There’s a new addition to the family as Bates Motel enters week two. As the series continues to explore the world of White Pine Bay, it appears that Bates Motel is looking to challenge Twin Peaks for supremacy of the “weird town with secrets” label.
Let’s bitch it out…
If the first episode of A&E’s new hit drama was all about establishing the relationship between mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) and son Norman (Freddie Highmore), then this second episode is very much concerned with situating them inside the world of the not-so-sleepy Oregon town of White Pine Bay. There were hints last week that there were insidious underpinnings, but ‘Nice Town You Picked Norma’ fully explodes this idea as we learn that there is organized crime, pot growers and a seedy strip club nestled in among the gorgeous foliage and old-timey feel.
The telling exposition comes courtesy of Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) who explains to Norma at a country-bumpkin log sawing festival that there is no way the granola citizens of the town can afford their million dollar mansions and brand new SUVs with organic pig farms and artisan cheese. In order for the series to survive where Peaks copycats have failed*, the show will have to do more than simply highlight the eccentricities of the small town. Thus far it’s done a good job of introducing intriguing characters that we want to learn more about, which makes the mystery of why they’re being burned alive in their car or hanging ablaze from streetlamps all the more engaging.
*Please note: I’m not suggesting that Bates Motel is purposely trying to be Twin Peaks, but the comparisons are inevitable and have already been made.
New to this world (but fitting right in) is Norma’s step-son, Dylan (Max Thierot) who shows up in the cold open looking for room and board. Dylan is a new character to Psycho mythology, and one of the most significant indications that showrunners Cuse and Ehrin are looking to do more than simply explore how Norman became a taxidermy serial killer with an abandoned hotel. They’re putting their own spin on this tale, so we should prepare for other new elements as the season progresses.
I’m interested to hear what other people think of Dylan. He’s a bit of a cliche: a hot head juvenile thug who plays tough but is clearly in over his head. And yet I think Thierot does a good job of ensuring he doesn’t become too much of a familiar caricature. In many ways Dylan is a surrogate mouthpiece for the audience; he’s useful for interrogating both Norma and Norman about their uncomfortably close mother/son relationship. And in week two Farmiga and Highmore continue to excel at demonstrating the intimacy and the love that exists between their characters. This balance is so essential because it guarantees that even as we squirm uncomfortably when Norma changes her clothes in front of Norman, it lacks the salacious over-the-top tone of lesser shows (and actors).
With excellent performances and increasingly complicated mysteries multiplying at exponential rates, Bates Motel remains an intriguing enigma.
- In a single episode, Dylan is already involved in the criminal racket that has severely burned Bradley’s (Niccola Peltz) father and presumably left another person killed as payback. This guy clearly has a talent for discovering trouble
- I have mixed feelings on the kitchen fight scene between Dylan and Norman. I think it’s important because it highlights how passionate Norman feels about his mother, but are we really meant to believe that he would attack his brother with a mallet? Or is this the kind of impulsive, violent reaction that will eventually lead to shower attacks?
I’m definitely digging crush-worthy Emma (Olivia Cooke) and her adventurous spirit. The whole hentai porn, human trafficking/prostitution angle is the most surreal of all the criminal activities that White Pine Bay seems to offer, but when Emma and Norman are in the woods and running Blair Witch style from the pot growers, it somehow works (Caveat: I hate it when characters are running for their lives and they trip and fall. How hard is it to run without tripping?!)
The least successful of all of the characters is Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell). Perhaps it’s because I spent all last year dissing Carbonell on The CW’s twin soap Ringer, but he’s just playing the same old Sheriff to me. And not a particularly likeable one, either. It’s helpful when Shelby explains to Norma why Romero is so prickly when it comes to childhood buddy Keith Summers, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t groan every time Romero shows up to bark more questions at Norma
Finally, is there any way that Bradley’s boyfriend, Richard (Richard Harmon) isn’t evil? That guy has the most smirky-evil face I’ve seen on TV since Jack Gleeson debuted as Joffrey Baratheon on Game Of Thrones (plus Harmon played evil on his last show, Continuum, as well!)
- Dylan (to Norma, about Emma’s oxygen tank): “Do you think she has to take that thing out of her nose when they make out?”
- Norman (checking out the caller ID on Dylan’s phone): “Apparently your whore is calling” Oops…too bad it’s Norma
How are you feeling about Bates Motel in week two? Is it too Twin Peaks-y for you? Which of the criminal activities are you most intrigued by (or do you suppose that they’re all part of the same racket)? How much trouble will Dylan get himself into and will Norma bail him out? Spin your theories in the comments below!
Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10pm EST on A&E.