“Holy shit” is right. It’s all Heather can think to say after stumbling on Dr. Poole’s miniature Mosswood obelisk, atop a desk a couple floors up from the office where Dr. Poole slit his own throat with a gynecological implement after being questioned about Marin and Mosswood. (Though, kind of surprising Harry didn’t suspect the doc might be making a run for it rather than looking up “files,” no?) “Part III” is juicy stuff, a step up from the prior episode’s muddying of the waters and a first sign that everything from here on out is going to get dark and twisty and tormented.
Keller isn’t quite Wicker Man’s Summerisle or even Troll 2’s Nilbog, but Harry can tell something wicked is conspiring amid all the eggy brunches being served at Jack’s restaurant and rotary-club social gatherings going down at the Fishers. (Given this season’s growing preoccupation with giving birth, are the constant dialogued and visual allusions to actual eggs — be they deviled at the Fishers’ or over easy at the Novacks’ — subliminal?) First, it’s a reasonable, educated guess that Adam and Bess were skipping past Niagara Falls a bit further south to Buffalo, the endpoint of the Fishers’ apparent dairy empire and a very possible location for Marin, who is most definitely Julian’s mom.
Another fun guess is that Bess was indoctrinated early on during her Mosswood stay (we know she died in her 30s and had been with the commune dating back to her early 20s) into whatever crazy breeding/kidnapping/child-prodigy-rearing nonsense Vera (if that be her real name) has going on. And after falling for Adam and snapping out of it, stole their fellow compound member’s ride and set about their harebrained scheme.
That’s not a particularly nice assessment, but they certainly underestimated — as adults almost always do with children — how finely tuned Julian was to their whispered motel conversations, and how his shadow self would come out to wreak havoc as punishment for their lies. Lies, after all, as Julian tells the court-mandated psychologist, split the liar into two (whatever that means). Ironically, Julian is evidently torn about how Bess in particular suffered from his toxic hit job, unless that’s all an act or the result of whatever number Vera’s done on him all these years.
Harry can’t make heads or tails of Vera just yet, or at least he’s not swift to judgment. His main allegiance is to Julian. He can relate. He too was an undersized teen who, at 17, dealt with the repercussions of a house fire he may or may not have set himself to escape the hellishness of living with his troubled mother. He scribbles his personal 555 digits on the kid’s palm and urges him to call, and then off Julian goes to juvie, but not before a digital-fingerprinting and mugshot tour that’s straight out of Naz’s nightmare introduction to Rikers in The Night Of. Harry’s advice? Keep to yourself but not entirely. Sounds like he’s been there.
The real mystery hanging over everyone’s heads is where Marin’s been since roughly 2005, a conundrum that begets its own curiosities, primarily why Heather’s been so reluctant to confront Marin’s mom and have a look-see through her old BFF’s (and maybe, but not definitely, more than that) things. Water under the covered bridge, one supposes, but she finally got the nerve, and after a very judgy dressing down (pun intended, as Ms. Calhoun is quite the seamstress, a detail worth storing away), comes across Marin’s dog-eared copy of Dolphin Beach, the name Julian underlined and circled repeatedly and with aspiration.
Heather’s the hardest character to identify with as a viewer, limited to bouts of anxiousness, insecurity, and ineptitude till this point that are likely cover for someone who’s the key to everything. As for pops, that close-up of the swinging “Est. 1933” sign demarcating Jack’s Cobble Stone restaurant doesn’t necessarily foreshadow his nefarious role in this cross-Keller creepiness, but it does echo Harry’s musings about that region’s historically eccentric spiritual energy.
Dates are important in this show — the date of Adam and Bess’s murders (June 8, 2018), Marin’s disappearance (nine months prior to Julian’s birth in May ’05), Harry’s self-imposed exile and Jack’s wife’s concurrent funeral (15 years ago), Keller’s incorporation (1845), etc. — though not as important as what they represent. That’s for Harry and Heather to figure out, not to mention whether Marin’s alive and whether anyone else has been harmed or vanished at the hands of Vera, Dr. Poole, the Fishers (also note Dr. Poole’s receptionist was a Fisher), or whoever might be keeping the flame of this cabal lit and to what end.
The rest of us can simply sit back and, as with The Sinner’s previous season, pontificate on the kinds of evil intent that nearly rise to the level of supernaturally eerie, taking in the horrors of ritual and ravages of personal choice. (And, bonus, marvel at Carrie Coon’s honorary interpretive rock altar dancing.) Despite the occasional lapse into cliché (dream-sequence cold opens, for one), season two and “Part III” especially wonder aloud, and deeply, about the worlds we create to protect the ones we love and at what cost, and when it’s appropriate to mind anyone’s business but our own. As Julian says, the sum total of humanity is just “different forms, all mixed together, pieces of us,” so how can anyone ever know the whole?
Apart From All That
• One person’s cult is another’s rotary.
• “Whenever a boy that young kills, it’s not just his fault,” says Harry. But it is just a little bit.
• Poor Julian, barely four-and-a-half feet tall.
• Ms. Calhoun’s a solid red herring, and maybe the most unsentimental TV parent of a missing child yet.
• Benji = The Sinner’s Swami Prem Niren.
• The undercurrent of intolerance from Jack, Glenn, and Ms. Calhoun makes for a tense contrast with the commune’s glasnost.
• Really Glenn, did heavy metal and tear gas work so well at Waco?
• What’s Carolyn’s deal?
• Weird that the cop didn’t go in and handle his biz when Julian freaked on the psychologist, no?
• So, any guesses on how this all plays out?