Now that the The Sinner’s second season has officially introduced audiences to its main murder (a troubled 13-year-old boy named Julian poisons the man and woman who are purportedly his parents, only to learn at the end of last week’s episode that those adults were traveling without a bag of Julian’s things for a “family trip” and a woman who claims to be his mother arrives to the Keller police station at end of the hour’s cliffhanger), Episode 202 slowly and methodically starts turning over the stones that could have led to Julian committing such a heinous crime. Catch up on all you need to below.
Julian was raised on a local (and controversial) commune called Mosswood Grove.
The woman who entered the precinct last episode claiming to be Julian’s mother is Vera Walker, and from the very start, she has a bone to pick with the town of Keller -- and particularly with Harry and Heather, who are on her son’s case. While she corroborates Julian’s story of traveling to Niagara Falls and explains that Bess and Adam didn’t have clothes for him simply because they’re absentminded, it is clear that this woman -- dressed in a lumpy, navy blue cardigan sweater over a V-neck and loose-fitted, comfort-first cloth pants -- played a significant role in Julian’s life, for better or worse. While in the foster home, he continues to have flashbacks and memories of his time with her, which is what makes his reunion with her some days after the murder all the more a relief for him. But to get there, Vera -- who doesn’t believe her son could be capable of such a thing as murder -- had to meet with Harry and Heather, who question her with suspicion, especially once she begins insisting that her son is a happy child (despite apparent signs of anxiety and depression).
They learn that Vera lives 20 miles outside their town of Keller off of Route 4 on Osbourne Road. The only place off Osbourne Road, Heather later explains to Harry, is Mosswood Grove, a cultish commune whose inhabitants believe they have found a means to utopia -- but one which also has a dark past. Keller’s police chief Tom Lidell later weighs in on the situation, saying that the last time local police got involved with the commune when a star quarterback went missing, he regretted it and promised himself he’d stay away from them. (The quarterback spent a night there and then inexplicably hanged himself the next day, and some in town took to violence against the commune to protest whatever they did to make him do it.) While it makes sense that a “weird kid” like Julian is from Mosswood, Lidell says, “they want to be left alone, and frankly, so do we.”
Harry slowly begins to gain Julian’s trust 1:1 -- perhaps for the worse.
The reunion of Julian and Vera in the foster home soon enough sours when Julian, now with his mother to lean on (Vera even whispers something indistinguishable in his ear before further speaking with Harry and Heather), refuses to cooperate. He says that he forgets ever telling Harry that he made the tea that poisoned Adam and Bess, and when Heather tries to push him on it, Vera interrupts and says that from now on, any questioning will go through her. Harry complies, but only with the secret knowledge that Vera doesn’t actually have guardianship of Julian until she can prove the next morning at the courthouse that he is, indeed, her son. Until then, he’s in the foster system. So when Vera leaves -- her confrontational parting words to Harry and Heather are, “My son is so far beyond anything you could understand; you have no idea” -- Harry takes it upon himself to revisit Julian. But the boy continues to be uncooperative in a way we haven’t seen before. He has an air of confidence previously unknown to his character. “Outsiders are all the same,” he says. “An outsider promises you things before they even know you.” He also claims that his mother can read minds, and that she’s told Julian all about Harry.
Later that night, though, Julian has another nightmare of the same hooded figure he envisioned in the previous episode. In the dream, he wakes up paralyzed and whimpering to see the dark-cloaked and hooded figure standing in his doorway and walking towards him. He wakes up just as the person begins digging their hands in the soft spot between his center ribcage and stomach.
Harry decides the best way to gain Julian’s trust is to be open and honest with the boy about himself. He tells him about how he, too, was taken away from his mother at a young age when an accident happened when he was 15 and she was no longer able to care for him. (This story marks flashbacks to a teenage Harry coming home to a pot of boiling water, burning curtains, and his mother sitting unfazed and immobile on the edge of her bed.) It was then that Harry ended up in “a place a lot like this place”: a foster home. They then both admit to one another that they have nightmares of their own demons, and that’s when Julian reveals the dreams he’s been having of the hooded figure. Harry thinks this dream in particular could be a case of Julian pushing down his own trauma. It’s this possibility of Julian’s trauma while on the commune, however, that convinces Lidell to let Heather and Harry lead a site visit to see just how these people live. Meanwhile, the press is already calling the police station for comments on Julian’s crime and his residence at Mosswood, so time is of the essence.
Heather has her own troubled past with Mosswood.
It was revealed last week that Heather is a lesbian, and we learn this week that the person who appears to be her first love is a young woman named Marin. Jack, Heather’s father, knows about Marin as well; he mentions her when speaking with Harry about the hushed problems and secrecy surrounding the commune. Apparently, she up and left one night for the commune and was never seen or heard from again. Later, without Harry present, Jack also tackles the subject with his daughter, saying, “I don’t like this Mosswood stuff. I don’t want it opening old wounds.” While Heather insists that she’s fine, we have a feeling it will open said wounds.
We get a lengthy flashback of the night that Marin was last seen. She and Heather were young and amorous, getting stoned and adventuring through the wooded area outside of town. That’s when they came upon Mosswood, and Marin -- clearly a free spirit who admits herself to having long-seeded issues at home -- is immediately taken with the commune’s ability via trance rituals to make one “forget” who you are. “Whatever they’re doing down there,” she says, “I bet it’s way more interesting than anything we do.”
Heather, wanting to impress Marin, offers that they go down to the commune and see what it’s all about. And soon enough, the two girls -- who are quickly embraced not as trespassers but guests -- are sitting around the campfire with several Mosswood residents as they one-by-one toss things that are “holding them back” into the fire to let it burn away. We see journals and books, purses and bags; Marin, caught up in the moment, even stands up and offers her mother’s gold necklace to the fire, later explaining that her mom had her when she was very young and had all Marin’s life, resented her for existing. That’s when Keith comes over and says that there’s someone he’d like Marin to meet. She says yes, to Heather’s concern and chagrin, and is led into a nearby barn. The last time Heather sees Marin is as she glances back at her friend before crossing the threshold into the barn’s dimmed light.
Harry and Heather investigate the commune and get more than they bargained for.
Now that they have the chief’s permission to enter the commune and see what they can dig up on the murder of Adam and Bess, Harry and Heather make their way 20 miles outside Keller and meet with Vera and other Mosswood residents who knew Julian and his two victims. Vera meets with them in person with calmness, but that’s in contrast to a phone call she had the night before with Harry, in which she confronted him about meeting with Julian without her: “Trust me, detective, I know where the monster is,” she says before hanging up. Harry admittedly seems a little impressed by her gall and is ready for whatever she has to throw his way upon his visit.
They’re first introduced to a room full of residents, men and women, all dressed in a similarly comfort-first attire as Vera. While Vera appears to hold a position of power in the commune (and she also has the only child on the grounds; Julian’s father is “not in the picture” and they otherwise focus their energy on “the work”), she clarifies that her society doesn’t resort to hierarchies the way that Harry’s might (whatever that means). When asked about Danny the convicted sex offender, Vera assures them that he’s changed through his work on the commune and that they welcome people of all kinds to live with them. (It may also be mentioning that no one is allowed to sleep alone; they all live and sleep in the same quarters.) There’s a shrine in the back of the room dedicated to Bess -- who’d been a member of the commune for years since her early 20s -- and Adam -- who was relatively new to the group (just a few months). Harry notices that in her photo, Bess is wearing a pretty, light-purple stone necklace, which would be of little consequence if it weren’t for the fact that later that afternoon, he notices a young resident, Jes, wearing the same necklace.
Jes gets defensive and claims that Bess gave it to her before she left with Julian to Niagara Falls, but he’s not buying it. Who would she give away a nice necklace to a bedmate just because she’s going on vacation? “They weren’t coming back, were they?” he asks. But before she can answer, Vera calls Jes back to her side, and Heather has noticed something herself. She recognizes a man on the roof across the way as a man who was in the motel lobby the morning of the murders; she concludes that Vera must have known about the murders prior to her actually arriving to the station. That’s when the two detectives decide that the whole trip to Niagara Falls was a hoax. “They were running away,” Harry says. The question is, what were Adam and Bess running away from? And why did they feel the need to take Julian with them?
The true nature of the “utopian” Mosswood Grove takes a dark turn.
On their way out of the commune, Harry takes up a conversation with Vera about what she actually means when she says “the work.” Calling back to “Shadow Julian” of last week, Vera says that the work is “easier to experience than it is to explain. We all have a shadow: all the good and bad inside that we try to hide. We shine a light on that shadow. You encounter parts of yourself that you never knew were there. Not for the faint of heart. But it’s rewarding, powerful. It teaches you how to trust yourself.”
While Harry wasn’t intentionally distracting Vera from her surroundings, Heater takes the opportunity to sneak away to the barn that she last saw Marin enter years before. “Just keep walking,” she tells Brick, the young police officer working with them. The final minutes of the episode bounce back and forth between Harry speaking with Vera about the work and the revelations that come to Heather within that barn.
Inside, she finds these giant, dark curtains hanging floor to ceiling around an elevated wooden stage. Walking up onto the stage, she sees that the barn has been built around a giant rock; it’s jagged and pointed vertically like an arrowhead, standing 10 feet. Directly above the rock is a skylight, the stage’s only light source. Upon closer examination, the surface of the rock is sporadically stained in a dark crimson color. Is it blood? The music climaxes as Heather, feeling a presence, looks over her shoulder nervously to find that there’s no one there. Vera realizes that Heather is missing, but instead of putting up a fuss, invites her co-residents to let it play out without running to find her. That’s when the screen cuts to black.
-- It’s clear that there’s more to Vera than meets the eye. She can switch on a dime between menacing and aggressive, as when she’s on the phone with Harry, to compassionate and maternal as she was with Julian (and, really, the whole commune). She’s one to keep an eye on, because we’ve yet to uncover it all. Harry and Heather are also left in the dark; Heather conducts a background check on Vera and brings up a woman born in East Texas in 1976 who moved to Dallas in the ’90s, spent two years working for a company called Interlogica, before popping up in Ashland, Oregon, and working for a nonprofit. Other than that, there’s been nothing on Vera for the last 15 years. “She’s a ghost,” Heather says, citing no criminal record or credit cards to her name.
-- And lastly, there are still subtle tensions between Jack and Harry, particularly when Harry goes on a fishing expedition with Jack; their relationship may well be one worth keeping an eye on.