The Sinner‘s third episode begins the way last week’s ended, with Jamie trying to throttle the remaining life from a hospice patient. No, he’s not taking another crack at the old man, but rather replaying the horrific murder attempt in his head.
His flashes of the previous evening’s events are intercut with sights and sounds of a grave being dug (perhaps the same six-foot hole discovered on Sonya’s property) until Lela snaps him out of his stupor. Mrs. Burns, due to give birth in just a few days, has had it. “Pull it together. Deal. Get some help,” are among her responses to Jamie’s self-absorbed, self-destructive musings on life, death, God, and whether or not it’s fair to bring a newborn into the world.
Ambrose has a slightly better morning, waking up on Sonya’s porch after a night of security duty. The painter offers him coffee, a smile, and a tour of her studio. He’s got a killer to catch, though, so it’s back to the station for more awkward exchanges with eager-to-help Detective Vic Soto. A limping Ambrose — suffering sciatica pain from last night’s uncomfortable slumber — informs Soto that Burns attacked his roommate back in college.
Ambrose interviews the former dormmate/now-dermatologist, who provides plenty of juicy intel on Jamie, circa junior year in college. Apparently everything changed between the “friendly” roomies when Jamie met a “weird, dark guy” — Hello, Nick Haas! — who placed Burns under his spell. After a night spent with his new bestie, Jamie came back to the dorm covered in dirt and blood, and looking “too alive.” His roommate snapped some pics of him, then attempted to shake him from his trance. His efforts were rewarded with a lava lamp to the skull and 22 stitches.
Catching up with current-day Jamie, he’s once again clashing with his fellow train commuters; following an altercation over a parking space, he sits across from the offender, then shoots him a seething stare before the man removes his Airpods and finds another seat. His destructive path continues after school when he meets Emma — the student he’s been “helping” get into college — off-campus. He tells the girl to think for herself and not let others influence her decisions, then teeters into crazy-talk territory: “We are living on a giant rock. We are flying through space, and no one knows anything.”
When Mr. B sees he’s scaring Emma, he nervously apologizes, heads outside, and has another grave-digging flashback. More than just another close-up of a shovel hitting dirt, however, the scene reveals a sweaty-faced Nick doing the digging. This prompts Jamie to contemplate stepping in front of a bus. As he decides to step back from the curb, suffering only a puddle splash, he gets a phone call from Lela — it’s baby time!
Jamie returns home, where contractions are seven minutes apart and Lela’s brother’s been all-hands-on-deck since the afternoon, a detail that clearly bothers the father-to-be. During the natural, at-home birth, Jamie tells Lela he’s happy, despite his mind again drifting to that night at the grave. While Lela pushes and breaths, we get another big clue: While Nick’s digging, another person is kneeling nearby, clutching a hose — like the one found by the hole on Sonya’s property — with bloody hands.
Over a boring dinner of grilled chicken and broccoli, Ambrose receives pictures via email from the dermatologist. They show Jamie, sitting cross-legged on his dorm room floor, holding a hose. Behind him, the word “ubermensch” has been carved into his headboard. Cut back to Jamie, just a few nights after cutting his son’s umbilical cord. He’s holding baby Burns, afraid to leave him. “What if he stops breathing?” he desperately asks Lela. He sees a hallucination of Nick, rocking in a chair in the nursery, a copy of Green Eggs and Ham next to him. Jamie tries to escape the vision by heading to the living room, but Nick’s unnerving presence follows.
Meanwhile, Harry’s back at Sonya’s, helping her pick prime spots to install security cameras and teaching her about tree fungicides. An apparent fan of his amateur arborist inclinations, she gets a bit flirty with Harry, saying “someone has to make the first move” after asking for his hand to help her scale a downed log. When not trying to crack the emotionally closed-off detective, Sonya’s doing a bit of her own sleuthing, Googling Jamie and stalking/snapping pics of him at the train station.
Back at the Burns’ happy home, daddy’s coming home with a bundle of groceries. When he finds Lela’s brother there, helping out and holding the baby, he snaps, “Give me my son!” Later that night, a stressed Jamie goes for an evening stroll. He’s tracked by Ambrose, who informs him he’s not only got the dirty details on his college days but also DNA placing him at the grave. Oh, and proof he shut off Nick’s phone the night of the accident. He says he let Nick die — which equals manslaughter — because the toxic friend had a hold on him, one that persists even after his death. Jamie seems desperate for Ambrose’s help, but gets defensive and storms off.
So, about that “ubermensch” reference: While meeting with Nick and Jamie’s college philosophy professor — who remembers the former as “brilliant” and “eccentric” — Ambrose learns the word, essentially meaning “beyond man” or “superhuman” in German, is a concept explored in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy that was later co-opted by Hitler and the Nazis to describe their idea of creating a master race.
While Harry continues peeling pack the layers of his suspect’s dark past, Jamie’s having a particularly bad day … even for him. At the job, he’s being disciplined for encouraging Emma to ignore her parents’ wishes, while at home he’s seeing more of ghost-Nick. While rocking his son, the deceased creep appears in front of him, demanding Jamie give him the baby because “he has to learn.” A tearful, pleading Jamie complies. Nick smiles and gently cradles the tyke, before twisting and contorting his tiny body to the sounds of screams and breaking bones.
The incredibly unsettling vision brings a sobbing Jamie to his knees and, ultimately, to Ambrose’s office begging for help. But before the detective’s alerted to Burns’ arrival, we’re treated to a bit more of his social awkwardness — this time courtesy of his deceased father’s personal effects, which were referenced back in episode one.
Obviously not a fan of dear old dad, Ambrose has the box shoved under his desk; when his boss notices, he attempts to console him with a hug Harry clearly wasn’t comfortable with. Between this slowly-evolving side story, as well as the one involving Harry trying to connect — unsuccessfully — with his daughter and grandson, we’re wondering if the suffering sleuth will ever find some personal happiness this season.
In the station’s conference room, Jamie’s pacing, nearly hyperventilating, and “trying to hold it together.” He claims Nick infected him and there’s no cure. He finally agrees to Harry’s help and is taken to the hospital for a “consultation.” While Burns sits nervously, the detective quietly asks security to cover the lobby, hoping to detain his suspect before the night’s over.
When the two are called to see the doctor, Harry thinks a confession’s coming. But the patient, who’s growing increasingly paranoid, believes he’s just there to answer a few questions. The doc runs through the standard psych evaluation, as Jamie uneasily stares at his clicking ballpoint and bulging Adam’s apple. It seems the two items might meet violently at any moment, but Burns instead sticks to crazy-talk, suggesting everyone in the room has had thoughts of dropping a helpless baby just to quell the dread of such an accident happening. When asked if he’s suicidal, he shares something “his friend” used to say: “[Suicide] is avoiding pain, and pain is the gateway.”
As he’s previously done so many times this season, Jamie becomes defensive and heads for the door. Ambrose tries to stop him, but is met with a “Nick was right,” before he bolts into the woods outside. Harry gets on the horn toot sweet, calls for a security detail at Sonya’s house, and requests an emergency warrant on Jamie’s phone. “He’s out there. He’s going to do something. We have to find him.”
Until next week, sinners.