THE SINNER — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Jessica Biel as Cora — (Photo by: Brownie Harris/USA Network)

“I don’t know. I just did it, and I don’t know why.”

A line Jessica Biel’s character Cora Tannetti utters about halfway through the premiere of USA’s THE SINNER (tonight 10/9c) sums up the gist of this dark series: A mother (Cora) stabs a man that she doesn’t know, repeatedly and in front of her husband (Chris Abbott’s Mason), her child, and a ton of other witnesses on a sunny day at the beach. 

The “Whydunnit,” as it’s being called, was first created by German author Petra Hammesfahr for her novel of the same name (an international best seller, for what it’s worth). Derek Simonds has adapted her work, setting the limited series (that Biel is Executive Producing) in small-town America. The long and short of it is this: the show is GOOD, folks; maybe the surprise of the Summer for me. 

Jessica Biel, whose work I haven’t really explored beyond the early days of 7TH HEAVEN, is, for lack of a better term, a revelation here as Cora. Before she even commits the fatal act, you can tell things aren’t quite right; we see her daily life (and the general “ennui” she seems to feel) while getting glimpses into her past that tell a sad story (complete with zealous mother that blames her for her sister’s illness). A constant state of worry is on her face and she wears little to no makeup; she doesn’t say much but still her emotional performance says a lot.  I’m still thinking about certain moments and how she played them.

Bill Pullman is Harry Ambrose, the detective in charge of figuring out WHY she did it; he’s playing a classic Bill Pullman character – impish is being used to describe him in other reviews I’ve read; he has a bit of wonder in his eyes, while he deals with the darkness of the case.  The “good at his job, bad at his life” kind of protagonist that’s all too familiar, Pullman takes him a few steps beyond that into a performance worth watching.

There are moments where things slow down and the show struggles with that, but when Biel is on screen, she’s captivating.  Great source material, smart writing for TV, and performances that stayed with me. I honestly don’t know, after three episodes screened, what’s going to happen. Don’t miss it!