Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bates Motel: Dreams Die First Review


As we come to the end of the sad, strange journey of Norman Bates, a man destroyed by love of Mother, we get another deranged Bates Motel episode involving sexual decadence, realization of insanity, and another person about to be destroyed by love.  Dreams Die First gives us a great debut and more wild turns.

Secrets are all being revealed here.  In the subplot, Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), half-brother/uncle to Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), finally tells his wife Emma (Olivia Cooke) the truth about 'Norma's' earring.  Emma thinks Dylan has kept it as a way to keep his mother Norma close to him.  However, after internal struggle, he reveals that it isn't Norma's earring.  It's that of Emma's mother, and that he is highly concerned about her fate.  Emma is upset by all this, but while doing some bored online checking she finds that Norma is dead, something neither she or Dylan were aware of.

Norman, for his part, is concerned when 'Mother' is nowhere to be found.  He does find a matchbook for the White Horse Bar and calls asking if Norma was there.  To his surprise (and that of the viewer), he's told that Norma was there, and that she left her car there, having been too drunk last night to drive it.  While going to get the car, he finally reveals to Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally) what he knows about Sam (Austin Nichols) and his mistress. Madeleine is facing her own problems: not just the potential that Sam is having an affair, but that Norman kept this from her.

For his part, Sam is having financial trouble, and the only person he confides this to is his mistress, Marion Crane (special guest star Rihanna).  Marion wants to help Sam, but it isn't as if she has thousands of dollars just lying around.  As it so happens, some money does fall into her lap, and in a spur of the moment decision, she takes it instead of depositing it and rushes to her love.  Sam cannot take her phone call, but no matter: Madeleine confronts him about whoever was calling.  Marion, for her part, with the rain coming down, stops at the Bates Motel.

Poor timing, as Norman, with some unwitting help from his former psychiatrist, Dr. Edwards (Damion Gupta) finally puts everything together, and both conclusions fill him with horror.  First, he realizes that he sometimes sees Mother when she isn't there, which helps him realize that Norma really is dead.  Second, he finds that the bar 'Norma' has been going to, picking up guys from, and getting drunk really a gay bar. 

Norman, in his total disassociate state, has been going to the White Horse Bar in full drag, calling himself 'Norma', and having sex with other men, not realizing that while everyone sees 'Norma' as at most a transvestite if not full-on transgender, Norman truly believes he is 'Norma'.  It isn't until an attractive man (Michael Doonan), with whom 'Norma' had sex with the night before, tries it again with Norman (who is aware that he is Norman, not Norma) that Norman realizes just how far he's separated the two identities.

Only on a show as bonkers as Bates Motel would the idea of someone in full drag not realizing that he is having gay sex be considered tame, almost rational.  However, right from the beginning, when the bartender tells Norman that 'Norma' was there would we have some logical conclusions.  I wrote in my notes for Dreams Die First that to explain 'Norma' appearing at the bar, we had one of two solutions.

The first is the wrong number/person theory, where it's another Norma they were talking about and it was mere coincidence.  The second was that Norman would go in full drag.  It didn't strike me until when Norman went into the bar, one with a certain style of techno music and few if any women that I figured he had indeed been going into the bar in full drag. 

It would make sense: a man in drag would look out of place at a straight bar.  It would only be at a gay bar where a man could appear dressed as a woman and even claim to be a woman and not raise eyebrows.  It must have been a shock to our straight/straight-laced, slightly puritanical Norman to have found not only was he a regular at a gay bar, but that the denizens recognized him sans drag.  The fact he had sex with other men while in deep blackouts where he thought he was a woman makes it all the more wild.

Highmore again gives it his all as Norman Bates and gives another great performance.  There's not just the realization that he's gone bisexual, but when he fesses up to Madeleine about Sam's indiscretions.  His hesitancy, his reluctance to speak on something he knows will hurt adds pathos to his performance.  We even get to see the dark side when he speaks to Sheriff Green (Brooke Smith).  There's a haughtiness, a defensiveness, a hostility that is barely masked.  It's an all-around strong performance.

We have also something I was not expecting: a strong performance by Rihanna.  Our beloved Ri-Ri is more a pop star/diva with few credits: apart from Battleship, she hasn't done much acting (though I thought she was one of the better aspects of Battleship). Rihanna got the fear and hesitancy of Marion's, the love she had for Sam versus her sense of morality (with the former winning out, much to her tragedy).  Ri-Ri was able to hold her own against professions, and one thinks she'll really do well against someone like Highmore, who has been acting practically all of Rihanna's life.

Though their roles were smaller, both Thieriot and Cooke did excellent in their quiet dramatic drama as Dylan and Emma, who love each other but also do foolish things to try and stop the other from being hurt.

I think it helps that they were aided by their Bates Motel costar, Nestor Carbonell, who directed the episode.  He at least has directed before, so he isn't just taking a stab at making an episode (no pun intended).  We also find that Dreams Die First is sticking close though not slavishly faithful to Psycho: as in the film, Marion steals money for her lover Sam, but Sam is married, not divorced.  It's enough to honor the original without stomping on it. 

With strong performances all around (and an impressive turn by pop diva Rihanna, a Bates Motel fan who got to show that she can be a competent actress), along with some really insane turns (Norman's visions of 'Norma's' sexual dalliance with the man who knew he was performing oral sex on a man) gives us a mixture of the insane and the brilliant.  These are things Bates Motel both aspires to and achieves.


Next Episode: Marion 

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