Monday, April 13, 2015

The Password Is "MOTHER", All in Caps.



BATES MOTEL: THE DEAL

Well, I've always said Norma Bates needed to see a psychiatrist.  I just didn't mean, socially.  The Deal is yet another excellent Bates Motel episode, defying us to not admire, respect, maybe even love Norma Bates, who up to now has been seen as a sexually-repressed/crazed woman.  Bates Motel's Norma Bates is instead a good but deeply flawed and troubled woman, who has been beaten down, beaten up, and who for once will take advantage of an opportunity and be as shady and corrupt as everyone else in White Pine Bay (which is now overtaken Twin Peaks as THE Pacific Northwest's craziest town, making the cuddly eccentrics of Portlandia look downright rational). 

Someone is targeting Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga).  It is Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm), who knows that despite her protests, Norma has what he is desperate for.  It is the flashdrive Annika gave her.  No one believes she doesn't have it, not even Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell).  She still can't open it though, so her son Dylan (Max Thieriot) keeps it hidden while they attempt to break into it.  To everyone's surprise, it is opened...by Gunner (Keenan Tracey), who had a hidden skill as a pirated movie master.  It contains financial records that implicates major White Pine Bay players.  Despite and over Romero's loud objections, Norma for once will take advantage of things and be just as corrupt as everyone else.  She and Romero go to a disbelieving Paris, offering to not release the flashdrive in exchange for an exit to be placed on the new bypass that will lead straight to the Bates Motel.  Nothing more, with a firm promise to never ask for anything again.  Paris, either with more nefarious ideas or pleased with her chutzpah, agrees.

Things appear to be finally going Norma's way.  She now has the upper hand, and she seems to be starting a relationship with local professor James Finnegan (Joshua Leonard).  She even has a strong relationship with Dylan, and for once it seems her other son Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) finds himself frozen out.  He doesn't like this, but he isn't exactly all there either.  He thinks he tells Norma about Dylan keeping his father Caleb (Kenny Johnson) at the cabin, but his early morning mumblings are too confused.  He starts making a very creepy connection between comfort and his favorite dress of Norma's.  In short, Norman is now just plain bonkers.  However, while he is slowly not telling Norma, it is Dylan who tells her.  Exactly why I'm not sure.  Perhaps it is because he wants to be honest with her.  Perhaps he does really think Caleb wants to be forgiven.  Perhaps it is to undercut Norman.  He tells her the truth, and the once happy Norma, finally successful and with both her sons with her, goes into a part-silent, part-violent rage.  She hurriedly packs and flees, telling Norman that Dylan will now watch him.


I find that Bates Motel is a truly emotional show.  Each time we see Norma finally getting somewhere, with someone, something undercuts her so violently that it seems that she is almost doomed never to find peace.  Now we find that at her moment of triumph, her sons have driven her away.  Farmiga continues to make Norma Bates one of the most fascinating characters on television.  She is almost coy and sweet with Leonard.  Norma asks the good professor if he is attracted to her.  When he tells her yes, she seems to be quite happy, pleased that she still has it.

In fact, throughout The Deal, we see Farmiga make Norma a fascinating figure.  With Finnegan, she is a cross of flirtatious and flattered.  With Paris, she seems almost bizarrely naïve about what kind of man he is.  Paris is an extremely dangerous man, and yet here she is, presenting her very short list of demands with the confidence of someone who thinks Paris can be trusted. 

Rahm in his scenes with Farmiga is her equal, his expression unreadable.  Is he genuinely pleased at this?  Is he planning more?  Is he just in near-total shock that his smile is the only thing to keep him from either laughing out loud or screaming in disbelief?  The inscrutable nature in this Judgment of Paris is simply great in how both Rahm and Farmiga handle it.

What really impressed me about The Deal is Thieriot, who has become the soul of Bates Motel.  We see him as this very tortured figure, who yearns to do the right thing and thinks long and hard about it.  As a character, Dylan has grown on me.  Straight from the beginning, when we see him hung over outside a bar, obviously drinking to forget the devastation he fears his brother has caused for his mother.  Dylan is a tortured soul, and Thieriot, in his quiet manner, shows the wounded boy beneath the exterior.

Another fine highlight is Highmore, who has grown more repulsive as Norman.  I find Norman to be slipping from his hurt, vulnerable, and confused start to someone growing cold, manipulative, and monstrous.  His evolution to the Norman Bates we know is slowly building, and Highmore is excellent in showing the evolution.  His scene with Norman's favorite dress is downright creepy in a show that pretty much is creepy from the get-go.   I like that Highmore is working to make Norman more unlikable, but still within him a very frightened little boy.  He at the end is in near-hysterics when Norma storms off, and while part of me feels he deserved it (since this would have happened if he had told Norma as he planned to), part of me feels sad that he is being abandoned.

Carbonell continues to be the moral core of White Pine Bay (or at least one who does want to pursue the law to the upmost of his abilities).  He even lends The Deal a slight touch of humor, his moral uprightness leading to Paris calling him a "Drama King". 

As a side note, the idea of Gunner, this nearly-always baked figure, cracking the flashdrive is amusing. 

The story itself holds up very well, and the subplots like Caleb's encounter with the creepy neighbor and Dr. Finnegan's courting of Norma add to the enjoyment.  "I'm going right near where you live.  Where do you live?" Finnegan tells Norma when he finds her at the bus stop.  What could come across as almost stalker-like with Leonard comes across as almost endearing. 

The Deal is a brilliant episode.  As is now the norm, it has some amazing acting by Farmiga and standout performances by Highmore and Thieriot.  It has a touch of humor and romance, and pushes the narrative forward. 

Finally, the idea that to gain the Bates Motel Wi-Fi, you need the password of "MOTHER", all in caps, is too rich to be anything other than amusing and a nice nod to just how dominant Norma Bates (and Vera Farmiga) are on the show.

It's about time Norma Bates started
seeing a psychiatrist.


9/10

Next Episode: Norma Louise

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