There’s something inherently creepy about the word “commune”, even if, as in “Part II”, the second episode of The Sinner’s second season, everyone dances around calling it what it really is: A cult. They call it Mosswood; a weird sanctuary community that’s accepting of everyone, just so long as they follow “the rules”. I’ve no idea what those rules might be yet, and neither do Detectives Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and Heather Novack (Natalie Paul). What they do know is that the place is odd, and might very well have played a significant part in why 13-year-old Julian (Elisha Henig) poisoned two people posing as his parents in the premiere episode.
According to the enigmatic Vera Walker (Carrie Coon), Julian is her son, but at a custody hearing to prove that fact, she arrives woefully underprepared. But Julian’s parentage is the least of the questions posed by “Part II”, which meandered a little like the hippie transcendentalists who roam the commune. Where were Julian and his fake parents going? Why? And, perhaps most importantly, who was in on it?
There’s always some detective work of your own to be done with a show like this, which introduces victims and suspects and real or imagined bogeyman, but keeps them in the margins of the story, obscured by tangential plot threads or deliberately unclear direction. It’ll all come together somehow, but part of the fun is slotting the pieces into place yourself. “Part II” makes that difficult; the shape of the story as a whole, even as it relates to the first season, still isn’t clear.
What is clear is that Harry’s long-simmering issues with Jack (Tray Letts) will eventually boil over; that Mosswood and Keller will unburden themselves of generational secrets; and that the strange monolith in a rickety woodshed will matter, somehow, to Heather. Her teenage trespassing onto Mosswood’s turf was revealed in flashbacks during “Part II”, but not why it might ultimately mean.
The Sinner is one of those shows that are content to be inscrutable because it trusts the audience to know it’s cleverer than they are. I don’t know if that’s necessarily an enjoyable experience at this stage in the season, when mysteries are stacked, one atop the other, until you can barely see the rest of the show behind them. But it certainly keeps you interested – even if you’re not entirely satisfied.