Bates Motel (2013) / Thriller-Horror
Season 1: Episode 2: Nice Town You Picked, Norma

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Theriot, Mike Vogel, Olivia Cooke, Nestor Carbonell, Nicola Peltz, Keegan Connor Tracy
Director: Tucker Gates

Screenplay: Kerry Ehren

1.2 - "Nice Town You Picked, Norma"

Bates Motel Nice Town You Picked NormaThe second episode is an uptick from the lackluster opener, mostly due to highlighting the most complex character of the show, Norma (Farmiga), and far less of the teenage escapades of her son, Norman Bates (Highmore).

As you'd expect from the title, there is more emphasis on showcasing the town of White Pine Bay, Oregon, where the nice town folk manage to drive expensive cars and live like royalty, except we learn there appears to be a backstory to the place (i.e., it's not all artisanal cheeses and organic pig farming, as one character notes), which is particularly spotlighted when Norman accidentally stumbles into a pot farm of sorts. 

Norman furthers his friendship with newfound pal Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), afflicted with cystic fibrosis, who decides to help him translate the diary/manga that Norman found in one of the motel's rooms.  Turns out there's a sex-trafficking and torture tale within its pages, which the duo decides to seek more evidence to see if such sordid deeds actually occurred (and perhaps still is).  Yes, with people suddenly found burned alive at a couple of points, it might seem that the Bates may be the "normal" ones in this increasingly seedy town, once again hearkening back to the "Twin Peaks" vibe thus far in the series.

The other main story thread of this episode is the further exploration of the relationship between Norma and her other son, Dylan (Theriot), who doesn't seem too keen on his mother, especially suspecting her of knowing more than she's letting on about his father's death.  He is immediately a disruptive force in the house, antagonizing Norma (his name for her in his smartphone is 'The Whore'), and Norman is particularly struggling to get along with him, especially when it devolved into fisticuffs, though mostly to protect his mother's honor.

Incestuous allusions are certainly flying in this one, and the tone is generally better all around, as this storyline introduces even more plot threads stemming off of the first episode, including the murder investigation that has the police always sniffing around Norma's activities.  In this way, the Bates seem to kind of fit in with the nature of the town, seeming normal by all appearances to the outside world, but once you look behind the curtain, there is a lot of villainy and vice brewing under the surface.

I'm not quite ready to proclaim the show is a good one as of yet.  Certainly there are many intriguing aspects to the series, but most are just set-ups and lurid backstory.  It remains to be seen if there will be an overriding story that develops that carries real weight and momentum from week to week, or if the creative minds just mean to keep teasing us with progressively titillating plot developments meant to drum up cheap controversy to keep viewers reeled in. 

One gets the sense from these first two episodes that there is a nervousness by the writers that the show might not be around for more seasons if the ratings can't keep, so it's all about showcasing as many goodies up front as it can to pique our interest, hoping at least one of them will hook us in to see where it will lead.  Nevertheless, while I won't say I'm hooked yet, it is a step in the right direction, and hopefully the multitudinous story threads will shape into more tangible and weighty things down the road.

For other episode reviews, check the Bates Motel page.

Qwipster's episode rating:

2013 Vince Leo