Saturday, March 8, 2014

It's Never Too Bates to Start Again


BATES MOTEL: GONE BUT
NOT FORGOTTEN

We are return to the adolescence of our favorite future serial killer, one Norman Bates.  When last we left Norman at the season finale of Bates Motel, our boy Normie had left the luscious Miss Watson's home, her throat slashed.  Did he do it? 

Gone But Not Forgotten does not answer that question (no sensible producer would allow such a great tease to be resolved in the first shot), and it is having some difficulty integrating a secondary plot into the main story.  However, the lead performances are still so good that one really should watch Bates Motel for the double-act of Mommie and Sonnie Dearest more than for anything else. 

Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) has been in intense mourning ever since he learned of Miss Blair Watson's murder.  At her funeral, he cried and cried and CRIED.  Four months after her death, Norman still can't quite let go.  He goes to her grave repeatedly, and this appears to be the only breaks he takes from either taxidermy or driving lessons.  His obsession over Miss Watson concerns his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga), and later on, Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell), whom Norman seeks out after photographing a stranger at her grave. 

As much as Norma is concerned over Norman's fixation with Miss Watson, she has her own worries.  The highway bypass that Norma thought was going to be delayed is now starting to get built, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.  The Bates Motel is starting to become a success, and the bypass will end up destroying their business.  The City Council is not impressed with her pleas to stop the bypass, and now Norma faces ruin.  With that, she has three problems: the Bates Motel going down, Norman going crazy (she is highly worried that he knows and does much more than he is telling about Miss Watson) and her other son Dylan (Max Thieriot) is now getting deeper into the marijuana production industry (which Norma helpfully points out to White Pine Bay's Council is what keeps the town afloat).

Meanwhile, Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), the girl who deflowered Norman and whose father was a drug kingpin, has gone crazy and is now out of the mental health institute.  However, she too has grown obsessed: over the identity of the mysterious "B", her father's mistress.  She learns the truth: that "B" is Blair Watson, and that her father's rival Gil (Vincent Gale) has designs on Blair.  She plays Gil, leading to a shocking act on her part, and a request to Norman (breaking into his bedroom) for his help. 

Perhaps she wouldn't turn to him if she knew that Norman has in his possession a set of pearls, ones similar to Miss Watson's...

In certain ways, Gone but Not Forgotten is building up this season, and in that respect, it is good and bad.  It is good because we are not only having the mystery of what exactly happened to Miss Watson, but we are going to build up Norman's continuing struggle between his basic goodness and his eventual collapse into a mass murderer.  It is bad because the Bradley subplot is having a hard time integrating itself into Bates Motel.  If it weren't for the ending scene, these two stories would work separately.  That I think is the episode's biggest flaw: that the Bradley story doesn't so far appear to be related to the Bates' story.  Then again, perhaps in future episodes there will be a greater integration.  The series so far has worked well, so for the moment I am cutting them some slack.

Gone but Not Forgotten is basically a one-to-three character show, and two of the three continue to excel.  Farmiga doesn't have a great "Yes, I'm Crazy" scene, but her reactions are those of what we wouldn't want to admit: that of a rational human being.  When she learns of Miss Watson's death, her reaction to Norman's puzzlement about the events of that night express but a suspicion and concern for her son.  Farmiga also has a great moment when she confronts the council, bringing back one of those patented "Norma don't play that" scenes where she tells them what she thinks regardless of whether or not its appropriate. 

Highmore too continues to do excellent work.  When he tells Norma about what he remembers of that fatal night we see his mixture of confusion, fear, and worry, not just about whether he was responsible (because he ran away, not because he thinks he killed her) but about what could have happened if he had allowed himself to be seduced.

As a side note, Bates Motel is clearly now the metaphorical child of Twin Peaks, with it learning a valuable lesson from that show's early demise: ground the crazy in the rational, not supernatural.

Highmore's Norman is someone who is a good kid.  His genuine concern for Bradley (which I imagine is tinged with erotic fixation) comes across as gentle and kind, as if he truly wants to care and protect her from others and herself.  He makes Norman into a person worth caring about (even if he is highly troubled to say the least).  The fact he does this AND maintains a strong American accent is a credit to his abilities as a growing actor.

We also got great directing (courtesy of Tucker Gates), particularly in the scene between Romero and Norman.  With the creepy music underscoring the worry in Romero's mind mixed with Norman's straightforward, even perhaps naïve manner, we got a great moment of tension without having things overt. 

My few dislikes are a.) the Bradley subplot (which isn't something I care all that much about), b.) Peltz' performance (a bit too much angst that appears more suited to something on the CW than A&E), and the fact that both Thieriot and Olivia Cooke's Emma are relegated to almost cameos (particularly Cooke, who last season was the moral center in a psychotic and criminal world).  I also wondered, now that marijuana is not just legal but apparently healthy for you, why all the secrecy (since I think White Pine Bay is in Washington State)? 

On the whole Gone but Not Forgotten is a good but not great start to Bates Motel.  Still, I expect it will pick up steam, and we get more of Norman Bates' 'pearls of wisdom'...



7/10

Next Episode: Shadow of a Doubt


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