Don’t get us wrong — we love Jessica Biel. And when she starred in the first season of USA’s sleeper hit The Sinner last summer, we couldn’t wait to tune in each week. We were right there with other fans begging for a second season. Sure, we were bummed to learn that Biel wouldn’t be reprising her role as Cora Tannetti, but now that the second season (sans Biel) is here, we actually think it’s even better than the first. Who would have thought?
Admittedly, we feel as though we’re slighting Biel in some way for saying so. However, it’s really a testament to Biel’s creative talent. She may not be starring in the second season, but she stayed on as executive producer. The fact that the second season is so damn good is definitely a win for her, too.
So, what makes it better? In a nutshell, the performances.
To clarify, Biel and Bill Pullman both turned out emotional, complicated, gripping performances in season one. Coupled with the atmospheric storytelling and dark suspense, it’s no wonder fans couldn’t resist.
Although the second season lacks Biel’s presence on-screen, it has everything that made the first season so successful — and, on top of that, it has Emmy-nominated Carrie Coon as well as rising star Eisha Henig.
In season two, Coon plays the enigmatic Vera Walker, who casually shows up after Henig’s Julian is under suspicion of killing a man and woman presumed to be his parents. However, according to Coon, she is his mother. As Detective Harry Ambrose (Pullman) and Detective Natalie Paul (Heather Novack) investigate the case, it becomes clear that Coon could prove to be a key piece of Julian’s puzzle.
The problem? She’s a puzzle herself.
It should come as no surprise to fans of Coon — whose past work on The Leftovers and Fargo earned her rave reviews — that she is entirely engrossing in the role. Anytime she enters the frame, it’s impossible not to train your eyes on her, to study her movements for some clue as to whether her character is a friend or foe. She’s a magical mix of deeply unsettling and riveting.
For us, though, the biggest revelation of The Sinner’s second season may very well be Henig.
Let’s tuck into the fact, for a second, that he is only 14 years old and holding his own with veteran actors like Coon and Pullman. If we’re really being honest, he steals most of the scenes he’s in. Henig brings to the screen the same quiet unnerving sense that Biel brought to Tannetti in season one, and he does it to great effect. To put it plainly, this kid just sends a chill up your spine.
However, you also feel protective of Julian. Who’s on his side? Does anyone have his best interests at heart, really? Did he endure some deep psychological trauma growing up? We know, at the very least, that his life has been unconventional. We suspect, from his dreams and his conversations about his Shadowman, that perhaps Julian is dealing with a psychological condition or personality disorder.
At this point, though, there are still more questions than anything else. And because of the strength of Henig’s performance, we’re happy to weather the twists and turns until we get some answers.