Bates Motel "Nice Town You Picked Norma" Review: Burning Man

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Mar 26, 2013

Bates Motel S01E02: "Nice Town You Picked Norma"

Last week, the biggest question surrounding Bates Motel was "How is this going to work as an ongoing series?" The story of a boy and his mother, and how that boy became the killer seen in an iconic horror film from the 1960s, would seem to lend itself to the miniseries format more readily than to the narrative elongation required of episodic television. "Nice Town You Picked Norma" felt like an attempt to answer that question, or at least acknowledge that it's a question audiences will be asking.

White Pine Bay, the town that was created around the Norms (a term coined last week by commenter DavidJackson8 to collectively describe Norma and Norman, and that I'm now co-opting for my own use), seems primed to provide multiple avenues of storytelling for the pair to wander through when they're not busy looking longingly at each other on Norman's bed. Some of these elements were introduced in the premiere, but "Nice Town You Picked Norma" expanded the scope of the place considerably, along with its possible threats to the Norms' lives.

As Shelby explained it, White Pine Bay has found a way to maintain its existence by putting up a front made of artisanal cheeses and organic pig farming, while relying on a totally different economy, likely marijuana (among other things, probably), to keep the town afloat and prosperous. But with that sort of an economy comes a particular brand of justice. So while it may be likely that Bradley's father's warehouse was set on fire in response to some White Pine Bay faux pas, it seems all the more likely that the blaze was not sanctioned and, as a result, the person responsible was strung up on a yardarm and set on fire. You know, in full view of the town. As a warning.

If we pile on the sex-trafficking that the motel was used for, based on both Emma's translation of the diary and the final scene of last week's episode, with someone injecting drugs into a woman who was all chained up, then it's pretty clear that White Pine Bay has itself a nicely self-sustaining seedy underbelly that reminds me not only of Twin Peaks (in a way) but also of the picturesque, "crime-free" village of Sandford in Hot Fuzz, though obviously not as funny. 

Making the town itself an engine for the antagonistic forces against the Norms did help to ground things. It was one thing for Romero to be "a dog with a bone," because he and Keith Summers grew up in the town, but when recontextualized through the lens of the illegal activities the town runs on, suddenly Summers' murder took on a whole new weight. It helped to better explain Romero's reaction to Norma, and why it seemed like he was more concerned with a newcomer than with the fact that some guy was almost burned to death in his own warehouse. (Though it did make me wonder why the town didn't do anything to keep Summers' property from falling into foreclosure in the first place.)

White Pine Bay isn't the only problem for the Norms that this episode introduced, though: Norma's other son, Dylan (Max Thieriot), arrived on the scene. I'll admit that I wasn't expecting to meet Dylan this quickly, but I'm glad his arrival wasn't dragged out. Dylan's presence wound up serving a couple of purposes in the episode: He allowed us another way into the criminal enterprises of White Pine Bay, and thus gives us a break from the Norms. But he also became another rupture in their lives, one that isn't just a big threat, but also a personal one.

In an odd sort of way, Dylan is something of an audience surrogate. He called out the weird factor of the relationship between Norma and Norman, explaining that Norma has "ruined" Norman through their "tea party." Like I mentioned in last week's review, the Norms are trapped in some sort of a warped sense of the past, and the present keeps encroaching on that. Dylan is a very real intrusion not only because he's disrupted the dynamic between the Norms, but also because he's shattered their sense of being ensconced in a fanciful past. He's a real portion of Norma's past that she's tried to deny, and he knows about her deceased husband and how that husband was apparently not all rainbows and puppy dogs to live with. Dylan may not want to be in White Pine Bay, but to a certain degree he's at least able to keep himself out of harm's way due to the information that he has.

Though it can only protect him so much, as Norman's attack against Dylan demonstrates. It was a wonderfully violent scene that was brutal both physically, in Dylan's beating of Norman, and emotionally, as Freddie Highmore let all that rage just come out through his face, especially in that glower as he was pressed against the fridge. It's to both Highmore and Thieriot's credits that we're able to see the intense amount of bad blood and history between the two in only a few short scenes, but also to demonstrate that there is some degree of brotherly love there as Dylan attempted to get Norma to stop interrogating Emma.

I will say, however, that Norman didn't seem like Norman there, either. We've seen him angry and frustrated, but only ever in a pouty-ish sense. This was different. This was something else. This seemed like it could've been Mother.


– The scene of Norma, Norman, and Dylan sitting in the kitchen while the first two clean may've been my favorite of the episode, especially Vera Farmiga with her face almost right to the floor, as if she'd be able to see microscopic traces of blood. And the pause as the doorbell rang? Hilarious. I like that the show can work in these sorts of humorous moments.

– Based on how Richard totally plant-blocked Norman in the hospital, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the families in this town engage in betrothal arrangements to keep the criminal enterprises going.

– No, Norma, it's not okay for you to change tops in front of your son like that. And, yes, the second top was a better choice. The first one was just ugly.

– Nothing shows off male virility like sawing a log in the town square.

– "Quick! Down here! Don't even breathe. [pause] [whispered] Sorry." I cracked up at that apology. I am worried about Emma, though. That red-orange VW Beetle has to stand out in White Pine Bay, and while we never got an eyeline match on the pot field guards seeing the car, one of them did point in its direction, so I have to assume they saw it.

– I did this with Arrow when I started writing about the show, so if you're curious: I write my reviews for Bates Motel while listening to the music of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. 

What'd you think of "Nice Town You Picked Norma"?

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  • DamonFan78 Apr 18, 2013

    Tired of searching all over for Bates Motel info, links, etc? We have ALL Bates Motel related info, Tumblr, Twitter, Emma's blog post and MUCH, MUCH more here in ONE place for you!! :)

  • bleumystique Mar 31, 2013

    Solid episode. I liked the introduction of Dylan. Ironically he's about the most normal out of the bunch and I like that, as you said, he is sort of the audience surrogate. I love picking out that one character in every show that sort of substitutes for the viewers. Good times.
    -The Norms. Love it. Kudos David!
    -and with this episode, it's official that this town may be far creepier than the Norms are. I'm wary, I'm intrigued, I shall keep watching...for now.
    -I kinda like Emma. She's cool. I am concerned about her well being though, and I'm also curious to know more about her parents, because...I don't know. I have a feeling that will be important. I loved how she was so...okay, with Norma asking some of the most inconsiderate questions imaginable. I also loved how despite their differences Dylan tried to interfered, which truly showcases the sibling relationship well. I think he genuinely cares and is concerned for Norman.

  • ddstephens Mar 30, 2013

    This was a very good episode. At first I didn't know if I would like this show...give me a break, a show about Bates Motel? But it turned out to be very good. And sorry, Norman is a cute kid but he creeps me the heck out...And Norma..well she is on a whole different level..This has a good mix of suspense and creepiness. And NO!! a mother does not take her shirt off in front of her teen age son with only a black lacy number on....She has really messed with Norman's head..And Yay!!!! eyeliner man playing the sheriff makes it all good..he always freaked me out in Lost....I think I will be watching this for a bit. Hoping it will keep the vib it is putting out...major creepiness.....

  • MinitureMo Mar 29, 2013

    'What's your life long expectancy?' Nice to know you care Norma.... Brilliant dialogue and the acting and directing is fantastic. This is my new favourite show. Its so good!

  • KateSullivan Mar 28, 2013

    I was on the fence about this show after the pilot, now I am really starting to like it. I like the addition of Dylan into the episode (I even found the scene where Norma and Dylan are yelling at each other in the kitchen and she is insisting her relationship with Norman is normal and the one with Dylan isn't and the wry smirk on Dylan's face because I think the character's thought was likely the same as, no, actually her interactions with you are the only ones that don't creep me out). Freddie Highmore was scary in that fight scene, but I also liked how Dylan appeared both freaked out, scared and like worried about his brother (though I did find it curious that neither he nor Norman ever really introduced themselves to others as brothers)

    That interrogation of Emma was very interesting (first, clearly, Norma was approving of this girl over the others that showed up last episode and I couldn't help but believe it is because she would only be a distraction for like ten years then Norman would be back so he could have a little experience and be done and second, that Emma didn't appear freaked out by the questioning at all (but like Dylan was as was the audience)).

  • DanielScholz Mar 27, 2013

    I´m starting to like this show so let´s see if they can keep up the tension and creepy atmosphere for more than a few episodes

  • DavidJackson8 Mar 27, 2013

    Heh, you were more than welcome to use the Norms term without specifically crediting my post last week, but it's cool that you did.

    I love your Hot Fuzz mention. Not only is it one of my favorite movies, the comparison seems quite accurate from what we learn of White Pine Bay in this episode. I had an inkling of the same comparison when the Deputy started talking about the city's seedy criminal underbelly and how the townspeople "take care" of people who break the rules.

    "Quick! Down here! Get down! Don't even breathe. [pause] [whispered] Sorry."
    Haha, I also laughed at that line. Highmore's delivery of that was quite good.

    I was more than a little surprised that Norman was already at a point where he'd actually take a meat tenderizing mallet to Dylan's head after the initial fight was over. It's one thing to try to throw punches and get in a fist-fight, which I think was a reasonable level of aggression for Norman at this point in the series, but the way he swung that mallet, contact would've done some serious damage. I kinda feel like the show fast-tracked Norman's mommy issues a little bit.

    The episode overall was pretty good. I'm a little wary of the pot-field and some of the ways the town's secret "government" might show up, but I like that Dylan was introduced and integrated, and the tone is still good enough for me. It's creepy without being too obviously creepy.

  • bleumystique Mar 31, 2013

    Yes, I found that surprising that Norman was willing to take the meat tenderizer and use it too. Fistfights are normal. I would have preferred seeing the escalation to that point, otherwise what's the purpose of the series to begin with?

  • chris17blue Mar 26, 2013

    I really enjoy the show, the plot and character development is vast and well paced. I love that the town is all messed up, it brings mystery and complexity to the show. I also love the casting for Norman's brother Dylan -- GREAT ACTOR! XD

    Very small complaint: The actress playing Norma is not so good. It's like, someone tells her something or asks her a question, she just sits there and takes like 2 mins tops to respond or react to whatever is happening. It is really confusing, frustrating and weird.

    I actually like the actor playing Norman, he is doing okay job and his chemistry with Emma/Bradley is awesome! XD XD

    Looking forward to the next one! Black-outs and whatnot! XD

  • noelrk Staff Mar 27, 2013

    Have to disagree with you regarding Farmiga (Norma). I think she does have the toughest part on the show -- Norma's going to be a hard character to keep from slipping into cliche both from a writers' perspective and hers -- but I think she's very good with Highmore (that scene where's she changing clothes in front of him is gold between them -- terrific chemistry and tension). The slowness in replies feels like an attempt to appear thoughtful or just slow in an attempt to make people underestimate her, but I also feel like her questions and responses to Emma were slow as she weighed a next question as a chess move to try and learn as much as she could from this girl who might take her son from her. It worked for me.

  • chris17blue Mar 27, 2013

    Alright, I do respect your opinion but I do stand by what I said. To me, it feels like she has forgotten her lines and (is waiting for someone to give them to her) or she does not know how to react in certain situations.

    It feels very unrealistic to me. < < I do not know anyone in real live that acts this way. But hey, it's very small thing I noticed and is the only thing I do not like about this show. XD Hopfully her acting improves ^

  • FadingDream Mar 28, 2013

    To each their own, but I would wholeheartedly disagree. I love her acting and think she's nailing the part.

  • NasiaVoulieri Mar 26, 2013

    So far it seems to be very well written. One of the most disturbing and creepy shows I've seen, yet they manage to present the mother-son (not yet incesty) relationship quite "subtly", if you know what I mean. Let's see how it goes!

  • Watashii Mar 26, 2013

    I had no intentions of watching this show. First I never really liked the Psycho. Second, I thought I didn't have A&E.; But while I was flipping over channels, I saw this show and to my surprise, I do have A&E.;

    I knew the show was some sort of prequel but what I didn't know is that they changed the setting, which they set to modern (as in here and now 2013) times. That caught my attention and continued to watch this episode. As much as I don't like creepy shows with psycho protagonists, I'm kinda interested in the show now.

    I find it really odd that a psycho is growing up in town full of criminals. Lol at the Hot Fuzz mention. The show really does depict that small 'townish' feeling. Its also interesting how Norman just seems to be a normal curious teenager except with an Oepidus complex. He doesn't seem crazy, or psychotic at all.

  • blackmage8472 Mar 26, 2013

    Yes because normal teenagers try to take a swing with a meat tenderizer at the back of their half brother's head. Also if you watched the pilot I think they made a few well placed hints that Norman may have killed his own father.

    I think if you were looking at Norman from the outside then yeah he could seem like a quiet normal kid who's slightly off. But as the audience we see more, so I would definitely say he's a little psychotic.

  • belindatwo Mar 26, 2013

    As far as norman killing this father I don't think so, it was Norma his mother who had just taken a shower which was the hint ( washing off the blood) when Norman found his dead father who he did seem to love.

  • Watashii Mar 26, 2013

    I have not seen the pilot. I've only seen this episode, so I've only judged Norman based on this episode. Sure he attacked his brother but it just seemed that he is obsessed with his mom. Maybe that crazy enough. He just acts so 'teenage-y' when he is around other teenagers especially that girl he gave the notebook. I'm also given the impression that teenagers with psychotic tendencies tend to torture and kill animals. I wonder if they will make him into like a serial killer, or just some guy really obsessed with his mom.

  • santosmedrano Mar 26, 2013

    Right now he's the latter, but will eventually become the former as the final scenes of Psycho suggest with the question about missing girls in the area. I'm personally thinking that the book he found and the town's dark secrets will start feeding Norman's dark psychosis and make him worse than he already may be.

  • Sw33tEscape Mar 26, 2013

    I don't know the pilot gave me the impression that Norma murdered his father:
    1) She was taking a shower (possibly to get the blood off her)
    2) She didn't seem panicked at all when she found Norman holding his dad
    Plus I felt her other son in last night's episode thought she murdered him too, with all his questions about the insurance policy.

  • KiMarie Mar 26, 2013

    Oh yeah she definitely killed him, didn't she kinda smile when he said dads dead. And when Dylan asked how did Sam die, she wouldnt answer him.

  • NathanHickey Mar 26, 2013

    he appeared really concerned and as though he had just awoke and all panicked(unless he has split personalities). Cut to him finding his mum and she didnt seem bothered at all about the news, just a devious expression. I think she bopped him for the insurance money

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