'The Sinner' season 2: It's the silences that speak the loudest
In spite of not relying on a source material, Season 2 took the show to a whole new level by characters who had their own share in storytelling.
There are three things that set 'The Sinner' apart from other crime dramas: It's tendency to ask why instead of who; the mosaic of characters whose perspectives give the story a new frame of reference; and above all its silence. That's right, the show's subtle silence when it comes to depicting crime scenes is what sets it apart.
Let me elaborate. Consider any other crime thriller, such as say 'Mindhunter'. The one thing that you will always find pretty much common in every murder scene that takes place is the agonizing scream. It seems like every show has to implement some kind of sound in order to accentuate the demonizing act of murder. However, that was never the case with 'The Sinner'. Both Season 1 and Season 2 have had their own share of gory scenes where people were brutally murdered. Yet instead of focusing on the crime, the camera always seems to focus on the revolve face of the criminal who either appears to be traumatized himself (Julian in Season 2) or completely broken by her act (Cora in Season 1), and are absolutely silent.
That is the subtle beauty of the show. While there is no clear-cut villain, the show has a plethora of characters who have their own reasons to be present at the time of the incident. Cora was compelled to be in that room where her sister was accidentally killed during the act of love-making. However, it was actually Cora who was the victim and the villain in the same place. At the time when her sister was enjoying herself with her newfound love, Cora was lying only a few feet away being raped by two men.
However, the moment Phoebe (her sister) suffered the crack on her rib cage because Frankie had pressed her too hard on the chest, Cora seemed to find some hidden strength in her which pushed her to beat Frankie until he was left injured. While Cora's reason to commit the act of murder was in a way provoked, Julian was not provoked to murder Adam and Bess in the first episode of Season 2, so much as it was a victim of circumstance. Growing up in the closed and protected environment of Mosswood, Julian always knew that Vera was his real mother. But when things began to take a slightly different turn, Julian immediately took it upon himself to murder the two people who were protecting him.
But why? The reason in the show does not disclose itself until the last episodes, and once the revelation comes we have no option but to silently accept it. A similar sense prevails in the last episode of the second season. After all the sinners were punished, and Julian had felt considerably guilty about killing his biological mother, he ultimately found peace-of-mind far away from the place that has always promoted peaceful living in an odd way. Staying in the shadow of Vera, who had her own share of darkness in her past, Julian never really knew what the world was like. Standing in front of Niagara Falls, along with Heather, he probably found the serenity he had been craving for, ever since his birth.
That is the beauty of 'The Sinner', it never leaves a knot untied. Unlike Season 1, which chiefly focused on one character and the impact of the circumstances that surrounded her existence, Season 2 saw a number of characters who had their own stake in the story. What is even more appealing about Season 2 is that the majority of the leading characters were women, and each of them acted as a catalyst to the plot progression. Beginning with Vera, who was the ultimate depiction of the Alpha, to Marin who represented the ones who often get thrown around by fate, each female character seemed to bring out a new angle to the story.
To elaborate, each female character added a different dimension to Julian's story. Vera was the godmother who eventually put her child before her work, and did not mind burning down her entire establishment when her so-called adopted son refused to go back to her. Heather was the friend who sincerely carried out her duty, but kept her love for Marin safely guarded in her heart. Marin was the girl who wandered, but was never lost, however, she ultimately had to face the consequences of wandering too long. Ultimately, Bess was the one character who represented the audience.
She heard, she saw, and she felt. When the time came for her to take charge of things, she did so. However, none of them could truly provide Julian with the sense of protection he was looking for although each loved him just as much as they would love their own son. There seems to be a parallel between the characters of Julian and Phoebe. Phoebe's presence in Cora's life was like a stimulant. She utilized her older sister and her beauty to live through all that a girl could dream of. While Cora was just a puppet in the hands of people around her, Phoebe - who was forcefully restrained due to her illness - was the epitome of an undying spirit.
The two sisters belonged to opposite poles and watched the world through each other's eyes. However, when it comes to Julian, just like Phoebe, he too has always been an inquisitive child. While people around him tried to persuade him into believing that things were fine, Julian always knew that things weren't, and he wanted to understand why. Just like, Phoebe who would inspire Cora to disobey, Julian inspired himself to disobey and escape. Both Julian and Phoebe were perfectly aware that they were loved by everyone around them, but that was never enough. They wanted to experience, not just listen to experiences.
We probably wouldn't have come across the wonderful stories of any of these interesting characters, had it not been for Detective Harry Ambrose who asks the right questions at the right time. Ambrose found parts of himself scattered across both seasons, first in Cora and then in Julian. However, being the only man in a female-dominated story, Ambrose himself has had his own share of experiences with women. First burning his own mother to death, then divorcing his wife, and ultimately realizing his desire to be dominated, he very soon understood that every woman has her own similar share of lust, desire, and pain.
'The Sinner' is probably the one show which does not distinguish between genders, instead puts them all together in the same boiling pot and watches them bubble. While the first season heavily relied on source material by the German crime writer Petra Hammesfahr, the second season did not have any such material to rely on. It was completely in the hands of the showrunners to take the story forward, and needless to say, the job was excellently executed. In Season 2, the subtle play of innocence disappeared and was replaced by more complex emotions.
Season 1 saw characters who relied on each other and lived through each other. But the second season brought in characters who stood their ground. In both seasons, the sinners are the people who could do neither. Cora could not live through anyone else since she was already the designated victim who turned into a villain, and Julian also found his life being pulled by multiple strings. Cora required help to realize that what was done to her was absolutely wrong, but Julian always knew that he had to escape from all that was already wrong.
Since, with 'The Sinner', the villain's true mask is never uncovered until the last moment of the last episode, both Cora and Julian stood at the edge where they could have been condemned in the eyes of law. However, it was probably their inherent innocence that was compelling enough to make them both appear as victims. Appearances are always deceptive but with 'The Sinner' it is the sin that is truly deceptive.