Bates Motel (2013) / Thriller-Horror
Season 1: Episode 3: What's Wrong with Norman

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

Teleplay: Jeff Wadlow

1.3 - "What's Wrong with Norman"

Freddie Highmore Vera FarmigaSuspense isn't particularly high on the list of things that A&E's "Bates Motel" seeks to do, unlike the Hitchcock film, Psycho, but that's probably more than OK for those who enjoy creepy mystery serials with dysfunctional families and towns where everyone seems to be a closet deviant.  The Lynch-ian tone continue with "What's Wrong with Norman", which introduces in a more concrete fashion the notion that Norman Bates is having blackouts of a sort that causes him to see things and hear things that aren't there, acting on compulsions that he can't remember once he snaps out of it. 

When it happens to him in class, he gets a ticket to the hospital for a check-up, and mother Norma is quite worried about him, though bigger issues press when the police end up getting a search warrant for their home while investigating the disappearance of Keith Summers, only for the keepsake belt of Keith's that Norman had been saving as a memento to suddenly go missing.  It's up to Norma to try to finagle some news on what the cops are up to, especially from the kind-heated and hunky Deputy Shelby, in the hopes of protecting themselves.

Meanwhile, Norman's older half-brother starts his first day on the job of keeping watch over a $5 million pot farm, while Norman's oddball friend Emma is becoming obsessed with finding out more about the sadomasochistic manga Norman found in one of the cabins, which she is becoming more sure happens to be real.  Meanwhile, the images presented within the pages of the disturbing book seems to be having an effect on the impressionable Norman, as he begins to have visions of captive and half-dressed women around him.

Farmiga is still the one to watch, though Highmore gets the most screen time in this episode, and I'm afraid that it's increasingly beginning to look like he may have been the wrong actor to cast in the role.  Perhaps the biggest mystery regarding the series thus far is just how Norman has become a magnet for the school's cutest female students, as the flavorless cutie Bradley just can't seem to stay away, while Emma's main motivation for engaging Norman in the hunt for the Chinese girl story is predicated on her getting closer to him.  If all it took to pull in the honeys in real life is to look out of it and act awkward, all of the misfits in school would be big men on campus. 

While the show is taking weird turns, it's not a particularly bizarre show -- at least not yet.  There's still a safe and sane aspect to the show that let's us know that it isn't something likely to go completely off the rails.  Much of it is quite farfetched, not the least of which is how fragile a mind Norman has that suddenly come unhinged by being overstimulated with sex and violence -- though he seems to prefer the relatively innocuous fare like old movies. 

Nevertheless, the increasing revelations leads to more questions, and even if the show doesn't quite become exciting or suspenseful, the mystery behind the character motivations is becoming enough to make for a modest amount of entertainment value. "What's Wrong with Norman" isn't a really good episode yet, but at least the show is still on the upswing in terms of momentum.  Suspense may be scarce, but intrigue is definitely there, even if the show is hung together by the most tenuous of plot threads.

For other episode reviews, check the Bates Motel page.

Qwipster's episode rating:

2013 Vince Leo