Wednesday, August 22, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Ambrose and Vera Grow Closer as He Explores the Work She Does in 'Part IV'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 2.04 "Part IV"

Ambrose returns to Mosswood to confront Vera about the commune's work.

The Sinner is fundamentally a series about solving the psychology of its characters. The second season has expanded its focus to present a narrative all about understanding several of them. That allows it to stand in contrast to what happened during the first. This is already a subject that the season and these reviews have amply covered. The season started with Julian being introduced in the Cora Tannetti position of having just killed someone and getting arrested for it. The case seems pretty open-and-shut. It's easy to understand the local D.A. wanting to just convict Julian for 15-25 years already so that the citizens of the community can feel better once more. This brutal double homicide happened in their neighborhood. The longer this drags out the longer they start to fear that it could happen again. The D.A. wants a quick resolution. He doesn't want Ambrose coming in to mess up a slam dunk case. And yet, the narrative wants the audience to see Ambrose as the hero of the story who is able to understand what actually happened and ensure that everyone involved gets what they deserve. For Cora, she needed answers. For the family of her victim, they needed her to face justice. A compromise was found with her going to a psychiatric facility for a number of years. It's enough time for her to truly address the trauma of her past while not too long that she fears she'll be missing out on most of her son's upbringing. And now, Ambrose doesn't want to put Julian away for a long time. He doesn't want to just lock a child up for thirty years. He understands that the psychology of the situation is much more complex because a child doesn't just inherently turn to murder as a reasonable option. Ambrose is trying to get to the heart of this mystery. And yet, last week's episode concluded with the revelation that the believers of Mosswood aren't solely contained to that gated community. They exist outside and are living in the neighboring city. As such, there is the pull of a crime that's being covered up and no one wants to talk about. And that's such a fascinating way to continue to drive this story forward.

But again, it's all about the psychology of the characters and what this investigation of the facts of the case actually reveals within them. Ambrose has been haunted by this trauma in his past. There is such anger and resentment towards his mother. It all seems to stem back to this moment where their house caught on fire and she was forced to live in a psychiatric facility while he had to grow up in foster care. The show is still heavily teasing that notable moment in young Harry's life. It's still not providing any new clues about the circumstances of that fire. A young Harry is able to tell the responding officers that his mother was in the kitchen cooking dinner. That's all that he knows. But up until this point, it seemed more likely that Harry set the fire as a sort of rebellion against a mother who couldn't take care of him. It just led to the unfortunate consequence of her being taken away and him forever carrying the guilt of what he had done. It's enough to fuel so much of how he sees this community. The details and people of this city have changed. He's only really close with Jack. None of the people he knew growing up are still here. He didn't know anything about Mosswood until he started investigating this case with Heather. And yet, there are some monuments that are still standing like this facility that his mother lived in for years. That's where the latest lead takes him and Heather in this investigation. They have to learn more about this doctor who killed himself. That points them to the one former patient who accused him of malpractice. That leads to the terrifying realization that her entire reproductive organs were removed instead of a simple abortion. That continues to highlight how Mosswood presents this very traditional agenda of the world and the importance of family. It just led to tragedy in this case.

Of course, Ambrose is still haunted by this building even though his knowledge of the past helps him forge a connection with this patient. He knows the drugs she is on and what to expect from her. Sure, he thinks it's more meaningful to simply take Vera up on her offer to explore Mosswood and the work that they do there. That will lead to more clues as to what's going on. He sees the value in allowing Vera to maintain some semblance of control over her life. She continues to tell Julian that he is going to be getting out of prison soon. She is working hard for that outcome. Ambrose wants to help as well. He is just more upfront about the severity of the situation. It's clear that Vera is hiding the truth because she doesn't want Julian to fear that she is a liar who must be punished. Meanwhile, Ambrose doesn't understand the teachings of Mosswood. He just wants to provide more stability and clarity while continuing to investigate the upbringing that Julian has had. He's curious about Vera. He absolutely should be as well. Vera presents as this character who has complete control over her identity. The show examines how everyone is seemingly struggling with how defining past trauma can be over their current actions and personality. Meanwhile, Vera seems to know exactly who she is. She projects confidence and understanding. As such, it's easy to be lured in to what she is preaching. Ambrose believes she is being coy with what the work is. He may have just been called here to hear more evidence that can allow Julian to plead self-defense. Vera presents a taped session with Bess where she is distraught over being unable to have a child and forming an immediate connection with Julian. Vera now understands that it was unhealthy and destructive for both of them. One that just pushed Bess to a breaking point and Julian acted accordingly in order to reunite with his family.

All of that may still be Vera deceiving the investigation. She is definitely pushing a specific agenda because she doesn't want the secrets of Mosswood exposed. She only wants to be forthcoming enough to seem like she is helping while also getting her son released. She doesn't want to be perceived as an enemy to this neighboring community. She wants to continue to appear as a peaceful therapist helping people struggling with their issues. Again, Ambrose may see through the lies and false narrative. As an experienced detective, he knows how to push forward and expose what the truth actually is. He has good instincts and can tell when someone is trying to deceive him. He wants to get a better understanding of what these sessions are. He wants to witness the work that Vera is doing here. Vera welcomes the invitation to try to indoctrinate Ambrose into their community. That could be very powerful. The two of them have been clashing for the majority of the season so far. They both want what's best for Julian though. So, the two working together could also be an unexpected twist in this story. Vera can help Ambrose better understand and cope with his past. He is burdened by what happened during his childhood. Right now, he's literally projecting his life onto what happened in the hotel room with Julian. He is forging a connection with him that may even be stronger than the one he had with Cora. He simply understands the position that Julian was in. That will make him sympathetic to his cause as he pleads self-defense. But it could also be Vera trying to brainwash the lead investigator. She is presenting herself as the key to unlocking the burden and guilt of his psyche. It just so happens to also be clouded by thoughts about Julian and trying to do the right thing. Ambrose may be able to push past all of that forced narrative that Vera is selling and get to the truth. He still asks about the mysterious founder of Mosswood whose picture is now showing up everywhere. But the attraction to Vera is also proving much more enticing at the moment.

As such, Heather is the one ultimately left to keep moving the investigation forward. Ambrose spends the day at Mosswood. He eventually gets lost in the woods and his true identity comes out when confronting Vera. That's a powerful but seductive moment. It makes him intrigued by this community and the work that they are doing to find clarity in their lives. That's what Heather wants as well. She wants to know what happened to Marin. She is remembering the day that she actually went missing. She was already talking about the teachings of Mosswood and how to live as one's authentic self. She pushed away from Heather because of her refusal to just accept who she was and openly live as such. Heather has come out to the world since that time. But it's still clear that she is uncertain of a lot of her actions. She apologizes to her boss even after telling the D.A. off. That was the right move to help her investigation even though it may have damaged her career. She's frightful about what may happen. That trepidation may stem back to her mother's tragic death happening during a crucial time in her life. That's the explanation the show and Mosswood would likely try to explore. But it's also much more beneficial to know that Heather is making a lot of progress without Ambrose by her side. She is able to put a name to the mysterious founder of Mosswood. She is able to track down his teachings. Sure, it's still a bunch of cryptic clues about solving the labyrinth of one's own mind. And yet, she is getting closer to understanding the truth of what has been happening in this community leading up to Adam and Bess' deaths. She discovers a storage locker listed under Julian's name outside of Niagara Falls. That's not a coincidence. She doesn't know what to make of it at first. But it's also tangible proof that there is more to investigate in this case because not everything is adding up about the motivation behind the crime.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part IV" was written by Jesse McKeown and directed by Jody Lee Lipes.
  • Brennan Brown is notable casting as Leonard Jefferies, the founder of Mosswood. That's what makes it slightly odd when he only appears in photographs or a voice offscreen. As such, it seems very likely that at some point the show is going to be telling a story from Marin or Vera's perspective to better showcase what happened in the past that probably led to Julian's conception and his importance in this society.
  • Heather was able to follow up on one lead because she could talk to her father about the last interaction he had with Marin. As such, she is able to get a clue because of the symbol that is a part of the Mosswood teachings. All she has to do is a google search in order to find Jefferies as well. That's convenient even though it doesn't explain who tried to order this book but never picked it up.
  • Of course, Heather wasn't able to follow up on the lead given to her by the women who accused the doctor of malpractice. She says the secrets of Mosswood are at the bottom of the Purple Lake. That's a term that the community uses. Moreover, the detectives don't know if they can trust this testimony because the woman also talks about having eggs implanted in her head thanks to someone known as the Beacon.
  • The show makes a big point in saying that Ambrose leaves behind his gun, badge and wallet when entering Mosswood. Vera makes him do so because he's coming as a guest who may experience the full journey. And yet, the direction also calls attention to him having all of these items when he is suddenly in the hotel room where Julian killed Bess and Adam.
  • Vera also begins to explain the importance of the stone to the work that she does at Mosswood. She only tells Ambrose that it's a symbol and nothing more. It holds no special or mystical properties. And yet, it has existed for years and people have attached various stories to it. It's still very meaningful and special to this community. But all Vera cares to admit is that she feels good when near it.