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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: Bates Motel, "The Truth"

Season 1, Episode 6

Grade: A

Verdict: In perhaps its most tense episode yet, Bates Motel throws in a number of surprising twists to what had, before hand, been a somewhat meandering plot.  These developments help to move the narrative forward in ways which are utterly unpredictable despite being a "prequel" to one of the greatest films of all time.  The character development is top notch and makes for what will surely be some interesting changes going into the season's final four episodes.

After an extended leave of absence from doing so, it has been decided that Geek Rex will once again cover Bates Motel.  The response to the review for the pilot episode was somewhat nice, but, as the show seems to be picking up a little bit more of a following, it seemed appropriate to pick up the reviews.  From here on out, expect a Bates Motel  review every week for the rest of the season.  If you enjoy this review, leave a comment below and be sure to share this review with friends!

In this week's episode of Bates Motel, Norma (Vera Farmiga) struggles with the realization that recent love interest Zack Shelby may not be all he is cracked up to be.  As Norma attempts to compose herself and decide how to move forward, Dylan and Norman take it upon themselves to settle things for their mother.  Dylan continues to urge Norman to move in with him, but this does not come without a startling discovery about the death of Norman's father.  A lot of secrets are being hidden at the Bates Motel, and quite a few of them are beginning to spill out.

Bates Motel has been an interesting journey thus far.  The show's pilot was a great set up of exactly what audiences would expect from a prequel to Psycho with the episode focusing almost entirely on the relationship between Norma and Norman Bates.  In the episodes that followed, however, we were able to get more of a sense of what this show would really be like as characters clearly not present in Hitchcock's film were introduced.  Some of these characters, particularly Norman's half-brother Dylan, allow the show to have quite a few surprises.  One of the biggest complaints about prequels is that, despite the story being interesting, we ultimately know where things will end up.  If the previous five episodes have proven anything, however, it is that we may not have all the answers we think we do.  Norman Bates seems destined to walk the path towards mother-obsessed serial killer, but that path appears to diverge at just the right moments.

After a few weeks of somewhat interesting development, Bates Motel takes things up a notch.  The sub-plot dealing with the town's secret Asian sex slave ring has been quite an odd one, and has seemingly come off as rather inconsequential in terms of the over-arching plot of the series.  When Norma made the discovery last episode that not only was Norman telling the truth about the sex ring, but her lover may be involved, there seemed to be a promise that we would finally get some intertwining between the two threads.  Unfortunately, not a lot of motivation is given as to why Shelby is involved with this sex ring, or how the still nameless Asian girl is holding up, but at least this very strange story is finally tied to the Norma-Norman story arc.  Despite their claiming to love each other, it has been obvious over the past few episodes that the mother-son relationship has deteriorated a bit from what it was back in the pilot.  Norman has taken notice of other girls and has expressed a desire to be a normal teenager, while Norma feels she should be out having a life as well.  These two character appear to be like magnets, however, and it was nice to see them interacting a bit more this week without the involvement of any outside force (aside from Dylan).  

As was the case with the pilot, the strongest aspect of this series continues to be the relationship between Norma and Norman.  This would not be the case at all were the roles not so ably played by Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore.  Both actors encapsulate these characters perfectly.  Many of the nuances of these characters are played out in their facial expressions and body language, something that is not an easy task for most actors.  Farmiga in particular does an excellent job of making Norma look like a woman who loves her youngest son dearly, fears losing him, but also realizes that she has almost completely lost her grip on life.  It would seem Norma Bates is not as equipped for normal life as her son, with her often stressed looks communicating a message that she is unstable.  As we learned this week, however, Norman shares his own instabilities.

Dylan is a character that has been interesting to see develop.  Initially, he seemed to only serve as a role of typical bully of an older brother, with his only interest in life being to annoy his mother and his half-brother.  Throughout the few episodes of the series thus far, however, Dylan has evolved to a much more fascinating character.  It was revealed this week that Dylan is only 21 years old; a bit of a surprise considering that he gives off a demeanor as someone much older.  Perhaps the experience of being pretty much abandoned by your family and having to fend for yourself has made him a much more mature and grown up individual.  Nevertheless, it has been great to see the relationship between Norman and Dylan develop.  Their growing closeness serves as a very nice foil to the relationship between Norman and Norma.  Norman's trust in his mother is beginning to wane, mostly because Dylan has proven time and again that he knows what he is talking about.  This episode shows, however, that Dylan may not be as aware of what is really going on as he would like.  Despite this, it would still be nice to see Norman actually move in with Dylan if only for the contrast which could develop between Norman's life right now.

It was mentioned at the beginning of this review that this is a very tense episode.  Bates Motel has had quite a few moments of tension in the past, but none hold a candle to this week.  As secret upon secret begins to unravel surrounding Norma, Norman, Shelby, and mysterious Asian girl, the stakes are raised to a breaking point.  In a fit of rage, Shelby attacks the Bates family after discovering they are on to his secret.  What unfolds is a series of events inside the Bates' home which was quite surprising.  There is a development with Norman during this scene as Shelby begins to hit his mother that makes for an interesting turn in his character that we had only seen hints of before.  This entire sequence was well-written and shot, causing this reviewer to genuinely worry that a main character may not survive the episode.  While this Asian sex ring story does not seem to be over quite yet, it was admittedly shocking that the show would have the reveal to Shelby take place so soon.  This plot twist was expected, but not until much later.  These developments not only helped to make this episode unpredictable and incredibly tense, but also goes to show that this series may have a few more tricks up its sleeve before everything is said and done.  

But the sex ring is not the only truth being exposed this week.  One of the mysteries which has hitherto gone unmentioned this season is the cause of death for Norman's father.  From the way events unfolded in the opening moments of the pilot, all signs would seem to point that perhaps Norma had something to do with the man's death.  Her taking a shower while the iron was on, waiting for quite some time to answer her son's pleading knocks at the bathroom door, and her seeming nonchalance at the death of her husband all seemed to be tell tale signs that this woman may have had a hand in his death.  Bates Motel pulls another surprise, however, and reveals who was really responsible for the death of Norman's father: Norman Bates.  While this development for Norman's character was expected eventually, the way it unfolded this week was very well-written.

Since this is a quasi-prequel to Hitchcock's classic film, it is to be expected that, eventually, Norman Bates would break down and kill someone.  Once again, this was a development that was more expected to be an end-of-season type of story.  We have known through previous episodes that Norman has some sort of problem involving imagined conversations with his mother (an obvious nod to the original film) and that he seems to suffer from blackouts of some kind.  Some may complain that the reveal of Norman being a killer is happening too early, that it does not seem right for his motivation to kill to come from anything other than the death of his beloved mother.  Perhaps that may be true for the Norman Bates of Psycho, but not the one of Bates Motel.  Either way, Norman is still a killer.  Bates Motel reveals this information in a way which is not necessarily shocking, but is done in a manner which still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.  The inner-workings of Norman's disease will be interesting to see.  For the meantime it makes for a very creepy shot of Norman sitting in a car at the end of this episode.  In fact, Freddie Highmore looked more like Anthony Perkins in this moment than he has any other time in this series.

Overall this was a great episode of Bates Motel.  While it is not a perfect episode by any means, it does an excellent job of showing that the writers of this show do not want to remain too predictable.  By having so many somewhat expected plot/character developments happen halfway through the season, the show opens itself up for many more surprises down the road.  This series may not have as many references to the classic Hitchcock film as the pilot would suggest, but it is slowly proving itself to be very much so a horse of a different color.  Being set in the present may be the most freeing aspect of the prequel.  This way, we as an audience do not have to worry about every little aspect of Psycho being set up before the story can unfold, meaning we can just relax and enjoy the ride.
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1 comment:

  1. They finally had a shower scene...worth mention.


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