"What's wrong with Norman?" would definitely be something I'd ask if Norman Bates was an orthodox TV character that had been introduced only two episodes ago. But since I'm referring to the Norman Bates that regards murdering residents of his motel in the shower and subsequently dumping them into a swamp as the essential constituents of a pleasant Saturday evening, making an unheralded tour through some bloke's house to recover a belt and then chancing onto what looks to be a sex slave is hardly worth a mention. Although, it actually kind of is, as Bates Motel uses it to demonstrate that it has remained the partially brainless programme we all remember not quite so dearly from its first two acts. I'll return to this subject matter in a twinkling, yet not to the question posed in the title of this episode because, believe it or not, there's this little flick called Psycho that explains it rather neatly.
Its prequel, Bates Motel, sensibly dedicates this instalment to character development in lieu of superfluous violence, which is especially exciting with regard to Norman, who is experiencing hallucinations of Norma conversing with him for what appears to be the first time. Blackouts, however, are evidently something that the young Mr Bates is familiar with, as is manifested through him being unable to recollect anything about making an effort to bump off his half-brother in the previous episode. In view of that, I can very well picture the programme revealing at some point that Norman is in fact behind the death of his father. That would elucidate his being so frantic when awaking at the beginning of the pilot before having actually discovered his old man in the garage, but would also change the concept of Bates Motel, which I took to be an explanation for Norman's descent into insanity, into simply showing a disturbed mind at work.
Until my hypothesising is proven veracious or fallacious, I'll limit myself to commending Freddie Highmore's acting, which noticeably improves with every new episode. Nevertheless, there is an unmissable qualitative disparity between the scenes set in the Bates household, for instance Dylan and Norman's conversation in the sitting room, and any other moment of "What's Wrong With Norman". I'm not dramatising; there is clumsiness to be found in either writing, acting, or directing at truly every other point of the episode, from Norman talking to his lady friends, Norma necking with Bad Pun Cop, to Dylan shooting pheasants with the guy crying at strip clubs.
Unsurprisingly, I'm not a devotee of clumsiness, but, and this is doubtful to cause significant fluctuations in the surprise department, I wholeheartedly prefer it over whatever it was that this programme was doing at the closing stages of "What's Wrong With Norman". This, let it be noted, excludes Norman's imagination ordering him to implement Operation Belt, and includes everything that takes place from that point on. Firstly, if Shelby cracking jokes as dreadful as "the air in Arizona" hadn't made him dubious enough already, there's the Detective Story 101 rule that the person about whom every feature seems to be wonderful is hiding a skeleton in their cupboard or their hidden rape room in the basement, in this case. While this is also something I could've lived with (to be clear: I'm speaking of the lazy plot device, not the rape room), the pseudo-suspenseful manner, in which director Paul Edwards sets this really not very stately twist up eventually stopped me from granting the episode a positive grade.
"What's Wrong With Norman" then ends with a cliffhanger about as thrilling as the ones from Planet Earth, owing to the terribly restricted potential outcomes for Norman. The audience being able to rely upon characters retaining the degree of bodily soundness and aliveness that is displayed in the source material is just an unpreventable drawback of doing a prequel. But I shan't lose faith in Bates Motel that easily. After all, this episode did reveal a glimpse of how good it could still become.
Twelve cabins, six notations:
- I'll go out on a limb here and assume that Dylan doesn't tuck a napkin into his collar when eating.
- If Bates Motel would ever want to get phenomenally self-referential, how about having Norman watch a film starring Anthony Perkins?
- Norma has a blue case for her mobile phone how old is she? 15?
- Furthermore, how did she not see Bradley walking right next to her? Does she have tunnel vision?
- Unless you're ministered to in Pandora, blue-labial doctors are decidedly terrifying.
- In keeping with the mother subject, Dylan has become a hundred times more likeable by being the first character on this programme to tell Norman how ridiculous he sounds when calling his mother that way.