Ever had a friend who was a bad influence on you but you just couldn’t stay away from them? You made some bad decisions with them and got into trouble, but they’re irresistible and life is duller without them. Remember those friends as you tune in to watch the new season of The Sinner.
As the third season of USA’s The Sinner opens, we meet college professor Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer) and his wife Leela (Parisa Fitz-Henley) as they’re a week away from welcoming their first child. Jamie is preoccupied and it seems to be about impending fatherhood but then one evening, his old friend from college, Nick Haas (Chris Messina) shows up at his house in upstate Dorchester, NY. Jamie is not happy to see Nick and when Leela invites Nick to join them for dinner, the conversation is fraught with tension. Later in the evening, Jamie and Nick go for a drive and get into a car accident on land owned by local artist Sonya Barzel (Jessica Hecht) and that becomes the pivotal incident for this season of the show. As the first episode closes, there’s a chilling moment between Jamie and Nick that will reverberate throughout the season.
Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) is still on the job and living in a remote house outside of Dorchester. Ambrose is limping along, literally, as he battles sciatica while examining the scene of the accident. When he talks to Jamie, he sees how rattled and distracted he is and starts to dig into Jamie and Nick’s history. And here’s where the string of twists begins as Ambrose learns that Jamie and Nick were more than average college chums. After talking to their college philosophy professor and one of Jamie’s college roommates, Ambrose learns Nick had a kind of emotional hold on Jamie and pushed him to rethink his personal philosophy about life and how he lived it, which resulted in some dangerous adventures. Though Jamie tried to leave his past with Nick behind in his married life with Leela, after the car accident, we see it is impossible for him to do that, as he starts to “see” Nick at random moments throughout his day. Nick’s hold on Jamie is still strong – in fact, it’s stronger after the fateful accident – and Bomer’s performance as the slowly unraveling Jamie is gripping to watch. When Jamie reaches out to Ambrose for help, Ambrose tries to get him to see a mental health professional but as viewers will see, that doesn’t go according to plan.
Show creator/executive producer Derek Simonds has again crafted a season filled with mystery, suspicion, paranoia, and an exploration of how the ghosts of past traumas live on in our present-day lives. In keeping with previous seasons of this anthology series, Ambrose quickly understands that the inciting incident is more than a car that smashed into a tree. There’s a lot of emotional wreckage beneath the twisted metal of Nick’s luxury sports car and his damaged body, and Ambrose is just the guy to find out the real story.
Ambrose finds himself investigating a case that involves Nietzsche’s philosophy, the concept of the ubermensch and what it means to gaze into the abyss. After watching the first three episodes, it’s also apparent that artist Sonya Barzel is lying when she claims not to know Jamie and Nick and that whatever her relationship is to them will play into why Nick’s car crashed on her property.
The Sinner quickly pulls you in with a riveting first episode and gets its hooks in you. The haunting ambience of the show seeps in slowly and runs deep. This season is graced with three strong leads in Pullman, Bomer and Messina and the chemistry between Bomer and Messina is obvious from their first scene together. Messina’s performance as Nick is hypnotic and mesmerizing. Adam Bernstein’s (Fargo, Breaking Bad) direction also builds the intensity as he gives scenes just enough time to breathe while keeping the story moving forward.
Some interesting background notes to keep in mind as you watch: in a recent press tour stop at BUILD, Matt Bomer revealed The Sinner cast and some of the creatives participated in a dream workshop as part of their preparation for the season. Bill Pullman declined the invitation to the workshop in previous seasons, but decided to join the group this time around. Bomer talked about how the workshop helped them to bond subconsciously so when they got on set, there was already an unspoken understanding between the actors that worked to their advantage as they shot the episodes. Bomer has also spoken at length in various interviews about the emotional toll this role had on him, and how he took an entire week after shooting wrapped to decompress.
So take a deep breath and get ready. The Sinner is back to make you think twice about your friends, your life, and how you’re living it.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good (with ★★★★★ potential for Bomer’s performance)
Show credits: Derek Simonds is The Sinner show creator and executive producer. Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple are executive producers through their company Iron Ocean. Charlie Gogolak and Willie Reale also serve as executive producers. The series hails from UCP.