24th Feb2014

Bates Motel 2×01 – “Gone But No Forgotten” Review

by Nathan Smith

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— SPOILERS LIE BEYOND HERE —

We all know how the saga of Norman Bates is going to end.

It’s something that’s been so ingrained in the pop culture lexicon for many years that I was actually shocked when discussing Bates Motel, with others, that they didn’t actually know how this was all going to end. That the road to Norman Bates meeting Marion Crane was a path not yet trodden in their minds. And you know what, maybe it’s better that way. Because the plot that Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin have set up, is a pretty interesting story in its own right. Because it actually has me hoping against hope that it won’t end badly, but as things begin in the season two premiere airing March 3rd at 9/8c, they’re very clearly setting up some miles and miles of bad road ahead. The premiere does a lot of interesting things on its own right, and a lot of them are done very well. One of the things that I love that it does is that it lets things breathe, it takes its time. Last season moved along so quickly from plot element to plot element so fast that it was very possible to get whiplash. But judging from the premiere, it’s very easy to see that the new favor in town is less is more.

‘Gone But Not Forgotten,’ does a little bit of answering of some of the questions that were set up at the end of last year’s finale. It beings curating a mystery to the death of Miss Watson, and the spiderweb that springs out in regard to this woman. Things start to bubble up to the surface, but like Cuse’s last show, it’s a slow process. But this show takes time; it takes nuance and world building. Because, look, it’d be very easy for the writers to start ramping up the tension in Norman’s peculiar habits, which a whole lot of folks, including Norma, seem to find odd. And to be honest, they are. His obsession with Miss Watson’s death (and his loud, awkward sobs at her funeral) is something that would raise an eyebrow in any community, but Freddie Highmore does this fantastic thing, like Anthony Perkins before where he makes it very easy to mistake his actions as the mere curiosity of a teenage boy. But they do other things like slipping in his taxidermy habits and then the element of mystery of what Norman’s mental state is, becomes increasingly muddled. Is he or isn’t he? That’s the great mystery of the whole thing this series is doing.

Bates Motel does a really great job of skewing what longtime Psycho viewers expect in regards to the relationship between Norman and his mother. Vera Farmiga has this way of giving off this crazy persona, but the more time you spend with it, and the closer you look, you just see that she’s a mother who cares about her son deeply. Maybe she’s a rougher sort, looking at a) exactly how she deals with a motherly duty like teaching her son to drive (which will ring true for anyone who perhaps had the misfortune to be taught on back roads by their parents and not by a driving instructor) or b) dealing with an impending horror of that newfangled bypass (which is just a fantastic scene that shows that Norma bates does not suffer any fools who get short with her, and man is that an endlessly quotable scene) that as any viewer does know spells the beginning of the end for the Bates family and their motel.

But Farmiga and Highmore show precisely why they fit snugly in their respective roles as mother and son, they have a rapport and a closeness, especially in the aforementioned driving scene or later in a scene that comes towards the end of the premiere, just watch her face, and watch as the realization dawns and fear crosses her face. It’s in that moment that we see her as a mother who cares, not yet the mother who would damage her son so irreversibly that he becomes the stuff of nightmares. It’s also especially worth noting my unabashed glee at seeing Nestor Carbonell upgraded to series regular given his transition from one note character to a stoic sheriff surrounded by madness, and any scene between himself and Farmiga are just great because they both operate on two ends of the spectrum and their scene together is just fantastic.

There is a death in the premiere and unfortunately it involves one of my least favorite characters on the show, Bradley, and it’s not because I hate the character per se, it’s more that the writers are dead set on spinning this character into Norman’s universe when all logical approach tells us that everything needs to move away from that person, which we see as the episode comes to close. Because this show is always telling us how perfect Norman and Emma (who is sadly underutilized in the premiere, although Olivia Cooke does wounded love so painfully well) is, even Norma likes her that every time Bradley is involved, I just roll my eyes. Compared to Emma, Bradley is just a character that has nothing to offer, (that doesn’t dispel anything that the actress does, she has her own sneaky way of making Bradley appealing) although the premiere goes a long way to give her some new shading to find a new way of directly involving her in the plot other than tangentially as Norman’s sought after object of lust.

Or maybe I’m just an unabashed Norman/Emma shipper. It gives me hope that somewhere along that road; he can actually have a fully functioning and perpetually normal life. But alas, we know there’s no happy ending there. And that actually makes me very sad.

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