Lieutenant Ambrose more than meets his match in Captain Farmer
RECAP: 8/30/17 The Sinner
Credit: Peter Kramer/USA Network

The Sinner

S1 E5

I have to give The Sinner credit this week. The timely addition of a new character is shaking up Cora and Ambrose’s romantic/paternal/whatever-it-is-it’s-deeply-unprofessional dynamic — and given that our new arrival is a living, breathing human being and not just another terrifying, life-sized crucifix, I love her already.

Short of a water-skiing squirrel, there’s nothing local news loves quite as much as an unidentified corpse. The remains discovered in the county forest preserve last night are all over television. The scene itself is swarming with investigators (human and canine alike) when Ambrose and Leroy arrive the next morning. The skeleton is that of a female teen or young adult, buried there for roughly three to four years. She was wrapped in a blanket — seemingly indicating the body was transported from somewhere else — covered in blood stains, which might yield a DNA match.

Sound the official flashback klaxons: Cora, now a young adult, arrives home from work to find Phoebe waiting for her in bed. Phoebe looks several years older, a young teenager herself now; Cora looks like…present-day Jessica Biel. (Sorry, ma’am, but I’m not buying it.) “I found it,” Phoebe says of a $950-a-month apartment listing just a block from the beach in Naples, Florida. With today’s deposit, their savings account has cracked $3,000 — only another $1,000 to go before they’ve achieved their goal and can flee Mother Lacey, who remains the charming and decidedly non-psychotic woman she always was.

Phoebe has been keeping busy operating an online dating profile on Cora’s behalf (Anastasia is her extremely believable nom de internet), and she’s found her sister a new match. Over dinner, Cora’s dull date Scott drones on and on and on about his job. Cora tells him he has something stuck in his teeth, suggesting he grab a toothpick from the register. While Scott’s gone, she grabs all the cash in his wallet. (Really? This is your moneymaking master plan, ladies?)

Back at the present-day crime scene, the “staties” (that is, the state police) arrive, to Ambrose’s great displeasure. Captain Farmer (Joanna Adler) has been assigned to the case of the body in the woods. Farmer, a smooth operator (and a much-needed foil for Ambrose), has a very different perspective on how Cora — who, um, kind of seems like she’s obviously the killer here, to anyone who hasn’t been privy to four and a half hours and counting of her life story — should be interviewed.

She makes a big show of undoing Cora’s handcuffs, asking if she can call her by her first name, and pausing to read a text from her nanny about her twins to Cora as a fellow mom (relatable!). But it’s clear that this prisoner isn’t going to be treated like detective’s pet anymore. Farmer doesn’t buy the objectively nutso recovered memory narrative, though Ambrose insists a 115-pound woman couldn’t have hauled the corpse three miles from the nearest road.

With the CSIs packing up in the woods, Ambrose wanders past the police tape onto land that’s unambiguously demarcated as private property. Eventually, he reaches a fence with a back road and buildings beyond it. This proves to be the schmantsy-pants Beverwyck Club, which has owned these 3,000 acres of forest preserve for more than a century. Ambrose asks the concierge for a list of all the members and grounds crew who’ve had access to that back road over the last 10 years.

This is not J.D.’s crowd, nor is it Cora’s, nor it it even Ambrose’s. Photos of tennis-playing, rifle-toting (not both at once, though) white dudes line the tony lobby. An employee with a broom tries ineffectively to encourage a lost bird out a window. (Per federal law, there can only be one bird whisperer per television show, and Ambrose is our guy.) Ambrose spots an old-fashioned wallpaper that looks…familiar. Almost as if someone’s described him to it before, in great detail, from its appearances in her recovered memories. It isn’t long before the police chief hears about Ambrose’s antics at the Beverwyck. He isn’t happy — and neither is the club’s attorney, the very same slimeball who represents J.D. Hmm.

Cora’s lawyer brings her a deal via state police and DA: If she offers a detailed confession to the second murder, she will be permitted to serve the two sentences concurrently, with early parole guaranteed at 20 years. If she doesn’t agree — and if they do eventually convict her of the second murder — she’ll have consecutive life sentences, with parole in more like 80 years. Conflicted over this decision, Cora is invited to join a prayer circle with her fellow prisoners. She reluctantly accepts. Mid-prayer, Cora unearths a new memory fragment: Back in the Terrifying Wallpaper Room, she’s curled up crying under the bed in a hospital gown, her IV knocked over. Someone in scrubs — and an incongruously shiny pair of black dress shoes — enters and kneels down beside her. It’s the man in the creepy, featureless knit mask again.

The only recent news item on the Beverwyck Club is a wrongful dismissal suit filed by an employee, Cynthia Burroughs, a few years back. Ambrose manages to find Cynthia, and although she’s technically not allowed to talk about what happened, she agrees to fill him in off the record when he tells her a body was found just outside the Beverwyck’s grounds. She was working late at a fundraiser where a table of guys kept buying more and more drinks. She had one, and she blacked out. Cynthia woke up in a Walmart parking lot, naked in the passenger seat of her car. She was fired the next week. Well, that’s terrible (if useful) information — but Ambrose’s day is about to get a lot worse. At couples therapy, Faye tells her husband that, once and for all, it’s over. “I think it was a mistake for you to move back in,” she says. “I’ve realized I don’t want to do this anymore.” She feels alone, even when they’re together. Ambrose is utterly blindsided. (Recap continues on page 2)

Despite Ambrose’s request that she tread lightly around J.D. so they can take him by surprise later, Farmer orders a SWAT team bust of the dealer’s house. They only pick up his girlfriend, who insists the drugs are hers and refuses to say more. Ambrose, less than thrilled by this development, accuses Farmer of trying to coerce a confession from Cora. She in turn (correctly!) suggests that Ambrose’s relationship with this literal murderer has been something short of appropriate: Secret, untranscribed after-hours meetings in the back of county are not exactly official police protocol. “You do that with all your defendants, or just ones that look like Cora Tannetti?” she asks.

And with that, Ambrose is back with his dominatrix. But even that doesn’t feel right — he leaves for the deserted police station, where he searches the internet for mentions of the Beverwyck Club. It’s there that he gets a call from Cora, who tells him she’s thinking about taking the deal. He asks her to hang in there. “So you want to talk for a while?” Cora asks. They chit-chat until she runs out of minutes — this is the one prison-set TV show I’ve seen on which inmates are apparently allowed to use the phone whenever they want, for however long they want? — and Cora tells him all about Phoebe, while Ambrose tells her about growing up without siblings, the wind and birds his only companions. (Okay, nerd.)

Someone has graffitied “killer bitch” on the side of the Tannettis’ company van. As Mason’s mother picks up the trash strewn on the front yard, she tells her son she wants them all to leave town. They’re losing their clients and their friends. Mason refuses. But business is about to get even worse: A Tannetti employee shows up at a client’s house to install an AC unit, only to find out they never ordered one. Must have been a prank. As he walks back to his truck, J.D. suddenly appears and beats this guy on the head with a bat before limping over to his waiting getaway truck.

Here we go back in time, wee woo, wee woo: Phoebe has found Cora a possible sugar daddy in the married Kevin, who’s offering $1,000 just to meet up. Cora isn’t sure. He seems creepy. “We’re so close. I can’t take it here much longer,” Phoebe tells her. Their bond is clearly stronger than ever — Phoebe says Cora is the only reason she’s still alive. And so Cora meets the mysterious Kevin in a local park at night. She immediately gets a bad vibe. She denies she’s Anastasia and bolts. He runs after her and grabs her by the arm. J.D., who’d been sitting nearby, scares him off and comes to her aid, helping her find the bracelet that Kevin (which, come to think of it, is probably about as real a name as “Anastasia”) tore off her wrist.

J.D. offers Cora a ride to a party at his house. Maddie is there, watching their arrival with irritation from a distance. Cora and J.D. sit out back by the fire, where J.D. demonstrates for the first time in this series why someone might conceivably want to sleep with him. “You’re a force, you realize that?” he tells Cora, whom he just met, like, 25 minutes ago. “You could be anything you want. You should be asking for the world.” Okay, J.D., pal, tone it down a little. Cut to an intense make-out, which Cora interrupts, apologetically, to tell J.D. she’s a virgin. He is anything but deterred by this news. On a scale of 1 to Cersei’s nude march through King’s Landing, I give Cora’s walk of shame a 6. She arrives home early the next morning to find chaos in Phoebe’s bedroom — her distraught sister, wearing a nasal cannula and looking sicker than ever, was sure Cora was dead. Mom, helpfully, calls Cora a whore.

Ambrose returns to the club in stealth mode, wearing a ball cap. Lieutenant, I didn’t realize you were such a master of disguise. He quietly opens a door marked “Staff Only” and finds a staircase descending to a basement. There, behind yet another door, he finds an array of terrifying masks, including the one we recognize from Cora’s memories, at which point he’s promptly discovered and kicked out.

Unlike Ambrose, Farmer is very, very good at her job — maybe a little too good, even, as she proves while interrogating Cora. “You were in love with J.D. You were obsessed with him…I know how it feels. These men, they just screw you and toss you aside,” she tells her. Farmer even gets Cora to admit that, well, it’s possible she could have killed Maddie and simply forgotten. Then it’s time for the pièce de résistance: Farmer pulls out a photo of Cora’s son Laine. She sits right next to Cora, turning up the persuasion to 11: “You wanna see him graduate from college, don’t you? Tell me what happened and all of this will be over.” Cora, her face tear-stained, looks at the cop: “Go to hell.” Well, whatever, lady. Farmer didn’t need a confession anyway, as she’ll soon tell Ambrose — Cora is a DNA match to the bloodstains on the blanket. (Perspective from someone who accidentally slices a finger open once a month: Can’t a person bleed without necessarily having murdered anyone?)

Mason leaves his mom snoozing at the delivery guy’s bedside in the hospital. He heads to J.D.’s house (this time, J.D.’s truck — which, after five episodes of The Sinner, I could recognize more easily than any of my family member’s cars — is parked in front), where he purposefully marches toward the front door with a gun in hand.

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The Sinner
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