'The Sinner': The complex and beautiful women who are writing their own stories
The women in 'The Sinner' love, hate, inspire, influence, and above all they live in a male-dominated world where they abide by their own laws.
Other than a strong storyline, a promising cast, and the quintessential essence of a murder mystery, USA Network's 'The Sinner' has given its viewers a group of characters who are not only extraordinary in their portrayal but also help disguise the inner workings of the human mind. Also, it is possibly the one show which has put forward a range of powerful female characters in the #MeToo era where most actresses and celebrities are standing up against the unruly treatment of leading actresses in the industry.
Both the seasons of 'The Sinner' follow a similar kind of storyline which revolves around the question "whydunnit" instead of the usual "whodunnit". However, amidst Bill Pullman's enthralling performance as the unguarded detective, Harry Ambrose, there are several female characters who give the story its edge and tells a similar story from a varied perspective. While Jessica Biel essayed the protagonist of Season 1, Cora Tannetti, almost as a part of herself, Season 2 sees Carrie Coon, Hannah Gross, and Natalie Paul bring out three distinct characters who have their own twists to offer to the plot breaks.
So what is it that makes these women so appealing? Is it their amazingly, conventional good looks? Not really. All of them have the face of an average girl, but each has the particular talent to put up a convincing show. Biel received an Emmy nomination for playing the part of Cora in Season 1, however, it would be unfair to put all the credits on Biel alone because Cora as a stand-alone character is just as intriguing. Initially, we are introduced to Cora as a married woman who has a beautiful son. While something seems off about Cora it can easily be made out that this woman has a long story to tell.
Season 1 took us through a twisted tale of an unprecedented murder committed by the mother in broad daylight in front of her son and her husband. Is Cora guilty about the act? She is, however, her guilt is the result of an absent memory that she struggles to recall. As Ambrose takes her through all those places that have left a mark in the corners of her mind, Cora gradually discovers that her act had a bigger reason behind it. As a character, Cora gets her stronghold towards the end of the season when it is revealed that she had murdered the man who killed her younger sister, Phoebe (played by Nadia Alexander).
It is interesting to watch Cora when she is set against Phoebe. Acting as foils to each other, Cora and Phoebe stand on the opposite sides of the spectrum. While Cora is timid and has been bashed to the ground by her mother and often finds herself driven with guilt for whatever is going wrong, Phoebe on the other is a character who is physically incapable but has a jovial mind and friendly heart. Cora was the first-hand example of childhood mental abuse which results out of the constant sense of culpability that she feels regarding her sister.
Cora's mother (Enid Graham), another very strong character, shuts down Cora's sense of self-respect at a very early age when she tells her that she was responsible for Phoebe's ill health. As Cora grows up she is constantly reminded of her apparent sin, until one day she truly commits a sin. Cora is that girl who is torn between the ideologies of the old and the boldness of the new. While her mother constantly wants her to keep her head low, Phoebe wants Cora to fly high above the horizon. It not only puts up the fact that women are often compelled to act upon the wishes of others but also states that a woman can be a woman's biggest enemy.
Season 2 sees a very different group of women. Unlike Cora who almost fell prey to the hands of fate, Vera (played by Carrie Coon) is someone who takes charge of her own fate. As the leader of the commune in Mosswood, she almost seems to have command upon how people should behave. It is almost surprising to see how, in a place which is mostly about freedom from all social constraints, Vera manages to pull her own strings to make people work the way they do. Her interference in Julian's case not only prolongs the mystery with several complications but is almost like a blow to Ambrose who is otherwise extremely attracted to females who can have a control upon him.
Vera's character is not in the show to push the plot forward, she is rather somebody who commands the plot. Just when you think that the pieces are finally getting together, Vera emerges with her own set of ideologies against which even the law has shut its hands. Vera's domination of the plot and the surrounding characters is a fine example of a woman who already has faced the dirty politics of the world, and has now developed her own set of laws to protect all that she believes in. Vera could undeniably be the villain of Season 2, however, she is a grey character and it would be wrong to paint her in black entirely since her character demands more digging into the past.
While Vera still has a long way to go in the show, the other two female characters- Heather and Marin- have added their own mix to the show. Heather's story is an interesting one. Firstly, she is a woman in the lead of an occupation that is chiefly dominated by men. As Natalie Paul who plays Heather, states, "It's really a tough industry when you're a woman and to be in that position in law enforcement, you have to be really contained and you can't really show any weakness or personal softness or feelings or anything." Although you might point out that Heather only works as Ambrose's assistant in the series, it is important to note that Heather's character actually has a lot to add.
As a teenager, Heather discovered her sexuality with her best friend Marin (played by Hannah Gross). Being in a small town like Keller, where word spreads quickly and people are quite conventional in their way of thinking, Heather had to hide her real identity for the most part of her life. Even her parents do not seem to be particularly encouraging of her relationship with Marin, however, they never objected to their friendship. Heather loved Marin and that was evident, and once she got the chance to finally explore the causes behind the disappearance of her best friend, she jumps for it. Heather's character isn't one who takes up the lead, she is just somebody who can easily pull out a gun and kill, if required.
As Heather's best friend, Marin is nothing like her. It won't be incorrect to state that Marin's character sketch runs on parallel lines with Phoebe's. Both characters are flighty in nature and have a constant urge to have something more. While it was Phoebe's physical fallback which left her behind in the race, Marin's personal life including her family was not something she was ready to accept entirely. She always knew that she wanted something more, and when she visits the commune she immediately realizes that this is the change that she has been looking for.
Her character is extremely significant, ever since the possibility of Julian being her son was revealed in the third episode of Season 3. Marin disappeared from Mosswood almost 10 years ago, and ever since Heather has tried looking for her but all was in vain. Marin can be placed among those who often get lost in the way they begin things and then the return becomes intractable. Marin was someone who was in search of freedom, like Phoebe. However, unlike Phoebe, who tasted freedom through her sister, Marin took things upon herself portraying her character as someone who was responsible for the decisions that she made.
The women in 'The Sinner', other than being well portrayed by the talented actresses, are also well written. Season 1 which was based on the book written by Petra Hammesfahr, owes most of its credits to the source material which put up the two sisters almost like each other's shadows. However, Season 2 which had no source material used its female characters to create a story that is probably five times stronger than the previous one. The excellence of the character portrayal lies in the fact that no one character is similar to the other.
Each female character is fighting her own battle in a world chiefly dominated by men, but none of them are conforming. They love, they hate, they search, they escape, but above all, they are writing their own stories. Probably that is why 'The Sinner', other than being an extremely entertaining show, is a story about the individual trying to empower itself.