'The Sinner' postmortem: Bill Pullman on Cora's violent musical trigger

Kelly Woo
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Bill Pullman as Det. Harry Ambrose in USA’s The Sinner. (Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

As the characters of The Sinner try to figure out why housewife Cora (Jessica Biel) brutally stabbed and murdered fellow beachgoer Frankie, long-hidden secrets are starting to come to the surface.

Last week’s premiere episode revealed that Cora and Frankie may have known each other. And the end of this week’s episode — SPOILERS AHEAD! — showed how a song triggers Cora into an almost unconscious violent spell.

When Det. Ambrose (Bill Pullman) plays it for her during an interrogation, she flips out and attacks him with her fists. Later, Ambrose realizes that his bruises are in the exact locations as Frankie’s knife wounds. Cora punched him in the same pattern as she stabbed Frankie!

Pullman talked to Yahoo TV about the new revelation, Cora’s dark layers, and Ambrose’s reconciliation with his wife (Kathryn Erbe).

Jessica Biel as Cora Tannetti in USA’s The Sinner. (Photo: USA Network)

Yahoo TV: That song that Ambrose plays, which Cora heard at the beach, seems to be some kind of trigger.
Bill Pullman: It’s a trigger. But I guess you could say that the trigger could be something larger than Frankie, who happened to have written the song. It’s something that triggers some larger kind of feral response. Somehow, it’s linked to some event where she must’ve been endangered or traumatized.

It’s a wild discovery. And it’s also curious that such a thing could cause a woman who would not normally be capable of that [attack to become] capable of incredible strength and violence.

This episode starts to explore Cora’s past, and secrets start to bubble up and show she’s not the happy housewife she seems to be at the start of the premiere.
It is interesting, though, that she isn’t a happy housewife, not really. She’s presenting it that way, but the aspects of her life almost make her quietly depressed. You know, there’s the swimming incident where she seems to want to surrender and die. That malaise starts to get much more connected to something buried deep inside her, and it’s darker than just [a] dissatisfied wife or something.

Jessica Biel as Cora Tannetti and Christopher Abbott as Mason Tannetti in USA’s The Sinner. (Photo: Brownie Harris/USA Network)

Ambrose reaches out to his wife and asks to move back in, and she lets him. But it can’t be that easy, right?
He is trying. But he’s not seeking outside counseling; he’s not doing the kinds of things I suppose people who have more control over their lives might try to do. It is a genuine effort to bring stability back into his life and to try to reengage with the one person that he seems to have a connection to: Fay, his wife. I think she represents a sense of stability, even though he doesn’t seem to always be in touch with what she’s lacking in the marriage.

The Sinner airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.

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