Why Did Julian Kill His Parents In ‘The Sinner’? Carrie Coon’s Vera May Hold The Key To His Motive
Major spoilers ahead for the Season 2 premiere of The Sinner. When The Sinner premiered in 2017, viewers knew without a doubt that Jessica Biel's Cora (Jessica Biel) had killed Frankie, but they didn't know why. And just like in Season 1, the question in Season 2 is why Julian killed on The Sinner. With its limited series format, the answer likely won't be 100 percent clear until the eighth and final episode. But the Aug. 1 premiere of Season 2 certainly gave some interesting insights into the motivation behind this supposed parricide by poison perpetrated by a 13-year old.
Julian (Elisha Henig) and two people viewers assume to be his parents are headed to Niagara Falls when they experience car trouble. They stop overnight at a motel until their car can be fixed in the morning. Julian's mother is anxious about staying at the motel, telling his father, "We shouldn't be spending the night here." In the morning, her nervousness shows again when she's upset that Julian is at the motel breakfast bar by himself. When Julian does return with tea for his parents, they drink it and both become violently sick and die. Later, Julian confesses to Bill Pullman's Detective Harry Ambrose that he had picked the poisonous jimsonweed and put it into his parents' tea with the knowledge that it would kill them.
However, as this is The Sinner, almost nothing is as it seems. The family was allegedly taking Julian to Niagara Falls, but they hadn't packed a bag for the child. That leads to Detective Heather Novack (Natalie Paul) asking what kind of parents they were — which is actually a far more loaded question than she realizes at the time. At the end of the episode, Carrie Coon's character Vera appears and tells the police that she is Julian's mother. So perhaps the people Julian kills weren't even his parents, which could be essential to his motive.
The man's name is Adam Lowry, but the police can't identify the woman as she has no ID in her wallet. Ellen Adair portrays the mother and according to Adair's website, her character's name is Bess McTeer. Julian doesn't deny to the police that these people are his parents, but Vera's claim shows there is a secret backstory here. And the dynamic between Julian, Adam, and Bess holds clues. For example, there is a lot of tension between the adults — and Julian seems almost pleased by it, like when Bess and Adam are arguing over whether or not to get gas in the first scene.
While Bess is hostile toward Adam most of the time, there's also a very sexual aspect to their relationship. When Bess is aggravated at Adam for leaving Julian alone at the breakfast bar, she tells him, "You're such a bad father" and then they instantly engage in sex. Not only could this moment be a sign that Adam is really Julian's father (though Bess is not his mother), it also shows the volatile and unhealthy nature of their relationship. And quite possibly, Julian kills them because of this.
Yet, Julian's relationship with Bess does not appear to be all bad. When Julian can't sleep at the motel, Bess sings him the folk song, "Down In The Valley," and Julian joins in. However, there's also a mysterious element in this scene. Julian tells Bess, "I want to go home" and then sees a dark vision of a figure walking down a hallway with a blue glowing light. Later, when he's talking to Ambrose, he mentions his mother and how he wants to go home. Yet again, Julian sees that figure with the blue glowing light.
This blue light connects to the flashbacks that Julian shares with Coon's character. Vera holds a session with him where she makes him talk about his anger and the violent aspect of his personality that they refer to as "Shadow Julian." She tells him to embrace Shadow Julian and this all occurs as a machine with a blue light that ticks in the background. So it stands to reason that Julian considers Vera to be his mother and that place in the flashbacks to be his home. But also that something troubling has probably happened to him regarding that machine and its blue light.
Julian gives the cops another clue when he speaks to Heather about the murders. "They had to go back," Julian tells her. "To the beginning." With teasers revealing that Vera leads a commune, perhaps she preaches a belief about the afterlife that influenced Julian to kill Adam and Bess. That religion is part of his motive is also hinted at by the fact that Julian places rocks on Bess and Adam's eyes (perhaps this is a death ritual he was taught?). Plus, Ambrose did tell Heather that the town of Keller has a history of evangelicalism.
There are other odd moments in the premiere that could explain Julian's actions, particularly surrounding Adam. It's not clear if Adam is in the motel room with Bess and Julian the night before the murders. And before he is killed, Adam says the mechanic is working on the car. Yet, the police seemingly find the vehicle where it had been left the night before. So maybe Adam had a hand in his own fate — especially since he's the one who left Julian at the breakfast bar alone to get them tea.
No matter why Adam and Bess were murdered, it's important to remember that it can't solely have been the idea of the 13-year-old Julian. As Heather's father says, "It makes you wonder, doesn't it? What those parents did — your own kid killing you?" So Vera's reveal at the end of the episode is even more intense when you consider that Julian's motive is most likely linked to the identity of his real parents.