Week two of THE SINNER offers a lot of answers, and then immediately pulls them out from under you. It’s sort of satisfying, because the solution offered is pretty cliché and also a little irritating for reasons I’ll get to, but it’s also frustrating to finish the second episode of a show with no information. Not necessarily a bad thing, as I think it’ll definitely keep people tuning in to get more pieces to what presents itself as an increasingly complicated puzzle.
After realizing last episode that Cora almost definitely knew Frankie somehow, Harry continues to root around for information. Cora eventually tells him that she did know Frankie. She says she met him in a specific bar on July 3rd years ago, and that she thought his name was J.D. She says that she went home with Frankie, and later found out she was pregnant, but had no way to contact him. Cora claims that, being Catholic, she couldn’t have an abortion — so she walks in front of a car. She gives Harry the specific hospital, and says that she ended up with a broken hip, but also no longer pregnant.
Harry goes to check this story out, but none of it lines up. The hospital has no record of her ever being there. The bartender at the specific bar Cora mentioned remembers Cora and her friend, but says that Frankie definitely isn’t the guy she was with. Meanwhile, Mason finds a high school friend who’s working on the investigation, and when she goes to find out if Mason knows anything about Frankie or J.D. or Cora’s supposed ordeal, Mason realizes that he does actually know who J.D. is — and he’s definitely not Frankie.
Frustrated with Cora’s lies, Harry then starts to place a lot of pressure on Cora in interviews, and at one point brings his phone to play a recording of Frankie’s college band’s song, which was playing at the beach when Cora killed him. Cora loses it, and launches herself at Harry, hitting him multiple times before the guards ultimately pull her off.
Simultaneous to all of this, we get flashbacks into Cora’s extremely religious upbringing. Her sister remained sickly as she got older, and her mother consistently told Cora that her sins were what made Cora sick. There’s also some heavy-handed implication of some sexual abuse going on at the hands of Cora’s father, but it’s not quite clear yet. Young Cora is caught with a stash of contraband given to her by her aunt (nail polish, pretty pink things, a chocolate bar) and made to pray outside for an hour so God will spare her sister. Later, when her sister remains ill, her mother drags her into her sister’s room and makes her apologize for her sins, and tells Cora it’s her fault. The first act of rebellion we see in Cora — probably her first step toward becoming ~the sinner~ — is her sneaking back outside to dig up the contraband where she buried it, and biting into the chocolate bar.
But this is where this show starts to irritate me. I enjoy it, and I want to know more about what’s happening, and I’m looking forward to diving more deeply into the story and characters. I’m curious about a lot of things. But if the answer to all of these problems ends up being Catholic girl repressing sexual assault and acting out on some internalized self loathing based thereon, I’m going to lose my mind a little bit. It’s almost like people can’t wrap their mind around the fact that there are ways to make female characters interesting without sexual assault. Clearly The Sinner is built around twists and turns, so who knows what the answers actually are — but we certainly seem to be going in this direction, and it’s so tiresome.
We also see Harry starting to reconcile with his estranged wife, and moving back into his house, where he hasn’t been living. That night, when he goes to take off his shirt, he sees the bruises Cora left behind (side note: there’s a scene in the pilot where Harry goes to see a low-rent dominatrix, so my first thought upon seeing him staring at the bruises was that he didn’t want his wife to see the marks she left, so that’s… awkward.) He hurries to the police station, and calls in his partner to share his revelation: on the tape from Cora attacking him, she hit Harry seven times. The same amount she stabbed Frankie. The bruises Harry has line up almost perfectly with where Frankie was stabbed.
We don’t know why, but we leave the episode knowing that Frankie’s song somehow triggers Cora into repeating the same act of violence — and it seems like even she doesn’t really know why.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
The Sinner airs Wednesdays at 10PM on USA
Alyssa Thorne | Contributor