Spoilers through “Part VI”
USA Network’s slow-simmering summer murder mystery The Sinner did not answer any important questions in this week’s sixth episode, but it did leave us on the brink of a revelation. Cora (Jessica Biel) visited the scene of whatever crime led her to murder Frankie five years later. The lake house basement of a private club apparently holds many of the answers, and seeing it for the first time in five years has reawakened Cora’s memories. The episode, however, ended before she could relay those memories to Detective Ambrose.
Whatever happened in that basement not only led to the murder of Frankie, but also the murder of J.D. and Maddie. It apparently involved a cult, an orgy, and a lot of strange masks. I suspect it may have also involved hypnosis and/or brainwashing.
There are two storylines this season, however, that are difficult to parse. The first is Ambrose’s obsession with masochism, which nearly got him killed this week when his prostitute friend almost choked him to death while they were having sex. I don’t know how — or if — Ambrose’s crumbling marriage and his sexual kinks play into the murder mystery, but six episodes in, I’m beginning to believe the subplot exists only because a show like this needs a “defective detective trope.” It’s the weak link in an otherwise gripping and tense drama.
The other opaque storyline involves Cora and her sister, Phoebe. Sinner is clearly trying to demonstrate how abusive Cora’s upbringing was. Cora’s mother blames Cora for Phoebe’s life-threatening illness, and Cora was obviously sexually abused by her father, who also frequently stepped out on his marriage. Phoebe herself acted out against their strict religious upbringing by, at first, becoming obsessed with porn, and then later essentially pimping her sister out so that Phoebe could live vicariously through Cora’s sexual exploits.