Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bates On A Rampage



BATES MOTEL: UNBREAK-ABLE

One has a genuine sadness for both Dylan Massett and his mother, Norma Bates.  You see in Unbreak-Able that they are genuinely good people inside, who just happen to find themselves in shady circumstances.  They are also stuck with Norman Bates, who is about two houses short of a full deck.  Unbreak-Able is another showcase for Vera Farmiga (who in a just world would already have two Emmys), Freddie Highmore (who genuinely makes us forget Henry Thomas once played a young Norman Bates in Psycho IV: The Beginning, which I always thought a curious title, but I digress), and Max Thieriot (who keeps scratching at our hearts with his role as Dylan).

Picking up from last time, Norma Bates (Farmiga) continues to do her best to shield Norman (Highmore) from all the craziness around them.  She also has to protect him from the growing suspicions of Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), who dryly observes that chaos seems to surround her.  If he only knew that she had what he and shady businessman Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm) want: the USB Annika left in her hands. 

Norma desperately wants to know what the flashdrive has, but it has a password that is unbreakable (how inconsiderate of Annika not to tell her what it was).   Eventually, she turns to Dylan (Thieriot) for help, and he reluctantly agrees.  Dylan also has reluctantly agreed to help his uncle/father Caleb (Kenny Johnson) and take help from him, but he's enraged when he learns that Caleb went to town, where Norma could have seen him.  As they argue Caleb falls from the unfinished roof and has a massive gash.  Caleb won't go to hospital: he has a warrant out for him.  Dylan, being the good guy that he is, agrees and does a little patch-up job on the spot.

Oh, but Norman has been causing chaos of his own.  His picnic with Emma brings a fight with Norma, who tells him he shouldn't sleep with her.  Norma's reasons for issuing this edict are a little vague: a genuine concern for Emma mixed with perhaps a possessiveness of her son (who I should point out, has slept with three women already...kind of a slut our Normie is).  At that picnic, he tells Emma what Norma thinks, angering Emma.  "I didn't think your mother was on our date," she huffs. Norman is becoming more aggressive, and when he overhears Dylan and Norma discussing something, he goes up to Dylan's cottage where he discovers Caleb.  Dylan pleads with Norman to not tell their mother, but Norman, out for blood against the brother he thinks is now Norma's new favorite, will show no mercy.  "You've already destroyed (Norma's trust)," he tells him.  "You've betrayed Mother, and she needs to know".  With that, he drives away from a pleading and terrified Dylan.

For his part, Romero's investigation shows that the two dead girls are connected: Annika had become Paris' favorite call girl, and had done a threesome with the other dead girl before both ended up dead.


For me, it is how Bates Motel, despite all the craziness, manages to keep itself grounded in a version of reality that makes it such a good show apart from its Psycho roots.   At the top of the list of Bates Motel's greatness is the cast.  Oh, Vera...how I love thee as Norma Bates.  This is a suffering woman, doing her best and constantly finding herself in insane situations.

Some of her problems are of her own making; perhaps, just this once, she could have done the right thing and handed the USB over to Romero and washed her hands of everything.  Whether it was her curiosity or an attempt to extract herself from the financial cliff she finds herself in that led her to keep this very dangerous object.  Whatever it was, you know this can't be good.

However, Farmiga makes Norma almost innocent in her dealings.  She sees nothing wrong with approaching a total stranger who appears handy with the computer to help her crack the password.  She also has a wonderful, quiet moment with Psychology professor James Finnegan (Joshua Leonard), who gives her an impromptu therapy session.  Farmiga makes Norma here so painfully vulnerable, so despairing, so lost, that part of you wants to reach out and hug her. 

Then she turns it around and makes you wonder whether she is much more narcissistic than we give her credit (or blame) for.  Earlier, when Norman is telling her about his picnic plans, there is something almost creepy in Norma assuming the picnic was for her.  The idea that her son would want to do something apart from her apparently never entered her mind.  Is she angry because of his relationship with Emma (she did catch them kissing, though Norman did so deliberately) or is she angry over something else?  Farmiga makes Norma such an enigmatic, mysterious character, even perhaps to Norma herself. 

This is the genius of Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates.  She never makes her evil or crazy.  She makes her troubled, sometimes unpleasant, but also vulnerable, kind, and well-meaning.  It's such an extraordinarily brilliant performance that I simply cannot help but wonder why she hasn't become as iconic as she should be.

I can't forget Highmore, who is really pushing the creepy factor with Norman.  He is shedding his innocent and perhaps perplexed persona and turning into someone darker, more sinister and dangerous.  Moreover,  Norman appears to realize this, perhaps even relish it all.  That makes him more dangerous, and it's an amazing performance.  Even then, Highmore shows a little vulnerability.  "Do you still like me?" he asks his mother. 

However, Unbreak-Able has to be Thieriot's finest hour as Dylan Massett.  I don't think I've ever felt such genuine sadness and heartbreak for someone on this show (with the exception of Norma).  This guy...he's really a really good and caring and compassionate guy, trying to do what is right but finding that his parents (as horrible as the circumstances are) are blocking him.  Sometimes unintentionally (Norma's total trust in her older son is moving though putting him in danger) sometimes intentionally (you always suspect that Caleb is up to something, willing to take advantage of his own son/nephew and not caring how it will affect him).  We see just how the relationship has grown between Dylan and Norma, for in a rare turn, he calls her "Mom" rather than his dismissive "Norma" when pleading with Norman to not tell her about Caleb. 

It just about breaks my heart, and I see how well Thieriot is in the part.

Cooke is also wonderful as Emma, who is being both used and who is able to stand up for herself.  She's right: it is up to her what she can and can't endure.  Rohm and Leonard add a yin and yang to the proceedings: Paris' evil to Finnegan's kindness.  You know the Professor is taking more than a professional interest in Norma, and one hopes that both become part of the greater storyline.

Speaking of storylines, I'm glad that not only is Romero an effective investigator, but that we are getting logic within the investigation into the double homicides. 

I also have to compliment Kenny Johnson's stunt double.  It was one of the most shocking falls I've seen.  I expected Caleb to take a tumble, but the visual was thoroughly shocking, so much so that I literally gasped at how brutal it looked. 

Unbreak-Able is simply a brilliant episode, and I'm now completely excited for next week.  What will Norman do?  Will he truly betray Dylan?  Will Norma break the password to find what is inside the USB?

If I had a complaint, it would be that Norma really should fix that bumper.  That is very repairable.  When it comes to other things, we find they are harder to mend, like Dylan's heart...



10/10

Next Episode: The Deal

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