Part I
S3 episode 1 Aired on February 6, 2020

You’re favorite whodunit crime series is back for a third round. The Sinner Season 3 premieres on USA Network Thursday, Feb. 6, this time following a troubled but unassuming school teacher named Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer) and a fatal car accident he endures with a college friend, Nick Haas (Chris Messina).

When evidence arises that there’s more to the accident than just random tragedy and that Jamie may be covering up his involvement in Nick’s death, Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) shifts his focus to his own Dorchester, New York, town and slowly begins building a case that only he can see laid before him. 

Introducing Jamie Burns and Nick Haas.

From the opening moments of Season 3, Jamie definitely has an unhappy-but-good-guy energy. He’s shown kindly supporting his students, volunteering to chaperone an upcoming LGBTQIA Alliance field trip, and helping one bright student in particular overcome her insecurities. His relationship with his wife, Leela (Parisa Fitz-Henley) also seems loving and supportive. But such kindness is counteracted by the fact that he’s hiding something. It starts when in the opening scene he’s shown getting high on a vape pen before getting to his classes for the day. We then see his potential propensity for anger when he eyes daggers at a stranger on the commuter train who’s playing a game on his phone a little too loudly. And later we see he might be inclined to self-harm when he’s grilling dinner for Leela and he hovers his hand over the fire as if to intentionally scald himself. While he may seem to have a poster-boy life, there’s something lurking underneath.

That especially comes to the fore when Nick Haas comes knocking that evening. There’s an immediate tension between the two of them; whether they’re actually friends from college as they tell Leela they are, there’s clearly a shared history, and perhaps a violent one at that. When Jamie first tells the unexpected late-night visitor to leave him alone and to get off his property, Nick stares him down: “You don’t get to tell me what to do—you fucking hear me? Not this time.” Again: tense.

Leela, not quite reading the room, interrupts their standoff and invites Nick to join them for dinner, an offer he eagerly accepts. As he enters the house, he threateningly whispers just for Jamie to hear, “She’s lovely.” Something is definitely off about this guy, and the overstepping, leering behavior continues through dinner as he expresses anger that Jamie didn’t tell him that he’s going to be a father (Leela is due any day now) and posits that the house upstate, the commuter lifestyle, and the baby were all Jamie’s idea of the perfect life that Leela begrudgingly agreed to, despite aspirations to be a small business owner. It’d be a line of questioning more appropriate in say, couple’s therapy, but not in a first-time meeting.

Nick’s mystery builds as he explains little of why he’s in Dorchester; he says that he’s in private equity and in town that night for work, but it’s later learned he was checked into his hotel for several days prior to coming to Jamie’s. He continues to goad Jamie through the dinner, threatening to tell Leela of the things he and Jamie used to do back in college. He’s like a cat toying with a mouse, and Jamie becomes increasingly defensive and agitated talking about their shared history, writing it off as “usual college bullshit.”

It’s clear that one of the lasting questions of this season will be not just what happened in the past between Jamie and Nick, but what happened in the hours after that dinner. Cut to the episode’s main drama, and the two of them are driving down a private property road owned by Sonya Barzel (Jessica Hecht), a painter who specializes in doing nude male portraiture as a means of examining male vulnerability. Sitting passenger, Jamie was drinking from an open bottle in the car, but claims that Nick was driving sober. Going 80mph on the rural stretch of land, they lose control and ram head-on into a tree. While Jamie escapes just needing stitches on his forehead, Nick wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and flies through the windshield. He’s pronounced dead on the scene. 

Det. Harry Ambrose is as dogged as ever, but trying to be more available for his family.

Season 3 opens on Harry sitting with the Dorchester County Police’s Captain Morris as he announces his retirement and nudges Harry to consider doing the same. Nodding to the “new guys,” including series newcomer Eddie Martinez as Det. Vic Soto, Morris teases that he wants a golf partner. But ever the dedicated crime-cracker, Harry claims the station needs some continuity with Morris around. He’s so dedicated (and guarded), in fact, that when he’s called to collect his deceased father’s belongings in Michigan, he’s reluctant to travel for them and tells the collectors to toss it all. Instead, they agree to mail them to him in New York. It’s unclear, otherwise, how his father’s death is affecting Harry. 

Despite his nature to always be on the clock, Harry is later shown reconnecting with his daughter and young grandson, Melanie and Eli, who took the train up from the city to see him in his new, wood-nestled home. Perhaps foreshadowing drama to come, the house is actually quite removed, and Melanie expresses concern that in the case of an emergency, the cell service is worryingly spotty. But Harry assures that her by the tree in the back yard he has two bars—which is apparently enough for him. Harry also insists on being there for his daughter, who just went through a divorce that left Eli with an absent father and a bout of depression. But just as he’s really getting the opportunity to show Melanie that times—and people—change for the better, he gets called to the site of Jamie’s car accident in the middle of the night, leaving little room for compromise or objection. Again, at least for now, work will always come first, to Melanie’s continued disappointment.

Harry questions Jamie about the accident—and eventually cites it as a crime scene.

Sitting with Jamie the morning after the accident, Harry is caught up on his alibi: Nick was an old friend who came by unannounced for dinner with Jamie and Leela. Afterward, because they hadn’t seen each other in awhile, the two men went out to Nick’s hotel, the Haven Residence Inn in Irvington, for a nightcap. On the drive back from the hotel, Jamie says that Nick wanted to see a local lookout point and they got lost with spotty cell service, which is how they ended up on Sonya’s property in the first place. Jamie also admits that the details are hazy because he “wasn’t exactly sober at that point,” but that Nick was driving too fast and not slowing down because “you can’t really tell Nick what to do.” That’s when they lost traction and were thrown off the road.

While the interrogation seems a straightforward enough report, things get a little eerie. Jamie seems unwell while recalling Nick’s death. Watching him die while waiting for the medics to arrive, Jamie says it was “like I finally saw him for the first time—the way he looked at me.” The veneer of the good-guy teacher is definitely starting to crack here. Jamie gets a little manic, too, while recounting the events, telling Harry that everything looks different now, even his hands; could this be a sign of not just shock, but disassociating from his principled self? 

Later investigating the scene of the crash, and then examining the car with Vic after it’s been compounded, Harry determines that Jamie isn’t telling him the whole truth. There are bloody fingerprints on the hood of the car and on the volume nob of the radio. The emergency break is also pulled, which is perhaps what caused the crash. Then when Nick’s Blackberry cellphone is found in some bushes near the accident, it shows that the police weren’t called until an hour after the crash, and that, most tellingly, it had been turned off and wiped of finger prints. So what, exactly, is Harry trying to cover up? 

So: Here’s what actually happened in that crash.

In this first episode’s final scene, we finally get a glimpse of what actually happened that night on the road. Surprising no one, things didn’t quite go down the way Jamie has been claiming they did. In a flashback, Jamie remembers speeding along with Nick at the wheel.

“Once we get there, the less you speak, the better,” Nick tells him. It’s unclear where their headed, but it appears to be Sonya’s. 

“I’m not doing this,” he responds. 

“Yes you are,” Nick says. “You just watch me and follow.”

“You’re fucking crazy.”

“There’s no such thing. Your words, remember?” 

That’s when Jamie threatens to jump if Nick doesn’t stop the car. Yelling continues, and in the heat and desperation of the moment, Jamie pulls the car’s emergency break as they’re speeding along, sending the car into a tailspin and flipping it several times over before smashing into a tree off the side of the road.

When he comes to, Jamie unbuckles himself and pushes his way out of the passenger side door. Stumbling around the car to find Nick smashed through the windshield and bleeding out on the hood, Jamie seems surprisingly distressed. Is he upset? Does he actually care for Nick, despite everything? Nick pleads with him to call the police, wrangling his phone from his pocket and dropping it to the ground. When Nick picks it up, the two men hold eye contact for an emotional pause. Decisively, Jamie shuts the phone down and sits on his knees before Nick as he slowly dies. Realizing what’s happening—that Jamie is leaving him there to die rather than call for help—all Nick can say is, “Okay.” 

Additional Takeaways, Additional Clues

  • Jamie has an odd tactic of getting Leela off his case about the damning “usual college bullshit” that he and Nick got into: he tells her that they were once experimenting as lovers, but that it didn’t work out. He also admits that he knew Nick was in town for the last few days, and had been refusing his requests to get together. Leela teases Jamie that she think Nick was actually in love with him.
  • It’s still unclear whether or not Sonya can be trusted. She seems flustered and defensive when Harry pays her a visit the day after the crash. And when Jamie, perhaps against his better judgement, drives by the scene of the crash and sees her there, they make eye contact. Was there a flash of recognition between the two of them before Jamie pulls away?
  • After Harry leaves in the middle of the night for work, Melanie pulls further away once again from her absent father. He calls her later in the episode in hopes of visiting her in New York for dinner, and she denies him.
  • Jamie is clearly haunted by the events of his night with Nick and sporadically has violent hallucinations of Nick following him around in his day-to-day. He’s not shaking the violence of the evening easily. Is he feeling guilt?
  • Harry uncovers more about Nick—and we’re getting the idea that he’s not just involved in “private equity.” Examining his body in the morgue, there’s a three-day knife wound to his palm. It’s determined that it was unrelated to the crash, but that for a wound that deep, it was negligent of Nick to not seek medical treatment. And then upon visiting his hotel room, Harry finds a paper fortune teller in his nightstand. Is this indicative of the “games” that he and Jamie used to play back in the day?