Reviews · TV

‘The Sinner’ Season 2 Finale Reveals Some Bull at the End

This show sure does love contrived conclusions.
By  · Published on September 20th, 2018

What makes us do the things we do? What makes us who we are? Everything from our conception to our latest actions is a series of outcomes defining our personality, our faults, our motive to commit murder using poisonous tea in a motel on the way to a trip to Niagara Falls. The Sinner is a show that asks whydunit. In both the first and second seasons, we’re shown the killer but not the reasoning behind the crime. For eight episodes, the explanation unravels until a series finale curveball leaves the audience with more questions.

The second season of The Sinner had a lot going on, and now it seems most of it was misdirection. The guy with the ponytail wasn’t the only decoy. We were led down many paths that were dead ends, only to find a whole lot of bull in the center of this maze. Isn’t it always the last person you suspect? Isn’t it always the person who’s right under the detective’s nose? Heather’s dad is the big bad! It’s all his fault that the motel murder happened because he raped and impregnated a girl and the baby grew up to commit the crime.

But really it was the butterfly flapping its wings in South America that caused the weather in Upstate New York to affect the mood of two teenage girls who got drunk and had an argument and led to one of them being taken advantage of by the others’ father. Blame it on Rio, indeed? If only Julian wasn’t an unplanned human being who never knew his father or his real mother and had to be raised by the leader of a messed up cult that confused him with its stress on being truthful all the while being hypocritically full of lies. Don’t worry folks, you’re not totally responsible for your own actions. It’s all a matter of your origins and upbringing.

The big, out of nowhere reveal of The Sinner Season 2 is that Jack (Tracy Letts) was the true father of Julian (Elisha Henig). Nope, it wasn’t that prior cult leader guy, who now it turns out didn’t really need to exist as a character at all, maybe. Jack’s identity must have been discovered by Vera (Carrie Coon), who blackmailed him. He paid her and the Mosswood Grove commune through a shell corporation he set up in order to keep his secret. What did he call that money laundering service? Daedalus, of course.

For those not well-versed in Greek mythology, Daedalus was the creator of the Labyrinth, built to house the half-bull creature known as the Minotaur, who also happened to be the son of Crete’s Queen Pasiphae and an actual bull. For those who don’t get the allusion, Jack was the creator of a labyrinthian plot to hide an illegitimate child. Or maybe he’s the bull? Or is he the Minotaur? Isn’t Julian the Minotaur? Or is Julian Daedalus’s son Icarus, who flew too high and wound up drowning? Or is that Heather (Natalie Paul)?

The ties to the myths are as convoluted as the twists and turns and blind alleys of this season’s narrative. But speaking of laundering things, one thing does seem clear: Jack wanted Heather to find that motel key in his pocket in the dryer, right? Nobody leaves such a big clue like that to be so easily found. And then literally tells her to do laundry. But then he didn’t want to tell her the truth, so maybe he was just suddenly, after 13 years of keeping the betrayal a secret and 10 years of keeping the extortion a secret, he got stupid.

This season was always contrived when it came to clues,  of course. Any time Heather and Harry (Bill Pullman) found anything that helped them in the case, the item was perfectly placed by the writers. The one that keeps coming to mind is the nun’s cincture (rope belt) the detectives found in the woods that pointed them to discovering that Marin (Hannah Gross) was still alive and the person who’d abducted Julian. Props of convenience can be found throughout the show like coincidentally exactly shaped puzzle pieces.

I’m not quite sure what will happen to Jack in the end. Is he being convicted in the accidental death of Marin? Is he being convicted of raping her? There is no statute of limitations on that crime, so probably. But in an unofficial, non-legal court of television viewers, he’s also convicted of causing Julian’s life to be so screwed up that he killed two people. Vera is let off the hook, even though she’s implied to have killed someone in the same way before and more directly influenced Julian’s act. Julian, too, is relatively excused for the murders.

There are so many loose ends in the second season of The Sinner that can just be tossed aside as distractions and red herrings. But at least the questions that remain aren’t the result of poor writing, as seemed the case with the first season after that finale. Unless you consider so much convoluted and contrived plotting to be bad writing. And at least we got to watch husband and wife Tracy Letts and Carrie Coon balance each other as complementary characters who are each complex villains of sorts.

Meanwhile, Julian finally gets to go to Niagara Falls, and he doesn’t kill anyone on the way. Heather finds out she has a brother, whose mother was the love of her life, though this doesn’t seem to hit her in any discernable way. And Harry got to save another misunderstood murderer while also managing to find some therapy to help him deal with his own troubled past. Also, the Mosswood monolith survived the fire and will no doubt be worshipped until the end of time. Apparently still by Vera to start with.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.