The Sinner recap: Dancing on the dark side
If The Sinner‘s premiere spent much of its run-time setting up the season’s central mystery, then episode 2 dedicates just as many minutes offering clues on what lead to that fateful car crash on the private access road.
Keeping with the previous episode’s opening in the men’s room, “Part II” begins in Jamie’s bathroom. Submerged in his tub, he recalls a post-accident moment that ties to one of last week’s conundrums. The car’s radio was indeed turned on after the crash, by Jamie, who was apparently trying to sooth Nick in his final moments. While Kevin Morby’s “Come to Me Now” plays softly, Jamie tenderly wipes blood from Nick’s face.
Post-tub time, Jamie declines coffee from his concerned wife, claiming he wants to “stay clear.” (Probably the same reason he just dropped his vape pen in the bathwater before considering a puff.) With a kiss for Lela — and one for her baby bump — Jamie assures her he’s fine and heads off to work.
Of course, he’s not fine, as further evidenced by his exchange with the student he’d offered to help with a college recommendation letter. Upon emerging from a daydream in which he sees the car repeatedly flipping and a paper fortune teller (identical to the one Detective Ambrose discovered in Nick’s hotel room), he accuses the girl’s writing of including, “A version of yourself that isn’t even real.”
Apparently feeling pretty good about projecting his own issues on the poor girl, Jamie runs an errand after school. Specifically, he’s picking up a dogwood tree to mark the birth of his soon-to-arrive baby. Ambrose trails him to the nursery under the guise of grabbing some gardening goods for himself. It’s at this point we learn Harry’s not only a perceptive sleuth, but he also possesses one hell of a green thumb.
As a dumbfounded Jamie gets schooled on seeds, soils, and roots, he nervously inquires as to why the accident’s being investigated. Harry steers the conversation to get a definitive “no” from him on whether Nick’s visit was planned. Brilliant detective that he is, he also parlays the encounter into a weekend date to help Jamie plant that tree.
Jamie’s insistence that he wasn’t expecting his old friend segues into a flashback of him meeting Nick at a pub, pre-accident. It turns out the former had contacted the latter to reconnect. In Jamie’s defense, he was hoping to just chat over email, but Nick isn’t having any of that: “That’s no way to communicate. When someone reaches out after 18 years, after totally cutting you out, you want to look them in the eye while they try to explain themselves.”
Thanks to some security footage and credit card statements, Ambrose quickly becomes hip to the boys’ rendezvous. In fact, the two met up a second time, at a swanky Manhattan eatery that’s so pricey it has its own PR person to handle police inquiries. Harry finds this out when a nervous hostess reluctantly reveals limited details of a bloody incident between Jamie and Nick.
Back at home, Jamie and Lela are hosting her brother and his partner for dinner. Determined to help a very-distant Jamie through his recent loss, the latter pitches him on everything from podcasts to Peloton. His well-intentioned tips go too far, however, when the suggestion of “moving on” triggers Jamie into a rant: “Death isn’t going away. If anything it’s getting closer.”
Cue flashback to that upscale eatery and Jamie cutting into a rare steak. Echoing the premier’s scene, where Jamie was annoyed by his smart phone-obsessed train commuters, Nick looks away from his friend to glare at a couple enjoying some quality screen-time. “Why did you call me? Why now? Be honest,” he demands of Jamie. “I don’t feel anything anymore,” he concedes to his former friend.
Back at the world’s most awkward dinner gathering, Jamie exits his own head long enough to rise from the table and suffer an anxiety-induced collapse. This brings him to the hospital, where he takes an aimless detour down the hospice wing. After passing a few rooms, he heads to the bedside of a confused, elderly man. The patient mistakes him for someone else and angrily requests whiskey. The odd encounter seems to enliven Jamie.
The episode’s not entirely about igniting our anti-hero’s dark side, however, as we also catch-up with Sonya, the artist who wound up with a dead Nick on her property. Fed up with Harry’s unwillingness to share case details, she expressed some f-bomb-laced frustration earlier in the hour. But when Harry randomly — for real this time — meets her in a diner, she’s nicer and explains that her frustration stems from a stalking incident that’s left some scars. Harry awkwardly offers his personal number, promises to keep her posted, and returns to his open-faced turkey sandwich.
Things turn to Lela and Jamie’s bedroom, where Lela’s trying to convince her husband to take something for his anxiety. He responds with an impotence joke, then quickly changes the conversation to the kind requiring no words. While passionately groping his wife from behind, Jamie’s mind returns to the fancy restaurant. “Why shouldn’t we try it again? You want to wake yourself up, you said it yourself,” presses Nick. “That stuff is crazy. It’s too intense,” responds Jamie.
Things escalate quickly. Nick storms off to the table where the clueless couple is still texting away. He grabs their phones, submerges them in water glasses, then preaches to a stunned Jamie while walking back to his table. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve gotta cut the cord. Jump!” Flashing between the couple’s bedroom and the restaurant, the scene approaches dual climaxes; as Jamie and Lela conclude their aggressive love-making session, a crazy-eyed Nick puts a steak knife in Jamie’s hand, says, “This is real,” and forces him to drive the blade through his palm.
We discover where Nick’s hand-wound came from, while Jamie — back in his bedroom — repeatedly smacks his head, screams, and breaks down in tears. Lela tries to comfort him, but it’s becoming clear she’s not consoling the same man she’d sent off earlier to buy a dogwood tree. Speaking of that errand, Ambrose shows up at the Burns’ the next morning, as promised, post hole digger in-hand. Things begin pleasantly enough between the detective and his suspect — mulch and moist roots are discussed — but get more serious when Jamie alludes to Nick being someone who both excited him and was bad for him.
Back at school, Jamie’s getting scolded for encouraging the student he’s been helping to get more personal in her letter. Her parents don’t agree with his assessment that being more honest (i.e. including her struggle with depression) will help get her into Brown. Thankfully, a hallucination of Nick, who stabs the irate dad in the leg with a letter opener, gets Jamie through the stressful meeting just fine.
Back at Ambrose’s office, more security footage is being studied. A video from the restaurant shows Nick and Jamie on the rooftop. Nick’s hand is freshly bandaged, and he looks to be coaxing Jamie onto the building’s ledge. Things take an even more disturbing turn at Sonya’s house, where the artist breaks from her work to enjoy a walk in the woods. She soon stumbles across a shovel plunged into the ground, a jacket hanging from its handle. In front of it? A freshly dug grave.
Sonya summons Harry, who immediately calls a forensics team, then inspects the jacket. In one of its pockets, he finds another paper fortune teller, complete with the same handwritten markings — numbers, colors, directional arrows — as the one found in Nick’s hotel room. Back at the Burns’, Jamie’s arriving late after taking a walk (or maybe digging a grave?) after work. Lela’s had it: “You’re completely checked out. You’re scaring me.”
Before things escalate further, Ambrose comes knocking. He found a grave, the gloves are off. He puts his cards on the table regarding Jamie and Nick’s previous meet-ups. Jamie blames everything on his dead friend (even suggesting he dug the grave), things get heated, and the suspect begins acting guilty: “If you have evidence that incriminates me, haul me in!”
Rewind to the restaurant ledge, where the college buddies are both precariously perched and playfully reciting T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men … “Here we go round the prickly pear….” An exhilarated Jamie peers at the traffic below; Nick, sounding vindicated, says “You missed this. Admit it.” He continues, “You couldn’t take it last time. How do I know you won’t bail on me this time?”
This concludes the pre-crash crazy-talk but seems to embolden current-day Jamie. In the middle of the night, with his pregnant wife peacefully sleeping by his side, he sneaks from the house to visit the old man he’d met in the hospital. He wakes him, pours him a bourbon, and helps bring the smuggled drink to his lips. The man happily accepts, still mistaking Jamie for someone else.
Meanwhile, Harry takes a security post outside Sonya’s home, letting one of his uniformed charges off early for the night. Immune to the peacefulness of the evening, he sits on the porch, pulls out the paper fortune teller, and begins playing with/deciphering it.
At the hospital, Jamie’s also getting playful, albeit in a surrendering-to-your-dark-side sort of way. As the elderly man doses off, Jamie sees a hallucination of Nick sitting next to him. His deceased buddy is holding the disemboweled radio from the car. He turns the dial to the same song Jamie tuned in at the episode’s start.
Jamie begins caressing the man’s face. As the patient comes to with an uneasy smile, Nick gives Jamie a subtle nod. With this, Jamie begins strangling the man with both hands. His victim puts up a struggle, though, surprising Jamie and jolting him from his trance-like state. Jamie rushes from the room, spills into the hallway, and tries to compose himself while heading for the exit.
If you still had any doubts about Jamie harboring a dark past, “Part II” cuts through them like fine cutlery through flesh.