Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Bates Family Dinner Party With All the Killings

 
BATES MOTEL: THE LAST SUPPER

When we gather around our loved ones for dinner, two generations of incest don't usually feature as part of conversation.  Yet with The Last Supper, you have one woman who was sexually abused by her brother and now finds herself the unexpected object of lust by her son. And somewhere rattling inside Norma Bates' mind, it's her psychologist one-night stand whom she considers the irrational one in her circle.  The Last Supper gives us a sad glimpse of what Norma Bates always wanted: a sane, stable, loving family, but which circumstances constantly deny her.  Some of it is outside her control, some of it is a result of her poor decisions.  On the whole, The Last Supper continues to push Bates Motel to greater levels of brilliance.

Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) returns to a house in chaos.  Her two sons, Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot) and Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) are dealing with all sorts of issues (like Norman's delusions and cross-dressing).  Her potential paramour Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) got shot and literally blew the competition away, leaving a very specific message for this season's nemesis, Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm).  Her actual lover Professor James Finnegan (Joshua Leonard) is brought in to unofficially consult on Norman's issues, which leave even him horrified.  Oh, and yes, her brother Caleb (Kenny Johnson), who raped her and is Dylan's biological father, is around. 

Enough to drive anyone a little mad. 

Romero has that flashdrive everyone is running after, and discovers that it's a ledger of all illegal activity going on in White Pine Bay.  Among the names he finds is that of his late mother, who was used as a cover by his father (Emiliano Diez), who was a crooked cop currently serving time in prison. Sheriff Romero is reaching the end of his rope with all the crooked dealings in his hometown.  Dylan for his part is developing positive feelings for Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), the long-suffering employee/potential girlfriend with need of a lung transplant.  Her father tells Dylan that for $20,000 she could be moved up to the top of the list.  As it so happens, Chick (Ryan Hurst), whom I think of as the looney Mac Powell from Third Day look-alike, has a dangerous job that will pay $25,000. 

What are the odds?

Caleb urges against taking the job, but Caleb knows this could save Emma's life. 

Norma, for her part, asks James to talk to Norman.  The conversation gets really creepy really fast.  Norman mentions his and Norma's one-night stand.  "How was it sleeping with my mother?", he comments.  Pretty soon, the experienced Finnegan gets to the truth.  "Norman, do you want to sleep with her?"  I'm pretty sure he does, but this still enrages Norman, attacking James.  "How dare you come into my house and say such an ugly thing to me."  As he's strangling James, it might be ugly but it's true.  James flees, telling Norma she needs to basically lock Norman up.

Things settle down enough for people to start streaming into the Bates home.  Dylan brings Emma, Caleb shows up (they may not be friends, but he can stay for dinner) leaving Norman quietly fuming.  Even Romero shows up, and it looks like there is a sensible group there.  Caleb describes his sister as "the sun in a cold universe", and it looks like everyone save Norman had a good time.  However, once the lights were out, Norman sneaks into his mother's bedroom and caresses his mother's body.


The Last Supper continues to build the creep factor and mixes it into the complicated lives of the characters.  We see the interplay between Dylan and Emma building slowly, steadily, but realistically: two figures who are latching onto each other thanks to their common bond. 

The episode has some of the best acting I have seen so far as well.  Farmiga, Farmiga, Farmiga...how many times can I say that her work on Bates Motel is genius?  She continues to make Norma Bates into this complex, contradictory figure, nowhere near the raging battle-ax that we got from the Psycho films.  Instead, she is a woman who loves, who yearns, who wants to do right but ends up also self-sabotaging.

Highmore hits a high note as Norman, especially when he has to act with his face.  More often than not he has to communicate his displeasure or desire without vocalizing them, and each time the conflicted mind of Norman Bates comes through.  That isn't to say when he has to speak he doesn't do it well: the scene with Leonard's Professor Finnegan is quiet but intense in their dual to get at the truth.  When Norman finally explodes it brings to full force that fury within Norman, one he attempts to keep private but which is triggered by all the conflicting views on his mother: possessiveness mixed with love (in all its forms).

Thieriot continues to make Dylan a most tragic figure, caught up in situations where like his mother, he wants to do right but at least isn't as blinded by love to not accept the truth of Norman's mental deterioration. Thieriot has a scene with Farmiga where he tells her the truth: Norman's nuts.  The genuine concern his brother has is complimented by her inability to realize the full depths of her other son's mental issues. 

Carbonell too has a knockout of a performance this week, bringing quiet rage with his father and even a touch of comedy when dealing with Keenan Tracey's Gunner.  "What kind of name is Gunner?" he remarks. The reply? "A stupid one".   You sense Romero is at heart an honest man in a dishonest world, and he is no longer willing to compartmentalize everything as he did before. You also sense he too desires Norma but struggles against it.

About the only thing I really didn't care for in The Last Supper was the subplot involving Chick (a character I feel is so unworthy of our time and interest).  That whole "operation is $20,000 but here's a job for $25,000" is just too convenient even for a television show.  If it had been $50,000, then that would have worked, but for a job to suddenly turn up that offers $5,000 more than needed? Not buying it.

Apart from that The Last Supper was another fantastic Bates Motel episode.  Next time you think you're suffering through a family meal, think that at least your family isn't involved in serial murders, drug running, and interfamily sexual relations.

   

9/10

Next Episode: The Pit

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