A Shocking New Murder Makes Jessica Biel's 'The Sinner' Even Twistier

jessica biel in the sinner episode 5
This post contains spoilers for The Sinner through the latest episode.

It's time to get real about murderess Cora (Jessica Biel) and Detective Ambrose (Bill Pullman).

The relationship began as a standard questioner-answerer interrogation compelled by Ambrose’s need for the truth. Now, in the fifth episode of The Sinner, it seems like his urgency may be driven by something far more personal, and his new boss Detective Farmer (Joanna Adler) has taken notice. Why else would he be so pressed for a self-defense motive from a supposed amnesiac  and confirmed killer that can't seem to recall basic facts about who she's gone on dates with (remember when she was convinced J.D. was Frankie?) even now with two murders looming over her head? (More on that in a bit).

Ambrose is already juggling an estranged wife (Kathryn Erbe) and a dominatrix mistress (Meredith Holzman), but Cora is the one who keeps him up at night.  Is he attracted to her? That's what Farmer thinks. She even calls him out for not logging all the late hours he spends with Cora at the jail and his confounding need to justify her actions and wavering statements that have shown, at best, signs of mental and emotional instability.

jessica biel and bill pullman in the sinner

His judgment is obviously clouded. Why else would he come up with a reason why Cora just couldn’t be the one to now have also killed Maddie (Danielle Burgess), J.D.’s (Jacob Pitts) girlfriend, whose remains were dug up in the woods (because Cora’s slight 115lbs couldn’t have possibly dragged a dead body that far away from the road)? Why would he accept a personal call from her just so she could chat him up about her sister, and seek his legal advice?

He’s become so invested that he refuses to believe Cora is as bad as the crime(s?) she’s committed. Meanwhile, Farmer is ready to lock Cora up forever for both Frankie’s (Eric Todd) and Maddie’s murders, especially after finding her DNA on the blanket used to wrap Maddie’s body. But Cora has still not revealed her relationship (or lack thereof) with Frankie and flatly denies Maddie’s murder. When it comes to her, though, we never really know what to believe.

bill pullman in the sinner

In the fifth episode, flashbacks continue to delve deeper into Cora’s teenage years. She and her feeble sister Phoebe (Nadia Alexander) apparently had it so bad at home that Phoebe decided to pimp out her sister with older men from the Internet for extra cash in order to be able to escape. What was really going on in this house?

The suspense still mounts for that, but we have now demystified the design seen in Cora’s later flashbacks, the recurring one where we see Maddie beckoning her down a staircase. It’s the wallpaper from the Beverwyck Country Club, located outside the woods where Maddie’s remains were found, which also happens to be Ambrose’s next stop in his investigation. If Cora’s accounts are true, this is the scene of her most traumatizing flashback where we see her body intertwined with J.D.’s then someone stepping on her rib cage and cracking it. This could explain what J.D. and Maddie were planning for Cora, before Maddie ended up dead. Maybe.

We’re brought back once again to a teenage Cora on another Internet date with an older man. But this time she gets cold feet and turns away. The man gets aggressive and she tries to free herself from his grasp. But guess who saves the day? J.D., who happens to be lurking nearby and scares the man away. This is apparently the first time Cora meets him. She agrees to go to a random house party with him where she sees Maddie, pissed off in a corner because she’s with her man. Cora and J.D. go upstairs and hook up for the first time.

This unexpected turn of events ends with Cora coming home late to an inconsolable Phoebe who thought she was dead. And right on cue, their mother calls Cora a whore. Wait, did Phoebe rat Cora out to their mom (Enid Graham), when it was her idea in the first place for Cora to go on these dates? That’s shady AF, especially given the fact that their mom is cray-cray and already thinks Cora is a heathen.

the sinner episode 5

We flash forward to present day when Ambrose is back at the Beverwyck, where he encounters the formidable staircase. He walks down and into a room where he sees masks -- similar to the one we see a man wearing in several of Cora’s flashbacks -- hanging up on the wall. Something definitely went down in this so-called posh country club, but the details remain murky.

In its final moments, the episode pivots back to J.D., who we see taking a bat to Cora’s husband Mason’s (Christopher Abbott) dad after he tries to deliver an air conditioner. We can only assume this is in retaliation for Mason snooping around J.D.’s new girlfriend’s house in the last episode (and also kicking his ass at the bar in episode 3). The attack sets Mason off, who’s clearly so over the bullshit at this point that he returns to their house with a gun. By the way things are going, Cora and Mason may both be serving his and her murder sentences. At least we wouldn’t have to spend much time trying to figure out Mason’s motive.

With everything that’s been presented so far, granted often in fractured flashbacks, are we to conclude that Frankie’s death was a mere result of Cora’s trauma? If so, should that exonerate her? Given how close Ambrose is to this case, don’t be surprised if he finds a way to work this out in her favor -- even if it means going way beyond the call of duty.

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Candice Frederick is an award-winning journalist and editor (Essence Magazine), founder of Reel Talk Online, podcaster, and freelance TV and film critic. She also serves as a pop culture panelist on the ABC News Digital show, "Real Live." You can find her on Twitter or Facebook.
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