Friday, November 1, 2013

Bates And Switch


BATES MOTEL: MIDNIGHT

Ah, the High School Dance.  Romance.  Beautiful Music.  Seductive Teachers.  Murder.

At least that's how I DON'T remember it.  Truth be told I didn't go to my Junior/Senior Prom.  At my high school, another dance, the Spring Fiesta, was more popular.  We did have a Prom, but it usually was sparsely attended.  I can't say I 'went' with anyone, but I did end up with the French foreign exchange student.

Draw your own conclusions.

Midnight, the series finale to Bates Motel's first season, gives us both conclusions to this season's storylines and new potential storylines, both of which provide shocking moments.  It also gives us remarkably human, realistic moments that show that growing up and those twisted knots of love can feel as painful as killing.

Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) has a terrible dilemma.  She has to come up with $150,000 to pay Jake Abernathy (Jere Burns) the money her late lover Deputy Shelby owed him at his death.  Abernathy is convinced Norma knows where his money is.  She doesn't, but given he threatened both her and her sons Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) she didn't have much option but to say she would get the money.  She turns to help to the one person who may help her, Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), who tells her he'll take care of it.

That's it.  He'll take care of it.  This rather vague assurance is not what Norma wants to hear, or something that will set her mind at peace.  She decides that she's going to take care of things herself, so she turns to Dylan for shooting lessons.  Norma is going to keep the meeting with Abernathy...at Midnight.

Norman, meanwhile, has issues of his own, namely, that intense rite of passage: the Winter Dance.  Norma gives her permission for him to go, but to come back by Midnight.

While he continues to pine for hot girl Bradley (Nicola Peltz), he agrees to take his friend Emma (Olivia Cooke) to the Dance.  Norman is still jealous over what he sees as the potential affair between Bradley and Dylan, but Dylan insists there is nothing there.  Emma is thrilled to finally have something with the boy she really likes, and when she appears, she truly is beautiful.  Still, at the actual dance Norman has eyes only for Bradley.  Emma, understandably angry at being all but ignored, tells Norman off and leaves him there.  However, Bradley's boyfriend Richard (Richard Harmon) tells him to stay away from Bradley and accuses him of taking advantage of her when she was vulnerable, then punches him.

Into this comes Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), the luscious teacher who may have the hots for Norman.  Earlier Norman had come across Miss Watson arguing with an Eric, whom I figure is/was her boyfriend.  She asks Norman to keep this a secret.  There is this strange vibe where she appears sexually attracted to her student, an attraction that may be reciprocated.  As a lonely and distraught Norman walks home Miss Watson notices him and asks him to get in the car, then takes him home where she cleans him up.

Meanwhile, Norma decides to go to the dock where Abernathy is waiting for his money, intending to kill him.  She therefore is surprised to see Romero arrive there first to meet Abernathy.  Romero has been investigating things, like Shelby's sister who was the bookkeeper to this sex slavery business, and has even found the $150,000 Shelby had.  Romero decides that Abernathy (whose real name may be Jeff Fioretti) won't be running things like white slavery anymore, and while Norma is hiding she watches Romero kill Abernathy/Fioretti.  After he dumps the body and the bag with the money into the water, he walks away and tells Norma that she can come out now, then tells a deeply rattled Norma that when he tells her he'll take care of it, he'll take care of it.

Well, Norman is at Miss Watson's place, where she tells him she's going to change now.  She slinks away and goes to her bedroom, where Norman can clearly see her slowly undress.  Here, we get a particularly creepy scene: Norma appears in the room, sitting on the couch, telling her son how disgusting it is for Miss Watson, a woman of her age and a teacher, attempting to seduce her son.  Norman insists that isn't what Miss Watson is doing, but 'Norma' tells him it's obvious that's what Miss Watson is doing (I'm with Norma on this one).  'Norma' then tells her son it's clear what he 'has to do'.

Midnight now has passed, and we see a clearly distraught Norman run home, where he collides with an already rattled Norma.  As Norma comforts Norman, telling him everything is all right, we go back to Miss Watson's, where we see her lying on the ground...her throat slashed and drenched in blood...

What a WASTE!

Midnight is the first Bates Motel episode to carry a particular warning.  "This program contains violent scenes and some sexual content that are not suitable for younger viewers.  Viewer discretion advised."  I can only wonder who would allow a 'younger viewer' (certainly anyone under 21, which would be my cutoff point) to watch Bates Motel at all.  This warning is especially odd given that every episode preceding Midnight was full of sex and violence (certainly finding Deputy Shelby's body in A Boy and His Dog and Norman's deflowering in Trust Me are full of these 'violent scenes and sexual content').  However, Midnight is the first where such matters are so nakedly exposed (pun intended).

Midnight excels in two things.  First, it wraps up story threads brilliantly.  The Abernathy story is ended in a strong and surprising manner.  Romero did what he had to: investigate his deputy's actions and he has both enforced the law and taken it into his own hands.  Whether it was right or wrong is up to the viewer, but at least the entire sex slave story is closed.  It appears highly unlikely that Abernathy has other partners to invade Romero's town.  I do wonder whether Romero was in some ways a bit omniscient in knowing that Norma was there all along.  I figure he had to keep quiet while Abernathy was alive, but was it a good thing to let her know he knew she was there?  What are Romero's motives?

More mysteries for Season Two.

Midnight secondly introduces another storyline.  DID Norma really kill Miss Watson?  Is Miss Watson REALLY dead or just something in his vivid imagination?  We know that Norman blacks out after committing a violent act, and we know that he is equating sex with danger, and danger HAS to be eliminated.  I do wonder (and secretly hope) that in the first episode of Season Two we find Miss Watson alive and well, confusing matters (and perhaps allowing the luscious schoolteacher a chance for some after-school tutoring).  I read a comment somewhere online that Norman should have 'tapped that', and I agree.  It's all a subject for debate whether Miss Watson really wanted Norman sexually or was just a really nice lady.

One thing I did not like was the introduction via phone of this 'Eric', which is clearly a way to introduce a suspect in her murder (if it really was murder).  This is an obvious set-up to let Norman off the hook, which I found rather easy to get out of a potential situation. 

What is nice about Midnight is not just that it both wraps up Season 1 storylines and introduces new storylines for Season 2 but it also takes some good turns.  For once in Bates Motel, NORMA is the rational one.  Her reaction to Romero's apparent indifference to her very dangerous predicament is understandable.  When she tells Norman about how she was a victim of incest it humanizes a character that for too long has appeared as just this crazy woman.  In an even odder twist, when it comes to dealing with Abernathy Dylan, someone who has gone so far out of his way to show disdain for Norma, takes her side (much to Norman's displeasure).  He even does something he rarely does: call her 'Mom' instead of 'Norma'. 

Farmiga gives yet another brilliant performance, and she alone makes all of Bates Motel worth watching.

We are even given a moment of both comedy and a clear summation of Season One of Bates Motel when Abernathy asks Romero in their meeting, "What happened to the cute but nutty lady who runs the motel?"  That pretty much sums up Norma Bates and all of Season One in a nutshell.

Cooke similarly gives another standout performance as Emma, the girl who loves Norman Bates but will no longer allow herself to be so humiliated by his constant wandering to Bradley, with whom she cannot compete with.  Her speech to Norman blowing him off for his blatant ignoring of her is something I imagine every girl (and boy) who likes someone who in turn likes someone else wishes they could say. 

Midnight wraps up Bates Motel brilliantly.  We conclude some stories, suggest new ones, has great performances and some genuinely creepy moments (seeing Norma talk to Norman about what Miss Watson is up to in particular).  Minus the clumsy introduction of a potential suspect in Miss Watson's murder, Midnight is another showcase in a great television series for great acting from the cast en masse, a great continuing story, and makes us excited about what new mysteries await us at the Bates Motel...

A Mother, A Son, A Few Murders.
Typical American Family.


8/10

Bates Motel: The Complete First Season


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