Bates Motel: Season Two. A&E Television Networks. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2014. Blu-ray.
The dynamic duo of Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) continue to be the strength of the show. However, in attempts to expand the show’s universe, their development is sidelined for weaker story lines that are tied up too neatly.
The second season of Bates Motel attempts to widen the scope of the show. Norma becomes involved in the town’s politics, and town society, the underground drug trade begins to effect everyday business, and the bodies keep piling up around Norman. Norma and Norman spend more time away from each other. When this duo is split, or when we spend time away from either of them, the show loses it’s momentum.
Norma is still trying to stop the building of the new bypass. This struggle is fatalistic and has consequently low stakes. However, Norma’s conflict between her self-destructive impulses and the new identity she tries to create, is the high stakes struggle. She’s needy, manipulative, and irrational. You’re constantly on edge whenever she is in a public place. Vera Farmiga manages to humanize her by communicating strength. She portrays Norma as a battered woman just trying to survive. The conflict between these two selves becomes tragic after she meets Christine (Rebecca Creskoff) a pushy, but nice,socialite. Christine sets Norma up with her brother, played by Michael Vartan. As this relationship progresses, her relationship with Norman decays and she ends up sabotaging both. It ends badly, but it’s this character’s resiliency that make Norma sympathetic.
One stupid choice she makes to stop the bypass, is to get involved with Ford (Michael O’Neill), the drug kingpin with political ties. His business is in competition with Dylan’s (Max Thieriot), Norma’s son. Little does she know, he is also the father of Blair Watson, who’s murder Norman may or may not be responsible for. That gives the drug war more prominence in the story, but doesn’t stop it from being boring. The characters involved in the storyline are too simplistic and the incompetence of the local police is unbelievable. Dylan is the main character involved in the drug storyline. As he is the red-headed stepchild in the Bates family, he is also the red-headed stepchild within Bates Motel. His character isn’t self-destructive. He’s been abandoned by Norma, but he’s managed to come out relatively stable. Unfortunately, he is surrounded by the least interesting characters and storyline, the resolution of which, is unsatisfying. The whole underground drug world just feels too modern and in conflict with a show where the main characters and small town are 1950’s Americana transplants.
Meanwhile, Norman is coming-of-age. He wants his drivers license, he starts dating Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski) the local bad girl, and his blackouts are becoming more frequent. He ventures away from Norma and starts to form his own circle of friends. Cody, Remo (Ian Tracey), and sweet Emma (Olivia Cooke), from last season, are good actors. Their arcs are more harmonious with the overall arc of the show. Sadly, Norman’s attempts to be independent unleash Norma’s neediness; and that’s where you see how she has really damaged her, already, disturbed son. She has used him as her confidante, protector, and pet. He takes the protector role too far in his relationships with women. This is where “mother” comes in. Arguably, the most famous alter ego in movie history. We witness him practicing, kind of, becoming “mother”. However, the introduction of the alter ego hints at the endgame of the show. By the end of the season: all is settled in the underground world, Norma has been ostracized from society, and she and Dylan are no longer estranged.
The new season starts March 9, and I’m not sure I’ll keep up with it week to week. The plot barely moves forward and there are too many conveniences. The cliffhangers and mysteries, like Blair Watson’s murder, are forgotten. Her murder was forgotten by everyone until the end of the show. Reality enters the show only when convenient. The main draw for me is the acting.