Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Ambrose Works to Solve the Final Mystery of Cora's Past in 'Part VIII'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 1.08 "Part VIII"

Cora's fate is determined.

The Sinner has presented itself as a closed-end limited series. It set out to tell a complete story with a clear beginning, middle and end. It's been such a fascinating and complex journey into the mind of one incredibly traumatized woman as well. This story has had many twists and turns to it. It was in pursuit of an answer for why Cora Tannetti killed Frankie Belmont on a beach. It's all linked back to a very specific and destructive past for Cora. Last week's episode revealed the true heartbreaking twists that occurred during her missing time five years ago. It revealed the devastation that came from taking Phoebe out for a night on the town. It ended in tragedy. Phoebe died and Cora was a victim of the cover up. She was so broken down that she couldn't even remember that it happened. She was abused in a consistent and sinister way with ramifications she didn't even understand. She built this life for herself. She was able to continue living after all of this happened. But it was still trauma that she failed to deal with. And so it produced itself into a violent outburst. All of this is important information to have. But this is still a story about the consequences of that action that started this whole story. It's nice to have the context of Cora's life. But will it actually change the punishment she is facing at all? That's the big mystery that is still left to address in the season finale.

As such, this makes the finale more of a reactionary episode for Cora. In last week's episode, she was at the center of the story because it was her reliving these harsh details of her sister's tragic death. And now, she has shared all of this with Detective Ambrose and he has to figure out a way to decrease her prison sentence because of it. So, he's a more active character in this finale. That's perfectly fine. He's been a prominent fixture of this season. He can lead his own story in this show. The season was just better when Cora was at the front of the story. The way this finale is positioned and structured makes sense given the demands of the story. It's just a little less engaging to watch as well. It's the show providing a sense of closure by explaining everything that happened and the effects it will have on Cora moving forward. There's still some mysteries to be solved about the missing time in her life. Her big realization last week only covered the Fourth of July weekend with J.D. and Frankie. It didn't reveal what happened to her doing the two months where she was constantly drugged and who the man in the mask was. Those are the connections that still need to be revealed. Cora will get help with her case only when learning those answers,

It's not an easy process either. Cora wants to stand in front of the judge and plead her case. And yet, she waved her right to a trial once she plead guilty. All of this new information has come to light about her and she wants to fight for her family and to be understood in the eyes of the court. But there's just no possibility of that happening. Ambrose needs to find a witness. Everyone who was there that night is either dead or missing. As such, it's a race to find the people who killed J.D. That's the only promising lead at the moment. Of course, it turns out to be a dead end as well. These guys were just two goons who got very suspicious and worried about J.D. after he went to the police station twice. They killed him before he could expose their criminal operation selling prescription drugs. And then, Ambrose rushes into that bust and gets one of the guys killed. It shows how impulsive he is in finding the connection that will ultimately save Cora. He puts Caitlin into a situation where she has to draw her weapon and kill a suspect. Sure, the show doesn't really explore what happens to her after that. But it's still a crucial action. That and Ambrose's interview with the other suspect proves that these guys aren't connected to Cora at all. And so, she's condemned to the fate she's already been living. She'll be in jail for the next 30 years for murder.

Some time passes as well. This was the lead Ambrose was determined to find and prove that Cora was psychologically traumatized and that's what motivated her actions on the beach. It failed. And now, she misses some crucial years in her son's life. Mason shows up at the prison with a toddler instead of a baby. Cora worries that it's not healthy to be bringing him around her once a week. But Mason is still determined to be a family. He still loves her and will stand by her throughout all of this. She'll still have a family waiting for her once all of this is over. That's good considering the family she came from. She was traumatized by family and lost family. Family was the root of this entire story. In the end, her mother still can't sympathize or relate to her daughter. They still refuse to connect. But Mason is still there for her. That's nice as well. He's willing to wait 30 years for her. Of course, it won't actually be that long. Ambrose is haunted by this case and still determined to find the piece that he overlooked. It seems a little obvious as to where that connection will come from. The show does reveal that Maddie is a potential witness for what happened to Cora and Phoebe. She's still alive too. She wasn't killed by J.D. But her presence is less important than what she has to say about that night and the operation J.D. started in its aftermath.

It turns out that the pill business is actually important in understanding the relationships that formed following this perilous time. J.D. was getting his prescriptions from somewhere. That reveals that Frankie's dad has been a part of this whole mystery. At first, he was just the grieving parent distraught after losing his son. And now, he's the guy who cleaned up this mess for Frankie. He's the one who buried Phoebe and kept Cora drugged for two months. He had access to the drugs necessary to do so. He did all of it out of love for his son. He wanted to make sure that Cora couldn't remember anything that happened. He didn't have the strength to kill her. He was given the opportunity to do so. It would have been easier for him. But it was still morally wrong and he refused to do it. Instead, he just chose to traumatize his own family. He brought Cora back home without telling Frankie. He sent his son back to school in Los Angeles while caring for Cora at home to his wife's objections. Only after he was confident that she wouldn't pose a threat to his son's future did he release her back into the world. It's a very deliberate action. One that is criminal as well that deserves to be punished. Cora is given the opportunity to address her abuser too. She understands why he did it. But it was still so destructive and took away time with her own child.

But all of this is still ultimately good enough to convince the judge that this case deserves to be handled differently. She sees just how distraught and tirelessly Ambrose has worked to prove the truth behind Cora's life. He's really consumed himself with this case. It's been good because it has allowed him to truly connect with someone else in this world. But it's also been bad because it has been so distracting from everything else that matters in his life - his marriage and his professional partnership. He was still proven right in the end. He helped Cora receive a lighter sentence for her crime. It would have been unrealistic for her to be released back to the world after all of these details came to light. She still ultimately killed a person. But now, she will stay in a psychiatric facility for two years with the potential of being released after that. It's the best possible outcome Cora could have hoped for. It's an incredibly uplifting and hopeful ending for the show. This season has been defined by its darkness and the trauma of Cora's world. And now, she has so much clarity over what has happened to her. She's grown so much because of all of this. She'll be able to return to her life in just two years as a much better human being. She'll have that opportunity because of Ambrose. And yet, he still ends the season all alone in his police car. He respects the connection the two had. But he still clearly longs for more as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part VIII" was written by Jesse McKeown & Tom Pabst and directed by Tucker Gates.
  • Ambrose and Cora were fugitives because they elapsed the time allotted for them to go to the club and return to the prison. And yet, that's not a very big deal at all. Sure, several officers show up at the club in order to arrest her again and bring her back to prison. But there aren't any complications to that action for her or Ambrose.
  • Detective Farmer was introduced as an obstacle that the main investigation would have to deal with. An adversary who only saw Cora as a confessed murderer sharing details about her other crimes. And now, she just casually backs down so that Ambrose can lead this investigation once more. She's actually an ally to him and supportive when the lead with J.D.'s killers doesn't pan out.
  • Detective Leroy hasn't been an important part of the story at all. He's largely just been another presence at the police precinct to give Ambrose someone to bounce ideas off of. Here, he's largely just proving to Ambrose that he is a capable detective who was sidelined for much of this investigation. That feels like commentary on his purpose within the show as well.
  • This show could have strong awards appeal. Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman will probably get most of the attention in that regard. The writing and directing have been great as well. But this story doesn't work without those lead performances. Biel has especially been terrific. In addition to her work on BoJack Horseman, this has been an incredible summer for her. An Emmy nomination is very possible for her.
  • There is still no official word on whether USA will order another season of The Sinner. It still seems incredibly likely because the ratings have continued to grow every week in both live and delayed viewing. But again, it will all likely depend on the story. I don't think a continuation with these characters would work. And yet, this creative team could probably figure something out with new characters that could be just as enticing to watch.