After only three weeks into Bates Motel, the series delves right into the cracks forming in Norman’s (Freddie Highmore) psyche, questioning which of our two leads is the more unhinged. Is Norman’s descent into madness going to slowly unfold, or is he already a permanent resident of psycho-ville?
Let’s bitch it out.
From the first time we saw Norma (Vera Farmiga) in the pilot, I knew there was something not quite right about her. But when it came to Norman, I figured we would get a slow build up to how this mild-mannered, awkward teenager would develop into the ‘psycho’ we know from Hitchcock’s iconic film. This week, it would appear that Norman isn’t so innocent as I initially predicted. We’re shown that he’s got a propensity to blackouts, likely the precursor to his split personality disorder. First he blackouts (then passes out) in class while taking an English test, but the implications of the blackout aren’t explicitly conveyed to us until he has a conversation with half brother Dylan (Max Thieriot). Turns out that Norman has absolutely no recollection of coming at Dylan with a meat tenderizer last episode.
Even more disturbing is the revelation that Norman has kept the belt of his mother’s rapist, Keith (W. Earl Brown) under his bed as a memento. What I appreciate about the show is the way in which this information is revealed to us. Norman races home from the hospital after being told that the police were successful in getting a search warrant for the Bates’ residence (which seems a little far fetched but I’ll let it go). We see him frantically looking under his bed and then breaking down, whimpering ‘What’s wrong with me?” repeatedly. Initially I thought he was concerned about the porno-sketchbook that he had shared with Emma (Olivia Cooke) but remembered that it was still in Emma’s possession. It isn’t until some time has past when Norman confesses to Norma that he not only kept the belt, but that now it’s now missing after the police search.
The scene is by far the strongest of the night – Highmore captures the confusion and apprehension of the moment perfectly. Norman is just as distraught as Norma and the audience when he’s questioned as to why he kept the belt in the first place. It’s a subtle touch that works well and gives us just enough intrigue about Norman’s psychosis to keep things interesting. Keeping the belt could easily have been written off as a teenager wrestling with the complications of not only discovering his mother getting raped but also participating in the murder and cover-up of said rapist.
Unfortunately, the show doesn’t seem to stay on the path of subtlety. In the episode’s third act, we’re shown an overt indicator of Norman’s ‘condition’ when he has a conversation with a projection of Norma as she goats him into breaking into Sheriff Shelby’s (Mike Vogel) residence to reclaim the belt. To top it all off, it’s also suggested that Norman had more to do with his father’s death than was initially portrayed in the pilot. Perhaps projection-Norma had made a suggestion which triggered another violent blackout back then?
Sadly, projection-Norma falls right into the cliché of the manipulative, satanic influencer. It’s groan inducing as there’s absolutely no ambiguity as we’re shown shots both with Norman talking to a Norma-projection, and talking to himself in the bedroom. It’s clear that this is all ‘in his head’. I’m not suggesting that Norma isn’t instrumental factor in Norman’s condition – arguably, she’s equally as ‘off’ as he is. It’s clear she knows about Norman’s blackouts and has done little to nothing to help him, but the revelation that Norman is talking to a projection of Norma just takes away the mystery of it all. It gets us far too close to the Norman we expect to see at the end of Psycho and I had hoped for a more nuance journey for Norman rather than this more obvious path.
- I think Dylan is a complete douche. His immature behaviour is almost too grating to watch and the heart-to-heart he has with Norman, despite beating him to a pulp last episode, seems far to contrived for my liking. It’s clear Dylan will play an instrumental role in trying to separate Norma and Norman (and will likely pay the price for it) but again, its a trip down obvious-ville that I’m not looking forward to.
- The episode ends with Norman discovering Shelby’s basement sex dungeon, complete with disco-ball and drugged up Asian sex-slave. So the valiant, Prince Charming Shelby is the psychopath that was alluded to in the pilot. Yawn. Am I supposed to be intrigued by this? When he seduced Norma by saying something as cheesy as “God, you’re so beautiful it makes my heart hurt” he was pretty much holding up a sign that said: “I have a sex-slave in my basement!”
What did you think viewers? Are you more and more intrigued by the show, or are you like me with your interest rapidly fading? Do you think Emma will continue to pursue Norman? Do you think she’ll pay a price for that? Will Bradley (Nicola Peltz) be the one to capture Norman’s heart and redeem him? Sound off in our comments below!
Bates Motel airs at 10pm EST, Mondays on A&E.