USA Network’s Sinner kicked off its third season a couple of weeks ago. As it did in its first season (and to a lesser extent, its second), it continues to be a very good show that very few people talk about. I’m not even sure who the demographic is for the series (ratings on USA Network are soft, but it apparently does very well on Netflix). In fact, I probably wouldn’t be watching it on cable were it not for the app that reminds me when shows return, because it feels like a show designed for the binge-watching model.
Sinner is a murder mystery series, but it is specifically not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. All three seasons of the anthology series are connected through Bill Pullman’s Detective Harry Ambrose, a beleaguered cop with his own extensive set of traumatic personal issues — Ambrose’s personal issues, be it the mother who died in a house fire or his need to be punished during sex — are completely pointless diversions. Thankfully, season 3 (so far) hasn’t introduced any of Ambrose’s issues, maintaining its focus on the central storyline.
In any respect, in the first episode of each season, viewers not only witness a murder but we see who commits it. The mystery is why. The first two seasons traced the why back to larger conspiracies (and both involved a level of brainwashing), but season three is modifying the formula. We don’t see the murder until the end of the episode, and here, the murder derives from a failure to act instead of a lethal stabbing (season one) or poisoning a couple to death (season 2).
To wit: Matt Bomer plays Jamie, a popular high-school teacher and expectant father. He seems to be living the good life with his wife Leela (Parisa Fitz-Henley) until his best friend from college unexpectedly shows up at his door and invites himself to dinner. That friend is Nick Haas, played here by Chris Messina, who has apparently pivoted into villain roles (he skinned off faces in Birds of Prey). At dinner, Nick asks some pointed questions and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. Afterward, Jamie and Nick go get a drink, but when Nick begins speeding through the backroads in the middle of the night, Jamie pulls the emergency brake and Nick goes through the windshield. He’s still alive and Jamie has time to save him, but he instead spends the next hour or so watching him bleed out. Instead of begging for his life, however, Nick seems almost resigned to his death.
That’s the question Detective Ambrose is trying to answer this season, and while we haven’t gotten very deep into the investigation, it’s clear that Nick and Jamie had a complicated (and perhaps romantic) past, and that it likely involves a painter, Sonya Barzel (Jessica Hecht), upon whose property Nick wrecked the car.
Sinner is a reliably good series that has managed to snag some considerable talent — Jessica Biel (who produces) starred in the first season opposite Christopher Abbott, while Carrie Coon and her husband Tracy Letts figured heavily in the second season. It is compelling television, although again — especially with the episode-ending cliffhangers — it feels designed for binge-watching. That may prove to be a boon for the USA Network series, however, when NBCUniveral launches its streaming network, The Peacock, later this year. For the time being, I am plenty happy to wait a week between episodes, as the mystery is slowly peeled back.
Sinner airs Thursdays on the USA Network. The first two seasons are currently available on Netflix.
Header Image Source: USA Network