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The Sinner Recap: You Can Call Me Alpha

The Sinner

Part IV
Season 2 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****

The Sinner

Part IV
Season 2 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: USA network/Peter Kramer/USA Network

There are legitimate therapies that target traumatic memories as a corrective to misplaced anxiety in the present moment. EMDR, for example, is a kind of conscious hypnosis that — like Jack Novack digging up weeds on a sweltering day — pulls at the roots of an issue until it no longer frustrates. Anger is a useful tool in therapy. Suppress it at your peril. But idolize it as more end than means, and you’ve no longer got an old hag sitting on your chest — you’ve become, as Julian would put it, “split in two,” acting out your worst experiences as the conqueror and tormentor. Taking control.

Vera certainly knows a thing or two about that, to echo Harry. She’s effectively lured him into a Lionel Jeffries–worthy labyrinth from which he might not escape until he tunnels down to the depths of his “shadow self.” You get the feeling that perhaps Vera’s done some tooling around in Harry’s past, maybe uncovering a thing or two about his mother’s stay in Deacon’s Psychiatric and the complicated accounts of who started the fire in his childhood home and why. After an evening of wandering in the darkened woods, wending and limping his way to an old cabin of Jeffries (a.k.a The Beacon, Mosswood founder and disgraced psychiatrist — note that Vera merely says he’s “gone,” not buried), Harry seemingly wakes up out of sorts in Bess and Adam’s ill-fated motel room (that was so not just green tea). Not that he can’t trust her. She did place his gun and badge neatly by the bed.

Someone, possibly Marin (unless, tragically, she’s rotted at the bottom of Purple Lake, its name a possible nod to executive producer Michelle Purple), left all sorts of clues behind in a Niagara Falls storage unit. Children’s clothes, copies of Jeffries’s published titles, and camcorder footage of Marin watching as Jeffries (we assume) encouraged a man who sure looked like Glenn Fisher to pound a fellow Mosswood member into a pulp during a bit of “symbolic play.” Said video was dated October 2005, not long after Julian was born, according to how this season’s timeline appears to be puzzling out.

The assorted key dates keep piling up, forcing viewers (for better or worse) to double back and do the math to the point where merely watching The Sinner has evolved into something like a virtual labyrinth, playfully disorienting but also making it awfully hard to get seduced by the hoodoo voodoo of it all. But out of that investigative thicket we finally discerned that Vera does indeed look on Julian as “a new kind of man,” an entity worthy of central focus in Jeffries’s narratives about humane evolution by way of primal screams that summon — rather than subjugate — horror. He’s no Golden Child, but it’ll do.

Helping to tie all this together (unless the introduction of one more crazed character only muddies the maze) is Carmen Bell, who’s shacked up at Deacon’s but spins a convincing tale (eggs in her brain aside) for Harry and Heather about Dr. Poole foregoing a simple abortion in 2002 and taking out her entire uterus. The implication is that Carmen was harassed until she withdrew her malpractice claims, or there was a greater conspiracy within the town to discredit them or her. More troubling, we can infer that Mosswood was eliminating any and all possibility of a child coming into their ranks who wasn’t sanctified as the savior of our very species, capable of turning the commune’s “work” into the blueprint for something at once divine and engineered. Vera would likely characterize it as a sophisticated step forward from what the Pentecostals and Seneca tribe waited patiently for as they ritualized around the commune ground’s gargantuan rock formation.

Regardless of who carried Julian (Marin, odds are) or obsessed over devouring/protecting him (Bess), Vera senses her control over her chosen pupil slipping away, a sacrifice to civilization’s ultimate apparatus for outsourcing the outcomes of people’s lives and potential: maximum-security prison. In reality, Harry is her ally, working hard as he is to get Julian’s case kicked back down to family court, a complementary effort to Julian’s current self-defense stance. All the more reason why she exploits his weaknesses (and no, not his soft chin) and spends valuable time casting a spell over him, ensuring any efforts to free him are in service of The Beacon’s best teachings, not some state-mandated intervention in their work.

We’re halfway home now, even if Julian’s not quite that close. What’s to come will underline less about how cults compel their followers or almost inevitably attract scandal, than about the simple damage we can do — and greater evil we can enable — by turning inward too late. That, and we’ll get the goods on who’s a creepy cultist and who isn’t. (What was Jack really talking about with Marin? Was Brick the thin man who snagged the Carmen Bell deposition? And how does the timing of Heather’s mom’s passing figure into all this, and did it have anything to do with Dr. Poole’s handiwork? Etc., etc.) “Part V” will have more than a handful of mysteries to commence clarifying, lest The Sinner’s storytelling labyrinth become any more byzantine.

Apart From All That

• Both seasons of this show find some really neat, stately-yet-sinister locations, like the site of Deacon’s.

• Qué pasa with Carmen’s burn marks?

• Where did Harry’s mom wind up after 1975? Dead?

• Make what you will of episode director Jody Lee Lipes being one of Lena Dunham’s longtime cinematographers.

• Western New York is weird.

• Funny touch seeding the fidget spinner among images of philosophical symbols.

Ronit Kirchman’s done nice work scoring this series.

The Sinner Recap: You Can Call Me Alpha