The complex story that unfolded over the course of The Sinner's first season was based on the novel of the same name by Petra Hammesfahr. There was source material for the show to draw from, even if it wasn't inspired by real events. The second season is moving past the book to create something new, but did it look for inspiration from anywhere else when crafting the narrative? Is The Sinner Season 2 based on a true story?
It looks like the second season of the USA show will be entirely original. Showrunner and executive producer Derek Simonds did not base the new season on any particular true story, or on any of Hammesfahr's other novels. It's possible that details might be reminiscent of actual cases since true crime is so prevalent that commonalities are hard to avoid, but the goal wasn't to take inspiration from outside sources.
That gave the writers a new challenge to navigate. Though they wanted to maintain the tone of the show and stay true to its themes, especially focusing on the long-term effects of buried trauma, they also had to approach Season 2 as though it was a new show. The only connective thread is Bill Pullman's Detective Ambrose.
"The main challenge was, yes, we didn't have a blueprint," Simonds told Entertainment Tonight, adding:
We diverged from the book in season one, but we certainly had pillars of plot that we knew we wanted to hit that were in the book. This year, we didn't have any of that kind of guidance, so we were essentially creating a new show from scratch — apart from the Bill Pullman character, Detective Ambrose.
On top of creating those plot pillars themselves, the writers also had to figure out how to balance a completely new group of characters who all had their own histories and relationships. Then they had to make sure the show still felt like The Sinner at the end of the day. Simonds continued:
It took a lot of work on the writing side to bring what we hope is a novelistic depth to this season that the first season had. We've been refining and rewriting all the way through production. That was definitely the biggest challenge of this season in meeting a similar airdate as last year: forming the story and having it work in such a short time.
The story for Season 2 concerns an eleven year old boy named Julian who murders his parents in a motel room. But what would possess a child to do something like that? That's the question the season will try to answer as Detective Ambrose is drawn deeper into the secrets of Julian's hometown. Ambrose is from the very same place, so Julian's situation dredges up his own past as he becomes more embroiled in the case.
There are real life cases of children who have committed murders, and of kids killing their parents. But according to CBS News, it's not very common; only 1% of homicides in the U.S. involve someone killing their mother or father. However, 84% of the time, it was an adult who committed the matricide or patricide, not a child. The circumstances of Julian's crime are already unique enough to be fiction, but they're further complicated by the fact that he was raised on a commune-slash-possible cult.
That adds another very specific detail that makes it clear Season 2 is not based on any singular, real murder. True crime can share many of the elements present in The Sinner, but that doesn't mean they inspired it. This story is wholly fictional, which might make it even harder to figure out.