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26 Pressing Questions About Jessica Biel’s ‘The Sinner’

Including: Why did no one prepare me for how bizarre this show would be?

USA Network/Ringer illustration

Good news! Jessica Biel has escaped from Justin Timberlake’s pile of bad hats and is back on television!

After 134 episodes of 7th Heaven and a decent career as a rom-com actress, Biel retreated from the limelight, appearing in only a stray sitcom cameo and a handful of little-seen movies in the last five years—most notably Accidental Love, a VOD-only film that made director David O. Russell change his name and question the meaning of his own existence. But it’s a new day. The Jessica Biel resurgence has begun, ignited first by this extremely promising poster:

USA Network

Sign me up. There are at least seven great things about this poster:

1. Jessica Biel’s dead eyes

2. Jessica Biel’s white-long-sleeve-tee over-white-tank-top look

3. Jessica Biel’s "reads Eat Pray Love once" bangs

4. Jessica Biel’s overall "disillusioned, potentially dangerous white woman" vibes. This is a historically fruitful genre. (See: Obsessed, Fatal Attraction, Gone Girl, Single White Female, Swimfan, Unforgettable—should I keep going?)

5. The tagline: "Everyone knows she did it. No one knows why." Everyone knows she did what? Murdered someone? Jumped in a pool with all her clothes on? Played "Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac on repeat at a family barbecue? I MUST KNOW.

6. It’s called THE SINNER?!

7. The juxtaposition of "limited series" and the USA Network logo. After getting through all of the above, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that The Sinner is a short-run series being handled by the network that chose "We the Bold" as their slogan.

Taking the bait, I tuned in to the premiere of The Sinner Wednesday night. It was … an odd hour, to say the least. Fun, arch, at times legitimately haunting, at other times depressingly self-serious—but odd above all else. Almost every scene left me in some state of confoundment, but for totally different reasons than I expected. That we may all wallow in the strangeness of Biel’s comeback vehicle, I wrote down all of my questions.

1. Hang on, did I completely misjudge what kind of show The Sinner was going to be? The casting, title, network, and basically everything else pointed to a limited series full of camp, but the show’s first images are vague, prestige-y non sequiturs over a child saying the "Our Father."

2. Did Jessica Biel’s face just become the title screen?

USA Network

Well, yes. Yes, it did.

3. Jessica Biel is married to Charlie from Girls (Christopher Abbott) in this show? Between dating Allison Williams in a show and being married to Biel in another, Abbott is making a name for himself as the go-to boyfriend for aggressively Anglican women.

4. Do you think Abbott now demands to have a beard in all of his roles? That’s why he left Girls, right? And he probably agreed to come back only if he could be a BEARDED heroin addict, right? Good. I’m glad we agree on this.

5. Biel and Abbott are named Cora and Mason in The Sinner. Is there a WASP name generator that TV shows use?

6. Uh-oh, Cora is slicing a pear with a knife. Is this it?

USA Network

That looks like too sharp a knife to bring to a beach.

Oh jeez: Mason is lecturing Cora about her parenting skills.

Oh no: A couple in front of her are making out a lot and listening to bad music and just generally doing a lot of things that a woman who has a child and is married to Charlie from Girls can’t do anymore.

And now she’s making this face:

USA Network

7. That’s a "I feel like I should murder someone" face, isn’t it?

8. OH MY—WHAAAAT? She stabbed that guy SO MANY TIMES.

9. Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?! I mean, I knew Biel’s character was going to do something heinous, but I did NOT expect it to be shown in such gruesome detail.

10. Is this the wildest thing the USA Network has ever aired? And here I thought the bleeped out F-words in Mr. Robot were edgy!

11. In retrospect though, who could blame Cora for doing this? She’s married to Charlie from Girls, she works with her husband’s dad, she eats dinner with her husband’s parents every night, she lives next door to her husband’s parents, and when she’s brushing her teeth—in a bathroom that, again, is probably 15 steps away from her in-laws—Charlie from Girls has the nerve to come in and be like, "Didn’t that rousing meal with my mother and father put you in the mood? Let’s have sex!" I’d stab someone too.

12. I’ll ask again: What kind of show is The Sinner? One minute, it feels like the romping murder mystery its promotional material advertised, and the next it’s employing Breaking Bad–esque camera tricks and delivering stomach-churning images like this one:

USA Network

In its first 15 minutes, The Sinner takes you from gleeful amusement to sincere horror. It’s stunning.

13. Am I … all in on this show?

14. Wait. Bill Pullman is in this?!

15. Why were there no posters of him in soaking-wet clothes?!

16. And he’s spying on a waitress and has bruised fingernails?

USA Network

17. So I guess you could say Cora isn’t the only one with buried secrets, eh?

18. Why isn’t Jessica Biel in more things? As the center of this show—a character with a troubled past connected to a deeply religious upbringing who kills a stranger out of blind rage and then spends the rest of the episode vacillating between numbness and frantic desperation—she’s really bringing it.

19. Did Biel’s participation in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry derail her status as a legitimate actress?

20. When detectives ask Cora why she stabbed the guy on the beach, she says, "’Cause they were playing that music and they kept turnin’ it up." That’s terrifying. WHY DID NO ONE WARN ME HOW TERRIFYING THE SINNER WOULD BE?

21. After Biel’s performance in The Sinner, is the power arc of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s relationship the best analogy for Biel and Timberlake?

22. What were the most surprising moments of The Sinner pilot? Let’s rank them:

  • Last: Christopher Abbott playing a wet noodle of a partner
  • 3. Jessica Biel taking an inherently melodramatic role and breathing life into it
  • 2. The graphic horror of the stabbing scene
  • 1. Bill Pullman’s character being sexually dominated by the waitress he was spying on

23. Oh, should I elaborate on that last one? Gladly: Near the end of the episode, Pullman’s character drops by the waitress’s house. It’s clear they’ve had an affair; she asks about his wife taking him back, and he asks if she misses him. Then it gets weirder; she mentions she’s been having threesomes to "pay for brake pads," and he says he’s jealous. Then she slaps him and makes him get on his knees, and suddenly it makes sense why he has bruised fingernails—because he gets off on the waitress stepping on his fingers.

24. ????????

25. OK, so how do you even describe The Sinner? My best attempt is this: Gone Girl plus Cinemax’s Outcast plus some light BDSM plus Rust Cohle from Season 1 of True Detective plus the overhead shots from Season 2 of True Detective

USA Network

… all divided by Charlie from Girls.

26. Will I keep watching it? Never mind. That’s a stupid question. Of course I will.