Wednesday, September 6, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Cora Visits the Potential Crime Scene as Ambrose Struggles to Connect in 'Part VI'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 1.06 "Part VI"

As Ambrose begins to waver, Cora convinces him to take his greatest risk yet for the case.

The Sinner started off strong but it's been losing steam as of late. "Part VI" isn't a bad episode at all. It would just benefit from the audience being able to binge the entire series. This show may actually play better that way. Right now, it just feels like the story is just teasing the audience with answers while delaying them for as long as possible. In the beginning, the mystery and atmosphere of this world were incredibly gripping to watch. But the plot complications along the way really haven't increased the tension in a strong way that will ultimately justify the season being eight episodes. This episode serves its purpose of once again confirming Cora and Ambrose as kindred spirits who have found each other in the most awkward and life-changing of circumstances. That's a fascinating twist on top of a murder mystery story. They are allies in a world that seems corrupt and bound to oppress and abuse them. They've experienced that firsthand. Sometimes they welcome it and sometimes they are afraid of it. They simply see the world differently and that has caused so many problems in their lives. That character study is fascinating. But the actual story of what happened to Cora during this missing time that led to her being so traumatized that she killed someone has really started to drag. Cora comes to this big realization at the end of this episode. But we'll have to wait until next week to learn what that is exactly. It's a frustrating and familiar plot contrivance that really goes against how original and genre-breaking this show was in the early going.

For the majority of this hour, Ambrose is defeated about everything in his life. He is still trying to be a good husband who fulfills his obligations. He wants to care for the trees at his old house because he made that commitment to them. But he simply doesn't understand how his actions pushed his wife away. He doesn't understand how she can be done with their marriage now after they've been trying so hard lately. He's adrift in his personal life and that's affecting his ability to help Cora. One would think he would have a strong conviction with the case because he's aware of the urgency of the situation. He knows that Detective Farmer sees Cora as a murder suspect who killed someone else. He knows that time is running out to help Cora solve the mystery of her own life. Solving that case will perhaps help her out of this life-changing situation she finds herself in. He even has the lead of possibly finding the building with the wallpaper where she was taken. He has all of this information. And yet, he just doesn't seem all that motivated to do anything. He's now just walking around in his own life. His wife's decision has broken him. He's willing to be choked out during sex because he seems to be checking out of his own life. That's very self-destructive. It's very selfish as well because it's him completely forgetting everything else that has been happening lately.

There's even more strangeness afoot in regards to the main mystery as well. Mason was in a very dark headspace at the conclusion of last week's episode. He was ready to kill J.D. for beating up his father and seemingly destroying every family connection he has. He sees the police as refusing to do anything to arrest the one guy who is actually to blame for what happened to his wife. Now, he's taking justice into his own hands. It's a dark twist. If he were to go through with this action, then that would leave his child without a mother or father. That could be very traumatizing. This central action by Cora has had far-reaching consequences. What it's revealed within Mason is a sense that he is broken as well and doesn't truly understand the world around him. But the show doesn't actually follow through on him committing this heinous crime. Instead, someone else does it for him. J.D. is killed and it's now a new mystery as to who killed him. Detective Leroy is on that case even though he hasn't been a major character so far this season. Perhaps this will give him purpose. It's just more important that Mason is a witness to the crime and produces some solid leads for the investigation while also making it clear what his own ambitions were for being near the house at that specific time. He didn't have to do that because he already got rid of his gun. Him doing so is largely him just confessing to the world what his complicated feelings are right now.

It is a little cathartic to see Cora and Mason like this. They are now completely awake to what their life together really was. It was a relationship filled with secrets and mysteries that they never really understood or were even aware of. They were happy together. They still love each other. But addressing these traumas is changing them as well. It leaves the future uncertain for their relationship - largely because it's still unclear how much time Cora will be serving in prison. Of course, it's also clear that Cora is much more deeply traumatized than Mason. Him trying to relate to her doesn't seem like a fair comparison. That's because the audience has seen all of the abuse she has experienced firsthand. Some of it came from other people. But a lot of it was learned behavior because of how she was raised and the life she came from. It's because of that background that it makes sense why she fell so in love with J.D. He was a savior of sorts for her because he represented a way out of that strict and oppressive home. She was allowed to be herself when she was with him. That was the only time where that was true. This season has proven that she really did love her sister, Phoebe. The two of them had a happy and healthy relationship. But it's also incredibly codependent. Phoebe keeps relying on Cora to experience the world for her. It makes Cora feel like her life isn't even her own. She's sharing it with her sister. It's clear that that isn't healthy as well. In fact, it's incredibly awkward and traumatizing in its own way because Cora needs to step up and show Phoebe what it's like to have a boyfriend and be touched in that intimate way. It's not okay at all. It's what Phoebe desperately needs and Cora is conditioned to care for her. But it just sets up a painful cycle of dependence that won't go away even after Phoebe is gone and Cora has escaped this life.

However, this episode is much more important because it involves Cora seemingly returning to the scene of the crime. It's not the beach where she committed her murder. Instead, it's the private club where Ambrose believes she was taken during her missing time. He has seen the wallpaper and the mask. And now, the establishment is being very forthcoming with access. Ambrose has even convinced the system to allow him to take Cora to this place. It's played as this pivotal moment that will finally shed some light on what truly happened to Cora. Cora being in this moment will trigger her actual memories of this event. But instead, it's just false hope. Cora walks around the building. She goes into the basement where Ambrose believes she'll have her big epiphany and nothing happens. They return to the car defeated because their hopes have been dashed. Of course, it's clear immediately that they gave up too easily. They are barely there. Ambrose explains that that's because they need to return to the prison as soon as possible due to a limited amount of time. But that's an excuse that is just casually tossed away when Cora wants it to. She convinces Ambrose to return to the club to look around some more. This time she is free to explore wherever she wants. That's a much smarter strategy that actually produces some results. As such, the show is once again a success when Cora is at the center of her own mystery. She's the one who finds the answers. Of course, the audience will have to wait a week to actually get them which is incredibly frustrating after the weird plotting in regard to the central mystery in this episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part VI" was written by Tom Pabst and directed by Jody Lee Lipes.
  • Not only has Ambrose lost his wife, he has lost his connection with Sharon as well. She is finally done with him. She no longer wants to encourage this relationship because she sees how destructive he is becoming. She accidentally knocks him out and is terrified that he is about to die. That's the risk she doesn't want to deal with in this kind of relationship at all.
  • During their trip, Cora takes Ambrose to her childhood home. It's not that far away at all. In fact, they are able to go there and back to the club before the prison starts issuing the warrant to arrest them as runaway fugitives. It's seeing this familiar but horrifying environment that convinces Cora to explore more of the club in search of answers.
  • It also makes a lot of sense that Cora wasn't in the basement of the club's main building. That would create too many possibilities of her interacting with people she wasn't suppose to. A building behind the main building represents better logistics of her being kept away for two months without anyone really noticing.
  • Of course, Detective Farmer is incredibly skeptical about all the work that Ambrose is doing on this case. She sees him becoming obsessed with this investigation and reading into things when there is nothing actually there. However, that largely just makes her a thorn in his side to force doubt on this investigation when that's really not all that interesting to watch.
  • Will tossing his gun into the lake be a good or bad thing for Mason? He tells Detective Farmer and Caitlin that he was armed when he went to J.D's house. That should make him a suspect. But then, the investigation pivots to finding the two men he saw leaving the home. Of course, Mason still having the gun would rule him out as a suspect fairly quickly based on the ballistic evidence.
  • It's taken me all of this time to realize that this season has staged a mini Justified reunion between Jacob Pitts and Abby Miller. Both of those characters were just minor features on that great FX drama. They don't really interact at all on this show. But both of them appearing in prominent roles is significant casting nevertheless.