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The Sinner Recap: What Happens in Mosswood …

The Sinner

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

Much like Keller PD coming across Julian’s duffle bag at Mosswood, this episode left us with a lot to unpack. Actually, the boy’s luggage was conspicuously light on personal effects. The heap of shirts and jeans was barely indistinguishable from his foster home’s pile of second-hand outfits. Not exactly evidence that Vera’s attending to her son’s needs any more concertedly than his interim state wards. Which is precisely what worried the judge at his custody hearing, which did not go well for Vera, who was woefully underprepared to prove that Julian is suitably sheltered and schooled at the commune.

Never mind Harry, who’s starting to wonder exactly what fresh hell this 13-year-old confessed — scratch that, confessed then alleged — double murderer endured growing up at 90 Osborne Road, the only child among a village of meandering transcendentalists. It doesn’t help matters when he realizes that shorn-headed communite Jes (with one s, thank you very much) is fashioning the purple-pendant necklace slain member Bess was wearing in one of her personal photos. Or that Jes was practically quaking, desperate for direction about how to not tip these detectives off to the fact that, duh, Bess and Adam and Julian were so never coming back. The missing piece is why, and at who’s urging, were all three of them in on it?

“Part II” of season two is, if such a thing can be ascribed, vintage Sinner. As with its provocative predecessor, there are all sorts of literally nightmarish bogeymen, flashes of future victims disappearing behind doorways, cultish gatherings where ritual turns into something sinister and dark. What it’s missing to this point is executive producer and season one star Jessica Biel, who was so strange and sympathetic and broken as Cora Tannetti. (Maybe we’ll still get a cameo from Cora, who could be a far less lecherous Hannibal Lecter to Harry’s wayward investigator?) Harry’s connection to Julian as a fellow foster-home vet with shadowy (to use Vera’s favorite phrase) childhood trauma is a fine surrogate for his and Cora’s dynamic, but jury’s still out on whether Natalie Paul’s Heather Novack is a compelling secondary grown-up lead.

Heather certainly shares plenty in common with Harry though, not least of which is her dad Jack’s complicated, shared past with Harry. The two awkwardly tap dance around whether to go on a fishing expedition while standing across from each other’s bedroom entrances in a shot that can’t help but make one wonder how close they came to living in the other’s skin. All this early talk and imagery of explosions and fires and days of Keller yore will coalesce and boil over soon enough.

Meanwhile, at Jack’s restaurant, Heather lets it slip that they’re onto Mosswood within earshot of Jeannie the waitress (played by Glory Simon, whose slim film résumé happens to include the eternally twisted Chuck & Buck), and it’s not a surprise when the press start hounding poor Officer Brick for comment before long. Heater, as it turns out, has plenty she’d rather not speak about herself, but we all know every character’s shadow self is hurtling toward the light before season’s end. Memories begin to surface of the night she and high-school BFF (and maybe lover, but it’s hard to tell whether Heather was just first making those feelings known) Marin (Mindhunter’s Hannah Gross in another excellent casting choice) get stoned and trespass on Mosswood turf. Next thing you know, they’re in a ceremonial circle watching hippies toss family photos and wrist watches into the fire. Hannah unburdens herself of an heirloom necklace from her mother and wanders off into a mysterious shed with a curly coiffed Lothario who looks precisely like Bachelorette contestant (and, incidentally, alleged sexual harasser) Leo. Heather’s subsequent, present-day return to that building — and the strange, scarred monolith inside it — was all very True Detective–esque and, this being The Sinner, signaling something worse than we could imagine.

All roads point back to Vera, who, as played inscrutably by Carrie Coon (even if Vera’s not quite written as carefully as Fargo’s Gloria or The Leftovers’ Nora), is prone to having any number of motives and mindsets projected onto her. Is she truly Julian’s mother, and raising him the way she knows how without the need for outside intervention? (And we know how Julian feels about outsiders.) Is she a crazy kidnapper sending her quasi-adopted son off for some kind of insane sacrifice at Niagara Falls? Or whatever her relationship to Julian, is she stripping him of choice by controlling his mind and having him punish those who don’t live the commune’s code? (Danny the sex offender best tread lightly.) Perhaps the real focus should be on Beth and Adam, and what their instructions were versus what they intended to carry out. And goddamnit, did the old dude with the ponytail poison them after all, and Julian really is innocent?

Times like these can make you pound your first and crow, “Stupid TV show.” But The Sinner is smart, and it will start to dig out truths like a cloaked night-stalker puncturing Julian’s flesh searching for God knows what. Not to worry. As Vera reassures us, “I know where the monster is.”

Apart From All That

• Jack is packing some solid girth.

• Yes, Harry, I’m assuming Interlogica was a tech company.

• Chief Lidell best cough up what he knows about Mosswood stat.

• Something tells me Harry may join this cult.

• More info to come on Kyle Cummings, Caleb etc. one assumes.

• Any guesses as to what Vera whispered in Julian’s ear?

• If Harry’s childhood was that bad, couldn’t he have moved further than four hours away?

• That sure was one conspicuous linger on the side of the road leading up to Mosswood.

• The most interesting revelation of all might be what took place pre-Mosswood at the Coldby Conference Center.

• Ya know, Adam was only there for a few months … maybe he was the one who was supposed to be sacrificed?

The Sinner Recap: What Happens in Mosswood …