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The Sinner: How Lesbians Edit Themselves to Fit in Small Towns

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

If you’re looking for a binge worthy crime series to start, look no further than the Jessica Biel produced hit, The Sinner.

The Sinner is a crime based drama that follows the lives of murders, to find out essentially why they did it. However, The Sinner is one of those series that has a different cast every season. So Jessica Biel is in the first season and not in the second, as we move on to a new story. Harry Ambrose is the only character that translates over, but more on him later. If you’re interested in all things murder, it’s certainly worth checking out.

There is some controversy about the first season and if there’s a lesbian scene or not. There is a somewhat sexual scene between two sisters, but it’s safe to say that it wasn’t like that, and that this is not gay in nature. You’ll have to watch the first season to truly understand what we mean.

Although, season 2 of The Sinner is jam packed with lesbian content! At the helm, we have Heather Novak, a detective that’s training in the small town of Keller. Novak is investigate a double murder of a couple that is from the Mosswood communal living community. Essentially, this is a cult right outside of Keller that everyone knows about but never speaks about. The murderer is a young boy named Julian, who killed his pretend parents on a alleged trip to Niagara Falls. Fun stuff, right?

(Since The Sinner is a different story each season, you could really start with this one and work your way to the others. However, the story is somewhat-linear and the first season is amazing, so, maybe not.)

Novak is on a mission to discover why Julia murdered the couple, and calls in Ambrose to help her solve the case. What is particularly interesting about Novak is her connection to the case itself. When Novak was a lot younger, she lost her first love, Marin, to the cult in Mosswood. DUN DUN DUN! Marin hasn’t been heard from in 10 years, and this case brings up a lot of feelings for Novak. While Novak is attached to Marin in a deep way, their relationship was never sunshine and rainbows.

In this conservative, predominately white small down, Novak is a little out of place. Growing up knowing she was gay and falling in love with Marin only added to that struggle. Likewise, Marin also struggled with being gay, and never openly loved Novak in a way that she wanted. Marin also had a difficult home life, and never felt like she belonged in Heller, either. When Marin disappeared and fled to Mosswood, it left Novak alone and confused; she was heartbroken, and remained that way for 10 more years. Novak lost her first love and what she thought was her future all in one night.

Because of her traumatic experience with losing Marin, Novak has an hard outer shell. She keeps everything inside and deals with things internally. Understandably so, Novak is one of the only (read it again, ONLY) Black people in Keller. Her father is white, and her mother passed away. Even within her family, she is a little bit different. That being said, she only came out to her father a few years prior to the series, and he doesn’t seem that thrilled about it. It makes sense why Novak would keep things inside, and why this Mosswood murder case would bring up some intense feelings for her. Do we even know if Marin is alive? If she is, will she still have feelings for Novak? Will there be closure?

With all the uncertainty, Novak is not focused on fitting in throughout the season. However, it is important to note just what Novak’s character serves in this plot and the show itself. Novak represents the journey of the Black lesbian in a conservative town, and her repression highlights her oppression. Novak has fit herself into a box that is accepted by her environment. She’s a detective that never speaks on her personal life, and relies heavily on her father’s influence as a white man. Novak is not openly dating anyone, nor does she outright say she ever had a relationship with Marin right away. Novak constantly edits her personality to fit within the conservative boundaries of Keller; mirroring the experience that many lesbians, especially Black lesbians, face living in the United States.

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While Marin and Novak are not central characters of The Sinner’s storyline, they might as well be. As their story is told through flashbacks to their high school romance, the puzzle pieces come together to tell a much larger tale that intertwines with the murder Novak is investigating.

Likewise, Marin also pushes this narrative of lack of acceptance forward, as she flees to Mosswood to escape Keller. Marin’s desperate need to leave the small town had more to do with her home life, but she also knew that her piece of the puzzle would never fit. While Marin and Novak were together, Marin made public scenes of being with men, pushing the fact that she had to be straight. When Marin bolts, she leaves Novak behind, reeling over their lost love. In and of itself, Marin furthers the idea that Keller is not a lesbian-safe place, and she has to leave to be able to live an authentic life.

Through Novak’s desire to remain private, she closes herself inside a shell that fits into Keller’s norms and repressive ideals. Marin leaves Novak, leaving behind the town that repressed her and a home that abused her. Thus, creating the idea that small towns like Keller require you to edit yourself into the “perfect” resident, rather than being your truest self. This struggle is something that lesbians across the United States face daily. The Sinner does an excellent job of highlighting this injustice, in a subtle way that is adjacent to the plot, and not the overbearing issue. This normalizes the idea that lesbians are allowed to take up space, and should be able to be themselves in all areas of the world; yet, we still face this oppression every step of the way.

You can stream The Sinner seasons 1-3 on Netflix.

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