When detective miniseries The Sinner first premiered in 2017, the show was mostly a vehicle for Jessica Biel, whose role as a mysterious murderer earned her an Emmy nomination. The show was originally supposed to be a limited series, but it was subsequently renewed for three more seasons with Bill Pullman starring as Detective Harry Ambrose, a veteran investigator who is occasionally haunted by cases past. Now available on Netflix, the fourth and final season of the show features Pullman at his finest, grizzled and determined to find out what happened to a young woman who seemingly vanished into thin air.
THE SINNER SEASON 4: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Retired Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) stares into a watery abyss from the deck of a ferry boat, a grim expression on his face. Is he seasick? Or does he just have a premonition that this trip aboard a ferry – which is taking him and his girlfriend Sonya (Jessica Hecht) to quaint Hanover Island in Maine for a recuperative vacation – is actually depositing him into yet another murder mystery?
The Gist: Bill Pullman has played Detective Harry Ambrose for four seasons on The Sinner, the USA Network show that is now available in its entirety on Netflix. In this latest season, Ambrose is off to spend a summer in Maine in an attempt to relax. He’s been retired for one year, but still traumatized from the events of season three, in which he and his girlfriend Sonya were nearly killed by the unhinged Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer, who appears this season in flashbacks).
Suffering from PTSD and insomnia, Harry struggles to relax on this vacation but on his first night he can’t sleep so he takes a walk around the village. There he notices a young local he met earlier in the day, a woman named Percy Muldoon (Alice Kremelberg), who seems desperate to get away from someone as she walks toward a bluff by the water. A groggy Ambrose follows Percy to a cliff where she looks back behind her, and then appears to throw herself over the edge. Ambrose is the only witness to this, and he calls the police to report what he saw.
As divers search the water below, they find no sign of a body. The police don’t believe Percy is dead, instead suggesting that she’s still at large. Percy’s family, the Muldoons, are led by her grandmother Meg (Frances Fisher), who also doesn’t believe Ambrose watched her granddaughter kill herself. Everyone is skeptical of Harry, and the police are fully inept, questioning Harry when he brings them clues from the scene of Percy’s disappearance.
Eventually, after Meg learns that Harry is a seasoned detective, she softens her stance and asks him for help with Percy’s disappearance. Meg reveals that Percy has been hiding certain things from her, and that Percy recently got into some spiritual Earth Mother stuff, none of which Meg claims to understand.
Perhaps weirdest of all is the wailing. The night Percy disappeared, Harry heard the sound of someone yelling or wailing in the woods nearby. And ever since, he’s heard these strange sounds when he’s out and about, unable to sleep in the middle of the night. It turns out that a mysterious ritual is taking place by the shore, and this unsettling moaning is part of it. What does it all mean and how does it connect to Percy though? We have seven more episodes to find out.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Sinner is an anthology detective series where the detective remains the same, but each season features a revolving door of supporting cast, not unlike ABC’s Big Sky. Both shows are based on popular detective novels where the protagonist’s personal baggage becomes an important part of the story.
The Sinner‘s latest season takes place on a remote island on the coast of Maine, an island where fishing is the lifeblood, and the town’s residents are insulated and often mysterious, and for those reasons, there’s also a bit of a Midnight Mass vibe, though there are no vampire bloodbaths to speak of in The Sinner.
Our Take: The Sinner is a mystery show that spends more time exploring the how and why of crimes, rather than finding out whodunnit. In season one, we witnessed Jessica Biel’s Cora stab a man to death, and we spent the rest of the season trying to find out why. In season four, we know that Percy Muldoon has gone missing, but the looming questions are whether she’s dead or alive, and what led to her disappearance.
On paper, the character of Henry Ambrose reads like a stereotypical retired detective. He doesn’t know what to do with all this free time, his brain is filled with memories of old cases, he can’t help but get involved in an investigation where he has literally no jurisdiction. Pullman plays him as exhausted and unable to do anything but solve crimes, but he’s not pushy or a know-it-all, he’s just resigned himself to the fact that detectives gotta detect, and it works here. His quiet search for the truth is likable, even noble, and helps him maintain an even keel especially when he’s up against the secretive and volatile Muldoon family.
This season’s mystery is engaging, buoyed by solid performances from Pullman, Fisher, and Neal Huff. If the series truly has come to an end, it’s a strong way to go out.
Sex and Skin: Harry Ambrose has always had a thing for kink on this series. He might look like an L.L. Bean-catalog-lookin’ normie, but right out of the gate this season, you’ll learn that he likes his sex with a side of asphyxiation.
Parting Shot: As a result of Harry’s insomnia, he’s taken to tinkering with his rental house’s broken gas grill and trying to fix it at 2 a.m. every night. While outside, he hears a mysterious sound, like someone wailing or chanting, and when he walks to the nearby shoreline, he sees a woman naked, hair all askew, performing some kind of ritual. She stares back at him as if in a trance and appears not to even recognize him. When he returns to his home, Harry then sees a vision of Percy, a figment of his imagination, but she sits across from him and begs him, “Please. Find me.” Dude, whuuuut.
Sleeper Star: Frances Fisher’s character, Meg Muldoon, is intriguing. At first appearing to be the gruff, salt-of-the-earth matriarch of the town’s most powerful fishing family, but she’s clearly hiding something herself.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Sonya realizes that Harry has purposely left his anti-depressants at home while they’re on their vacation, she interrogates him and learns that he’s been weaning himself off of the meds his therapist prescribed to help with all his trauma. Sonya warns Harry that his stress and insomnia will only get worse as a result, to which he responds, “It’ll be fine!” Reader, it’s not fine.
Our Call: STREAM IT! The Sinner is a solid mystery series that has proven itself to be an understated little prestige drama with a consistently excellent cast each season. The first episode sets up a lot of what we need to know going forward, giving us plenty to unravel with both Percy’s disappearance and the lives of everyone on the island.
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Massachusetts. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.
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