It seems like we get everything but the kitchen sink thrown in this week on Bates Motel as the series appears to go off the rails about what kind of show it wants to be. Confused? So are we.
Let’s bitch it out.
There are two aspects in ‘Trust Me’ that I just don’t know what to make of. The first being Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of Norma Bates. As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, there’s something not quite right about Norma, which seems completely sensible considering the show’s concept. But in this episode, Farmiga’s Norma left me scratching my head.
Let’s start with the obvious – when Norma goes batsh*t crazy when she’s unable to get into the locked up dumpster where the carpet that will implicate her in murder is being held. She literally starts wailing and screaming as she climbs the fence, completely and utterly irrational as Norman (Freddie Highmore) very astutely tells her to ‘shut up’ repeatedly. It’s an absolutely hilarious moment when it really shouldn’t be.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of poor direction or bad writing (this scene also includes the gem of a line: ‘I killed the crap out of him.’) but it’s a laugh out loud moment that doesn’t seem to fit. But it had me asking: is Bates Motel subtly going meta, acknowledging that it just isn’t going to work as a serious drama and instead is opting to go deep into melodramatic, or dare I say, camp territory? Farmiga’s line delivery of the horrendous dialogue seems to be going down this path and it somehow works. It’s as if she knows how terrible the script is and just decides to go balls out in order to save it. Highmore standing next to her as the straight man also works quite well. I don’t know if the show as a whole is necessarily smart enough to be conscious of going down this path (it might just be Farmiga), or if it’s just my hail mary attempt to find something to enjoy about this show, but it was an moment that made me perk up nonetheless.
Continuing on the “WTF is up with Norma” thread, prior to her dumpster breakdown we see her having a good ol’ romp with Shelby (Mike Vogal). While they snuggle after doing the deed in one of the motel rooms, she tells him “You’re pretty” and when he raises an eyebrow, she tries to save the statement with the follow-up, “You know, like when you look at an old woman and you think she’s beautiful.” <Insert WTF emoticon here>.
But it doesn’t end there. Shelby and Norma exit the motel room to see Dylan (Max Thieriot) sitting casually outside. With tousled sex hair, all Norma can say to him is “I’m going to get my car” leaving Shelby behind as he exchanges blank stares with Dylan before we cut the commercial. It’s an absolutely confusing scene that borders on absurdist theatre. Well, perhaps that’s going a bit far, but it’s another head scratcher for sure. I find that I’m continually confused about Norma’s character and it’s not in a good way. I suppose this shouldn’t be seen as a detriment as we all know how this story will end up, but I want to be intrigued about a character, not confused.
The other aspect of the episode that I don’t quite know what to make of is all this business with Norman and Bradley (Nicola Peltz). It would appear to be pretty straightforward: the pair have mutual crush and throughout the episode a sweet and innocent courtship is portrayed ending up with tender, almost ethereal bout of teenage lovemaking. The courtship isn’t the problem so much as it totally doesn’t fit into the show at all. Let’s not forget that Norman discovered an Asian sex slave chained up in Shelby’s basement and the very next day, he’s having ice cream with Bradley while Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’ plays in the background. When the hell did Bates Motel turn into Dawson’s Creek? I’m not saying these scenes don’t work – on the contrary, the hit the tone of teenage love perfectly. Unfortunately they have no place in the context of this series. I thought I was watching a completely different show! All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not that poor sex slave that Norman promised to come back for – it’s clear he’s got other priorities.
All this speaks to Bates Motel’s primary deficiency: it doesn’t seem to know what kind of show it wants to be. I’m not suggesting that psychological thrillers aren’t allowed to have moments that veer away from dark subject matter; shows that successfully marry aspects from different genres are heralded as being complex and layered. In the case of Bates Motel, we’re talking about moments that feel jarringly out of place rather than complementary, deviating so far away from the eerie tone it’s set that it becomes distracting and frustrating.
So viewers, I’m jumping ship on this one. I’ve given it four episodes and that’s all folks. There’s definitely promise if the show decides to pull a 180, completely embracing its trainwreck-icity ala Farmiga, but I personally don’t think it’s self-aware enough to go down this path. Off the PVR with this one and it’s shame because it seemed to have so much promise on the outset.
- While I’m ranting, what on earth was up with the interaction with Dylan and Norman in the episode’s third act? Norman literally DUMPS everything on Dylan, telling him about the rape, murder, subsequent cover-up AND the sex-slave in the Shelby’s basement. All Dylan does is sit back with a slightly shocked look on his face before calmly saying, “I’m gonna help you.” REALLY? That’s it? And the further the preposterousness of the situation, directly after the dump Dylan then encourages Norman to go bump uglies with Bradley to take his mind off everything. Sure! Why not?!
- There’s a really uncomfortable moment where Dylan has Norma pinned up against a wall telling her that Norman is getting laid and that she’s lost him. It’s uncomfortable because there’s palpable sexual tension between the two. Is it just destiny that Norma has inappropriate relationships with her sons or is it simply a matter of Farmiga’s uncanny ability to have sexual chemistry with every actor she works with?
- You know there’s a problem with your show when the most ominous aspect of the episode is the threat of discovering matching carpet samples.
- Not that it matters, but it appears that the whole sex slave stuff was a mere figment of Norman’s imagination. Since we see Norma going down into Shelby’s basement the very next night and there isn’t a disco ball in sight, I’m sure we’re meant to believe that the whole thing was another one of Norman’s ‘episodes’. His obsession with the torture porn sketchbook just bolsters this theory. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that last week’s ‘cliffhanger’ ended up being a dud.
- Despite my problems with the episode, there was one saving grace: Norman essentially bitch-slapping Norma when she accuses him of being jealous of her relationship with Shelby. He retorts, “I’m not jealous. You’re my mother not my girlfriend.” HELLS YA. Good for Norman for vocalizing that. Now if only he meant it…
What did you think viewers? Think I’m completely off the mark and Bates Motel is well worth watching? Do you think the sex slave was just in another part of the basement? How will Emma feel (and her dad) when she finds out about Norman and Bradley? How will Dylan fix everything? Do you even care? Sound off in the comments section below.
Bates Motel airs at 10pm EST, Mondays on A&E.