Television Reviews

THE SINNER: A Gripping Murder Mystery That Doesn’t Hide the Killer

A family beach day turns into a horrific crime scene when a mother snaps and kills a man. The crime and murderer are apparent. What isn’t so easy to piece together is the “why”. Why would a woman kill a total stranger in front of everyone? In front of her child. An 8-episode USA Network mini-series based on the book of the same name, The Sinner is a gripping story of a gruesome murder – one where the motive is a complete mystery, even to the killer.

The Sinner - Pilot

Enjoying a summer day on the beach, Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) seems a bit disconnected from everyone. Trying to move past her funk, she relaxes with her husband Mason (Christopher Abbott) and their young son in the sand. All the while watching a couple frolicking nearby, playing music loudly with their friends. She can’t turn away and their antics seemingly taunt her. She grows more and more annoyed by their behavior and snaps, running quickly towards the couple – knife in hand. She proceeds to stab the man several times to the shock and horror of everyone.

The killing is troublesome to everyone in the town. Those who know Cora cannot fathom that she would do such a thing. And a connection between Cora and her victim seems nonexistent, puzzling Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) – the two apparently never meeting prior to the incident on the beach. Ambrose must uncover why a woman, with a picturesque family and no violent past, would kill someone she never knew.

The Sinner - Pilot

This murder mystery is quite a unique one. Here we know exactly who the killer is, as does everyone else, yet a motive is so unclear – even to our killer. With the success of Mr. Robot, it seems USA is taking a liking to twisted series. And they’re doing a stellar job so far. The quality of this show itself resembles something that you’d see on HBO or Showtime, proving basic cable is really stepping up their game to compete.

You’ll notice instantly the beauty in the shows cinematography. Perfectly setting the mood for this dark tale. It’s also edited so nicely, featuring flashbacks to Cora’s childhood that will hopefully unravel the mystery as to why she committed such a violent act. And boy is it a gruesome one. It will all leave you feeling so conflicted over the character.


For her role as Cora, Biel shines in a whole new light. After starring in minor projects over the last few years, and some light-hearted films before that, I couldn’t have imagined her as this type of character. As a mentally unstable woman, her performance is so raw and gripping, your empathy for Cora will surely be a rollercoaster.

What I love about a mini-series is knowing that an end is on the horizon. Much like The Night Of, the story is set-up to reveal everything in due time. There’s no real room for filler or runaround when you have those limitations. It’s one of the best ways to tell a story. While you could read the source material, I’m eager to see how this mystery will play out on our screens.


The Sinner premieres its second episode tonight on USA.

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