Wednesday, September 19, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Sinner' - Julian Asks Ambrose for Help in Making a Crucial Decision About His Future in 'Part VIII'

USA's The Sinner - Episode 2.08 "Part VIII"

Heather and Ambrose continue their search for Julian as Marin's past is unraveled.

Parentage was such a prominent and pivotal theme throughout this season of The Sinner. The story was designed around the idea of why a young boy would kill his parents. Throughout these eight episodes, the mystery has swirled around who were Julian's real parents. They weren't Adam and Bess. It wasn't Vera. It was Marin. But then, it seemed like he was the byproduct of rape from the Beacon. Instead, this finale proves that Marin was raped by a completely different male influence in her life. That is so absolutely despicable and horrifying. It's so much easier to understand the life she has always lived because she was forever chasing something that she only got through tragedy and it was tragically taken from her as soon as it was hers once more. This story is a profound one of grief and torture for mothers and people yearning for the truth. There was irony that came from Ambrose returning to his hometown and having to face all of his past demons. In the end, he still doesn't have any kind of emotional closure with what happened in the case. Helping Julian with his case didn't suddenly fix Ambrose's life or change his outlook on the world. In fact, it's only after he manages to unravel all of the mysteries and wrap up the central case that he becomes aware once more of his interaction with Vera in the woods. That's such a dark moment that shows what both of them are truly capable of and how far they are willing to go in order to make this a reality for them. It's dark material to watch. One that doesn't find a happy resolution for Ambrose. Sure, he was able to make a difference in a number of people's lives. Heather got clarity on her father and Marin while Julian understood the error of his actions. But it's also fascinating to see how this case comes to the same resolution as Cora's did last season and it's still not enough for Ambrose. He's still essentially feeling the same way here as he did upon seeing her off to her own psychiatric facility. He's doing excellent police work to understand the motives of these unexpected killers. But the mysteries of his own life are still a complete mystery to him especially when he actually confronts how he's feeling in any given moment.

Of course, the finale opens with a completely new mystery. Who killed Marin? Was it Julian and he is actually the killer of his biological mother? Or was it someone from Mosswood who was willing to take Julian back so that Vera could disappear with him? In the end, it was neither of those explanations. She was killed when her gun went off during a confrontation. It was a complete accident. It wasn't suppose to happen. Julian was in the hotel room absolutely traumatized by watching another female figure in his life die right in front of him. After that, he is returned to the only mother he has truly known. However, Vera is still constantly lying to him. She is taking him on the run believing that they have friends in Washington state who will be willing to help them hide from the law. She believes there's a way to avoid the consequences for their actions this season. They can simply escape to the forests of the Northeast. They can return to nature and the peace that they knew before all of this tragedy came into their lives. That's the reality that Vera is chasing. Julian was happy growing up in Mosswood. But now, he's seeing the illusion that that environment actually was. It gifted him with the tools to kill people as soon as he was terrified about what was going on. He actually learned a lot when Ambrose was just trying to tell him the truth. No one ever truly knows all of the answers. Humanity simply has to make the best decisions that they can in any given moment. It's all about deciding what one can live with. And so, Julian has to decide if he wants to run or not. This is his life that will forever be changed because of this.

In the end, Julian is trying to protect his mother even though Vera will be taken away from him. That's such a heartbreaking moment too. Vera has been such a complicated character throughout this entire season. She was frequently presented as someone who has elevated to a higher understanding of the world because she has complete clarity on her life. She has strength because she is willing to admit the emotions she is feeling. She has been providing this therapy to everyone who seeks her out at Mosswood. She wanted to ensure that Julian grew up with the confidence in himself and his own identity. Instead, it only fostered more confusion. It was chaos that led to multiple deaths. And now, that guilt is weight on Julian. He feels compelled to reach out to Ambrose. He also feels compelled to share these emotions with Vera. He's not trying to run away from her. He wants to make this decision with her. That too is a very key detail. He doesn't just make himself known to the police after they discover the apartment they are hiding in. Instead, he has a conversation with Vera to make her listen to him and what he wants. He understands the reality of the situation. He knows that they are going to be separated if they return. But he wants to accept responsibility for what he has done. It may have destroyed everything that Vera built. But it's still meaningful for the both of them to return because there is still the potential of them having a relationship later on. If they ran, they would constantly be hiding. If they return, there is the hope that Julian can have the freedom to do whatever he wants when he turns 18. To him, that's much more optimistic and meaningful for their lives even though it is devastating in the moment. It destroys Vera. And yet, she's not trying to force her will onto him. She is willing to do better by him even though this also means goodbye.

All of this also comes with the revelation that Jack is Julian's actual biological father. That's the major twist left until the end of the season to completely destroy the narrative as the audience and investigation have known it. It implodes Heather's life as well. This case was always so personal to her. And now, she loses everyone she has ever cared about because of it. She thought Marin was dead only to find her still alive. And then, she was tragically killed before they could truly reconnect again. She was always looking to her father for support. And yet, he continued to repress all of his feelings about everything that happened throughout his life. He would rather just forget and allow people to take care of him than admit his own faults. It's so tragic when he can't even tell his daughter what he has done. Nor can he explain why he did it. This series is built around the investigations trying to understand why the person who committed the central crime did it. They are narratives built with many twists and turns. And yet, there is no complicated answer that explains why Jack raped Marin. He simply did it because it was a perversion of his. He felt compelled to do so in the moment. It was an action that made him blindly loyal to Mosswood ever since. He made monthly deposits for Julian's care. And now, these actions are finally catching up with him. So, Heather loses a friend and a father at the same time. She gains a brother though. That will have to be enough for her to start over and build her own identity in the world. She is actually able to take him to Niagara Falls after he was teased with that wonder throughout the season. She accomplished that. So, it seems like she could be a good influence on him too. One that actually ensures he stays on the right path for the rest of his life.

That's a hopeful moment that stands in stark contrast to how the season ends for Vera and Ambrose. They both close out this finale all alone. Their lives have been torn apart as well. Vera no longer has a community of people to return to. Instead, she burns down Mosswood. She destroys the sheds and the tapes of her sessions. The rock survives though. It still seemingly provides her with clarity. It just offers nothing else about what her future could hold. She has lost all of her power. Ambrose can say with confidence that that's all that Vera really wanted in this world. She propped herself up as this woman who knew all of the answers. Instead, she just took charge and demanded people follow her. She wasn't as abusive of that power as the Beacon was. But she still corrupted lives. As such, she deserves this as her fate. She still does a good deed in helping Ambrose remember the session he had with her. It just leads to the dangerous reveal that he wants to be killed because of the agony he has felt for his entire life. He has previously confessed to starting the fire when he was a kid and his mother couldn't care for him. But now, he's trying to explain why he did that and how he has felt since that moment. It didn't change anything in his relationship with his mother. It just confirmed everything he already knew. And so now, he's simply nothing more than a middle-aged man who is depressed because his mother wasn't able to care for him as a child. Solving this case offers no clarity because he still hasn't mended these emotions of feeling deprived. Instead, he cedes control to someone else. That's the brutal way he grapples with the world. It's horrifying and shows that his psyche isn't healed in the slightest. He is there in that final moment with Heather and Julian. And yet, he is still alone because he will soon be leaving this life and back to a world that isn't a whole lot better than what his hometown turned out to be.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part VIII" was written by Bradford Winters and directed by John David Coles.
  • It is so surprising that Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts didn't share any scenes together at all throughout the season. Vera and Jack have been kept to their own individual stories. And yet, their worlds do collide in this finale. It's revealed that Vera has been getting money from Jack every month for the last decade. Moreover, Jack is the one who delivers Julian to Vera after Marin is accidentally killed. But that hand off never occurs onscreen.
  • There is also a moment where the audience is led to believe that Chief Lidell has been the one trying to deceive and delay the investigation. Brick happened to find a damning piece of evidence hidden in his desk. As such, Ambrose confronts him and that's how all of this eventually leads back to Jack. Lidell was only hiding it until he got confirmation that he needs to investigate this personal connection to the case.
  • Marin got raped by two different men over the course of the season. The audience was led to believe that both were Julian's father as well. With Jack, it's actually true. But this trauma was enough to send Marin away to Mosswood where she endured it again. That means that she was never going to thrive in that environment. Even with the Beacon gone, she easily felt replaced in Julian's life because of Vera.
  • Julian's final sentence is a four year stay in a psychiatric facility with his case being up for review after three years. It's the best possible outcome for him. Ambrose helps seal that fate by being able to articulate that this was Julian's choice to return for this sentence. Of course, it also lacks some power by being a conclusion to the story that is very familiar to the way that things ended for Cora last year.
  • USA has not yet renewed The Sinner for a third season. The ratings haven't been as large as they were a year ago. And yet, it's still a reliable bet. The network is probably just waiting for the creative team to pitch another story set in this world. It will probably happen. It will just be curious to see if it remains a franchise built around Bill Pullman or if someone else - like Natalie Paul - will also star in another season.