Monday, March 23, 2015

Bates Motel: Season 2

Bates Motel is a modern prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that follows Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) as a teenager and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) after they open the Bates Motel in White Pine Bay, Oregon. The show borrows a lot from Twin Peaks (set in a small, Pacific Northwestern town with organized crime, drug trafficking, and family secrets), which takes the franchise in a fresh direction beyond the cliches of the Psycho films. With a stellar cast and superb writers, Bates Motel reinvigorates the television drama and captures viewers with all the gore and mommy issues that you can shake a stick at.

Norman is unaware of the fact that he’s a murderer and his mother has been covering up his crimes (including the murder of his father). We see Norman’s odd relationship with his mother, who oscillates between being overbearing and sympathetic. But the series casts a wider net on the strange characters that inhabit White Pine Bay. The show’s writers spin some interesting storylines from within the Bates family, including that of Norman’s half-brother, Dylan, who’s caught up in a marijuana drug operation that subsidizes their little town.

We see the origins of incest within the Bates family, which we believe began with Norma and her brother (Dylan’s parents), and we also get a glimpse into Norman’s internalization of his mother. She appear to him in times of extreme duress, comforting him, and telling him “You know what you have to do, Norman.” Norman, in his right mind, “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” which fans of Psycho will remember, but viewers know better. Norman Bates has been integrated into our cultural memory as an icon of the horror genre, and we know there’s something dark lurking beneath that charming smile of his.

Local Sheriff Alex Romero, played by Nestor Carbonell, is a cool dude. He’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty to keep order in his town. He often comes to Norma’s rescue, and they begin to develop an inkling of an interest in each other, especially after some thugs burn down his house and he gets a room at the Bates Motel. Usually Romero has to cover things up in order to protect the Bates family: “Here’s how it went down” or “Here’s what happened, okay?” he’ll say. But now that new evidence has surfaced that points to Norman for killing his teacher, Miss Watson, Romero is torn. How far will he go to protect Norman from being charged with murder?

Now that season three has already begun to roll out, let’s revisit the season two finale and see where the show left us last year. After helping Norman's friend Bradley disappear (after she kills Gil, the leader of a massive pot distribution operation, for the death of her father), fans finally get to squee over something developing between Emma and Norman. I believe most viewers were glad when Cody (a short-lived love interest who danced on the wild side) finally hit the road. But we get to see the "other" Norman at work, pushing Cody's abusive father down a flight of stairs. Norman tells Romero it was an accident, of course. Dylan falls in love with his psychopathic boss (Zane)'s sister, who is the real boss now that Gil is out of the picture, and prepares to take over the family pot business. With a little help from good ole' Romero, Zane's taken down -- a shotgun blast to the chest. Romero and Zane never got along, especially after Zane and his buddies torched the sheriff's house.

Oh yeah, remember Norma's brother? The one who raped her a girl? Well, he shows up, trying to make amends for his sins and have a relationship with Dylan, who has a hard time believing his uncle is also his father and that Norma neglected to mention that little nugget of information. Despite all the family drama, Norma and Dylan finally work things out, but as for Norman's blackouts (when he kills), well, Dylan thinks that Norman has the right to know. Norma, the great protector, tries to hold the family together as best as she can, and she wants nothing more than to keep her "good boy" Norman out of trouble, and the less he knows, the better. But Romero lets her know that Norman has to take and pass a polygraph test about his involvement with Miss Watson since DNA evidence proves that Norman had intercourse with the late high school English teacher.

With a little help from "other" Norma, the one that Norman has internalized, he passes the polygraph, convinced he's done nothing wrong. The episode closes on Norman and that insidious grin that is eerily close to Anthony Perkins' at the end of Psycho. Now that Norman has been exonerated, we're left to wonder what will transpire in season three. Dylan will likely take over the drug operation in White Pine Bay, and life will presumably go back to normal for the Bates', but things are never normal in that gloomy house on the hill. And there's always a stranger with a secret who shows up, needing a room for the night.

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