When we think of Jessica Biel, we mostly think of her run on the hit show from the late 1990s/early 2000s, 7th Heaven. She’s a beautiful actress who since then has gone on to be in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, some mainstream romantic comedies, and unknown horror films. This is exactly why her performance in USA’s The Sinner is way out of the ballpark that you would think Biel is confined within and it’s 100% a good thing, because I had no idea how strong her acting capability was until the miniseries.
The Sinner’s first season focuses on Biel’s character Cora, who seemingly is a “normal” wife and mother. Her husband (Chris Abbott) is loving and it’s clear Cora loves her child, but there are clearly demons plaguing her. This becomes all the more apparent when a simple family day at the beach turns into Cora stabbing a stranger after a song triggers what is most likely a PTSD flashback. The entire season focuses on Cora and a detective (Bill Pullman as Detective Ambrose) as they attempt to figure out what drove her to attack that man and as they unearth the tragedy that happened to her five years prior.
Emotional, heart pulling, and dark, The Sinner explores not only Cora’s motive, but her traumatic past with an overly zealous/religious mother. We see the burden that her sentence bestows upon Abbott’s Mason Tannetti, who simply wants to be there for his wife, but grows frustrated when he realizes that there are past traumas she did not divulge to him and he’s realizing how powerless he is to protect Cora. Prior to this mini-series, the only other thing I had seen Abbott in was the independent movie Sweet Virginia, in which he played a completely different kind of character and seeing the two roles side by side, I’m appreciating Abbott’s talent.
Through flashbacks, we learn that Cora’s past is not what she is telling anyone and we’re learning about the fragments as she struggles to remember. The loving mother and wife has deep seeded issues that stem from a brainwashing upbringing and a man with a kind smile who would change everything. That man is Jacob Pitts’s J.D., who remains quite elusive for the first handful of episodes. J.D. is both the man your mother warned you about and the man she didn’t warn you about, but should have. Considering Cora’s upbringing, J.D. sniffed out a girl who had been sheltered her whole life and made her his own. Every scene Pitts is in, you’re terrified for Cora, and you see how easy it is to fall for J.D.’s charm. Honestly, Pitts is a terrifying man as J.D. and was largely responsible for making the season as good as it was.
Him and Biel. I was blown away with how intense her acting was. How on edge I was throughout every scene of hers. Cora’s relationship with Detective Ambrose is special to the series, as we see Ambrose genuinely wanting to figure out more. While we see other townspeople easy to dismiss Cora as a drug addict who attacked a man, Ambrose knows there’s more, and he’s determined to get the whole story. I found it extremely profound when Cora asked Ambrose once, “don’t give up on me” showing a woman who wants him to help, who knows that there is more, but is so lost on how to find the missing pieces of her life.
There are some odd scenes, particularly involving Pullman’s Ambrose and what he likes to do in the bedroom. No judgment, just not what I was expecting from this small town, but it was related to the theme of the season; that nothing is at it seems on the surface. This show is taboo, dark, and twisted in many areas, and there are moments that you would never expect.
The story of Cora Tannetti is told within one season, but they’re eight of the most powerful episodes on television that you’ll watch. I won’t give away the ending, because it’s a show you should really watch. The first season is on Netflix; there is a second season that follows a different storyline that was just released, though; not on Netflix yet. I haven’t watched, but people are also praising the second season from what I can tell.
If you’ve watched The Sinner, please let me know what you thought!
A girl with too many fandoms to count.