Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Very Intimate Bates Family Reunion


BATES MOTEL: CALEB

Poor Norma Bates.  Now THERE'S a phrase one wouldn't think would be written.  It just seems that just when things are going well for our long-suffering, tortured, manipulative mother, something comes along to not just ruin her day, but wreck her and cause more chaos into an already troubled life.  This time, is isn't a dead guy, but family.  Oddly, it isn't either of her sons, but her brother Caleb, who gives Bates Motel one of the most horrifying endings in the series' history (and I MEAN horrifying in ways I could never have imagined). 

Caleb Calhoun (Kenny Johnson) is looking for Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga).  He is her brother...the same brother who raped her for years.  Needless to say, Norma is less than thrilled to see him again.  This is all confusing to her older son Dylan (Max Thieriot), who thinks Caleb is a pretty good guy.  They bond over beers and Caleb's talk of owning a hotel in Costa Rica.  Caleb needs a little money to purchase it from friends, and Dylan is more than willing to let him have it. 

Of course, Norma would like to let Caleb have it too, but that's a whole other story.

Caleb, however, is a minor irritant for the moment.  She failed to make the play, and in a surprise to her the local theater director Christine Heldens (Rebecca Creskoff) quits over the cronyism Norma's non-casting has exposed (even the local community theater in White Pine Bay is corrupt).  Christine has taken a shine to Norma and over lots of martinis they bond.  Christine becomes the first real friend Norma has made in town, and it helps that Christine is high up in White Pine Bay society.  A little uncomfortable and out-of-place, Norma soon starts mixing with the crème de la crème of the area.  Among those she manages to enjoy the company of is Christine's brother, George (Michael Vartan).  He just happens to be divorced, and while the Widow Bates isn't looking, she doesn't close the door to that.

Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Cooke) at last has a major role in this episode.  On learning of Bradley's 'death', Emma organizes a memorial on the beach.  Somehow, the plan goes awry and it goes from a heartfelt memorial to a dead student into a booze-and-pot soaked beach party (much to Emma's disdain).  She is surprised (and slightly pleased) to find Gunner (Keenan Tracey), whom she calls "Cupcake Guy" after he had sold her that delicious (and pot-filled) cupcake.  A little booze for her makes her queasy, and Gunner takes her home.

Oddly, I had a friend whose nickname was Gunner...and I hope it wasn't related to anything like what this Gunner does.  Then again, in high school I was hopelessly naïve about things.  Yet I digress.

Norman, who bows out of the chorus after Mommie Dearest fails to win the lead, now is enchanted by Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski), a bad girl techie who sparks his interest.  At the beach party/memorial, she and Philip (Harrison McDonald) have been making out while Philip puts his hand on Norman's leg.  To his surprise, Cody and Philip are not boyfriend/girlfriend (Philip is gay) and both thought Norman was too.  Sexuality is so fluid in White Pine Bay. 

All these stories come to a shocking climax after Dylan tells Norma that he thinks her brother is worthy of being embraced.  "Mom, he's a nice guy," he tells her.  Now she tells Dylan what she told Norman long ago: that Caleb raped her.  Dylan refuses to believed her, horrifying Norma.  Into the fight enters Norman, who stuns everyone by being able to knock his older, stronger, tougher brother down and punches him viciously (it might be since Dylan was caught completely off-guard).  Now we get the biggest surprise Bates Motel has thrown at us: Caleb is Dylan's uncle...and father!

Have I got a surprise for you!

Not since Faye Dunaway screamed "She's my daughter!  She's my sister!  She's my daughter AND my sister!" in Chinatown have we gotten such a stunning shocker.  I was aghast at this revelation, and given how the series has built itself up on the craziness of their world, this incest storyline is not all that weird.  Creepy, absolutely, but with what we know of Norman Bates and his own mother-fixation, not all that outrageous.

I should add that what makes all this even more creepy is that while watching Caleb I did put in my notes, "Between Caleb and Dylan, I can see a family resemblance".  Granted, I could never have foreseen something THIS wild...

However, it isn't just the similarity in look between Max Thieriot and Kenny Johnson that they share.  Both of them operate on the shady side of the law (when Caleb is talking about Costa Rica to his nephew/son, I smelled a rat in the whole thing), and both have a very complicated relationship with Norma (to say the least).  However, while Thieriot at times has gotten lost in the nuttiness of Bates Motel (in particular with the 'White Pine Bay as new cartel capital of Oregon' story), he makes the most of Dylan in this episode.  In a strange way, Caleb is indeed that male figure he has so longed for.  Norman is extremely satisfied with his mother and mother only, but Dylan is the complete opposite.  He has rarely warmed to Norma, so seeing this uncle would in a way allow him to have a figure to emulate. 

Dylan's antipathy towards Norma is so great that when he called her "Mom" rather than his brusque "Norma" it makes the revelation of this horrifying secret all the more tragic for Dylan, who has had one last monstrous thing thrown at him by the mother he so passionately hates.



It is also good to see Cooke's Emma have a more prominent role in Bates Motel.  I had worried that she was being pushed aside, and in a certain way she is.  Here again in one of Caleb's flaws is a repetition for Norman's love life.  Rather than allow Emma's unrequited love for Norman to have any life, we get thrown another 'bad girl' to arouse our young fellow.  At least now, however, we start getting hints that a long-overlooked and disused character won't be pining away and forgotten.  Instead, we get the idea that Emma will start turning away from Norman to where I wouldn't object if she had a romance with a drug dealer.  Cooke still shows why she not only is such a young and competent actress but Bates Motel's true heart (or at least the kindest and most sane of anyone in town;  her confession that despite throwing the memorial which disintegrated before her eyes into a virtual rave she is more upset about still disliking Bradley than how the evening ended is both so real and so heartbreaking. 

Farmiga just should win the Emmy for Norma.  She makes this much-scrutinized character into a believable human being, flawed, troubled, but still struggling desperately to fix the situations she finds herself in and being the unwitting catalyst for a horrifying situation with the son she unconsciously smothers.  Farmiga makes Norma both endearingly naïve and almost innocent in how, despite the insanity around her, she still hopes that things will turn around for her and her boys.   While Johnson has a pivotal part in his debut episode, we already learn so much about him: he is shifty (I always thought he was trying to bilk the surprisingly trusting Dylan out of money) and duplicitous (knowing what we know, I believe Norma's story, so seeing him attempt a reunion with his sister and how he butters up his nephew shows him to be a terrible figure). 

That one aspect of the screenplay (the clichéd tough-chick Cody) is not to my liking.  It's almost as if we expect her to somehow try and 'corrupt' Norman vis-à-vis Bradley, difference being Bradley's sexual corruption to Cody's morals corruption.  Kwiatkowski I think does a good job, but I still didn't by the 'I'm a bad girl because I look like Joan Jett's lost groupie' bit.  Tough chicks have never played well with me.

However, Lodge Kerrigan did wonders with his directing, and not just of the actors (all the Bateses when finding out about Dylan were excellent in their reactions), but also visually.  The bar where Caleb and Dylan start bonding is bathed with dark blues and greys and smoke, lending what should be a generally beautiful moment this sinister air.

Caleb was well-acted and well-written, giving us a genuine shocker of an ending (especially so since this wasn't the season finale).  Mercifully we are getting more story threads and while some I am not too crazy for (Cody's role in Norman's life won't have me jumping for joy) it is good to see Bates Motel is starting to right itself into another season of murder and mayhem within a family. 

He's my son! He's my brother!
He's my son! He's my brother!


9/10

Next Episode: Check-Out

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