Friday, April 4, 2014

All Bates Are Off


BATES MOTEL: CHECK-OUT

Let's see where we are in Bates Motel.

Dylan Massett, Norman Bates' half-brother, just found out that he is also Norman Bates' uncle.

Norman Bates has again ignored the most obvious girl for him and gravitated toward a girl who is tempting him to do evil.

Norma Bates, Dylan and Norman's mother, finds herself in the odd situation of being introduced into White Pine Bay society despite having had a dead deputy who ran a sex-slavery ring in her home.

Therefore, when we find Emma Decody waking up in bed with the guy who had given her a marijuana-laced cupcake, it all seems so perfectly normal.

Check-Out brings back those wonderful double meanings, as all three of our wacky family are in various states of reality.  All these secrets spilling out, all the people in town carrying out a vicious drug war underneath the calm veneer of rustic pleasantness.  Check-Out I doubt would ever top the previous episode in shocking moments (though it did try).  However, in terms of character development it gave us the closest we have come to established Psycho Canon, and does it so well and flowed so smoothly it ties things beautifully for future Bates Motel episodes. 

Dylan (Max Thieriot) is not handling the news that his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) is also his sister.  Emma (Olivia Cooke), herself quite shocked to have woken up in bed with Gunner (Keenan Tracy), is shocked to find Dylan out in his truck, completely passed out and with vomit on the door.  So alarmed is she that Emma runs to get Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) to help her get Dylan into a room.  Norma (Vera Farmiga) comes and interrupts them, and she shows a rare tender and human side as she sees her son in pain.

Norman is upset that he didn't know the whole truth about Dylan, so he responds the way of the Bateses: he gets into bed with his mother.  While there is nothing tawdry about this, it does appear curious given the circumstances.  Dylan, for his part, finds and confronts Caleb (Kenny Johnson) who denies being the father (though not the sex).  He insists Norma got knocked up in high school, and that the guy Dylan thought of as his father is indeed the father.  He even gives Dylan his money back.


Is it me, or is Norman's picture
really, really creepy?
To Norma's surprise, her new friend Christine (Rebecca Creskoff) won't hear of Norma turning down an invite to dinner with her and her eligible brother George (Michael Vartan).  Christine wrangles Norma into going, and Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski) wrangles Norman to take revenge on his uncle via a tire iron.  They go to Caleb's motel but Norman becomes so agitated Cody agrees to not go through with it.  However, after another fight between Dylan and Norma, he decides to take things into his own hands.  In what is probably the most shocking non-killing moment in Bates Motel yet,  Norman starts to channel his mother, speaking her words to Caleb and even pulling a knife to which kill him with.  Caleb is able to overpower his nephew, but it looks like the writing is on the wall.

The drug war has grown in White Pine Bay, to where Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) has warned Zane (Michael Eklund) to step back.  Zane responds by literally burning down the house: Romero's, that is.  However, in what can be described as the only good news around, Emma discovers she didn't actually have sex with Gunner, merely passed out in his bed.  We find that Gunner is actually a nice guy, and given how people in town are, perhaps the most sane and least criminal...and he sells pot!  Norman, however, after his encounter, is picked up by Cody because hers is the only phone number a coffee-shop owner can find on him.  Norman is catatonic, staring out into space, and for once Cody finds someone she is genuinely scared of.

Check-Out I think shocks us with both how good Highmore is and how Liz Tigelaar's script worked in Norman's lapses into insanity.  Here we get the strongest indication of how Norman Bates soon started turning into his mother.  It was not out of some warped desire for her, but instead out of a genuine desire to protect her.  However, when he starts speaking Norma's words back to Caleb, it isn't in a falsetto but clearly in his own voice.  The transformation of how intense and terrifying Highmore is when he 'becomes' Norma is brilliant and quite effective. 

Director John David Coles even throws in more Psycho motifs when we hear strings playing as he confronts his uncle.  This brings us closer to seeing how Norman's mind will eventually disintegrate: his intense defensiveness in regards to his mother soon pushing him into the realms of murder.  However, we weren't going to get any actual killing in Check-Out (I imagine this is being held up until the season finale).  We are being teased again, because we still don't know if Norman actually killed Miss Watson, and the question about Norman actually having murdered his father is still very much in doubt.      

Coles also did a brilliant thing in the scene where Dylan returns before Norma goes on her forced date.  Thieriot is shot all askew, as if subliminally representing his confused, conflicted, and thoroughly chaotic world.  We get to learn that for at least this character, the world is slowly going out of whack.  I certainly am surprised by Thieriot, whose Dylan I have never fully warmed up to.  However, he is growing on me and turning in better performances.

I am also glad that Cooke's Emma is stepping up and stepping out from her Norman crush to find some happiness of her own.  I haven't warmed however, to Kwiatkowski's Cody, who still strikes me as a clich├ęd 'bad girl'.  However, I found her performance when she isn't a 'tough chick' very well done.  She looks as if she finally found someone to be afraid of, and in the form of a sweater-wearing momma's boy. 

Farmiga has wonderful moments where she continues to make Norma both a fascinating character and a real person, one we can relate to.  It almost seems like, instead of the clinging, possessive mother of Psycho, Norma Bates was just a woman who loved her son too much to get out of the way, inadvertently creating the monster he became.  It seems a shame to think that she may not have the happiness she so desperately longs for and that George might bring (especially with Norman's disapproving eye). 

About the only thing I really don't care all that much about is the drug war business.  However, it is slowly seeping into the character's lives, and not just Dylan.  Norma has found an ally against the bypass with Nick Ford, whom we know is one of the major kingpins in the area.  More alarming, Dylan works for the highly volatile Zane, Nick's archrival.  This can't end well, but at least we are tying these elements together. 

The performances (especially Highmore) and the directing have made Check-Out one of Bates Motel's best episodes.  We were even allowed a bit of humor via Emma and Norma's love lives.  Things are going back to normal in Bates Motel...in terms of quality, not sanity.

Not exactly the mother/son bonding experience
I would encourage....


9/10

Next Episode: The Escape Artist

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