When "Part VIII" of USA's twisty crime series airs on Sept. 20, viewers will (hopefully) finally have an answer to the central mystery: why did Jessica Biel's Cora kill a stranger in broad daylight? But another mystery may not yet have a solution: will The Sinner return for Season 2? USA has yet to announce the fate of the addictive new show, so fans may be left twisting in the wind during the episode, wondering whether they're watching the season finale… or the series finale.
UPDATE: According to TV Line, USA has renewed The Sinner for Season 2, which will follow Bill Pullman's character, Det. Ambrose to a new case. No premiere date has been announced.
EARLIER: Fortunately, no matter what happens to the show itself, viewers are almost certainly going to find out why Cora killed Frankie before the season ends. While AMC's The Killing pulled a bait-and-switch — seemingly promising answers in the Season 1 finale before punting the football and delaying the answer to "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" for an entire season — it seems highly unlikely something like that will happen here.
For one thing, The Sinner is based on a book (Petra Hammesfahr's 2007 novel of the same name), which solves the mystery in some 400-odd pages; it's nearly impossible to imagine how the writers would stretch that solution for another eight-episode season. Granted, The Killing was also based on source material — the 2007 Danish series Forbrydelsen — but that adaptation went so far astray that it ended up with a different killer entirely. The Sinner has been a much more faithful adaptation by comparison.
So if The Sinner solves its central mystery in the upcoming "Part VIII," does it even need a Season 2? What would another go-round of this show even look like? That's an excellent question… and one that USA doesn't seem to know the answer to yet, either. When the network first announced the show, they were very clear that The Sinner would be an "anthology drama" series, as reported by Deadline in January 2017. But it was never clear what further installments of this "anthology" would look like. More adaptations of Hammesfahr's other mysteries? An original story following Bill Pullman's Detective Ambrose on a new case? Something entirely unrelated that simply shares the brand of The Sinner and Jessica Biel as its star?
But the higher-ups at USA appear to have changed their minds since then; or at least decided to advertise the show differently. Rather than billing it as an anthology, The Sinner's official website clearly and definitively labels the show as "an eight-episode close-ended series." So which is it? Is The Sinner close-ended? Or will it return for another tangentially-related installment?
Well, that probably depends on the ratings… and that's where the good news comes in. It's already been proven that adaptations of mystery novels can be extended beyond their source material if the show is popular enough: Netflix is hard at work on Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why, and HBO is in the process of figuring out how to bring back Big Little Lies for another batch of episodes. The Sinner has been performing remarkably well for USA this summer, so it's conceivable that it could receive the same treatment.
Obviously, it's impossible to compare The Sinner's numbers to 13 Reasons Why since Netflix doesn't release ratings information — but they can be compared to Big Little Lies. Although the Jessica Biel mystery never attained the level of omnipresent buzz as that Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon series, it's actually pulling in bigger numbers on a weekly basis. The HBO series averaged 1.17 million viewers per live airing throughout its seven episodes, according to TV By The Numbers, while the first seven episodes of The Sinner have averaged 1.71 million audience members. Of course, Big Little Lies (like Game Of Thrones) gets a boost from fans who watch in non-linear ways as well, but this proves that The Sinner is no slouch compared to the big wigs.
That average also puts The Sinner well ahead of USA's most prestigious series, Mr. Robot, which attracted only 0.76 million viewers on average during its sophomore season. That show's history with the Emmys undoubtedly helped it reach its upcoming third season (star Rami Malek won Best Actor for Season 1), but you would think that pulling in over twice as many eyeballs would give The Sinner a fighting chance at a Season 2 renewal.
I suppose it depends on whether producer/star Jessica Biel and series creator Derek Simonds feel like they have another story to tell. But, based purely on the numbers, this close-ended-anthology-limited-event-whatever-series seems like it has a fighting chance to live to sin another day.