The last few seconds of Wednesday night’s The Sinner episode, “Part III,” likely had viewers screaming, “What’s with all the rocks?!” The gruesome instalment ends with the reveal that the newly introduced Dr. Sheldon Poole, who committed suicide minutes earlier, has a creepy rectangular stone hiding on the secret altar in his attic. Immediately, detectives Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and Heather Novack (Natalie Paul) realise this isn’t the first stone of its kind they’ve recently seen.
A rock just like this one, only much more massive, is hiding in a barn at Mosswood Grove, the so-called “community” (read: cult) led by Vera Walker (Carrie Coon). Plus, small stones are placed over the eyes of Adam Lowry (Adam David Thompson) and Bess McTeer (Ellen Adair), the Mosswood escapees whose murders kicked off The Sinner season 2.
When you really get into the inspiration for season two — influential psychiatrist Carl Jung — you quickly realise all these scary rocks are more than simply scary rocks. They’re the cornerstone to understanding Mosswood Grove’s entire philosophy, and are all about helping members understand themselves by whatever means necessary.
Before we break down what Jung said about rocks and stones and all that, we should probably figure out why he even matters here. It’s not like anyone on The Sinner has brought the Swiss psychoanalyst up. Yet his work has been hiding in plain sight since the season premiere, if you take a good hard look.
During a split-second scene in “Part I,” Ambrose and Heather are going through the possessions of the late Adam and Bess, who were murdered by Vera's 13-year-old son Julian Walker (Elisha Henig). The only two books the late couple owned were The Undiscovered Self and Man And His Symbols, both by Jung. Remember, Bess was a full Mosswood convert and spent years living in the commune. It’s more than likely that even her reading material was controlled by Vera’s “community.”
But a Sinner theory can’t only be based on a couple stray books. That’s why it’s important to note that leading lady Carrie Coon herself specifically brought up Jung while talking to Refinery29. “You see Vera physicalising some of the impulse work they do and dabbling in these Jungian archetypes," Coon told us.
Speaking of Jungian archetypes, stones do indeed play a major part in the psychoanalyst’s philosophies. The stone, in Jungian analysis, is a symbol for the self, as 1992’s Carl Gustav Jung: Critical Assessments explains. As 1996’s Carl Gustav Jung by Frank McFlynn adds,”Jesuit, stone and mannikin are all symbols of an as yet unapprehended Whole and represent Jung's first attempt at what he would later call ‘integration.’”
"Integration" seems to be the exact process Vera is attempting to do with “the work,” as we see in “Part I.” One of the most basic parts of integration is helping an individual become aware of the shadow parts of their personality, and leading them to accept those supposedly darker selves. Not so coincidentally, Vera spends one of her sessions with Julian telling him “Shadow Julian” is Julian. “When he comes knocking, what are you supposed to do?” Vera asks her son. The young teen responds, “I let him in.” Welcome to the beginnings of integration, everyone.
It seems likely, then, that all these rocks are physical symbols of the self, used in “the work” to help members connect with all their unconscious parts. A moment in the season-long preview trailer shows Vera, alone, literally embracing the huge stone in the barn. A later trailer moment shows Vera, apparently in the same scene, looking shocked over some realisation. Dr. Poole clearly needed his rock altar for some sort of Mosswood-related ritual — is it possible he was doing “the work” solo after cutting ties with the commune? Even the rocks Julian places over his victims’ eyes seem to be a kindness in his addled mind, possibly suggesting Bess and Adam’s selves soldier on even after death.
Expect for things to only get bleaker the next time you see a stone of any size on The Sinner.