After nearly two months (the same length of time Cora was held prisoner by that mysterious masked man — coincidence?!), The Sinner has gone a long way toward winning me over. That’s not say it shouldn’t have been about half as many episodes long, with half as many abrupt flashbacks. But going into “Part VIII,” the very last episode of the season, I’m pleasantly surprised that I have no idea what’s about to happen.
We’re back in that cursed Beverwyck basement, this time in the present day. Cora, distraught, remembers now. She blames herself for Phoebe’s death, and for Frankie Belmont’s, too — he was only trying to save her sister. But what happened next, after J.D. hit her with the ashtray? She still doesn’t know. Nevertheless, Ambrose is optimistic, telling her he’ll find a witness from that night. She has a motive, which means she has a defense.
Or does she? Ambrose is a little disappointed to learn that nothing like the telltale wallpaper from Cora’s memories was ever seen in the Beverwyck basement. Farmer reports that there’s no trace of Cora’s DNA in the room, though the body found in the woods is indeed Phoebe’s. As for Creepy Todd, who seems like exactly the kind of guy who would abduct a woman and imprison her at length (that Todd!), he died two years ago — but more importantly, the day after Phoebe’s death, he took his wife to renew their vows in the Caribbean (LOL), where they remained for the following month.
Ambrose does have one promising lead, though. Authorities have identified one of the two men who fled the murder scene at J.D.’s house as Daniel Burrows, a.k.a. Duffy. Officer Caitlin finds his rental van parked in front of a shifty storefront for the “American Medical Clinic.” Ambrose enters, without waiting for backup. (His beard deflects bullets, you see.) The waiting room is full of women, all of whom eye him suspiciously. In case there was still any doubt that criminal activity was occurring on the premises, the extremely unchill receptionist leaps to his feet and tells Ambrose, “This is a private business. You’ve got to leave.” But before he can do anything, Duffy arrives — only to run right back out when Ambrose calls him by his name, just as more cruisers drive up. Duffy is shot by Caitlin when he pulls a gun.
Well, that’s one more potential witness down. Ambrose sits in on the interrogation of the man who was working the clinic desk. He explains that these women were hired to pick up prescription drugs from pharmacies, using scripts J.D. writes with license numbers defrauded from doctors. The receptionist says he had nothing to do with J.D.’s death, that Duffy killed him because all the police activity buzzing around J.D. made him nervous. Ambrose finds this hard to believe — there must be some connection to Cora Tannetti. He catches his favorite inmate up on his non-progress. She doesn’t understand why she can’t just tell the judge what happened — her sentencing is tomorrow. That won’t work, says Ambrose. Without a witness, she won’t be believed.
Cora has another visitor — holy s—, it’s her mother. Make no mistake, this isn’t a happy reunion. Mother Lacey thinks Cora is as “disgusting” as ever. Cora tells her she doesn’t regret taking Phoebe out. She fell in love, she had sex, she died the way she would have wanted. “I’ve never seen her happier than that night,” Cora says. Her mother reminds her that Phoebe was buried in the woods, in the dirt, alone. (Good point!) Cora asks her why she didn’t call the police when they didn’t come home. (Extremely good point!) Mom thought they ran away — she’d heard them whispering about Florida all those years, which clearly didn’t do anything to further endear her to her elder daughter. Womp womp. “I’m more free now than I ever was with you,” Cora tells her.
At the sentencing, Cora can’t restrain herself from rising to her feet and addressing the court. She apologizes to the Belmont family, then makes a last-ditch plea for clemency. “Somebody took my sister and buried her in the woods and they kept me in a room for months and I don’t even know what they did to me and they’re out there,” she cries. Hmm. It occurs to me that if you haven’t watched seven and a half episodes of a miniseries building this very story line, that might sound a little nuts. Anyway, this statement is too little too late — Cora already waived her right to a trial. The judge sentences her to a minimum of 30 years in prison.
Fortunately, Cora’s next prison visit is a much happier one. Mason finally brings Laine to see her. She scoops her son up into her arms. The three enjoy a nice family moment — perhaps the series’ very first, given how depressed Cora was from the very beginning — as Laine colors and his parents chat about his good performance in school. But Cora isn’t sure if it’s right to bring him here, right for the difficulty of her incarceration to keep hurting both Laine and Mason. Her husband firmly disagrees. Laine needs his mom; they’ll come to see her every week. Awww, Mason. I like you so much more when you’re not in Junior Detective vigilante justice mode.
Meanwhile, Ambrose seems like he’s taking Cora’s sentence at least as hard as she is, staring into space both out in nature, as is his custom, and in his office, which is new. He’s not ready to give up yet. He manages to track down new mom Maddie Beecham — her name long ago changed, to escape JD — by searching birth records for babies named Winter, the name she would have given her child with everyone’s favorite dealer slash abuser. That night at the Beverwyck, she left early, right after her fight with J.D., and took a bus to Vermont the next morning. J.D. kept calling and calling, eventually asking for her help with a “new business opportunity” — namely, selling Oxy, which wasn’t among J.D.’s wares until after that night. Ambrose’s face changes, hearing this, like all of his beard hairs are standing on end at once. (Recap continues on page 2)