“Bates Motel:” A Not So Nice Town


HOLLYWOOD—“Bates Motel” continues its strong start to the origins of “Psycho” with its second episode that premiered this week on A&E.

Last week, the series premiere introduced to us Norma and Norman Bates, a mother and son who are utterly devoted-a little too much maybe-to each other and have sought a fresh start from tragedy by purchasing an old motel in the seemingly quiet town of White Pine Bay.

As Norman and his dear mother begin to build up their lavish motel for business, twists, turns, secrets and visitors have emerged already without stop. This is why “Bates Motel” is off to a good start: it gets straight to business and right to the “psycho” elements. There is no need to wait mid-season or towards the finale to get a sense of how things eventually became the legendary “Psycho.”

Similar to last week’s episode, the beginning of this episode “Nice Town You Picked, Norma,” the story gets right to the point of conflict. We first see Norman (Freddie Highmore) glimpsing through a old beat-up notebook of graphic drawing containing women being tortured, grabbing his attention. Norman snaps out of his curiosity with several knocks on the door.

Wondering who could it possibly be, Norma hurriedly walks down the stairs and we are introduced to a new character: Dylan (played by Max Thieriot). Who is this Dylan that emerges into the Bates’s lives? Again, not wasting anytime, it is revealed that Dylan is Norma’s son from a previous relationship, and is Norman’s half-brother.

One would think that the way Norma loves her son Norman, she would be as loving to her first son, Dylan. That’s not the case. In fact, Norma herself says that she “hates” Dylan and wishes he could leave since he’s never had any love towards her. Dylan, with no job, money or family, has no other place to go, but to his mother’s. This upsets both Norma and Norman, who agree that they need to get rid of him.

Dylan is an outcast, who has nowhere to go, but to a unwelcoming family. Though in this episode he causes more trouble for Norma and Norman, he gets a glimpse of what he might be capable of when he begins an unusual connection with some local big shots loaded with cash and ask him if he knows how to use a gun.

There is no brotherly love between Dylan and Norman and each have their own opinions of Norma. Dylan, who refers to his mother as “Norma,” also calls her a “whore” for leaving her father, which enrages Norman. The two get into a fight in the kitchen, with Norman telling Dylan to never speak of his mother like that again, and Dylan telling Norman that his mother has him ruined.

This fight shows two things: Norman’s deep devotion and sensitivity regarding his mother and we slowly see how he is transforming through the act of attempting to kill his own half-brother for berating his mother and the psychotic look in his eyes afterwards. Though Dylan may have won the scuffle, based on how events eventually turn out, it may seem that Norman could win the war.

Norma, still working hard to get her motel business running, gets more trouble when Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) begins questioning and suspecting Norma about Keith Summer’s recent disappearance. If you recall last week, Keith was the bitter owner of the motel who assaulted Norma for buying his property during foreclosure and was shortly after killed by Norma after Norman comes to her rescue. The evidence of his multiple-stabbed body is well below the lake, but when his truck is parked near the motel, suspicions begin to rise.

In an attempt to make herself seem less of a suspect, Norma goes on a date with Sheriff Romero’s partner, Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) and tries to make nice. On their social outing, Deputy Shelby reveals that the town has more illegal activity than meets the eye, and that it may not be the town Norma needed for a fresh start.

Oddly enough, Norma has to ensure her own son that the date means nothing, and that its more to get any suspicions off their backs. However, from the looks of things, the thought of another with his mother brings Norman some discomfort. At this point, Norman and Norma can pull off playing a married couple who have such a strong connection and defend one another when someone-mainly Dylan in this episode-belittles the other.

Meanwhile, Norman befriends Emma, a sweet, but colorful girl diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, who’s obviously head over heels for him. Somehow Norma isn’t as possessive of Norman around this girl; maybe its because of her life expectancy of only 27 years, but we’ll find out sooner or later.

Emma finds the sketchbook Norman was skimming through earlier, and the two embark on a quest of what the book could mean. Unfortunately, their adventure is short-lived when they stumble into a marijuana field and are chased down by two armed men. Luckily, our “heroes” survive, but this subplot may need clarification later on.

With Dylan added to the mix, it creates a stronger bond between Norman and his mother, as they both hold hatred towards their distant family member. The strength of the show is the realistic chemistry that the viewer buys between the mother and son. Their devotion to one another is believable, and the show is slowly piecing together just how exactly Norman Bates transforms into a somewhat peculiar character.

The show continues to keep one interested and brings strong story lines to keep one guessing the outcomes and how exactly it will lead to the novel and film’s resolve. Freddie Highmore perfectly showcases the fragility, yet complexity of Norman Bates and how he is taking seriously the show’s tagline that “a boy’s best friend is his mother.” And so far, they are playing really great BFFs.

By Carmen Herrera