora's recollection of events from her childhood. Instead, it's often just its own distinct thing happening outside the main plot that helps inform the audience of what Cora's upbringing was like. Her life was deeply disturbed and traumatized long before that fateful fourth of July weekend five years ago. But the audience hasn't been led to believe that we should doubt anything the show is telling us through the flashbacks. That story feels completely truthful. The rest of the narrative revels in the mystery of it all. It's the show digging deeper into the mystery of Cora's mind and what possessed her to commit this heinous crime. It is now suggesting the two months of missing time in her life as the true event that caused this public outburst. In previous episodes, it felt like a lifetime of abuse that was allowed to fester until she finally just broke was responsible. But now, the emphasis is being placed on this missing time and the various additional crimes that happened there. Cora is struggling to remember. So every little piece of detail is played as Cora willing it upon herself and being confused by the images she sees. It once again makes her an untrustworthy narrator. Sure, the show eventually comes to realize just how all of these disparate elements are connected. But it's also an unreliable storytelling approach where the audience simply can't take the story at face value. Playing these two structural devices opposite each other is quite fascinating to watch.

It's also important to note that Cora in the present still feels like she is being deceitful. The narrative is still just slowly revealing what's the truth and what's a lie. Sometimes there are hidden truths to the lies that she is telling. When Cora gave the story to Ambrose about doing drugs with a stranger at a bar only to get pregnant and attempt suicide, he was able to disprove it fairly quickly. Of course, there still was some truth to the story. She really was at a bar that night five years ago and with someone named J.D. That's the same J.D. who Mason got into a fight with last week in his own search for answers. Mason is operating with less information than everyone else. And yet, he's still trying to find new details in this world in the hopes of getting his wife free of all charges. That seems like a considerable long shot that is bound to hurt him eventually. Even after all of this is revealed, it still seems likely that Cora will be serving some time for the actual murder she committed on the beach. Ambrose's interest is piqued by this new case that is slowly forming around the two months missing in Cora's life. That case is clearly getting bigger based on what he learns throughout this episode. But will it ultimately help Cora? Especially if she is still misremembering facts?

Of course, is Cora purposefully telling lies to the detectives? Or is she confused about her own past and doesn't have the memory that the show wants the audience to have? She tells Ambrose that she lost her virginity to J.D. They were dating for a couple of months before the holiday weekend when her entire life changed. But the story in the past with her as a teenager tells something completely different. In it, she and her sister are curious about sex. It's a forbidden subject in their household but they are being exposed to images of it in the real world. They just need to look across the street to see sex. They don't really see it as healthy either. It's pretty destructive to them. They see their father walking across the street to be with a neighbor. They also see the neighborhood boy kissing multiple women. They are curious about this and Cora is pushed to explore it. She doesn't want to be a tightened up person like her mother is. So, she just shows up at the neighbor's house with her questions which he is more than happy to answer. She enjoys it as well. But even though she took pleasure from it once, she is still deeply betrayed when she catches her father sneaking out at night again. This association with sex may be masking her memories. Or maybe she's lying to the detectives in order to keep up some image she likes to give off to the outside world.

And yet, Cora is exploring her innermost depths. She is on a journey through her mind. She's desperately trying to remember and make sense of this missing time. She needs answers because it could greatly help her cope with her life. For years, she has believed one thing because of the abuse and lack of communication within her family. She's kept it bottled up. And now, she's pursuing the truth. She is willing to do whatever it takes even if the results may vary. The psychiatrist Ambrose hires for the job is incredibly skeptical about the benefits it will have. She fears that it will only traumatize Cora further without helping her case at all. And yet, the central premise of this episode is Cora undergoing memory recovery therapy. So, that comes with the assumption that everything the audience sees is going to be important. The show simply wouldn't waste our time with this journey only to prove that it wasn't true. Of course, the mind is a very tricky thing. It makes connections within memories that can help one cope with trauma. When things start to get intense for Cora, her mind retreats to an image of her waiting for the school bus only for the vehicle to pass her. It's certainly not a happy memory. It props up the theory that no one truly sees her for who she truly is. But it also proves to be an important clue in Ambrose's understanding of the case. Cora may not be able to make sense of it right now. But her mind still is giving clues to what truly happened that night.

Ambrose is finding himself personally invested in this case. That's such a curious motivation though. Mason is right to believe that none of the cops could possibly be helpful in this situation for Cora because they just want to lock her up for what she did. Ambrose believes he has proven himself to be more diligent and understanding than that. But he's also putting a lot on Cora for seemingly no reason. He's pushing for her to undergo this therapy. And then, he's pushing to be in the room with her. These memories are some of the darkest and most intimate that Cora has ever experienced. She just doesn't feel that comfortable with Ambrose. She does trust him more than Mason does. But she still needs a reason for why he's so invested in her. He always sees himself as this relatable person who genuinely cares about exposing the truth. But that's such a disconnect from how he is to the outside world. He's actually quite abrasive and impersonal. He often can just be staring off into space completely ignoring the people in the same vicinity as him who want to connect. He still may ultimately be listening. But he's also distracted with his own thoughts that seem completely mysterious. In the end, he is still allowed to be on this journey with Cora because he can relate to her feeling stuck in life. He's there with her during her second session. He doesn't listen to the instructions of not talking either. He's pushing for Cora to go deeper in her mind even though she's incredibly uncomfortable and is getting traumatized all over again. She's walking down a staircase fully knowing that death lurks down there.

In terms of what this actually gives Ambrose for him to investigate, he's pointed in the direction of J.D. and his former girlfriend, Maddie. The two of them come up quite a bit in Cora's mind. J.D. is the one she was dating at the time and the one who first gave her drugs that night. The rest of the evening is a scattered mess. But she does remember Maddie both being incredibly jealous and reliant on her in order to survive. She feels a looming sense of dread throughout the proceedings. All of this allows Ambrose to find a former landlord who knew J.D. and Maddie - who also became involved romantically with them. She worries that Maddie was killed by J.D. because she just disappeared one day. That's a suspicion the narrative really seems to be confirming at the moment. Cora is woken up during her therapy by the familiar visual of being stomped on in the chest. It's a horrifying visual that truly traumatizes both Cora and the audience. It may provide a clue as to what happened to Maddie. Ambrose is able to take all of this information and discover the woods Cora is talking about as well as an abandoned school bus. Nearby he sees a patch of dirt that could be a burial sight. And sure enough, that's absolutely true. It feels very likely that it will be Maddie. But given the twists and turns of this narrative, it would be best not to assume that until the show actually confirms it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part IV" was written by Liz W. Garcia and directed by Brad Anderson.
  • There is no mention or tease of Ambrose visiting his dominatrix friend this week. That's a relief because that's the one story in this show that is just so difficult to care about. It shows that he is a troubled soul as well. But the narrative is already doing a much better job revealing that elsewhere.
  • And now, Mason is really starting to risk a lot with his own personal vendetta for the truth. He's trying to confront J.D. with what he knows about Cora. He's trying to get him arrested. But his efforts are just disturbing the people around him. He believes he's doing the right thing. But he's actually just choosing not to sit still and be a father to his child.
  • After their bar fight, both Mason and J.D. are brought in for questioning. Ambrose and his partner realize that J.D. must figure into this mess somehow because Cora mentioned him by name and Mason was able to find him. But before finding anything useful, his lawyer arrives and shuts everything down. That feels like a convenient stalling technique to keep the narrative from getting ahead of itself.
  • Caitlin gets into trouble because Ambrose realizes that she has been giving Mason classified information about the case. She did it because she saw Mason spiraling out. But now, she sees his behavior as reckless and no longer needs to be nice and comforting to him. He's once again back to being the mean guy from high school who slept with her once and then completely ignored her.
  • The visual of the naked back during sex with Cora while the fateful song plays is very striking and disturbing. It's just a human body contorting. But the shape it makes reveals that this isn't a pleasant experience. It's an exertion of control in a way that is alien and unnatural. It's even amplified more by Cora reliving it now.