Tuesday, March 26, 2013

BATES MOTEL: “Nice Town You Picked, Norma…" S1E2 (review)

By Steve Belgard
Now that we’ve gotten the particulars out of the way with the premiere episode - establishing the “who’s” and “what’s” of Bates Motel, we get into the meat and potatoes of the series. 

The second episode introduces us to the older, unloved, troubled son, and Norman’s half-brother (I’m not sure which half I like) Dylan Bates (Max Thieriot, House at the End of the Street, Chloe). 

You know, the son who called up his mom (Vera Farmiga) in the premiere episode and asked her why she moved out of state without telling him.  Where Norman (Freddie Highmore) is beloved and cherished by mom, Dylan is barely tolerated by her.  Seems Norma was only 17 when she had Dylan, and then dumped his father when she met Norman’s daddy Sam (Sam? Really?). 

After that, Dylan became a footnote, and thus, on the road to being a “bad boy.”  The intro of Dylan was a little off-setting for me, as I’m a stickler for old school, but let’s give the poor boy a chance, shall we?

Norman’s doing the old “look at dirty pictures by flashlight” routine in bed – it’s the book of manga drawings he found in episode 1 under the rug in Room 1 of the motel.  You remember, the book with women in bondage, syringes in their bodies, just basic general depravity fun stuff.  But he’s interrupted by the appearance of Dylan at the door.  He’s staying for an unknown amount of time, which isn’t sitting well with Norman and Norma.

The next morning, while waiting for the school bus to arrive, Norman and Bradley (Nicola Peltz) are talking, when a car passes them swerving erratically.  It’s Bradley’s dad, who crashes into the side of a hill in front of the motel. Norman opens the car door and we see the dad is badly burned (he’s smoking - like his daughter) and near death. 

Norma arrives at the scene, where Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell), the man with the permanent Maybelline mascara on his eyes, tells her that the victim owned a warehouse which was set on fire.  Near the scene, the cops discover crazy, but dead, Keith Summers’ truck.  Romero tells Norma that he hasn’t been home in a couple of days and Norma says she hasn’t seen him.  At school, Emma (Olivia Cooke) teams up with Norman for an assignment, and plans to go to the motel to work with him on it.

Dylan’s at a strip bar, where he meets a distraught man, who we find out worked for Bradley’s dad.   Dylan sees the guy pull out a wad of cash and he wonders where one can get that kinda dough in such a small town like this.

Meanwhile, Dylan and mom argue at home.  She doesn’t want him to screw up her and Norman’s new life.  She tells Dylan that Norman is a good boy, a good son, and that she hates Dylan.  She says that her close relationship with Norman is normal and what she and Dylan have is just very messed up.  I mean, he calls her Norma, when she wants to be called mom.  Dylan wants to know where she got all the money to buy a motel and a car.  It was from Sam’s insurance policy, but he sort of alludes that she might have had something to do with Sam’s death (yeah, it seems to me that that’s the direction it’s going).

Emma shows up at the door and mom asks some awkward questions like (paraphrasing) – “what’s the life expectancy for someone with cystic fibrosis?” While studying in Norman’s room, Emma finds the manga book and is fascinated by it and asks if she can borrow it. 

In mom’s room, she’s seductively putting lotion on her legs and we see her rubbing it over a long scar on her thigh (there’s most likely a story there that we’ll explore in a future episode).  The doorbell rings and it’s the town’s Andy and Barney (Sheriff Romero and Deputy Shelby – Mike Vogel) who ask more questions about Keith Summers.  “You said you didn’t see him, but an eyewitness saw a heated discussion between him and Norma/Norman.” 

The discussion between her and the Sheriff reminds me of the back and forth conversation between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Arbogast (Martin Balsam) from the 1960 film.  Romero asks to go inside and Norma says that unless he has a warrant, she won’t let him in.

Mom drives into town and sees Deputy Shelby, who she flirts with, to take some of the heat off of her.

At a diner, she tells him she wants a clean slate and to give Norman a new life after the death of his father. Shelby tells Norma that Romero and Keith Summers were boyhood pals who spent a lot of time together – and that’s why he’s probing so hard.  Shelby invites Norma to the Wood Chuck – a local festival, but that they can’t show up together as a date (because of the whole Keith Summers’ thing). 

Mom excitedly gets dressed and talks to Norman about the possible Keith Summers problem.  She’s doing what she needs to do…to protect them.  She gets dressed in front of him – “I’m your mother, Norman, it’s not like there’s anything weird here..” Nah, my mom always dressed in front of me and look how I turned out.

Dylan and the sobbing guy from the bar show up at the warehouse (Bradley’s dad’s place) and we’re introduced to another man who asks Dylan if he can handle a gun.  For a small town, a lot of illegal “activity” is askew in White Pine Bay.  At home, Dylan gets a call on his cell and Norman sees the caller ID says “The Whore.”    Norman hears that it’s Norma on the line and attacks Dylan for the reference to his mom.  They fight about mom and Dylan tells Norman that she’s ruined him.  Norman tries to attack Dylan, but he gets beat up – and whispers that mom is not a whore.  The two brothers seem to be mirror images of each other – Dylan, outwardly evil and as time progresses, we’ll discover that Norman is the introverted psychopath.  Nice job, Norma.  Well done – mother of the decade.

The townsfolk are all at the Wood Chuck Festival, while the song “Amy” from Pure Prairie League plays.  I can’t tell you how much I hate that song and that hatred makes me want to take that giant saw from the festival and saw it right through that damn song.  Apologies to all PPL fans out there – you know who you are.  Shelby and Norma talk about Keith Summers being a train wreck.  Norma says that weird things keep happening in this town and Shelby agrees  - “nowhere is like this.” 

People here do artisanal cheese, organic pig farms, but most of them live in million dollar homes and drive European cars.  The town was a logging town, but that’s over -  today  there’s different ways to produce an economy and it’s not always what it seems.  The people in this town deal with things in a different way – but it gets dealt with.  He says that whoever burned Bradley’s father will be dealt with – an eye for an eye.  This town seems like a wicked cross between Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure.

Norma sees the beat up Norman and decides that Dylan has to leave.  He can’t disrupt the duo’s lives.  She won’t stand for Dylan to hurt her loving son.  Norman gets a text from Emma and meets her at her father’s taxidermy shop (dad is one of the best animal stuffers on the West Coast).  Emma has researched the manga drawings and observed that it has to do with the sex slavery trade. One drawing is of a mountain outside of White Pine Bay, where she thinks are the graves of dead sex slaves.  Emma kisses Norman and the two head off on their dead sex slaves search.

At home, Dylan puts on vinyl of Herb Albert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You” while looking a pictures of mom and Norman on the table.  Strangest part of the episode for me (I also hate this song – sorry Herb, love your Tijuana Brass stuff though). Mom wakes up (it’s like two or three in the morning) and tells Dylan he’s toxic and leaving in the morning.  Dylan asks Norma how Sam died.  Maybe Norma and Sam didn’t get along quite as well as everyone thought.

Arriving in the woods in her classic Bug, Emma and Norman see the mountain shot from the manga drawing.  Searching further, they discover a pot field with two armed men who chase them off.  But not before they see a shed (from the drawings), which, unfortunately, they can’t stop to check out.

Norma arrives in town to see a commotion - there’s a body hanging upside down on fire in the middle of town (the eye for an eye I guess – but who izzit?).  

There’s a lot going on with this series – we not only have the psychological stuff  - the unholy family triangle scenario, but the corruption and underlying seediness of this seemingly sweet, idyllic town. 

I won’t be googling Trip Advisor about a visit to White Pine Bay, but I will be watching next week to figure out what the hell is going on with these “not so simple” folk.

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