For those watching the fourth and final season of The Sinner on Netflix, it was a strong season, one that did not lean on a big supporting star as the previous three seasons had with Jessica Biel, Carrie Coon, and Matt Bomer. It was a compelling murder mystery set in a small lobstering town in Maine about a woman, Percy Muldoon, who may or may not have leaped off a cliff to her death, and retired Detective Harry Ambrose’s (Bill Pullman) determination to find out what was behind her murder or suicide.
Over the course of eight episodes, the case went in a number of different directions. There were possible drug connections. There were possible links to an odd spiritual practice. Both the father and the son of a rival lobstering family, the Lams, were suspects in Percy’s murder in part because Percy had an affair with the son, CJ Lam. There was also a human trafficking ring involving people being moved across the Canadian border in lobster boats to find better-paying jobs. The Muldoon family itself was suspicious with its secretive matriarch who demanded loyalty to the family, Percy’s semi-estranged drug-addicted father, and a brother who might have had incestual feelings for his own sister. There was also a cop inside the small-town police force involved in a cover-up relating to the trafficking, another potential cover-up by the feds, and the possibility that a life Percy briefly had in Portland, Maine might have played a role.
Ultimately, however, The Sinner gave us the worst kind of ending: The left-field ending involving a character introduced in the final episode. It did not involve trafficking, a major cover-up, or a huge conspiracy. It did, however, involve the Lam family, only it was a Lam family member that — to the best of my recollection — had not been mentioned in previous episodes, or if he had, only in passing.
Mike Lam, the father of the rival lobstering family, had been arrested in the previous episode because he’d been framed for Percy’s murder. Harry Ambrose, however, found evidence exonerating Mike Lam. When Mike was released from detention, Harry followed him to the Muldoon home, where the Lams and the Muldoons were sitting at a table in a conspiratorial fashion. Detective Ambrose looked for connections between the two families besides their rivalry and found that the Muldoons had sold a small island off the coast to the Lams for only $10 a few years prior and had also handed over one of their lobstering licenses to the Lams, an immigrant family that would have otherwise had to wait 15 years for a license of their own.
Why would the Muldoons give a piece of land and a lobstering license to a rival family? Isn’t it obvious?! It’s because Percy Muldoon accidentally killed the golden child of the Lam family, Bo Lam, several years prior. Bo Lam had worked for the Muldoons as a lobsterman. However, he used the Muldoons’ resources to do some of his own lobstering on the side. When the Muldoons confronted Bo Lam about it, a scuffle broke out, and in order to break up a fight, Percy accidentally shot and killed Bo Lam.
Did the Muldoons try to hide this from the Lams? They did not. They laid Bo Lam’s corpse out on their dining room table, invited the Lams over, and apologized for killing their son. They offered the Lams one of their lobstering licenses and an island to bury their son and asked that they not report Percy because she’s young and has her whole life ahead of her.
The Lams were like, “This is the height of white privilege,” but also, yes, we will take the lobstering license because justice is important but not that important. Lobstering licenses are really hard to get!
Two years later, under the weight of all the guilt, Percy went to the police and tried to confess, but an officer in on the Muldoons trafficking operation ignored her. Percy, in turn, threw herself off a cliff.
Percy’s father, the drug addict, eventually confessed all of this to Harry because it’s “what Percy would have wanted.” Harry has a conversation with the ghost of Percy over Bo Lam’s grave, and then stares into the ocean as The Sinner goes to its end credits one final time. Once again, for reasons distinct from the previous two seasons, The Sinner failed to stick the landing.