Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bates Motel: The Arcanum Club Review


Norma Bates Goes Clubbing...

We've got creepy neighbors.  We've got orgies.  We've got yet another disappearance with Norman Bates somehow connected.

Why knew life in Oregon was so flat-out weird?  Bates Motel's newest episode, The Arcanum Club, makes the cheerful oddballs of Portlandia look like Walton's Mountain.  Compared to the loonyness of White Pine Bay, Twin Peaks looks like Newberry. 

Annika Johnson, recent Bates Motel guest, has disappeared.  Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) becomes alarmed and angry that despite the declarations of her son Norman (Freddie Highmore), he was the last person to see Annika alive.  Norma has Norman take her to the last place Annika went, but that turns out to be a false lead.  With a little help from Emma (Olivia Cooke), Norma discovers that this party girl had an invitation to a place called the Arcanum Club.  Norma attempts to go there as Annika, but she does not know the password and is told to leave.  Undaunted, she sneaks in where she gets a big surprise: in a remote cabin away from the main building, she witnesses an orgy being observed by a mysterious figure.  She is spotted though by an old friend, Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), who urges her to leave.  Norma wonders what Romero, who recently left the motel himself, is doing in a place like this.  He tells her he is there merely to 'press the flesh', but is not there for any tawdry business.   Norma tells him about Annika and urges him to investigate.  As she leaves, she comes across the Lee Berman Memorial Bypass, close to completion.  In a rage she drives her car to the sign and knocks it down before returning home.

Norman and Emma have gone out on their first real date, where Norman wishes he were Peter Pan and suggests Emma could be his Wendy.  Wendy and Peter, Emma reminds him, didn't have sex.  This sex talk is interesting, as Norman asks Emma if she had sex with Gunner (Keenan Tracy) and she says yes.  He asks if she feels bad afterwards, but she says she feels naughty, not guilty. 

Gunner has his own issues.  He's hooked up with Caleb (Kenny Johnson), a ne'er-do-well and the father/uncle of Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), Norma's other son.  Dylan reluctantly lets Caleb stay in the cabin where Dylan is planting the legal pot.  However, they have a creepy neighbor, Chick (Ryan Hurst), who is bound to give them trouble.  Oh, and a woman's naked corpse is found floating in the water.

Despite Bates Motel's best efforts to be fair to everyone, you can't get away from the fact that Vera Farmiga is simply the best thing on the show.  She does so much within the hour, going through all sorts of emotions.  When Norma learns through Emma that Norman did go with Annika despite Norman telling her a few minutes prior that he hadn't seen her, her face expresses so much.  There's anger veering to fury, but there's also fear and alarm, panic at what she thinks her precious son is capable of.  The range of emotions is what we see, and just for that, Farmiga deserves another shot at winning a well-deserved Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy. 

Throughout The Arcanum Club, Farmiga does so much.  She's comic when she arrives, disheveled after smashing through the sign.  She's raging in fury when she sees the embodiment of what will kill off her business.  She's almost prudish when she witnesses the goings-on of the elite.  She's tender and almost heartbroken when Romero leaves.

Speaking of, while I know there are many #Normero fans out there, I for one wouldn't be too thrilled to hook Norma and Sheriff Romero up.  After all, I want both of them to live.

The Arcanum Club has unintended moments of comedy.  Intentional or not, when Romero tells Norma that he's there "pressing the flesh", it is a bit of a double-entendre given what we've just caught a glimpse of.  In an almost innocent and slightly jealous fashion, Norma asks "Then why are you here?"  Romero replies, "I'm not here for that," referring to the orgy. 

Too bad.  Kind of wish he were.  He lives like a virtual monk, and if anyone needs a release in this town...

Earlier, Norma yells at her son, "I don't know why, but unhinged women seem drawn to you," complete with hand gestures.  Part of me wanted to say, "YOU should know, lady who wants her eighteen-year-old son still sleeping with her..." A mixture of possessiveness and genuine concern is expressed in the scene between them.  Norma is both frustrated and fearful, and finds no recourse or easy solution.  The fact that Norman thinks Annika is a 'nice girl' should be setting alarm bells like crazy.  The fact that at one point he refers to Annika in the past tense should raise more.

Highmore and Cooke are working so well on-screen as Norman and Emma.  One almost feels for Norman who is making a stab at a normal relationship (no pun intended).  We still see that for Norman, sex and violence go hand in hand, an erotic attraction being tied in to brutality.  The fact he pulled away from Emma in their kiss shows that at some level he a.) knows about his impulses and b.) genuinely cares for Emma, whom he doesn't want to harm.

The one thing that I think isn't working is the subplot with Dylan and Caleb.  This time it isn't Thieriot, who has grown on me as both an actor and a character.  We see that he really is a very kind young man who is beaten up way too much by everyone all around.  We see that Caleb is actually a better father to Gunner than he is to Dylan.  Granted, Caleb didn't rape Gunner's mother or conceive his own nephew as well, but still, I feel so much for Dylan.

It's the 'creepy neighbor' business that doesn't excite me, because I wonder where this particular story is going.  That, and the 'creepy neighbor' is a little too obviously creepy.

Another thing I wondered about was when Norma crashes the party.  How exactly did she manage to climb over the wall in an evening dress without doing anything to it?  Furthermore, weren't there any guards roaming the place to keep intruders out?

Finally, in the credits a supervising producer is listed as Steve Kornacki.  They don't mean the MSNBC host, do they? 

Minus those bits The Arcanum Club continues to showcase some simply extraordinary acting (in particular by Farmiga).  We get the sense that Annika is pretty much done for, and that no matter what Norma may want, she knows in her heart that Norman Bates is dangerous.  Let's face it, this is the third death he's been involved with in some way.  Eventually, everyone's going to have to wake up.


Next Episode: Persuasion

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