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Bill Pullman Charts Det. Ambrose's Journey in 'The Sinner'
Part 1 : Awakening


by Mary Cochrane-McIvor

February 2, 2020


In Season 3 of 'The Sinner' (premiere Thursday February 6 on USA network)  Det. Ambrose (Bill Pullman) takes on “the most dangerous and disturbing case of his career.” (USA network).

That is quite an achievement for the haunted but incisively perceptive Det. Ambrose who has solved the mystery of Cora Tannetti, a young woman at the beach with her family who suddenly jumps up, strides over to a young man she doesn't know and stabs him multiple times, killing him. She knows she murdered him but has no idea why. ( 'The Sinner' Season One)

Ambrose next returns to his hometown of Keller, New York to help solve the murder of parents killed by their own son and faces some demons of his own from the past. ( 'The Sinner' Season Two)

How could any case be “the most dangerous and disturbing case of his career” after those two?

Bill Pullman reminded me once that a detective story is often more about the journey of the detective solving the case than the investigation itself.  When we spoke on the phone recently, he had some sharp, illuminating insights into Det. Ambrose's own journey.

My first question to Pullman: 'Why did Harry Ambrose become a police officer?' Pullman replied with a story about himself. A police officer was talking to a group of high school kids, including Pullman. The officer said something that made all the kids laugh. Except Pullman. The officer noticed this. Pullman says: “he knew that there was something else I was evaluating that didn't think that knee jerk laugh took in the full magnitude of what the comment was about.”

Mary Cochrane-McIvor: Why is Det. Ambrose so good at observing people acutely?

Bill Pullman : Families who live around someone who is mentally ill, has an addiction problem or requires a lot of attention . . . . [they] begin to pay a lot of attention to the nuances of the afflicted person. Ambrose grew up with his single Mom who had mental problems so he was constantly judging the minute aspects of her behaviour. I think that kind of trained him to look for those things. The same reason that damaged individual allowed him to have an awareness also forced him to hide that depth of awareness to survive. He couldn't rely on her, he couldn't feel like he could become intimate with her safely because she could change the next day.

MCI: In Season One, Cora asks Ambrose: 'Why are you helping me?' Ambrose answers (passionately) : “The truth. It's my job to know the truth.” This concept seems to be a cardinal force in Ambrose's life. Would you finish this sentence: Ambrose hates . . .

BP: Ambrose hates:  shallow assumptions people make
                                             the degradation of the natural world.

MCI: Ambrose admires . . .

BP: Ambrose admires:  people that are truthful
                                                   circumstances when a salient individual has the ability to become candid
in a way that brings wisdom to them.                                           

MCI:  Who or what is the villain or source of evil in Seasons 1, 2, 3 of 'The Sinner'?

BP:   I think part of what is done to really appreciate being in this world of 'The Sinner' is that there is no vocabulary that includes the word evil. . . . there's a lot of language about judgment that prevents knowledge about what human beings are really like and it stops thinking about what really motivates people. In the world of 'The Sinner' there are people who can be seen doing heinous things to each other, but their reasons for doing it are so multi-layered, that the layering of that is what the investigation is: it's into human behaviour and it's nuanced and maybe that's what's refreshing about the show. I think it tries to get to a level that others don't feel is necessary.

MCI:  Why does Ambrose work so hard to help Cora and even begin to have an emotional connection with her and open up to her?

BP: He senses in Cora a compartmentalization that has allowed certain firewalls between pods of memories about certain things that happened to her. And it might be because he senses that in himself. The process of being with her step by step begins to awaken her memory. He also has a vicarious impulse to awaken those within himself. The critical reveal of that is in the last episode.

MCI:  What does Ambrose realize and reveal about the connection he and Cora have?

The answer, of course, is in what Ambrose says to Cora just after the final crux of her mystery has been solved in the last episode:

Det. Ambrose: “ When I first interviewed you at the station, the way you
were blaming yourself, I realized it felt familiar because I do that too.
The thing is, what somebody did to us when we were young, I know
it wasn't our fault. I know we didn't do anything wrong. It's a memory.
I don't know what to do with it all.”


This is where Ambrose finds himself at the end of the Cora Tannetti case. Continue Ambrose's journeywith Bill Pullman as your guide.  Bill Pullman Charts Det. Ambrose's Journey in 'The Sinner'



“The Sinner” Seasons 1 & 2 are available to stream on Netflix.  Review Det. Ambrose's cases by watching Seasons 1 & 2 and read Bill Pullman's perspective in this series of articles on the cases solved and the new one ahead.

© 2020 Mary Cochrane-McIvor

Cora (Jessica Biel) and  Det. Ambrose (Bill Pullman)

Derek Simonds  (Creator-Showrunner of 'The Sinner') Jessica Biel, Bill Pullman on the set.

Ambrose and Cora