‘Presumed Innocent’ On Apple TV+ Uses Sex Scenes As Exposition — And That’s A Good Thing

There’s a lot to love about Apple TV+’s limited series Presumed Innocent, a legal thriller based on Scott Turow’s bestselling 1987 novel, which also inspired the 1990 film starring Harrison Ford. Jake Gyllenhaal and cast — including Ruth Negga, O-T Fagbenle, Peter Sarsgaard, and Bill Camp — deliver potent performances. The extended eight-episode format and weekly release schedule allows for compelling character exploration and cliffhangers. And then, as anticipated, there are the sex scenes.

In a story that shines a spotlight on the existence of a romantic affair between Gyllenhaal’s Rusty Sabich and the mysteriously murdered Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve), viewers not only expect, but crave, certain access to the past to form opinions in the present. With the chief deputy prosecutor on trial for the brutal killing of his colleague and mistress, one hopes to see the evolution of their professional to personal relationship — or at the very least, glimpse the sexual tension and physical passion that was strong enough to entice Rusty to risk his family and career. Presumed Innocent delivers on all counts in succinct, successful fashion.

Rather than telling the linear, step-by-step story of Rusty and Carolyn, the Apple TV+ series sprinkles sex scenes throughout, primarily using them as narrative tools rather than salacious gimmicks — though they’re extremely steamy nonetheless. As Rusty processes the scene of the crime, the complex case before him, and the searing judgment from peers and family members in the first two episodes, flashbacks to sexy, intimate moments between him and Carolyn swiftly establish the intensity of their entanglement while revealing just how much her memory consumes him. With eight episodes, the series has the time and opportunity to include long, drawn-out sex scenes that shine a spotlight on standout moments in the affair. The decision to opt for realistically messy montages not only gets the job done more efficiently, but enhances Presumed Innocent‘s palpable tension.

Presumed Innocent
Photo: Apple TV+

The first episode finds Rusty visiting a therapist and attempting to explain his connection with Carolyn. He reveals his father cheated on his mother and he swore he’d never do the same to his wife. When the therapist presses him, Rusty explains that he and his wife met when they were 20 years old, she got pregnant six months later, and their relationship accelerated. “With Carolyn it was just pure. She just woke me up, you know? She was funny and strong, just brilliant — just fucking brilliant,” Rusty says, claiming that while their affair wasn’t initially about sex, that ultimately became the focus. In doing so, he tees up our first major sex montage.

To establish Rusty and Carolyn’s initial spark, Presumed Innocent takes viewers to a night when the colleagues shared a meal together after work. Carolyn tells Rusty she misses the old days, where if two consenting adults wanted to touch each other they would. She boldly moves her arm underneath the restaurant’s counter and touches him. Next thing we know, they’re hooking up in the bathroom in the first of many sexual encounters.

Presumed Innocent
Apple TV+

In present-day, Rusty explains the two were very physical, Carolyn was aggressive, and she liked when he was aggressive as well. As he reminisces, viewers see flashes of the two intensely making out against walls, pulling each other’s hair, sweating, choking, knocking over lamps, and pushing each other in the throes of passion. While Rusty and Carolyn’s bare bodies explore each other, there’s biting, moaning, violent sheet grabbing and other brief tantalizing tastes of their trysts. The steamy flashbacks cover a lot of ground in a little time. They swiftly build Rusty and Carolyn’s backstory while simultaneously conveying his haunting thought spirals. Visions of him and Carolyn ravenously making love juxtaposed with scenes of him and his wife tenderly kissing and dancing establish genuine guilt and irresistible obsession.

“Sometimes when we were engaging in ways B and I never did, she would look at me and ask things like, ‘Does Barbara do this for you?’ Almost like she wanted to bring her in the bed with us,” Rusty explains. He takes a beat, admits defeat, and screams to his therapist, “FUCK! I can’t stop thinking about her.”

Presumed Innocent
Apple TV+

In Episode 2, the flood of sex scenes returns when Rusty plunges into a pool to swim laps in hopes of clearing his head. Instead of finding peace underwater, he nearly drowns in memories of entwined hands, neck kisses, fingers in mouths, grinding bodies and moments of solace shared with Carolyn where the two cradled each other in bed. As the series progresses, we do see Carolyn in flashbacks that shift focus away from her sexual encounters with Rusty. She’s delivering remarks in court, comforting to a child connected to a case, dancing, laughing, eating takeout, and simply existing.

That G-rated context helps humanize Carolyn, giving her added depth as her murder trial plays out. But for Rusty and viewers alike, those racing sex montages and physically intimate flashbacks serve as essential, raw reminders of how deep, frequent, and exposed their rendezvous were.

In Presumed Innocent, the sex scenes aren’t solely proof of a torrid affair, and that’s a good thing. They set the mood, swiftly set the scene, and keep viewers guessing by raising a crucial question: Was Rusty so infatuated with Carolyn that he was capable of a crime of passion — or was he so in love with her that he couldn’t possibly have taken her life?

Presumed Innocent is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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