This season of The Sinner has been all about parenthood. Who are Julian’s parents? Who bears the most responsibility for how he was raised? For his crimes? Has the kid’s life just been one long kidnapping? (And for Wednesday’s finale, who has him now?)
Showrunner Derek Simonds mulled over some of these questions with us -- without giving away any spoilers! -- to help tease the finale, in which (almost) all will be revealed. (Come back after the finale, when he’ll address any lingering questions).
First off, there are no easy solutions on The Sinner. “You can’t just say, ‘This person’s right,’ ‘This person’s wrong,’” Simonds cautioned. That said, Marin -- despite being Julian’s biological mother -- had no real claim to him anymore. In a court of law, Simonds said, Marin would not have won a custody battle, because she had abandoned her own child. (So her attempting to take Julian out of Mosswood and foster care –- becoming the much-feared hooded figure of his nightmares -– is kidnapping.)
“Marin wasn’t prepared for all of the feelings that came up after she gave birth to Julian,” Simonds said. “And the reasons for her leaving are complicated, but she left.” Julian was too young when she left to have any real memories of her. Bess singing “Down in the Valley” to him –- a song Marin taught her –- is his main connection to his bio-mom. “That’s what intrigues him and makes him open to spending more time with Marin,” Simonds said. That time, sadly, is cut short when someone kills her. Was it murder? Was it an accident? Could it have been prevented?
“Julian has been lied to,” Simonds said. “Things have been hidden from him. And I think that’s where the dysfunction that fuels the story comes from. He doesn’t know the whole truth. I think Vera would have been smart to say, ‘I’m not your mother. There’s a woman out there who is. We don’t know where she is.’ Or, ‘We do.’” Even if Marin had no claim to parental rights, if Vera had welcomed her return to Julian’s life, and explained things to him, their brief reunion would have been less fraught, with no guns necessary. (And without Julian losing a grip on reality, to the point where he’d kill people for lying to him). Julian not knowing the truth and living in fear has resulted in at least two deaths so far (R.I.P., Adam and Bess). And this third death -– which will be explored in the finale -– seems to be linked somehow. When Marin tries to steal back her own child, people die.
“We’ve often said in the writers’ room that with this crisis that the murder of Adam and Bess precipitates, some version of a crisis between Julian and Vera was inevitable,” Simonds said. “He’s thirteen. He’s going to become a young man. And at some point, he’s going to have to wrest himself away from Vera and her world. The murders were just a really tragic and scary way for it to happen.”
Vera didn’t foresee this. She didn’t prepare Julian for the outside world. She only prepared him for a life at Mosswood, and this backfired. Vera’s story is a metaphor, Simonds said -– a parenting story writ large. Like most parents, Vera sought to correct the mistakes of her own parents – to spare Julian the pain and trauma of her own childhood -- with Julian’s childhood. “She wants Julian’s life to be a happier experience,” Simonds said. And most likely it has been, until recently.
“We have a lot of suspicions around Mosswood,” Simonds said. “But I’ve maintained in the writers’ room that it’s not necessarily evil or wrong, the way they think and the work they do. In some ways, I think our world could really benefit from it.”
The problem is that Vera used Jungian therapy –- “the work” -- as a parenting technique, and blurred the lines between mother and therapist. “That’s not healthy,” Simonds said. “She tried to define Julian at too young an age. I think one of the tragic ironies for her character is that all of her efforts to create this new, more integrated human being are the very things that take him away from her.”
Who killed Marin? Who is Julian’s father? Will Julian turn out okay? Tune in to the finale to find out.