Bates Motel "What's Wrong with Norman" Review: Total Blackout

Bates Motel S01E03: "What's Wrong with Norman"

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Mother!

Well, not exactly like that, but you get the idea. After Bates Motel spent its first two episodes settings up some "stuff" for the Norms to deal with—rapists, overzealous sheriffs, cute girls, handsome deputies, and estranged family members—"What's Wrong with Norman" moved the plot forward a few steps, potentially answered a couple of questions, and complicated their lives just a bit more.

Since the episode was all about what's wrong with Norma, let's talk about him. Understandably stressed after having to flee from pot field guards last week and feeling sort of mixed up about the fact that the amateur manga notebook from the motel is actually a diary of some sort, Norman found it difficult to focus on his language arts test, imagining his teacher, Miss Watson, tied up like one of the women in the book, clothes all tight and sweaty. Oh, and for one very quick half-second, he saw Norma, too:

Miss Watson all tied up in Normans dream

Norma all tied up in Normans dream

It was a really well put together sequence—his test paper kept becoming sketches from the journal, the audio warped and distorted as Miss Watson said Norman's name, and I'm pretty sure we also heard Vera Farmiga say "Norman," a second or so before her quick appearance. The editing and sound mixing were very spot-on here, really selling how much stress and sexual frustration Norman's experienced, and so when he fell out of his chair, it felt really earned. 

Norman ended up in the hospital, as well he should've. Of course, the doctor wanted to know if Norman had a history of blacking out, and Norma got defensive and cagey, replying, "Nope. Never. Not at all." The lady doth protest too much, methinks. And then, it turned out, much later in the episode, as Norman and Dylan chatted after the latter's shift guarding the pot field, that Norman had no memory whatsoever of attempting to take that meat tenderize to Dylan's skull. None. Zilch. Nadda. Nothing. "I hardly think I tried to kill you," he told Dylan. "You were pretty badass." "I'm sure I struck fear into your heart."


And so the icing on this sexually charged angry cake came a few scenes later, when we saw Norman lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, and were given the impression of time passing for Norman as light zoomed by his window. And time had passed, but for Norman it likely also passed into a different state of consciousness as Norma appeared. Except it wasn't really Norma. It was Mother. And Mother wants him to clean up the mess of Shelby having Summers' rape utility belt in his possession because he found it when the police searched the Norms' house.

Last week, I mentioned that when Norman attacked Dylan, he didn't really seem like Norman, at least not the way that Freddie Highmore had been playing him thus far. It was a difference between "pouty teenager" anger and not, well, "take a meat tenderizer to your half-brother's head" anger. Knowing what we do about Norman's future (or at least the future as we can conceive of it, treating the original film as the result of all this), I theorized that it was likely Mother emerging, that murderous, internalized ideal of Norma that Norman carries inside of him, that ends up taking control of him. 

Also last week, a few of you debated in the comments who, exactly, killed Sam, the late Mr. Bates. Was it Norma, or was it Norman? Evidence from the first episode suggested Norma—she was cleaning up in the shower—but what if Norman had first been scrubbed clean by Norma, and put into his bed by her, and only woke up from his fugue state as the episode began? He has no memory of attacking Dylan, and so perhaps he has no memory of killing his own father. After all, Norman and Mother said that they can't allow Shelby to do to them what Sam did.

So, yeah, Shelby. He may've found the belt, and he said he didn't tell Romero about it, interestingly enough. Norma, relying again on her feminine wiles to get what she needed, found out that Shelby is willing to protect her and Norman—you know, in exchange for making out on his couch. And probably other things. Like French-kissing and stuff. While it all came off as pretty lecherous and creepy, it wasn't as downright horrible as Norman finding the sex dungeon in Shelby's basement—complete with a disco ball and not one but two video cameras—where he's keeping a Chinese woman chained up, likely the one we saw at the end of the first episode if the track marks on her arm are any indication. 

So the Norms' supposed white knight isn't as noble as he seems. But then again, what in White Pine Bay is as it as appears?



COMMENTS FROM THE GUESTBOOK


– I really love how appropriately freaked out Emma is by everything. She looked haggard and worried as opposed to playing it cool and collected. Her confession about using the whole "buried sex slave in the woods" situation as an excuse to hang out was sort of perfect, too. At the very least, she's a far more compelling character than Bradley is.

– "Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Bates."

– Ethan has never seen nor heard of Deliverance. I'd likely have spent the rest of my guard duty with him finding out what other classic Burt Reynolds films he hadn't seen. It would likely culminate in me exclaiming, in my best Sterling Archer voice (which is horrible), "HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN GATOR?!" 

– "Everyone seems better in old movies. Even bad ones."

– White Pine Bay's city motto: "An Eye for an Eye." Seriously, do they just indoctrinate it into people? 

What'd you think of "What's Wrong with Norman"?

Comments (33)
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Sep 06, 2013
I'm kinda disappointed. I always notice the little details. Emma calls him when he's talking to Bradley and says "I posted the photo on Yahoo! Answers and got it translated." Yahoo! Answers was first launched on 2005... The publication date of the book is 1959 and the film 1960 (I haven't read the book yet) but it was like 6 decades ago... Why did she say "Yahoo! Answers" it wasn't supposed to happen before the movie? So it has to be older?... Looks like a little but remarkable error.
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Sep 19, 2013
No, the series is supposed to take place in the present time. They all use iPhones, too, if you haven't noticed.
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Apr 06, 2013
I'm disappointed in this review. I would think that when writing for a website as popular as tv.com, that the writer would proofread his work. There are too many spelling errors in this column (I counted three, but even one would be too many in this case).
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Apr 05, 2013
my prediction? the evil slave sex dungeon is real but we're being led to believe it's not because of his psychosis. And the girl there was real. :)
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Apr 04, 2013
This was probably my least favorite episode of the season.

I think I previously mentioned that one of the things I've been liking about the show in its first two episodes was the not-so-obvious but rather subtle creepiness. That was kinda thrown out in this one, I think, and is probably the beginning of that change in tone. The vibe of the show, for me, changed from a slightly more realistic or common type of small-town creepiness and plotting with Norman gradually becoming psychopathic because of Norma and the town, to something more over-the-top, with big conspiracies for the Norms to get involved in, and with Norman already being a further-developed psycho.

I mean, sure, I expected something like the sex-slavery in this episode to happen at some point, but the rather strong emphasis that was put on it and the pot field is what's kinda bothering me about this episode in particular. To a lesser extent, it may also be because of the less gradual but quicker approach to these big plots. And I'm wary of the fact that I can see this being the norm now (pun half-intended).

It just seems like the kinda problem that many dramas can fall prey to, throwing in big plots and mysteries to try and make the basic premise of the show more interesting... like The Playboy Club throwing in a big murder mystery, heh.
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Apr 04, 2013
I agree. Although I am still enjoying the show and plan on sticking with it, one of the things that intrigued me was that at this stage, Norman Bates may actually be the most sane thing in this crazy little town.
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Apr 04, 2013
I didn't like the cellphones, but I'm getting over it. The memory issues along with the passing out complicated things deliciously, as well as the creepiness of the entire town being revealed.

And why don't you review Archer? The Burt Reynolds ep was my absolute favorite, but the recent slobbering dog and sexy coyote were great too. I was a bit confused when they saved the Pope though.
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Apr 03, 2013
Okay, can I say my favorite scene was of Norman walking along the road with that expression on his face? That was kind of exactly Anthony Perkins like, it actually gave me chills.

I liked how they played that whole thing with Norman and Dylan too, like Dylan thinks it is strange that Norman doesn't remember but doesn't push further. I have a feeling we will all feel really bad when Norman in one of his fugue states actually probably kills him (though I am actually kind of wondering if that becomes one of the things that finally sets Norman totally off, not that he kills Dylan but someone in this screwed up town does and it really turns Norma inward so the only Norma that Norman sees is "Mother.")

And also, yes, I became totally convinced that Norman likely killed his father and Norma is covering for him and then started wondering, um, when we saw Norma killing the Summers guy, it was totally from Norman's point of view. I am kind of wondering if that is actually what Norman sees when he is actually doing it. Heck, I started wondering if he was just imagining no one being at Shelby's house and had already killed him.

I do really like Emma and I actually vaguely expect Dylan to find her investigating one of these days while he is on duty and Emma start to really wonder about Norman because Dylan might have a more normal reaction to the story.
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Apr 03, 2013
This is great storytelling. Had no idea what to think when this show premiered but it has quickly become appointment television. It is anchored by two of the stronger performances this year on television from Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore. (I think big sis found the better horror story on television to be a part of.)

Love the story developing between Norman and Emma. Waiting for it to bring in the newest guard on staff at the pot farm as Dylan seemed a very interested observer when Norma was grilling Emma in the past episode.

The Archer blurb was very spot on as my mind went to the same place in that scene. It continuing through Burt Reynold's movie career until Sterling jumps in and asks "HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN GATOR?"
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Apr 02, 2013
Thank you for using the correct Shakespearean quote, so many people get it wrong.
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Staff
Apr 02, 2013
Oh? How do they get it wrong? The "methinks" as the first part?
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Apr 02, 2013
Ooooh I didn't even think of that, Norman could've killed his own father... interesting. Explains that the crazy person is already inside there. I enjoyed how you saw more of that in this episode, especially when he was walking down the street having decided to go get the belt, and that look on his face! This kid is good, the actor I mean, the character is effed as we all know.
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Staff
Apr 02, 2013
It was sort of killing me to see that thread playing out last week, and not jump in and comment. But I had already seen this episode, so I thought it best to stay mum and let you all hash it out, and then we can all talk about it in light of this episode. :)
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Apr 02, 2013
Thank you for your discretion. I would have hated to know it before hand.
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Apr 02, 2013
anybody got the twin peaks vibe?? can norman be like leland palmer.......
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Apr 02, 2013
im hooked to this show
i dont like it that they twist the time thing ,there for it is NOT a prequel story
but im liking the whole picture.

its realy good but still could be a little beter.

normally i would say i dont watch somthing that is a kind of reboot,but this yeah im hooked:D

im so so so SOOO sad that the show dont have the psycho theme in the intro.
im gonna play the psychotheme ,every time im wachting a new episode :)
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Apr 02, 2013
I've seen a lot of complaints about the "prequel" being set in "today" versus the 1950s/60s...however, there's nothing about the story itself that dictates what happened happened 60+ years ago. I actually *like* they're doing it in contemporary time because honestly, I think trying to do it as a period series would distract from it. You'd have more people trying to nitpick the anachronisms in the show versus focusing on the story itself.

Would this show be as enjoyable without seeing Dylan's contact listing for his mother as "The Whore"?
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Apr 02, 2013
Random thoughts-

Would you really be psyching yourself up with a gun in a mirror in a hallway- do it in your bedroom

My teachers never wore red leather mini skirts

Has he ever blacked out before - makes me wonder if Norman killed his dad

Police are searching your house - generally YOU NEVER LEAVE THEM ALONE IN THE HOUSE

Normans accent turned all Forrest Gump when he started saying "whats wrong with me"

why take the belt?

So Norman doesnt remember going after his brother with a tenderizer, but he did remember the fight when his MOTHER? asked him in the last episode

Did the deputies bat have Jesus carved on it?

A disco ball - oooh creepy
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Staff
Apr 02, 2013
Taking the belt was dumb (and Tim alluded to that in his "Should I Watch..." post when he mentioned that both Norma and Norman do dumb things. At the same time, Norman's clearly messed up enough that not having a reason sort of makes sense for him.
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Apr 02, 2013
"why take the belt?" - i was referring to the deputy. did he do it to get closer to Norma or to have dirt on her and Norman - probably the latter due to his disco dungeon.
And if it was to get closer to Norma, then why meet her at your house which has a kidnapped and abused Chinese girl downstairs - it just seems a bit clunky to me
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Staff
Apr 02, 2013
Well, guessing (and I haven't seen anything past this episode): Given that Shelby has a woman chained up in the basement, I'm willing to bet that he and Summers were in cahoots with the sex trafficking. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the belt was a standard accessory of Summers's when they received new women.
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Staff
Apr 02, 2013
Hot lady he can blackmail into sexy times with?
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Apr 02, 2013
Ok, but then why meet Norma at his house
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Apr 02, 2013
How did the deputy know it was Keith Summers' belt?
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Apr 02, 2013
another good point
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Apr 02, 2013
Norman could've remembered the fight, you know the moments when his brother's fist collided with his body and face. However, he could've blacked-out what started it (him attacking him with the meat tenderizer).

I don't know, it's not like your presence is required for the search. In fact your presence might make things worse (e.g. they start searching the kitchen and your eyes stray to long on a certain thing so they search it more throughly). The only reason I can think of for staying is if you get a thrill out of watching strangers go through your private things while you're incapable of stopping them, or you are paranoid that they'll plant something. And even if it's the latter it's not like you can account for where every cops in your house is throughout the entire search so it's not like you would be able to catch/stop one from planting something.
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Apr 02, 2013
If Norma had stayed for the search she could have come up with an excuse for anything that was found
"Oh that belt, Norman found it in one of the rooms the other day" - something along those lines. If Norma wants the police off her back, she should be willing to stick around and explain anything that comes up, because without a dead body almost anything could be explained
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Apr 04, 2013
I think that would have been the worse thing to happen because Norma is a terrible excuse-maker.
"Have you seen Keith Summers?" "No." "We have a witness saying they say you two having an argument on your front lawn" "Oh I thought you meant seen him recently. Yeah, I saw him a week ago."
I don't know her track record doesn't give me the feeling that should would've come up with a good enough lie if they had confronted her about the belt on the spot, especially when she didn't know Norman kept it.
At least when she went to the Deputies' house she was somewhat prepared to lie about it.
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