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

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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"?

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