Monday, October 28, 2013

The Stuffing That Bates Are Made Of


BATES MOTEL: A BOY AND HIS DOG

We are slowly introducing familiar elements in the Psycho mythology in this episode of Bates Motel.  We get Norman Bates' (Freddie Highmore) fixation with taxidermy.  We get a more open revelation of his slow mental crumbling.  We also get other elements that both slow down both the episode and series and are almost distractions from what appears to be a new storyline, now that the Deputy Shelby storyline has ended (though not necessarily the end of the bad Deputy himself).

Norman is devastated when his dog is run over.  Unbeknown to Norma (Vera Farmiga), he turns to his friend Emma's father, Will Decody (Ian Hart), a taxidermist, for help.  "Dishonorable to put her in the ground," Norman tells him.  If other problems were as easy to resolve.  Despite his objections Emma (Olivia Cooke), in a moment of defending him, has revealed Norman's one-night stand with Bradley (Nicola Peltz).  The difficulties Norman is having make him run out of school, despite the concerns of the administration and his favorite teacher, the thoroughly hot Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), who inspires all sorts of wicked thoughts within our protagonist.

Mother Norma has her own problems.  The mysterious Man in Room Number 9, one Jake Abernathy (Jere Burns) believes she knows something about the previous owner, especially since she was involved with Shelby.  Despite her obvious cluelessness about what he is talking about Abernathy insists she knows 'what he is looking for'.  She gets more bad news when she learns that a major highway bypass will do just that: bypass the Bates Motel.  With her business so out of the way from the highway, it basically means the end of ever turning a profit.  There is some respite in that her other son, Dylan (Max Thieriot) is bringing in some customers. "12 rooms, 12 vacancies," she says.  Unbeknown to her, Dylan is bringing the crew that will process the marijuana growing out of town.


With Norman, the school finally cajoles Norma to send him to a therapist, but in typical Norma way she insists on being in on the session.  As far as she's concerned, there's nothing wrong with her son (despite him having murdered his father, kept a souvenir of another murder, witnessed a violent killing of a deputy, covering up the murder of his mother's assailant...nothing odd at all).  On the Norma front, she is oblivious to what Dylan's group is up to, though she does her best to reach out to her other son, and when she learns Norman's new hobby, she is appalled.  However, just as things are slowly starting to settle down somewhat, Norma gets a bedmate that is one of the most shocking endings to a non-cliffhanger episode I've ever seen.

In some ways, A Boy and His Dog has a drawback in that this episode appears to have slowed down the series a bit.  This is primarily due to getting more on Dylan's road crew than on the Norman/Norma story or even the Norman story.  The plot about his tryst being uncovered looks like something closer to Gossip Girl than a horror story like Bates Motel.  There is also something almost comical about how unaware Norma is about this new group of guests.  At most, she might guess they are using marijuana, but how she cannot quite put this all together runs the risk of making her look almost stupid.

Farmiga still continues to excel in this series, as her Norma appears to be a woman perpetually bullied by men.  There was Summers, then Shelby, and now Abernathy.  She is close to being a victim of men, but Farmiga makes her less a victim than a woman attempting to survive.  This is the key to understanding Farmiga's take on Norma Bates: she is not evil, she is not monstrous, but a deeply flawed woman who is unaware of how her actions bully her weak son.  No other mother would possibly think that her presence would inhibit her son's therapy session when she is apparently unaware that she is the problem. 

Cooke is also an excellent actress, giving another great performance as the lovelorn Emma, who wants to solve the mystery of Norman but finds that despite being the best thing for him, Norman won't realize how good she is.  Highmore is also excellent at presenting a young man, confused, conflicted, given to kindness but being pushed to dangerous degrees.

Burns does what is best: never make the villain over-the-top.  Instead, his take is calm, which makes him even more dangerous.  Nestor Carbonell as Sheriff Romero has an equally excellent scene where he tells Norma what's what: that she is not his boss or that they are in any way partners, thus he is under no obligation to her.  It's nice to see that there is at least ONE man who is neither her bully or her fool, a man who is able to stand up to her and get away with it.

However, one thing I noticed is that the idea of him joining the track team has disappeared altogether.  Story threads disappearing without rhyme or reason does not bode well for any series.  Who knows...it may return.

Actually, A Boy and His Dog is not the best Bates Motel episode, but when we get that last moment, it not only shows the true danger the Bates face, or the danger Abernathy poses, but that Bates Motel has a few more horrifying twists and turns up its sleeve, and that this show can still give us a few surprises.

How'd you like to find THAT in your bed?

7/10

Next Episode: Underwater

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