Warning: Recap contains spoilers
As expected, Part II of The Sinner opened with Cora Tannetti pleading guilty to killing Frankie, but it's what unfolded next that kept us on the edge of our seats. Check out the full episode recap below.
Cora’s Trial Is Put on Hold
Opening on the same close-up of Cora (Jessica Biel) that the pilot closed on, the verdict is determined within the opening seconds of this episode. Cora, refusing a lawyer and representing herself, pleads guilty to murdering Frankie Belmont (Eric Todd), knowing full-well, as the judge reminds her, that her decision may mean life behind bars. So why did she do it? She still refuses a straight answer. “Just know that I did it. I just want this all to end," she tearfully tells the court.
That's when Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), now under the impression that Cora did, indeed, know Frankie, walks in the room and stands in the back. He arrives just in time to see the judge consider all things and order an examination of the defendant to render competency to stand trial. Based on her behavior, it’s looking less and less likely that Cora is mentally sound. (It also helps that Harry dialed the judge before the trial and made his case to examine.)
Harry Needs His Motive
With the court calling for an examination, Harry and his colleagues are worried that if it goes to trial, they'll need a motive for conviction to come through. The extension also gives Cora time to change her story. But Harry is confident he can get it out of her. Speaking with Frankie's girlfriend, Leah (Teri Wyble), who's still in the hospital, Harry learns that the song Cora was yelling at them to turn down that day on the beach was an old song from a band Frankie used to play in before med school. She also reveals that Frankie had spoken about a mysterious girl from his past who may well be Cora. Leah doesn't know her name, but she knows there was someone years before with whom Frankie had an intense connection, but something was wrong with her. And then “some sort of accident happened and it almost ruined his life.” With this new information, he goes back to Cora.
Cora Admits to Knowing Frankie
Pressured with the fact that not telling the whole truth will further ruin her husband and child’s lives, Cora admits to Harry that she knew Frankie from July 4th weekend five years prior, but that he told her his name was J.D. She gives this entire account of meeting him at Carl’s Tap Room off Route 6 along with some of his friends, where they took a pill of some sort and went back to one of their homes. “J.D.” kept playing this song from a band he was in -- the same song she heard on the beach with Frankie and Leah. They ended up spending the night together, and a few weeks later, Cora learned she was pregnant. Due to her rigidly religious upbringing, she couldn’t bring herself to have an abortion, and she couldn’t track Frankie (the presumed father) down because she didn’t have his number or his real name; she never heard from him again.
“I wanted to die,” she tells Harry. So she jumped in front of a car and woke up the next morning in a hospital. Her unborn baby didn’t survive the accident. “What kind of god kills your baby but lets you survive?” she asks Harry, perhaps indicating that she’s not quite as reverent as she used to be.
Unfortunately, Cora’s Story Doesn’t Totally Add Up
Harry has a moment of feeling satisfied with Cora’s story, but holes begin cropping up soon after. The first sign Cora is lying about her relations with Frankie comes when Harry visits the bar she was allegedly at that weekend. The bartender remembers her as being too drunk to stand up straight and that she was with a blonde guy (Frankie is brunette) and another unnamed girl. Next, he goes to visit Frankie’s parents, who know nothing of this “J.D.” nickname and are otherwise confused by Cora’s story. In 2012, Frankie was allegedly spending 100 hours a week studying at Cornell, and he quit his band well before then due to timing constraints. Plus, Frankie’s father reveals, he wasn’t even on the East Coast; he was cross-continent the weekend of July 4 for a study program. The final nail in the coffin is the hospital’s lack of records that Cora had ever been there after being hit by a car.
When approached with these new developments, Cora backtracks, claiming that the driver who hit her took her to his home for treatment, but Harry’s not buying it. She backtracks further, insisting she doesn’t know why she killed Frankie. So Harry resorts to new measures: He plays Frankie/J.D.’s song on his phone for Cora. He persists: “How do you know Frankie?” The song seems to set off an uncontrollable rage within Cora, and she leaps from her seat and jumps on Harry, beating him with her fists and screaming, “I’m gonna kill you!”
The episode closes with Harry standing shirtless before his mirror and noticing the bruises Cora left on his chest and neck, which leads to an epiphany in the mystery of her character. He rushes to the precinct, calling his partner to join him in the middle of the night. Analyzing the bruises and comparing them to the stab patterns on Frankie, they come to the same conclusion: “She’s repeating exactly what she did on that beach, and she doesn’t even know it.”
The question is: What kind of trauma is tied to this song that sets Cora’s mind and action in motion?
Other Takeaways- Cora’s husband, Mason (Christopher Abbott), is undergoing a personal investigation into Cora’s motive, and not liking the results. Recognizing an old classmate who’s now a police officer, he reconnects with her and tries to see what he can learn -- what the police are finding. That’s when it’s revealed that Cora claims she was pregnant and threw herself in front of oncoming traffic, which is news to him. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” is all Cora has to say when he approaches her about it. Mason is further driven by questionable memories with Cora. There was a time, for instance, that while having sex, her eyes glazed over in a trance and she held his head and locked his neck in her knees, involuntarily kicking him away. What darkness is in her history that would make her act such a way?
- Also worth noting is that Mason knows who J.D. is from Cora’s story. He knew some of his friends before they met. Later in the episode, he meets with one of his buddies and asks to be linked up with J.D. for potential work purposes. We’ll have to stay tuned to see where that meeting leads, but we imagine he’s not too happy with J.D.
- Harry’s marriage is still on the rocks, but getting better. Though he’s shown in the beginning of the episode staying at Det. Dan Leroy’s (Dohn Norwood) house (even quenching his obsession with botany while wearing just underwear in their yard in the middle of the night), he later moves back in with his wife and goes to visit Sharon (Meredith Holzman) at her restaurant to tell her that their relationship (whatever it was) is over.
- We also get a better understanding of the abuse Cora faced as a child to her ultra-religious parents. Her mother is insanely protective of her younger sister, Phoebe, who is constantly sick. She blames Cora for making her sister sick by not praying long enough and for eating chocolate that her Aunt Margaret gifted her; the list goes on. Cora is made to believe that her sister is dying because she herself is a sinner and not doing her part. This dynamic has also put a strain on Cora’s parents’ marriage; her father often sleeps in Phoebe’s bed beside Cora while Phoebe sleeps snug with her mother.