TELEVISION | The latest season of a critically acclaimed crime anthology is compelling but marred by gratuitous content
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➤ Rated TV-MA
Netflix is now airing Season 4 of USA Network’s The Sinner, a series that’s just like its protagonist: smart, complicated, and plagued by a dark side.
The critically acclaimed crime anthology earned executive producer Jessica Biel an Emmy for best lead actress in a limited series in the show’s first season, and Bill Pullman has received several award nominations for his lead role as grizzled detective Harry Ambrose. The show’s bad language and few but superfluous scenes with graphic sexual and violent content detract from an otherwise intriguing set of thrillers.
The twisty plot of each eight-episode story arc begins and ends in strange places. In Season 1, Biel plays Cora Tannetti, a young mother who stabs a stranger to death on a beach. Neither she nor anyone else can explain her actions. Harry isn’t satisfied with the consensus that Cora experienced a psychotic break, so he investigates.
The show’s title likely refers to Cora. The first season is based on German author Petra Hammesfahr’s 1999 novel Die Sünderin (The Sinner). In both the book and TV series, flashbacks reveal Cora’s teenage rebellion and her clashes with her religiously eccentric mother. Religious eccentrics also play roles in other seasons.
In Season 2, a young boy is charged with poisoning a couple, and the third season centers on a car accident in which the driver dies and the passenger survives. In each case, Harry uses his intuition to penetrate appearances. When questioning suspects, he often turns slightly away then squints back over his shoulder in their direction. His sheepish persistence gets results.
Season 4 opens with Harry a year into retirement, vacationing on fictional Hanover Island in Maine. (The filming took place in Nova Scotia.) On a late-night stroll, Harry thinks he sees a young woman by the name of Percy Muldoon (Alice Kremelberg), a member of a prominent island family, step off a high cliff. When no one can find Percy the next day, Harry offers to assist local authorities.
Harry ventures into strange places, too. In the first season, he engages in masochism, a pursuit that doesn’t seem to fit a person of his office or intellect. Later episodes reveal that Harry battles depression that stems in part from an abusive childhood. Perhaps Harry’s peculiar obsessions give him insights into other people’s weaknesses, a decided advantage for a homicide detective. Or maybe the point is we all have a fallen nature. Whatever the case, the show offers little hope for the human condition beyond the forensic satisfaction of solving crimes.
The latest season of The Sinner once again offers a compelling and entertaining story that features superb acting and a well-written script full of surprises. Some viewers, however, will want to give it a pass: Gratuitous content may not allow them to hate the sin but love The Sinner.
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