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"We lost control," says a shell-shocked Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer) as he sits in an ER nursing a few scratches from a late-night collision. So buckle up, folks: What actually happened in that fatal car accident is just the start of the chilling mystery Det. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) faces next in The Sinner.
In the USA drama's two previous installments (the first starred executive producer Jessica Biel), Ambrose's cases involved suspects who were both guilty of crimes and victims of unfortunate circumstances. Season 3 takes a darker turn.
"[This time,] I was interested in someone who knows what he or she is doing and knows it's wrong and engages with that ethical question," executive producer Derek Simonds says. "[We] show the inner struggle."
That someone is Burns, a well-liked teacher at a New York City girls' private school who is soon to become a father with loving wife Leela (Parisa Fitz-Henley, Midnight, Texas). Despite his seemingly idyllic life in suburbia, "Jamie has [emotionally] checked out," Bomer says. "He suffers from this profound sense of loneliness and spiritual disconnection that is leading to nihilism in his own life."
In one telling scene from the February 6 premiere, the character places his hand precariously close to a red-hot grill in an effort to simply feel something.
When former college buddy Nick Haas (a creepy Chris Messina, The Mindy Project) shows up at his door, the tension is palpable. For Burns, "There's inherent danger in having Nick back in his life," Bomer teases.
The pair's disturbing backstory — the real secret of the season — is woven into the tale as Jamie's life spirals. First assumptions are almost guaranteed to be wrong, Bomer warns, saying, "Things are not black and white on this show. People are not good or evil. It's all about discovering what lies in between."
Which brings us to wise, earnest Detective Ambrose, who's reluctantly being pointed toward retirement as he launches his investigation. Red flags quickly emerge, complicated by the unexpected connection he feels to Burns.
"He senses Jamie is deliberately masking [details about the crash]," Pullman says. "At the same time, [Jamie is] also speaking about what it is to really be awake and alive in the world — that's the kind of thing Ambrose wrestles with [as well]."
Simonds calls the men "shadows of each other" and hopes viewers relate to the complex, tortured Burns — however unsettling that may be.
Bomer certainly did. "This is the deepest I've ever had to dig," the White Collar actor says of the role, "and the dirtiest I've ever had to get."
The Sinner, Season Premiere, Thursday, Feb. 6, 9/8c, USA