I spent a sizable chunk of "Trust Me" feeling rather bored. It's not that it was bad but, the episode devoted a good bit of its time to sort of cleaning up from last week's cliffhanger, where Norman was in Shelby's house as Shelby was arriving home. There was no way Norman was going to get caught (outright, anyway; though he was very much caught by Shelby in other ways, the same as Norma), and there was no chance that Norma would discover Shelby's sex basement. However, we still had to go through those motions.
Then the episode zagged as it decided to to lay out almost everything for a few select characters, and spurred on a couple of new standings for those whose effects, in turn, will be delayed a bit by Norma's arrest. Ironically, it was kind of a slowed-down approach to fast-paced, serialized storytelling: Change things up, resolve lingering conflicts quickly, and then move onto the next set of challenges.
The "big thing" isn't even that the police found Summers' severed hand, complete with carpet fragments under his watch (really?); something like that was going to happen eventually, and I'm glad it's happening now rather than later. No, instead it's everyone telling everyone else what's that's going on. Norman told Norma that Mother more or less instructed him to go to Shelby's and retrieve the rape utility belt—something that would typically be cause for concern for any mother—and Norma responded by explaining that Norman simply sees things that aren't there, writing off Mother and the Chinese woman in Shelby's basement as imaginary visions. It wasn't even drawn out as a momentous reveal, just Norma stating a fact that her son was previously unaware of, in order to explain his odd behavior. Bates Motel has decided not to let these plot elements to go unspoken for too long, and it keeps things moving.
A doubly nice result of the Norms' little chat was its immediate effect of stirring up some resentment in Norman toward Norma, which gave Dylan the space to influence Norman's behavior a bit. First though, Norman explained everything that has happened on the show so far to Dylan. It was a decidedly clunky bit of info-dumping, but contextually it made sense for Norman to want to confide in someone, and Dylan, as family and as someone who does sort of understand how decidedly erratic Norma can be, was the perfect person to tell. While that exchange felt ponderous at first, it swerved into something surprisingly tender as Dylan not only promised to help Norman, but then gave him some damn fine advice about how to respond to Bradley's 10pm text message of "Hey." I was really pleased that the scene went as smoothly and as well as it did, because I didn't really expect it to.
Dylan's a benevolent antagonist within Bates, insofar as he's opposing Norma (assuming we're treating Norma as an anti-hero, of sorts; perhaps that's an issue for discussion?). But we're rooting for him to do the right thing. His influence was an attempt to correct the wrongs he sees perpetuated against Norman, and he couldn't help but crow about how he'd managed to convince Norman to go to Bradley's house for a booty call and thus chip away a bit at Norma's hold over the younger Bates. He's significantly more compelling than the blandly menacing and icky Shelby, or Sheriff Romero, who I'm increasingly convinced is probably a fairly decent person. Maybe.
Bradley, for her part, remains pretty much a non-entity to me, which is frustrating, especially given the obvious prominence the show is officially extending her as we move forward. We know she's a little aggressive based on her behavior in the pilot, but there's not much room for that to breathe; she went immediately from would-be sexpot to understandably mopey teenager. Unlike Emma, who benefited from a more prolonged and plot-related presence in Episodes 2 and 3, Bradley's only had a couple of notes to play so far, and none of them all that interesting. I promise that my response to Bradley has nothing to do with Nicola Peltz having been in a movie that, for me, doesn't actually exist. She just hasn't had the most dynamic material to work with here, so I can't lay too much blame at her feet.
This is likely the last time we'll check in on Bates Motel for a while (dwindling number of eyeballs). Jen asked me to do a quickie 4-episode test, and so here are the quickie star ratings:
"First You Dream, Then You Die": 2 stars (out of four)
"Nice Town You Picked Norma": 2 stars
"What's Wrong with Norman": 3 stars
"Trust Me": 2.7 stars
I do find the show oddly compelling, though I sometimes I feel like I shouldn't, even though I've yet to be able to articulate a reason why I shouldn't. Thankfully, I'm not alone in that sort of attraction to the show, as a number of people I've talked with on Twitter feel much the same way.
@televisionary Yay! I have no idea why I'm excited, and yet I am!— Zack Handlen (@zhandlen) April 8, 2013
I do think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore are both fantastic. They bring a surprising amount of weight to a series that could otherwise tumble over into tedious crazy (the worst kind of crazy), and their chemistry together is undeniable, striking the right balance of being just over the line incestuous without overselling it. I think one or both of them are pretty much guaranteed Golden Globe nominations (but not Emmys, because, well, be serious) this year, since Bates Motel is the sort of show the Hollywood Foreign Press Association loves to notice, and they're both known more for film work than they are for TV.
If there's one another thing that I've responded to, and want to see the see the series develop more, it's the sheer ridiculousness of White Pine Bay. There's a logging festival and people sometimes get set on fire in the town square. How could you not love that sort of bizarre and campy insanity? Bates Motel needs more moments like this, and I'm hoping that as the show continues to establish its setting, there'll be more room for that in its environment. Along those lines, Farmiga's performance especially is an extension of the show's camp sensibilities, with her verbal tics and long pauses. It goes a long way toward maintaining that vibe both when you least expect it, i.e., Norma's fantastic interrogation of Emma in "Nice Town You Picked Norma," and when you do expect it, like in her delightful breakdowns this episode, on the dump's fence or in the hallway with Dylan just before she was arrested.
Bates Motel may currently rely a bit too much on plot contrivances (no real reason to keep the belt other than to get Norman into Shelby's house; Dylan being the biker who passed Norman), but this is one of those instances where I'm willing to overlook such things because the show seems aware of them. Like I discussed a bit above, instead of letting these setups linger about, the show is trying to pay them off as quickly as possible, so as to move onto the next thing. This becomes a delicate act of driving on the edge of a cliff, and I still wonder-worry about the show's longevity—especially now that A&E has renewed the show for a second season of 10 episodes—but at least I feel like its team has a handle on the wheel.
COMMENTS FROM THE GUESTBOOK
– This was the first episode I watched live (as opposed to on a press screener), so it was the first time I saw the opening title card. I was expecting something a lot more atmospheric and moody for the show's opening than the motel's neon sign flickering on.
– Norma loves making turkey pot pies.
– Norman's "Oh well." as Shelby had to cut short their fishing trip was the single best insincere-and-not-even-trying-to-hide-it "Oh well" I have ever heard.
– Dylan must've spent the entire day sitting in front of the motel when he wasn't out grocery shopping.
– So relieved that Bradley did not have her sunglasses on inside her super nice house. I was going to scream if she did.
– I did enjoy the gauzy and dream-like sex scene between Bradley and Norman, complete with lots of superimpositions. It was all very soapy in the best possible way, even going so far as to match the color highlights in Bradley's room.
– "But I didn't defend myself! I killed the crap out of him!"
What'd you think of "Trust Me"? Are you going to stick with the show?