TV is filled with a lot of uncomfortable images. American Horror Story: Cult alone is packed with enough trypophobia triggers to make all of us never want to turn on the television again. Yet, one of the scariest single images I’ve seen on television lately has nothing to do with teeny-tiny blood-spraying holes. Instead, it’s a standard brown ski mask with three normal-sized, technically benign holes. It’s the ski mask from USA’s limited series The Sinner — and it’s probably the reason I lock my bedroom door every night. On Wednesday night’s installment, "Part VI," I noticed something so intriguing going on with the haunting mask in question it led to a violent coughing fit, so, it’s high time we talk about how it plays into the greater Sinner mystery.
In the thriller series’ sixth episode, Cora Taneti (Jessica Biel) is finally brought to the Beverwyck House country club, which is in some way connected to whatever trauma she suffered on July 3, 2012. The private club has the blue-and-gold wallpaper that’s wrapped up in her terrifying, but often suppressed, memories, which are made of endless bursts of psychosexual horror. All of the recollections point towards the likelihood Cora was raped, drugged, and possibly even hunted by unknown men. The creepy brown ski mask in question pops up in her memories often, and, in "Part V," we see it casually hanging on a hook in the basement of the Beverwyck. Obviously, that implicates the club in some way with whatever covered-up crimes were committed against Cora. Yet, when Cora walks into the basement in "Part VI," the brown ski mask has conveniently been moved; everything else that was hanging around it — like two other ski masks and a bright orange jacket — remain.
A prior conversation in "Part VI" gives us an explanation as to how the mask just so happened to disappear the moment Cora arrives at the Beverwyck. The jailed woman is only allowed to visit the club with Detective Ambrose to see if she can jog her memory about the last time she was there, July 4th weekend 2012, and possibly give the police some answers about the dead body in the nearby woods, which her recovered memories led them to. Since this is a murder investigation, the Beverwyck spokeswoman, Abbi Grayston (Lindsay Torrey), welcomes them in with open arms and a noticeable change in her attitude since the last time we saw her in "Part V."
Abbi tells Ambrose, "It has all been arranged by the board, we are an open book to you, detective." That means the higher-ups at the Beverwyck knew Cora was coming, and she was specifically coming to figure out what happened on July 3, 2012. If she did see the ski mask, it could very easily trigger her, helping her remember whatever atrocities she witnessed five years ago. This implies it’s more than plausible someone on the board quietly removed the ski mask, because who would notice that change?
While Cora’s ex-boyfriend J.D. (Jacob Pitts) has been at the center of trauma, it’s very likely high-ranking members of the Beverwyck were also involved. Obviously this where she ended up on July 3, as she realizes at the end of the episode after finding a cabin close to the club. It has the same door and the same stairs the "missing" Maddie (Danielle Burgess) led her down half a decade ago. But, there’s other evidence as well. The Beverwyck has a history of being connected to bizarre sexual crimes, as former employee Cynthia Burrows (Elaine del Valle) proves. Cynthia was seemingly drugged one night at work and woke up in the passenger seat of her own car the next morning, completely naked. The Beverwyck eventually paid her off, ensuring she couldn’t speak about the alarming incident. Also, an extremely expensive lawyer who probably reps Beverwyck-type clients was called in to get J.D. out of police custody, so he couldn’t answer questions about Cora. In "Part VI," J.D. is found shot to death, confirming someone is very invested in making sure the drug dealer stayed quiet, permanently.
Cora’s flashes of memories involving the ski mask explain why someone wouldn’t want the details of whatever happened getting to law enforcement. The first major time it appears, in "Part III," we see Cora’s point of view as she stares at the infamous blue-and-gold wallpaper. As she turns her head, we realize she’s in a small room. Pills, a syringe, and a vile of an unknown liquid can be seen on a table. Also in view is a terrifying man sitting on a chair. He's wearing scrubs and the brown ski mask. "How are you feeling today, Cora?" he asks, his eyes and mouth visible underneath the mask.
In the next episode, the man in the ski mask appears again, spliced between the moment Cora’s shoe crushes Maddie’s chest (it’s still possible this is a dreamlike metaphor for betrayal) and the image of unidentified people having sex. Then, in "Part V," the man in the mask appears once again. This time we see Cora, whose head is bandaged, nearly passed out and hiding under a bed. A knocked-over IV pole can be seen in front of her. The door opens, and the man in scrubs enters, As usual, the blue-and-gold wallpaper is everywhere. The man crouches down, now wearing the ski mask with his identifying features covered by black fabric. He asks, "How’d you get all the way down there?"
Considering the bandage on her head, this ski-mask filled torture chamber is where Cora spent the two months she blocked out before appearing at a Poughkeepsie detox center aimed at low-income addicts. As an employee points out in "Part III," her head wound was already "stitched up" by the time she arrived, meaning the "Part V" flashback is a peek at her healing time. How Cora actually got the abrasion is unknown, but it’s connected to July 4th weekend. Considering the fact Cora wasn’t a junkie before the 2012 holiday, but was made to seem like one in the two months following it, the most likely explanation is whoever is behind the ski mask conspiracy repeatedly shot up her arms with heroin as an explanation for the time she disappeared. That way, no one would ask any questions about where she was, why she couldn’t remember anything, and why she has a massive gash on her head. This seems especially possible since Cora is petrified of injections in "Part III," screaming, "Not my arms!" when jail orderlies attempt to tranquilize her following a bout of night terrors.
With only two episodes left of The Sinner, let's hope we get answers soon about who is under the ski mask and what they did to Cora.
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