Nothing is ever exactly as it seems. That, and Bill Pullman’s Detective Ambrose, are the only two constants in each new season of USA Network’s anthology series, The Sinner. After tackling the suppressed memories of a woman who commits a shocking murder and unraveling the mysteries of a secret cult, The Sinner is back on Feb. 6 for season 3 to tell the tale of old college friends (or are they?) Jamie (Matt Bomer) and Nick (Chris Messina), a would-be car “accident,” and — you guessed it — more suppressed memories. The fun just never stops.
With each new season, we’re introduced to new characters, new lies, and new twisty, turn-y stories. Only Detective Ambrose remains season over season, anchoring us in the shared reality in which all these cases reside. But he isn’t just a series constant; he’s a complex character with a harrowing back story of his own.
In case you don’t remember, season 2 gave us an in-depth look into why exactly Detective Ambrose is drawn to those who experience or have trauma in their past. Through choppy memories and dream sequences, we learned that he, too, is a survivor of a complicated childhood and a stressor that he wishes to forget.
It goes like this: we see a pot of boiling water on the stove, a woman we presume to be Ambrose’s mother, and a kitchen completely ablaze. With no additional context, we’re left to assume that her negligence was the cause of an accidental kitchen fire. But remember what I said at the onset of our time here, my friends? Nothing is ever exactly as it seems.
In an effort to relate to the young boy at the center of season 2’s mystery, Ambrose reveals what really happened: After years of living with a mother incapable of caring for him, young Detective Ambrose simply wanted his tragic situation to “stop.” He saw no other way out than to prove that she could not care for him, so brought a pot of water to boil, lit the end of a wooden spoon with the stove’s flame, and set fire to the kitchen curtains, ultimately setting the entire room on fire. The police had no reason not to believe this was anything but the result of yet another pot of boiling water left unattended by Ambrose’s unwell mother, and took him into foster care.
The man we see in season 3 has other memories he’s pushed to the back of his mind as well. His “therapy sessions” with Cora and reunion with an old friend in season 2 bring back faded memories of exploding lamp posts, but it’s his experience with his family that offers Ambrose insight into the minds of every season’s protagonist, each riddled with inexplicable guilt. His past will, undoubtedly, play a part in deciphering the crime behind a car accident in season 3, and the characters involved in what will ultimately be a reality that no one saw coming.