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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: Bates Motel, "Underwater"

Season 1, Episode 9

Grade: C+

Verdict: Despite having a story that was, on the whole, more intriguing than the previous episode, it is still difficult in giving this one a higher grade.  The main reason for this is that something has happened on Bates Motel.  Tonight's episode was not nearly as engaging as previous episodes have been.  By focusing on largely uninteresting plot lines, the episode itself ends up making its audience apathetic.  This, coupled with a very awkward attempt at comedic relief, make for yet another boring episode.  It is a shame that this season has become so boring as it showed so much promise at first.  Were it not for Freddie Highmore being the most interesting actor, it would be very tempting to never return to Bates Motel.

Full review after the jump!

On this episode of Bates Motel, Norma is convinced that the mysterious man who, until being kicked out, was staying in Room 9 is now stalking her.  Despite her desperate attempts to get the sheriff to listen to her, Norma begins to feel more isolated.  This increasing tiredness causes Norma to inform Norman that they will be once again moving, but it seems that leaving the Bates Motel is not a simple task.  Meanwhile, Dylan's boring marijuana story continues as Bradley coaxes him into breaking into her deceased father's office.

Last week, Bates Motel faltered a bit in attempting to rev up some story arcs before the end of the season.  This was, for the most part, a failed attempt as the only bit of plot which was remotely interesting for the previous episode was that Norman was beginning to take up taxidermy.  Choosing to make Norma the main focal point of the episode last week turned out to be a big mistake as she became an incredibly annoying character.  Fortunately, this week appears to be righting some of the wrongs by making the stories just a little bit more engaging.  Norma does not pull as much focus this week, so she is not as annoying.  At first, Norma seemed very much so an intriguing character.  While Norma definitely has her moments where she is strong and in control, she can become a vulnerable mess at the drop of a hat.  This made for some interesting characterization at first, but Norma has more and more begun to switch into the latter of the two "roles" she plays in this series.  In one of the more well-written scenes of the episode, Norman argues with his mother about how he does not wish to move.  He tells his mother that the town is not at fault here but that everything comes from her, calling her crazy..  Although Norman eventually apologizes for these words and says he never meant them, perhaps it may have been better if he did not apologize at all.  Norma is crazy.  A small chance resides that it could be the way she has been treated by the town, but Norma has become such a distant character that it is almost impossible to feel any sympathy when she is mistreated.

Once again this episode continues the plot thread with Dylan working to cultivate some marijuana from a large field.  This is obviously a very dangerous job with none of the employees being afraid to whip out their large guns if needed, but this is still a completely boring story.  Sure, it is a somewhat interesting way of showing some of the seedier underbelly of this town the Bates family has moved to, but the plot is one that feels very expected (unlike the way the Asian sex slave plot turned out).  In this episode, the writers attempt to breath some life in this long-dead plot by having Bradley desperately plead with Dylan to help her find something in her father's office she needs.  While this turn of events seeks to delve some more into the inner-workings of the pot business in town, it actually serves more of a way of showing just how badly Bradley wants to be with Dylan.  Awkward smiles, glances, and hugs are exchanged, and it becomes abundantly clear that these two are probably going to hook up at least once before everything is said and done.  Let's keep in mind here that not only has Bradley already slept with Norman, but she is also around seventeen, while Dylan is twenty-one.  Nevertheless, Bradley does not find what she is looking for, breaks down crying, and the entire plot thread becomes ever more useless.  Sorry dead plot thread, no reviving you this week.  It is still worth mentioning, though, that Max Thieriot does a good job of playing Dylan...the writers just give him absolutely nothing to do.

Speaking of characters in this series with nothing to do, lets talk about Emma for a second.  Emma is a character that is been noticeably absent from reviews of Bates Motel here on Geek Rex.  That is because, despite the character being an alternative love interest for Norman who loves to butt into everyone's business, she has still had almost nothing to do on this series.  Most of Emma's scenes involve wheeling her oxygen tank up to some place, saying a few lines, and then ultimately looking sad for the rest of the episode.  She is a desperately wasted character who had a lot of potential early on.  So how do the writers attempt to make Emma more interesting?  They feed her a marijuana-laced cupcake of course!  In a lame attempt at humor and to draw in the group of hippies staying at the motel, Emma decides to indulge in the baked good during a boring night at work.  The results are exactly what one would expect.  Just as the episode was starting to become interesting with a fight between Norma and Norman, in bursts Emma with the usual demeanor of someone who is high.  She makes some unfunny comments about how many stairs there are up to the house and the entire scene devolves from interesting tension to awkward attempts at humor.  Bates Motel is not a comedic show,  While comic relief is always needed, this was not very good use of the device and the writers really should have thought twice before putting this scene in.

As with last week, the only interesting character this week is Norman.  We begin things with an incredibly creepy dream where Norman drowns Bradley in a tub.  While searching for answers online as to what the dream means, Norman tells Dylan about his vision and is met with quite a few raised eyebrows.  This was actually a pretty interesting development as it has already been well established that Norman becomes murderous while in some kind of unconscious state.  Unfortunately, this development is ignored about halfway through in favor of a random plot thread about Norman's English teacher encouraging him to publish a short story he has written. Such a deviation would be mildly interesting if we had actually seen Norman writing this story.  Instead the revelation that Norman has written a supposedly brilliant short story and is also doing very well in school are suddenly told to the audience with very little evidence from previous episodes to back these claims up.  In fact, the entire point of this digression is to show that, yes, Norman's teacher has some sort of strange attraction to him.  As nothing really happens on that front, it seems a bit unnecessary as the pilot well established that Norman has odd relationships with women.  Sadly, even when Norman gets a boring plot, it is still one of the more interesting aspects of the episode.  All of this can be chalked up to the portrayal of Norman by Freddie Highmore.  Highmore is fantastic on this show and it would be a crime to see him not receive some award nominations.

It is a bit sad to see the way that this show has begun to fall apart over these past two episodes.  While the show has definitely had its weak moments, it is all the more saddening to see the show fall back on its less interesting routines when it had two great episodes one right after the other.  Perhaps Bates Motel is in need of a new show runner as it is obvious that it is wandering aimlessly without direction these past few episodes.  Sure, there is the looming threat of the mysterious man (his last name is Abernathy, we learn this week). but that is not enough to carry this episode.  While the reveal of Abernathy at the end of the episode does tie back into the Asian sex slave plot, as predicted, it only serves as more of a reminder on the level of "oh hey, remember this one interesting plot we had going on?"  One can understand that Bates Motel is going to have to tell its own stories that do not always seek to set up the Hitchcock film.  That being said, however, they need to make sure that these stories are actually interesting for the audience instead of just filler for the next development in the story of Norma and Norman.  We still have one episode left this season, but it has become evident that a return to focus on the mother-son relationship is needed as that is when this show has been at its strongest.

For as much crap as this episode is getting in this review, it is not as bad an episode as the previous week.  In fact, this episode has a few more things going for it that make it a more interesting story.  On the whole, however, the episode is not really deserving of something higher than a C+ as it continues to focus on things which feel unnecessary while almost ignoring the elements which are fascinating.  Ultimately, Bates Motel feels like a big mess that is directionless with only one episode remaining in its first season.  Underwater is an apt name for this episode as the series appears to be drowning.  There is a small sliver of hope that perhaps the finale will live up to the quality of some of the better episodes from this season, but it would seem that hope will have to wait until the show's second season.  Unfortunately, the apathy this series has shown to its strongest actors over the previous two weeks do not do much to make a second season worth coming back for.
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