I have a couple of friends who are screenwriters who often express frustration and annoyance with movies and television shows that are propelled solely by “hiding the ball,” so to speak. They believe it’s a cheat. Viewers are so focused on finding the ball that they forgive — or don’t even notice — all the show’s weaknesses.
I concede that I am particularly susceptible to this trick — I will get so caught up in finding the ball that I ignore everything else, and if the ball is poorly hidden, I will judge a show accordingly. In that regard, I give USA Network’s The Sinner a mixed assessment, because while the ball was hidden well, it was almost as if it were hidden out of bounds. It was like an Easter Egg hunt where the kids spend an hour searching for eggs with the understanding that they’re all in the front yard only to discover that the last egg was hidden on the sewer grate out in the street.
In this case, that last egg is Dr. Patrick Belmont, the father of the initial murder victim, Frankie. Dr. Belmont was never a suspect nor a frequent presence on The Sinner (he appeared briefly twice before, in episodes II and III). The resolution isn’t exactly out of left field, but it is well behind the third base line. It’s hard to even call this a successful misdirection because we were never really given a reason to direct our attention toward Dr. Belmont in the first place.
To make the connection between Cora’s murder of Frankie in 2017 and the disappearance of Phoebe in 2012, Detective Ambrose makes a few leaps of his own. While Cora was able to piece together her memories of the 2012 night in question before J.D. knocked her out with an ashtray, she could not recall the subsequent two months. Once the DNA evidence on the buried body returns revealing it was Cora’s sister — and not Maddie — Ambrose tracks Maddie down to another city where she had changed her name. She reveals that J.D. had gotten involved in another scheme selling Oxycontin after the night Phoebe was killed. Ambrose then tracks down a business associate of J.D.’s to confirm he was still involved in selling Oxy before his death, and eventually Ambrose concludes that J.D. must have been in cahoots with an Oxy-prescribing doctor.