The Sinner (2017-2018)

A Study of the Dark of the Human Psyche


On the occasion of the completion of the second season of ‘The Sinner‘ last month, let’s review a series that made its presence strongly felt, both last and this year, garnering mostly dithyrambic critique by followers of police and mystery series.

A series that acts as an anthology of stories, meaning following a different story each season interconnected by archetypical detective ‘Harry Ambrose’, in his attempt to discover the essential truth behind cases that other agents of the Law may approach superficially. Both stories follow homicides caused by the most unlikely of offenders, seemingly without motivation. In the first case, the victim is an unknown young man stabbed to death by a peaceful mother, while in the second one, a couple in a provincial motel, dead by poisoning, with responsible a thirteen-year-old boy of whom they seem to be guardians. In both cases, the perpetrators are confused and unable to explain what has prompted them to such extreme acts. On this causation, the series seems to dive into a very interesting exploration of the depths of human psychology along with all involving social and psychological implications.

In a TV production, of course, what initially impels us, is the performances of the actors, and the series really ‘shine’ on this account. All the actors give their most with realistic, convincing interpretations without any excessive, redundant or trivial elements. Jessica Biel sends shivers down our spine with an authentically tormented performance in the first season, and in the second, Carrie Coon intrigues us with her strength of purpose and insight. However, he who keeps our interest in both seasons is no one else but our joint companion, detective Ambrose. Played by Bill Pullman at his best, Pullman offers a keenly deviant characterization to our well-known role of detective, at the same time always focused on people and their soul.

The diffuse sense of mystery in the series makes the most of the direction, photography and the ambient soundtrack. A mystery of which the successive layers are gradually revealed. The colors and shadows bring us into endoscopic moods, dreamlike interludes and revealing, story-telling scenes that do not rely on any “shock value” tricks to make our heart race.

A lot of naturalistic scenes, such as swimming in the lake or a walk in the woods have always been associated with an inner revelation, an awakening of memory, or a return to the essence of self, moments that made a sensation for me. These are juxtaposed by the frenzied rhythms of society, manipulative human relationships or the artificial urban environment which all seem to bewilder us to ourselves and others.

In Sinner, what wins us over is the style of narrative. The rhythm of the script always leaves us with a new piece of the puzzle. At the same time, it keeps possibilities open until the end of the story without letting us down. It challenges us to make our own assumptions, as if in an indirect dialogue with us. What remains is only to respond to the challenge.

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