Bates Motel 1.3 “What’s Wrong With Norman?” (Reviewed by Lisa Marie Bowman)

“What’s wrong with Norman?”

It’s a legitimate question because, as the saying goes, that boy ain’t right.  It’s also the question that gives Bates Motel its excuse for existing.

Still, even as we consider what’s wrong with Norman, we might want to ask what’s wrong with everyone else in White Pine Bay?  Seriously.  Last week’s episode ended with Norman (Freddie Highmore) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) being chased by pot farmers while some guy was being burned alive in the middle of the town square.  Meanwhile, Norman’s brother Dylan (Max Thierot) has found a new job working for the same pot farmers who were chasing his brother and, perhaps most disturbing of all, everyone in town seemed to be oddly excited about a logging festival.  And let’s not even start with the fact that everyone seems to exclusively watch black-and-white televisions or that the most popular student at the high school is a girl named Bradley…

Seriously, White Pine Bay is a weird town with an unwieldy name.

However, after spending the previous two weeks setting up its story, this week’s episode of Bates Motel focused on Norman.  Having managed to escape the pot farmers, Norman is back at school and being rude to Emma.  When Emma attempts to apologize for what happened and says that she really was just looking for an excuse to spend some time with him, Norman rather coldly suggests that maybe she should give the little faux-Manga booklet back to him because, after all, “it’s pornographic.”  I actually really liked this little scene.  Olivia Cooke and Freddie Highmore have a lot of chemistry and Cooke’s desperate attempt to explain herself was poignant while also hinting that Emma might have some secrets of her own.

(Seriously, I was pretty wild back in high school but I still would never would have thought that of searching for a sex slave as the perfect opportunity to flirt.)

Anyway, after that, Norman ends up in class trying to take a test.  However, instead of concentrating on the test, Norman keeps imagining the sight of his teacher (and, briefly, his mother) bound and gagged.  This leads to Norman fainting in the middle of class and being sent to the hospital where, along with watching one the town’s many black-and-white televisions, Norman also gets to cuddle with Bradley when she comes to visit him.

(Okay, technically, the TV may not have been a black-and-white set because Norman was watching an old movie.  However, I like to think of White Pine Bay as being a town where color television has been outlawed.)

Norman is eventually sprung from the hospital by Norma (Vera Farmiga) because Norma, as always, is having problems of her own.  Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is convinced that Norma had something to do with the disappearance of Keith, the former owner of the motel.  (Romero’s right, of course.  Keith was murdered by Norma in the premiere episode.)  Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) informs Norma that he found Keith’s belt under Norman’s bed.  Shelby explains that he’s hidden the belt from Romero but it’s also pretty obvious that, unless Norma continues to do things like attend the local logging festival with him, Shelby might be tempted to let Romero know what he found.

After Norman finds out what his mother is doing and why, he ends up having another hallucination where Norma orders him to get that belt.  However, once Norman sneaks into Shelby’s house, he discovers that Shelby has a woman chained up in his basement…

The main complaint that I heard about the first two episodes of Bates Motel is that, storywise, they moved at too deliberate of a pace.  That was definitely not an issue with last night’s episode.  The episode moved at a good pace, Highmore’s sympathetic yet remote performance is developing nicely, and Vera Farmiga continues to kick ass with her cleverly over-the-top interpretation of Norma Bates.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

A Few Random Observations:

  • Earlier, I wondered how Bates Motel — with its combination of black-and-white TVs, old cars, and iPods — is meant to fit in with the larger Psycho mythology.  After tonight’s episode — which featured Dylan making a rather pointed reference to Deliverance, a film that came out 12 years after Psycho — I am all the more convinced, much like Lost, Bates Motel is meant to be taking place in an alternative universe of its very own.  The show’s writers are obviously having fun playing with the apparent timelessness of Bates Motel and I’m having fun watching them do it.
  • Obviously, Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are getting the majority of the critical attention but I happen to love Mike Vogel’s performance as Deputy Shelby.  Seriously, Vogel has transformed Shelby into the epitome of bland villainy.  Watching him, I find myself reminded of Jim Thompson’s classic pulp novel, The Killer Inside Me.
  • I also enjoyed the scene where Dylan and Norman finally did a little brotherly bonding.  It was well-played by both Highmore and Thierot.
  • Did I not predict last week that Dylan would end up working for the pot farmers?
  • I do have to wonder if this episode is going to serve as a template for all future episodes of Bates Motel.  Is Norman going to have a weekly psychotic episode that’s going to lead him to discover more people up to no good?  If so, Bates Motel could run the risk of turning into Dexter: The Motel Years.

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