Wednesday, August 8, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Ambrose and Heather Search Julian's Home for Potential Clues in 'Part II'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 2.02 "Part II"

Ambrose and Heather begin to unravel where Julian is from. Julian is thrust into a new world.

Just like the first season, the relationship between killer and victim is becoming more complicated and questioned by the main investigation. For Cora, there was no indication that she even knew the man she killed. The story eventually revealed that she did from the most traumatic and devastating night of her life. For Julian, there was the perception that Adam and Bess were his parents. They were a simple family going on a road trip when the teenager violently killed them. Even when Heather was asking Julian about what happened in the hotel room, he never corrected her when she referred to the deceased as his parents. The detectives and the audience were allowed to believe that this young boy had just killed his parents. That assumption was thrown out the window the moment that Vera showed up at the police precinct claiming that she was Julian's actual mother. As such, it became easy to assume that it was a case of kidnapping. The details weren't adding up. The investigation found no evidence of this being a planned trip that Julian was eager to go on. Instead, it looked like a spur of the moment thing just like the eventual murders. And now, the questions only continue to add up as Vera makes her presence known. She is a very commanding presence who understands the rules of the world and knows how to push back against the conventions. She appears to be the most sympathetic and parental figure to Julian. But she is always very aware of what Ambrose is doing as the detective looking to arrest her son for murder. She wants clarity on what happened. But she's also locking down on her own community to try to treat this as a self-contained thing instead of something that could forever rock this entire town. This hour delves into the complicated personal dynamics of this region. But that too should provoke the audience to ask why Ambrose doesn't have any full awareness of his surroundings even though this is his hometown. The questions are fascinating. Right now, the show is doing a whole lot of effective work in asking them and creating a mood for the story.

Julian is yet to be arrested for murder though. No charges have been filed against him. He is still just living in the foster home. That's where the detectives, his lawyer and Vera go to visit him. It's where he is currently living as all of this gets sorted out. The details of this case are slowly coming out to the public as well. When Vera appears in front of a judge to prove guardianship, she is arguing against a woman who already has an understanding of the crime Julian is accused of doing. Sure, the confession may not be public or private knowledge just yet. Ambrose and Heather are still collecting all of the information they can find. Ambrose genuinely wants to help Julian as well. He wants to make his life better just like he did for Cora last season. He sees value in being the white savior who is able to solve these complex cases of the mind. He understands the subtleties of the situation. He knows when or if to tell something to the people caught up in his cases. He's a solid detective. But he's also plagued by his own memories of this place. He is only able to forge a bond with Julian after it's clear that he too spent time in a foster home. Again, the show is really teasing the audience with the reveals that a fire broke out at his house and left his mother unable to care for him. It seems ominous only because of the shots of a young boy coming home in search of his mother and only finding chaos and destruction. But again, that's a new insight into the character that also creates a bond with Julian. The two of them have to be different individuals. But they share similarities with their pasts as well. Sure, Ambrose believes he's speaking as an expert when it comes to analyzing nightmares and what they mean about childhood trauma. But in this instance, the show wants the audience to see the horror of Julian's nightmare and understand that there is deeper meaning to it.

And so, the questions persist about the living situation Julian has been raised in. Vera is the de facto leader of a community called Mosswood. She has been able to go under the radar as a ghost for most of her life. She does have a public profile from her early days of working in the 1990s. But there's no record of anything she has done in the past fifteen years. That's a curious number because it's also the number of years since Ambrose has been to his hometown. That could be nothing more than a coincidence. But numbers have had power in the show before. All of the visuals are vital to the overall story. The mood set by the creative team gets the audience into the proper headspace to analyze these characters and try to understand what is going on in their respective psyches. And so, it is chilling to watch as Julian is laying frozen in bed while being haunted by this cloaked figure. It is perhaps the shadow creature that Vera was talking to him about in the premiere. She told him to be open and accepting of his shadow self. When she reunites with him again, she tells him to always remember who he is. The investigation has questioned whether or not there is some kind of problem that they should be aware of when looking at Julian. They want to know if there is a simple explanation for his behavior. And again, Vera can chastise them for believing there is ever a simple solution when it comes to a human being. Julian didn't kill two people because of anxiety or some other underlying condition or playing video games or living out in nature. Instead, she champions her son as being more extraordinary than the real world could ever understand. But that too is a cryptic tease especially when Julian says that his mother has the power to read minds.

It does seem like Vera knows a lot about what's going on in the community as well. She may not have been able to stop Adam and Bess from trying to run away with her son. But she also has the strength and determination to go down to the precinct and plead her case in front of a judge just to reunite her family even after this tragedy. She doesn't see it as something that should disrupt their lives. It's a case that is best settled amongst the leadership structure of Mosswood. She believes she can handle it in the way that she has handled everything else in the community. She believes in the power of her work. She claims to have seen miracles occur because of it. The show lives in the mystery of what's going on here as well as the incredulity Ambrose has towards it. He understands that Vera is just putting on a performance for him. She is trying to cover-up that Adam and Bess kidnapped her son. She wants it to seem like it was a planned trip where they just forgot to take Julian's bag. There is nothing out of the ordinary in this community. But Ambrose is still able to deduce that Bess was giving away some of her possessions because she wasn't planning on coming back. Sure, Vera is able to deflect for the time being by talking about the accepting nature of this community. They believe in the value of second chances. The work is too important to deny to any specific individual. It's better to delve deep into oneself and confront who we truly are. But again, that could lead to a traumatic experience for a young child - especially considering Julian is the only child who lives in this community. He has a close bond with his mother. But his mother may not always be looking out for his best interests. She is very protective of him in this investigation. She will push back against any claim that Ambrose will present. And yet, there is clearly something more going on with these characters that will need to be solved in order to unravel every single mystery happening in this town.

Meanwhile, Heather is given a personal connection to Mosswood as well. Again, this could seem like formulaic storytelling to given the characters a reason to care about the investigation at all. Ambrose is here because it's his hometown and he can connect with the young killer. Heather is pushing to learn the secrets of Mosswood because a friend of hers disappeared in the community. Of course, her father only believes that Marin was a friend. Flashbacks are utilized here to show that she was more than that. The two of them were actually dating. They were simply hiking in this community and wondering what was going on down below. They were invited to join in on a ceremony where they were asked to let go of the items that were holding them back. Heather doesn't believe in anything this community is trying to get her to do. She just sees it as a cult that is basically trying to brainwash people. That's what Marin had heard about it as well. And yet, she seems to be entranced by the message. She finds people who are telling her the right things to believe especially as it pertains to her resentful mother. She finds a place to potentially belong. And so, she is essentially taken away from Heather. The detective never knew what happened to her. She went into a shed and never came back out. Of course, that's what it seems like happens here. The story ends a little too abruptly which makes a case for there being too much story to cram into this hour. Moreover, there isn't a whole lot of spark to these scenes between Heather and Marin. It's appreciated that the show is telling the story of these two women in love. But it's also just a brief tease with the show being pretty noncommittal to it as well. It's still enough to drive Heather forward with her investigation. But all she discovers is a giant stone in the shed that seems to be the sole focus of everything this community revers in this world. That's creepy and mystifying.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part II" was written by Ellen Fairey and directed by Antonio Campos.
  • Was Julian actually taken against his will by Adam and Bess? That could possibly serve as his motive for killing them. It's certainly an argument that will probably pop up as the season develops. But again, the opening moments of the premiere never presented a child afraid for his life or the adults trying to prevent him from running away. As such, there still needs to be more going on within his young mind. 
  • At times, it seems like Jack is on a completely different show. He's not a part of the investigation. He is simply Heather's father and Ambrose's friend. He serves as a reminder that they shouldn't get too caught up in this investigation. It's necessary to enjoy the area and a potential vacation as well. He's more laid back which is a slightly odd quality to play with in a show that survives in mystery and ominous mood setting.
  • Both Ambrose and Heather are coming to realizations while carrying out the search warrant on Mosswood. They have the authority to look through Julian, Adam and Bess' things. Ambrose notices the necklace of another woman in the room. And then, Heather realizes that one of the men in the community was also seen outside the hotel. As such, the cover-up is only bound to continue moving forward.
  • Vera makes a proud display in welcoming the police to her community. She is very forthcoming with them in showing that they have nothing to hide. She wants them to see everyone who is currently living here. And yet, Heather doesn't buy into that because Marin is no where to be found. That's the first clue to her that this is nothing but a distraction to keep the truth from getting out about what's going on here.
  • This isn't the first time that the local police have had to deal with complaints about Mosswood either. The captain is very skeptical and cautious about searching the property again. He only wants to do so if it is necessary to the case. He can easily get the warrant. But it also has the possibility to stir up even more trouble in the community because the locals are so confused about what's going on just down the road from them. Strange things have happened there in the past - like the star high school quarterback killing himself after a visit.