From the onset, its obvious that there’s something unsettling lurking in the shadows of The Sinner. It starts just like a standard mystery thriller; a short build up leads to young mother Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) stabbing a man on a beach for seemingly no reason. With the crime already committed and shown in visceral detail, two key questions drives the show forward – why did she kill him and what drove her to commit this crime? The question hangs over the show like a black cloud and when Investigator Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) begins digging deeper, a slowly opening puzzle box of clues sheds more light on the motive. As truths surface and lies are uncovered, this methodically paced mystery keeps the suspense running right through to its climactic ending, playing as a why-dun-it rather than a who-dun-it.
The story works more as a character driven drama than a thriller itself. Don’t expect any fast paced, action packed scenes here and despite the relatively quick paced pilot, the show quickly settles into a slow pace early on, keeping the attention solely fixated on Cora and Harry. Ultimately, these two are the reason the show works so well. Their dynamic works perfectly, both share a crippled past and a troubled mental state and their chemistry just seems to mesh perfectly on-screen. Biel’s work here as the damaged mother who suddenly snaps, manages to garner just enough empathy and dislike for her crime to walk that tightrope of likeability. She isn’t quite likeable enough to root for but you equally understand her suffering as the story leads from one plot point to the next and you begin to understand the issues haunting this woman from her past.
The slow pace of the show may well turn a lot of people away and it’s certainly cause for polarizing opinion. The incessant need to throw cliffhanger endings at the end of every episode doesn’t help either, cheapening the show’s appeal but if you can settle into the slow-paced rhythm of the show there’s certainly a lot to like. The acting is solid all round, although the supporting cast are always working in the shadow of Pullman and Biel who are, as mentioned before, outstanding here. The psychedelic medley of flashbacks and repeated imagery of events that occurred in Cora’s past is a great touch too, boasting some neat camera tricks and a good use of sound and visual effects to relive the past with Cora.
Ultimately, The Sinner is a character driven drama first and foremost, intent on dragging the mystery out in the best way possible. Those after a show that zips from one action piece to the next and delivers shocks and thrills abound are probably best looking elsewhere. The Sinner unashamedly revels in its slow pace, dancing back and forth between past events and the present day investigation whilst keeping its intense focus on the main characters of the show. If it weren’t for the excellent acting showcased from the show’s two lead stars, there’s a niggling feeling that The Sinner would get lost in the sea of endless mystery shows and not be as endearing as it is. It’s not perfect, and at times the show’s pace works against it but The Sinner manages to keep afloat by some excellent acting and a compelling enough plot that, whilst moving at a slow pace, still manages to intrigue right up to its satisfying conclusive end.