Hoo, boy. We are in for quite a ride this week — in the present and especially in Cora’s past. With only two episodes left, The Sinner (which, like that Depression Beard on Bill Pullman’s face, has really grown on me) is dialing the weirdness up to 11. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We rejoin Mason in vigilante mode, creeping up to J.D.’s house to seek revenge, when the side door opens. He hides around the corner as two men exit, hop in a car, and drive away. There’s a curious buzzing sound inside, but Mason enters anyway and finds J.D. on the floor, looking very dead, with a massive pool of blood around his head. Mason switches off the still-running table saw and hears the baby crying from another part of the house. He calls 911 on J.D.’s phone, making sure to wipe off his fingerprints, then throws his gun off a nearby dock.
Ambrose and his dominatrix friend (her name is Sharon, by the way; I looked it up — hi, Sharon!) are banging in his motel room. She’s choking him, hard, but that’s nowhere near as jarring a sight as the black socks he’s still wearing. Suddenly, he’s terrifyingly unresponsive. She shakes him back into consciousness. Sharon is spooked, not to mention angry: He was supposed to tell her to stop before it got to that point. Ambrose has crossed a line. She breaks it off, seemingly for good. Goodbye, Sharon. I’m sorry I didn’t learn your name sooner.
Look, I know what you’re thinking. It’s been more than 45 seconds since we’ve had a flashback to Cora’s past. Is The Sinner all right? Should we call someone? Well, worry no more, because here we go! Phoebe takes a deep breath from her oxygen mask as she watches Cora get ready for a night out. J.D. has driven a wedge between the sisters: Cora’s been busy (and won’t tell the insatiably curious Phoebe anything about her sex life), and there’s been no more saving toward their plan to run away to Florida. The atmosphere isn’t much jollier at Chez J.D. Maddie, ostensibly looking for a missing pair of shoes, walks in on J.D. and Cora hooking up, and it becomes clear that, like with Maddie’s landlord, the three are in a polyamorous relationship. “Jealousy keeps you from your potential,” J.D. tells Maddie, sounding like a living, breathing, and undeniably creepy version of an inspirational meme your great-aunt might share on Facebook.
As it turns out, a natural gas tank equipped with a security camera near J.D.’s house captured footage of Mason’s truck. At the station, Mason tells Farmer and Caitlin he only went to J.D.’s house to tell him to back off, but he admits he was armed. (A necessary correction: In writing my previous recap, I hadn’t realized the Tannetti delivery guy who J.D. sent to the hospital with his bat was actually Mason’s father, not just another employee. Sorry about that!) They seem to believe him.
The cops also manage to pick up the car Mason saw the two men drive away in, which was reported stolen last week in New Jersey. Farmer theorizes that local oxy dealers are to blame, but knowing The Sinner, it wouldn’t shock me if the series conjured up yet another out-of-nowhere nefarious country club to tie this death to. And as Farmer reminds Ambrose, for all his theories about the Beverwyck and Maddie Beecham and who knows what, he hasn’t made any progress toward answering the question that really matters: Why did Cora kill Frankie Belmont? Extreeeeemely good point, Captain.
Mason goes to see Cora and tells her what happened. He admits he felt like something was wrong in their marriage for a long time, but he didn’t want to know the truth. “Were you ever really happy with me?” he asks. She was.
Faye finds her estranged husband standing outside her house in the rain, fertilizing the dogwoods. Ambrose planted these trees; he doesn’t want to abandon them. She demands he leave. “It’s not fair,” he tells her. “You don’t get to just decide.” Actually, though, she does. Left alone, he gets into a fight with the unruly garden hose and screams what sounds an awful lot like “die.” Out of context, this would make a pretty solid commercial for a new line of extra-long, non-tangling hoses.
It’s not exactly a good look for Cora that her blood was all over the blanket found with the corpse in the woods, but she can’t bring herself to take the DA’s offer and confess to something she doesn’t remember. She calls up Ambrose, who’s doing some sad solo drinking at his motel. Cora wants him to get her out. No, she’s not asking him for a cake with a hand saw baked inside it, nor for him to smuggle in a giant poster of Raquel Welch to cover the tunnel she’s digging into her cell wall. She wants to return to the scene of the crime — not Frankie Belmont’s murder, but whatever it was that happened to her. If she can visit one of the places from her memories, maybe that could bring everything flooding back. He tells her the state police won’t allow it; she accuses him of giving up. (Recap continues on page 2)
In Cora’s memory, she arrives at the hospital. Phoebe passed out that morning and now her T-cell count is elevated. Cora lies down in the hospital bed beside her sister. That night, J.D. scolds Cora for checking in on Phoebe too much: “If Phoebe really cared about you, she’d let you go…she wants your life for herself. She’s a vampire, and as long as you stay with her, you’ll be a shell.” Cora, I am almost certain that nobody should be taking life advice from J.D. He tells her that on Saturday, she should go out with him to the Taproom with a change of clothes packed in her purse. Then they’ll head back to his place together, and she’ll stay there. We’re drawing ever closer to Cora’s fateful lost night.
The judge shoots down Ambrose’s request to take Cora on a trip down murder memory lane, until the lieutenant plays a bargaining chip he’s been saving for quite some time: He pulled the judge over for driving drunk way back when she was a young assistant district attorney, but he let her off. Voila — Cora’s big day out is a go.
Ambrose is sternly warned that there are to be no unscheduled stops and no touching. He and Cora have exactly two hours. If they’re not back by 6:00, a warrant will be issued for both of them. I’m surprised the prison wouldn’t insist that a third party accompany them, given Ambrose’s already dodgy personal history with this case, but I guess I should be more surprised that this is being allowed to happen at all. There’s a moment of unexpected physical comedy as Ambrose struggles to buckle the seatbelt around her handcuffs. Cora observes that his backseat is full of kicked-out-of-the-house junk, including detergent and a pair of shoes.
It’s a long drive to the Beverwyck, and once they get there, they’ll only have half an hour to explore. But as soon as she sees the wrought-iron logo above the entrance, something comes over Cora’s face. She knows she’s been there before. Ambrose escorts her down the staff-only staircase to the basement, where the wall of upsetting masks remains just as he saw it last. Though the Beverwyck’s downstairs plausibly resembles a back room in a serial killer’s extended torture complex, Cora recognizes absolutely none of this.
Past Cora returns home to find Phoebe upset she didn’t call. “You’re gonna leave me…you’re in love,” she says. “It’ll be easier when I’m gone.” Cora climbs into her bed once more to comfort her. Phoebe begs her to tell her what J.D. does to her. Cora looks like she’d prefer to stay as far away as possible from this conversation, but her sister seems sicker than ever. Well, they touch, Cora says. Where? “The usual places.” Phoebe pleads for a demonstration. “Show me how he kisses you at least,” she requests.
Cora does. She leans in and kisses her sister, tongue and all. “Where does he touch you?” Cora reluctantly lays a hand on Phoebe’s breast. “What does he say?” Do you want it? Phoebe pushes Cora’s hand down to her crotch, beneath her underwear. She moans. Well, Game of Thrones may have aired its season finale, but The Sinner has stepped up to keep your DVR flush with unsettling incest storylines. Obviously, Cora Tannetti’s life has been a parade of psychosexual horrors, of which we haven’t even fathomed the full extent yet — I’d wondered if Cora’s relationship with her parents might be revealed to have a component of sexual abuse. Remember how ominous the scene where her father came to sleep in her room was? But I can say confidently that I never expected this moment with Phoebe.
Cora asks Ambrose to pull over on the drive back, even though they’re short on time. They stop outside her childhood home. She regrets not moving to Naples, she says, and facetiously suggests they head for Florida together. Outside the physical confines of Cora’s incarceration, they have what might be their most human conversation yet. Why did his wife ask him to move out? “I’m just, um, I’m not easy. I’m not good at talking,” he explains. Cora relates. “Everyone assumes we start out in the same place,” Ambrose muses. “We don’t.”
Cora walks to the front door of the old house, and I find myself imagining all the neighbors peering through their windows and wondering why a handcuffed inmate is taking a casual stroll down their block. She remembers, in a flash, Phoebe blowing out birthday candles. Even though they’re running late, Cora asks Ambrose to take her back to the club. She’s desperate to give it one more go.
When they arrive at the Beverwyck, Ambrose removes her handcuffs. “This is going to make this easier,” he says. Hmm, is it really, though? The handcuffs didn’t seem to impede anything before. It’s not like she needs to solve a Rubik’s Cube to jog her memory. Ambrose, who apparently is just aching to lose his job today, excuses himself to take a phone call and tells Cora not to go far. But by the time he hangs up, she’s gone. Ruh-roh. How many thousands of acres of forest does the Beverwyck own, again?
But Cora hasn’t mounted a great escape. Ambrose finds her standing in another building on the grounds, transfixed by a familiar doorway. “That’s it,” she says. “It happened down there.” She approaches the top of the stairs we’ve seen in her memories so many times before. “I remember now,” Cora says.