Bill Pullman returns for another great crime mystery with the third season of Netflix's The Sinner.
Netflix may strike out more often than not when it comes to their Original Movies, but some of their long-running crime dramas are absolutely superb, with the likes of Mindhunter, Ozark, Narcos and The Sinner proving very compelling TV.
The Sinner appears to swim in the same pool as many similarly themed shows - not least, perhaps, Mindhunter - but its angle is slightly different, going down a sort-of Columbo-esque setup whereby the 'murderer' is pretty clearly identified right at the outset, before then trying to unpick what made them do it, which is often far from obvious. Season 1 gave us Jessica Biel's all-time best role, with a shock opening episode that sets an almost impossible bar for the subsequent years in the series, but Season 2 saw co-lead Bill Pullman prove the real star of the show, coming into his own as his dogged veteran detective has to investigate a seemingly cold child murder which, much like the preceding case, has far more beneath the surface.
Netflix's long-running crime dramas are absolutely superb
Season 3 has Pullman's cranky old Detective Harry Ambrose looking down the barrel at the start of his retirement run, but isn't quite ready for it yet, drawn into a complicated mystery right on his doorstep, when a local young teacher and soon-to-be-father ends up in a car crash where the driver was killed. Sensing something amiss, Ambrose probes and picks at the surface, uncovering far more beneath the surface, from psychological issues to wayward childhood influences and relationships, all teetering on the brink of explosion.
Although Biel's superb lead in the first season looked like it would be the kind of hook that drove each season, Pullman's grizzly but strangely approachable and clearly very damaged detective soon rose into his own, with the series slow-burning the reveals about his own traumatic past and his own psychological issues, not least courtesy of an absentee father and a bipolar mother.
Season 3 mixes things up again with its suspect, as Matt Bomer (DC's Doom Patrol) takes centre-stage as a seemingly innocuous teacher, Jamie, who Pullman's Detective Ambrose believes has a darker side, which appears to have come out as a result of the (re-) appearance of his childhood friend and 'bad influence' Nick (Chris Messina). Jamie's heavily pregnant wife is played confidently by Luke Cage regular Parisa Fitz-Henley, whilst Friends' Jessica Hecht stars as a reclusive artist who gets drawn into the messy affair.
Revolving mostly around old 'friends' Jamie and Nick, over the course of the season, the connection between them is slowly unravelled, with some excellent teases through flashbacks and hallucinations. Were they in a relationship? Was Nick Jamie's deep dark secret? Did they do something criminal together - like kill somebody? It's very cleverly done, to the point where, halfway through the season, you almost feel like Nick could have always been just a part of Jamie's personality, Split-style, and have to keep reminding yourself of the dead body at the start of the first episode.
Having recently been renewed for a fourth season, it looks like this will be the defining role for an older Pullman
Pullman embraces the older role - he's still, and always will be, the President from Independence Day, but he's great here as a sciatica-suffering, emotionally and socially awkward detective who may act like he's just out to catch criminals, but clearly also wants to help damaged individuals whom he somehow sees as kindred spirits. It was only introduced in the first season, whilst the second brought back lots of childhood memories for him (because of the child murderer and abuse storylines), and here we see clearly that Ambrose's M.O. is sniffing out psychologically damaged individuals who clearly need help. His sympathy and personal empathy make him a very interesting, atypical protagonist, and Pullman is perfectly chosen for the part.
Having recently been renewed for a fourth season, it looks like this will be the defining role for an older Pullman, and it's a welcome one too, with The Sinner proving yet another reliably compelling Netflix Crime TV Show, a cut above their distinctly average Original Movie fare.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.