The Sinner recap: A central mystery is solved but new secrets and questions emerge
The Sinner's fifth episode finds Detective Harry Ambrose right where we left him last week, searching the folk-horror hut by the beach. He snaps a pic of an old family crest painted on a piece of wood and examines a stone stained with blood.
He brings the disturbing discoveries to grandma Meg, who takes him to the harbormaster's office for further investigation. They arrive to find Mike Lam filing a complaint. Apparently, Percy's ex, Brandon, has a habit of blocking his boat. While Meg chats with the harbormaster about the crest, Harry finds something far more interesting — another ouroboros (a snake eating its own tail). The symbol's sitting on the desk of Em Castillo, who he'd previously questioned about Percy and Colin's relationship.
Harry heads to Em's, but she's not home. With some help from a gardening tool, he lets himself in.
Like the beach hut, the residence is cluttered with ritualistic symbols, candles, and creepy books. Also, a bonus: "Free the Bone From the Flesh" is carved crudely into a desk. There's also a notebook packed with personal details about Percy.
Harry returns to his cottage to find none other than Em Castillo waiting inside. "I thought we were playing a game where we break into each other's houses," she quips. He asks about the notebook and the bloody rock, to which she replies, "I'm not the person you're looking for." He encourages her to avoid suspicion by spilling the beans.
In a flashback, we see how Percy and Em met. Upon returning to the island following her mainland misadventures, Percy was in bad shape. When not indulging in drugs or alcohol, she'd gloomily hang at the spot where she first met Harry by the docks. She eventually befriends Em, asking for her help coping with her dysfunctional family and troubled life.
Em agrees to teach her about "embracing nature," "accepting destruction," and "understanding our place in all this." They go to the woods and get touchy-feely with a dead tree. Percy's frustrated and doesn't "get it" at first, but before you know it, she's emotionally fulfilled and becoming besties with Mother Nature.
With a clearer picture of Em and Percy's "sessions," Harry asks about the odd assortment of items placed on the bluff where Percy died. "I can't talk about those. They're personal to Percy," she says, as a brief flashback shows Percy's hand bleeding over the stone Ambrose found at the episode's start.
Em finally agrees to talk about the items... on one condition: "The only way I can trust you is if you do the things she did. It's the only way you'll understand." Harry agrees to a process that will be "painful," and we're reminded of last season when a similar deal with a suspect saw him literally buried alive.
Skip to Harry in boxers and a t-shirt, wading into an ice-cold lake. Em advises from the shore, "It's going to feel like you can't breathe. Don't fight it." As Ambrose submerges himself over and over again, we catch brief glimpses of Percy enduring the same ritual. Following a disturbing scene of Harry on all fours, groaning — while Em repeatedly encourages him to "stay with it" and "let it through" — he finally earns her trust.
Back at the beach hut, she breaks down the items for Harry. The assortment of five objects — one of the season's central mysteries — represents troubled relationships Percy had to break off. In a series of flashbacks, we finally learn the relevance of these items. The jade statue represents her complicated relationship with CJ Lam, while a cigarette case was used by her father to hold his drug paraphernalia. Percy catches her dad using but blames herself for an apparent accident that ultimately led to his addiction issues. But Sean's supportive. He encourages his daughter to take care of herself and offers her an envelope of cash to start a new, better life on the mainland.
Next, we come to the knotted rope, which is, er, tied to Percy's relationship with Meg. Percy tells her she doesn't want to take over the family business, but gram's not hearing it. She shows her true colors, getting angry and mean. Uncle Colin — represented by a crucifix — is similarly toxic, slamming his door in Percy's face with an on-brand "stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow the f--- up."
But we soon learn the source of Percy's guilt, a death represented by the Celtic North Star emblem, the final object. Percy won't even tell Em about the incident, though. Instead, she clutches the star so hard her hand bleeds onto a rock — the same blood-soaked stone Harry found. As she does this, almost uncontrollably, she thinks back to the night she saw the hooded figure at the club. This is followed by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it flashback of a physical altercation on Colin's boat. Two men (Colin and Brandon?) fight, breaking the emblem from the vessel. Next, we see Percy at her go-to spot near the docks, tearfully bent over a body.
The memories the star recalls are too much for Percy. She hastily scoops up her items and flees the ritual hut, "I can't do this!" Em tells Harry the name "Valerie," roughly etched on the star, wasn't present the night she and Percy last met. She also says she pushed Percy too hard, that it was her fault. "Do you think you can push someone to suicide?" she asks. "I know you can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved," he responds.
Back at his cottage, Ambrose's statement to Em is hitting a little too close to home. As he lies on the couch, imaginary Percy compares her inability to let go of guilt to Harry's struggles with Jaime Burns' death, letting Sonya leave, and so on. "If you don't stop, you're gonna end up doing what I did," she warns. "Maybe that's what I deserve," Harry somberly replies.
Following Harry's first insomnia-free night of sleep, he calls Sonya. Unsurprisingly, it's an awkward exchange, but one that provides an unexpected clue. Apparently, the intruder who broke into their cottage stole some of Sonya's photographs. Thanks to the cloud, she had back-ups, which she shoots over to Harry. While he's studying the pics, including one of two boats meeting in the distance, Meg drops by. She's not happy about him talking to the "witch woman," nor does she know of any death that Percy might have felt such guilt over.
But she does recognize one of the boats in Sonya's picture. It's Brandon's. She and Harry put their differences aside — she even offers a semi-apology for her secrecy — just in time to meet Brandon's boat coming in. The vessel has no driver, though; it's set to autopilot. Meg and Ambrose board the ghost ship to investigate. They find some of the Lam's lobster traps, suggesting the fishing family wars are still going strong. That discovery's relatively tame, however, compared to what Meg reels in with the boat's crane. It's a body. It's Brandon's body. And there's a bullet hole in his skull.
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