*Content warning: This post discusses the topics of incest and sexual abuse.
**This post also contains major spoilers for the first season of The Sinner.
The Sinner is both the most mesmerising and disturbing TV show of 2017.
It’s the kind of show that grips you in the first episode and doesn’t let you go until the final credits are rolling; the sort of TV experience you’ll immediately want to discuss with your friends so you can dissect every little detail.
It’s also the show that delivered us this year’s most controversial scene on TV.
LISTEN: The Binge hosts discuss The Sinner’s most controversial scene and it’s biggest plot hole.
In episode seven, Cora (Jessica Biel) arrives home from a date with her boyfriend J.D.
The local bad boy is her first boyfriend and her first sexual partner. He is manipulative, abusive and dangerous but Cora’s history of abuse has made it impossible for her to spot the warning signs.
When Cora arrives home she goes up to her bedroom and her terminally ill sister, Phoebe, probes her for details about her sex life with J.D. Cora, at first reluctantly, begins to tell Phoebe exactly what J.D. does to her. Then Phoebe asks her to show her what J.D. does to her.
This is where things get… intense. And murky.
Cora first kisses Phoebe on the mouth, then she puts her hand into Phoebe’s underpants and touches her until she orgasms.
It’s quite a confronting scene and one that’s attracted a lot of debate from fans. It’s been roundly slammed as being gratuitous, with some critics believing the scene was only included for shock value.
But it’s actually one of the saddest and most important scenes in the whole series.
The scene, as uncomfortable as it is to watch, really drives home how tragic and abusive Cora and Phoebe’s upbringing has been. How they’ve been sheltered and secluded from the rest of society by their overbearing, strict Catholic parents. How their view of the world has been skewed to suit their parent’s agenda.
And, ultimately, how this history of abuse has led them to act in such an unconventional and heartbreaking manner.
Phoebe, who has barely left the house in years, lives vicariously through her sister, encouraging Cora to do things so she can hear about them. And Cora, whose parents blamed her for her sister’s illness, felt obliged to live out Phoebe’s fantasies, even when she knows they are wrong.
Sadly, their whole lives had been leading to this moment.
Listen: There’s a major plot hole in The Sinner. And all the TV shows you need to be watching this week.
The act also highlights how harmful incest can be, as it doesn’t have a clear victim or perpetrator. Phoebe is the clear instigator in this incident and both girls are above the age of consent, but it’s still morally complex.
The sisters are trapped in a sick, co-dependent relationship of their parent’s making.
This incident also explains why both Phoebe and Cora are so happy just before Phoebe dies.
As Phoebe is having sex with Frankie Belmont, and Cora is being raped by J.D.’s friend, the sisters lock eyes and smile at each other. You can tell that Phoebe is experiencing her first moment of true happiness.
Tragically, the night of Phoebe’s death is also the best night of her life. She goes to a bar and experiments with alcohol and drugs for the first time, she meets a boy and falls in lust, and she makes peace with fact that she’s going to die.
It’s the first time she truly lives.
This is why the incest scene is so important, we need to witness this harrowing incident so we can truly understand the story of these two sisters.
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