The Hidden Angle l The Sinner's portrayal of psychological trauma goes beyond crime and punishment
Spoilers ahead for 'The Sinner' Season 3
'The Sinner' is in its third season on the USA Network, and this season, the show sees Matt Bomer play the lead role of professor Jamie Burns while Bill Pullman reprises the role of detective Harry Ambrose. The show begins with Jamie Burns meeting his friend from college Nick Haas (Chris Messina), but it was clear from the beginning that their relationship is tenuous.
After dinner, the two seem to end up going on a drive when they meet with an accident and Nick dies. However, there is something unexplainably suspicious about Jamie and we see Detective Ambrose investigate the case, and he is suspicious of Jamie as well. The recounting of the accident was accurate but the circumstances surrounding it disturbs Harry enough to conduct an investigation of his own about Jamie and that's how we end up seeing Jamie crash and burn through grief, guilt and his allure for violence.
Did he kill Nick? In the technical sense, he did. However, the build-up towards this knowledge is a psychological break down of a man who was otherwise leading an uncluttered life. You see, Jamie is guilty of letting Nick die without letting him call for help. However, he was pushed to do so by Nick himself and the reason goes all the way back to when the two of them were in college together. Their relationship is more complex than being close friends, and it goes beyond sexual tension and attraction.
Jamie and Nick's relationship is unveiled over time. With each revelation, we learn more about Jamie and Nick. For instance, both Jamie and Nick had bonded over Nietzsche and explored the concept of Ubermensch. While Nick was unrestricted when it came to his exploration, Jamie was more muted with his interest and he was clearly not comfortable with going the extent that Nick wanted to go to.
Again, this we learn over time as well. When grief overcomes Jamie, he recalls conversations that he had had with Nick. For instance, it was Jamie who had reached out to Nick in the first place and it seems to have happened because he was unhappy with how mundane his life was as a married professor who was soon going to be a father. Since Nick has been back in town, Jamie has met him on different occasions trying to mend a relationship that he left behind in college.
As he did so, he got dragged back into the times when Nick and Jamie had bonded over something the two of them understood so deeply. Every flashback paints many layers into their relationship. For instance, we learn that Nick has always pushed Jamie to do more, to be more. This is also what led to Nick's death as well. The idea of a superior man is so ingrained in Nick that at the time of his death, Nick pushes Jamie from calling someone for help. Nick convinces Jamie that this is something that Jamie must do to let go of all the pent up frustration within.
In fact, the moment before Nick dies, he tells Jamie that he had always pushed Jamie to do more and yet he couldn't but this time, he must be successful. Jamie had said that he didn't want to kill some random woman in an estate but what about Nick? Nick succeeded partly, in the sense, Jamie did kill him but the guilt from doing so has been haunting Jamie ever since. He hallucinates, continues to see Nick everywhere around him and through all of his mental digression, we see the plot progress forward with hints and clues surfacing every other episode.
'The Sinner' is thrilling not because of unexpected twists and turns, but beyond that, it is the human connections that the show ties in together which makes it fascinating. Be it the way Jamie's relationship with his wife Leela works, or his love-hate relationship with Nick. In exploring the psyche of its main characters, the show narrates a compelling story aided by solving the mystery of not just who the murderer is but why he did what he did.
Detective Harry is going through a struggle of his own, and that is also being explored in the show. For instance, the reason why Harry doesn't want to collect the belongings of his dead father from the care center. Or how adamant he is about taking pain medication for his leg is something that has to be uncovered over the season. He has moved recently from the city to the suburbs and this move also explains the mind space that Harry is at, in the moment.
'The Sinner' has followed this same formula in its previous seasons as well and this brilliant blend continues to work for the current season as well.
‘The Hidden Angle’ is a weekly column published Fridays examining narratives, frames and sounds that add value to movies and shows but are not part of conversations surrounding their success or failure.