*Warning, the article below contains spoilers from Season 3 of The Sinner*
How Burns became who he is…
Burns was drawn to this philosophy after being unable to find meaning in his current life as a high school teacher. Viewers could notice his brewing existential conflict when he refers to his soon-to-be-delivered child as a “spiritual band-aid” that attempts to give his life meaning. Viewers could also see this conflict when Burns is describing the vacuity of higher education to Emma. He did this after encouraging her to pursue a spot at Brown for months.
As Burns continues to ponder over his daily routine, his experiences with Nick Haas, and God’s existence, he starts to ask himself if there’s any meaning in living by society’s rules and norms. As he deviates from the rules, he starts blurring the line between what society says is right and wrong. This initiates his descent into the mindset of a criminal.
Burns’s “escape route”
As the season progresses, it becomes apparent that Burns has always been searching for a way to escape his life. We see present-day how Burns calls up Haas after feeling unfulfilled by his current life with Leela. And we see in flashbacks how his search for an escape route allows Haas to exploit Burns using Nietzsche’s ideas.
The fact that Burns has the time in his life to pursue his Übermensch fantasy is what makes him privileged. Many in today’s society are unable to search for an escape route in their lives let alone consider one. While many people come to understand that some of their wishes may not be fulfilled, Jamie does the opposite. He expects his wishes to be fulfilled even when impossible, making him entitled in addition to being privileged.
Burns was unable to adapt to his life
Burns, however, would likely consider himself to be a free-thinker or a visionary due to his chasing of life-transforming ideals that nobody else is willing to pursue. The thing is, many people have felt jaded or rebellious during their teenage years, so Burns isn’t exactly special.
But why don’t people take their frustrations as far as Burns has? Well for one, not everyone desires the loneliness of being a morally superior Übermensch. Secondly, many of these disaffected teens will learn to adapt to their current state of life – even if it’s not everything they want.
The big question is why Burns couldn’t adapt to his life when there are many others out there who would dream of having his life. Did the privilege of being an upstanding citizen and having an amazing wife make him too entitled to appreciate what he had? Or was the society he was in really to blame for his dissatisfaction? Well one thing’s for sure, those who see his murders on the news won’t think of him as a visionary…
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