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Bates Motel: Season 2

Bates Motel: Season 2

What She said:

She

One thing I had previously never really considered was the origins of Psycho killer Norman Bates.  Yeah, I’d seen the classic Hitchcock movie, but I didn’t really give a darn about Norman’s troubled childhood.  But that’s exactly what the A&E series Bates Motel explores, the second season of which just concluded a couple of weeks ago.  The show is a true nighttime soap opera—moody, dramatic, thrilling, and surprisingly funny at times in a somewhat warped way.  And boy is it fun to watch.

Season 2 of the series reacquaints us with Norman, his mother Norma, and half-brother Dylan, who are just trying to make lives for themselves in White Pine Bay, Oregon.  The motel is up and running, and cute-as-a-button Emma is manning the desk.  For Dylan, he seems to have established himself as a respected member of the illegal marijuana industry that pretty much rules the town behind the scenes, which means he’s constantly in some form of trouble.  But it’s young Norman who we’re most worried about.  The town is still picking up the pieces after the mysterious death of teacher Blair Watson, and we, the viewers, know that Norman had at least something to do with it. 

Bates Motel: Season 2

For the Bates family, things begin to deteriorate fast.  Norman is slipping further and further away, obsessed with taxidermy and getting involved with a not-so-good girl Cody.  This, of course, has him wrapped up in trouble before he can say, “crazy psycho killer.”  In the meantime, there are plans in place to build a highway bypass, which would mean that much less traffic would be passing by the Bates Motel.  Norma is beside herself, as she’s worked so hard to create the business.  She rallies against the bypass and eventually becomes involved in local politics.  As we learn, though, White Pine Bay is so corrupt that becoming involved in politics in any way, shape, or form means that you’re rubbing elbows with some shady figures.  Norma quickly finds herself in another pickle.  And then there’s Dylan.  Dude just wants to grow up and make a name for himself.   Unfortunately, a shocking revelation has changed his life forever, as well as his relationship with his mother.  Dylan must try to get himself together because he needs to be on his A-game if he expects to maintain his standing, or even stay alive, in the drug industry.  Let’s not forget about everyone’s favorite corrupt sheriff, Alex Romero.  He’s on a quest to keep his town in order, which means some people must live, others must die, and lots of stuff needs to be handled in a quiet “sweep it under the rug” kind of way.  That includes a lot involving the Bates family.

By the end of Season 2 things have come to a head.  Relationships are fractured, Norma is in a full-on panic, and Norman is a suspect in Miss Watson’s death.  How will it all shake down?

Like so many shows, Season 2 suffers from a few episodes that are mostly throwaways.  But hey, things are still really interesting and juicy in White Pine Bay.  None of our characters are particularly likeable, except maybe the angelic and naïve Emma, but I’d have to say that my favorites are Norma and Sheriff Romero.  Norma is just a complete spazz and I love her for that, and Romero is downright unpredictable.  He thinks he’s a hero, but he’s also not above breaking the law to have everyone abide by his rules.  It’s classic.  So yeah, Bates Motel is absolutely compelling.

Bates Motel: Season 2

There are plenty of subplots to the second season.  Some are better than others, but they’re all juicy and somewhat trashy.  I think that’s what is great about this show.  It goes into some gross and trashy places, but does so with a style that makes it seem highly stylized.  How else can they force incest upon their viewers and have them be able to move past it.  It’s shocking, but also fits the screwed up nature of this community and these characters.  In a normal world, I’d say most of this stuff would never happen.  But White Pine Bay is far from normal, and so the themes and topics explored during Season 2 don’t seem like that much of a stretch to me. 

As with Season 1, the acting this go-around was superb.  Freddie Highmore is disturbed as the reserved, but highly troubled Norman.  Vera Farmiga is amazing as Norma.  Max Thieriot plays the often troubled and pained Dylan quite well.  Olivia Cooke embodies the charm and “Nancy Drew” essence of Emma.  And Nestor Carbonell is domineering as Sheriff Romero.  As rich as the plots are within Bates Motel, it’s really all about the characters, and this cast does an excellent job of making them tick.  It’s really fun to watch. 

I like that this hour-long show only has ten episodes in each series run.  That works well in keeping things interesting and allowing Bates Motel to unfold more like a movie and less like TV show that has been stretched too thin.  Season 2 was filled with lots of tears, screams, and not-to-worry, there’s plenty of blood to go around.  It’s unclear to me why they’ve made this a spring TV show.  I think it would feel more appropriate in the fall.  But either way Bates Motel is fun and continued to go strong through the second season.  I’m looking forward to watching the third in 2015!

Thumbs up.

Bates Motel: Season 2

What he said:

He
Bates Motel: Season 2

The Bates Motel is perhaps the best soap opera ever made. Hear me out, because there’s a chance that you are taking that the wrong way. You see the words soap opera and might be thinking of the catfights of Dynasty, the trashy to downright ridiculous storylines found in any daytime soap, or the generally hammy style of acting found in the genre.  But imagine if someone took all of that and actually put a little effort into it. That’s what Bates Motel does. Bates Motel has sex, drugs, murder, and all the melodrama of a classic soap opera, but has a genuinely good production value. The acting is good, the storylines are compelling, most of the characters have issues – which means some good old fashioned drama – and the show is pretty damn funny at times to boot.

Ok, so what is season 2 about? As it turns out, season 2 is actually about quite a few different things.
The biggest carry over from last season is the status of Norman’s teacher, Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy) and more specifically who killed her? It’s implied Norman (Freddie Highmore) likely had something to do with it. But because we didn’t actually see it, and we know Norman is prone to blackouts, it’s not confirmed. A new candidate also arises, as we finally discover who her boyfriend is, which if you remember from last year, you know they have a very volatile relationship. We never see him, but it’s implied through phone calls and Miss Watson’s generally mopey demeanor that the couple has problems. So, there are at least two people who could have done it. A third suspect, a former lover named Kyl , also comes into the mix. So while it was initially heavily implied Norman had something to do with it, the show keeps it interesting by throwing these other suspects into the mix. Things like that are what keep the show interesting. It really keeps you on your toes in that sense.

Speaking of Miss Watson, her father starts showing up more regularly. Nick Ford (Michael O’Neill) is her estranged father in addition to a local “business man.” If you know anything about the town of White Pine Bay, you know that a number of entrepreneurs and politicians in town have some questionable business tactics. Both Norma and Dylan (Norma’s other son) end up getting involved with him.

The town is on the verge of building a bypass that will prohibit potential customers from driving by the Bates Motel, which will eliminate a lot of business for Norma. Norma is not happy about this, and being the neurotic person she is, and is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the financial future of her family. When Nick offers to help her, she accepts his help. Norma doesn’t know exactly what it is Nick does for a living, but she also has a strong feeling that she probably doesn’t want to know either. Norma is the kind of person who convinces herself she isn’t doing anything wrong if she doesn’t know the details of Nick’s business practices.

Bates Motel: Season 2

Nick Ford is also the leader of one of the rival families of Dylan’s employer. Dylan, if you remember, works for a large-scale marijuana manufacturer and dealer. He (Max Thieriot)is one of the foot soldiers for his employer. He is not a dealer, but does just about anything else they need. Guarding the crops, making sure people stay in line, or dealing with rival families are some of the things he does. Most of the time, things are quiet between the rivals, but recently something has happened to change that.

Dylan has recently gotten a new boss and his boss is not the laid back type. Zane (Michael Eklund) is an ex-convict who, because of connections to someone high up in the business, was recently promoted to look over the business. Problem is, Zane is nuts. He does not deal with problems very well and before long he is involved in a war with Nick Ford’s crew.
So while Norma has allied herself with Nick Ford, Dylan has gotten himself on Nick’s bad side. See where this is going? That’s what’s kind of neat about the show. While there’s a lot going on, most of it is tied together in some way, shape, or form.

I didn’t forget about Norman. The show is about the evolution of a psycho after all. Norman’s got a lot going on. His one-time lover and object of his obsession (yes I meant obsession), Bradley Martin, has gotten herself into trouble. I won’t give anything away, but it has to do with the local marijuana business. Her father was involved and she hasn’t been the same since he was murdered last season.

Have no fear though, because Norman finds a new gal. His mother forces him to join a local theater company with her, as a means of bonding. Norman joins the stage crew and gets friendly with bad girl, Cody Brenan (Paloma Kwiatkowski). Cody has a rough home life, which makes you want to sympathize with her, but she’s an absolute bitch to Norma for no reason. She hates her father and pretty much views all adults as people not worthy of her respect. It creates friction between Norma and Norman and an interesting dynamic for the audience. You feel bad for Cody in one sense, but can’t stand her in another. Norman is a bit of a social outcast and she befriends him with no judgment. She also has an abusive father at home. But you lose sympathy for her because she’s rude as hell and irresponsible. I’m sorry you have a bad life at home kid, but it doesn’t give you the right to be a reckless ass hole.

In addition to having to deal with being a suspect in Miss Watson’s murder, Norman also gets involved with Cody’s life, which just creates more drama for him. Speaking of drama, there’s tension between him and his mother because she disapproves of his relationship with Cody.

Oh, and Norma gets a new boyfriend. His name is George and he’s played by Michael Vartan. If all of this other stuff I’ve mentioned sounds dramatic, wait until you see her in this relationship. Norma’s not exactly the most level-headed person.
So you can see what I mean when I called it a soap opera earlier. There’s lots of drama in this show.  Sometimes it’s quite trashy too, but that’s why we like Bates Motel. It takes the seedy parts of a soap, but executes it in a much more polished way.

The acting in this show is really quite good. Everyone involved pulls their weight. Not every character is featured as prominently as others, but each actors really does their respective roles justice.

I do have to say though that Vera Farmiga is head and shoulders above everyone else. She’s just so damn entertaining that she stands out. She’s an absolute delight to watch. Norma is extremely insecure one minute and walks with a swagger the next. Even though she might not believe in herself on the inside, it’s hilarious when she gets tough. It’s even funnier when she succeeds in pulling something off. The only person more surprised than the audience is her. Norma is also somewhat sympathetic despite the fact she’s nuts. She’s overly emotional, refuses to get Norman medical help despite the fact she knows he’s sick, but deep down really just wants the all-American dream. She has old-fashioned ideals and wants nothing more than a stable income and to be successful at supporting her family.

In some warped way, Dylan is similar to his mother. He just wants to prove to her that he’s capable of being good at something. He also doesn’t happen to care what that something is. If he finds success in the drug trade, that’s good in his mind. It’s better than doing nothing in his eyes. It’s actually kind of pathetic to watch. He doesn’t get along with his mother, but you can tell he cares about her. He also cares about his brother too.

Bates Motel: Season 2

We also find out more about his father, which is a point of contention between him and Norma. Dylan holds it against her that she left his father for Norman’s father; and as a result has neglected Dylan in favor of Norman. When we find out the details it adds a new layer of drama that is beyond words. When this happens, Max Thieriot is forced to bring his A-game and he does just that. The character has a pretty messed up life and he portrays that aspect of the character very well.
Freddie Highmore is also quite good as the lead, Norman Bates. He’s weird and creepy, but actually a nice kid. Like his mother, he has old world ideals. He really can’t help what he does either. He’s mentally ill. There is no doubt about that. If you remember Psycho lore, he has a split personality, and that other personality is his mother. He is not aware of what he does when he has these blackouts. He “leaves his body” while the Norma personality takes over. There is no ignoring the fact that he kills people, but you do kind of feel bad for the kid, because his mother doesn’t tell him what’s going on and won’t get him the proper help. For a social outcast and budding psychopath, he has a way with the ladies, which is kind of funny to watch. The show blends comedy with drama really well.

She had a smaller role this season, but Olivia Cooke is still absolutely adorable as Bates family sidekick, Emma Decody. Emma was one of the first people to befriend Norman when the family moved to White Pine Bay. They hint at a romance, but nothing ever develops between them. Despite that, you can tell they care about one another, at the very least, as friends. There is distance between her and the Bates family this season. As they become involved in more drama, they keep her out of the loop. She’s not family after all. This hurts her feelings. It’s probably for her own good to not know what they’re up to, but you can’t help and sympathize with this well-meaning, kind, and adorable kid. Her heart is breaking because she’s being left out and you do feel bad for her, but you always want her to get as far away from the Bates family as possible, because she’s pretty much the only likeable character on the show.

Well shit, I just realized I forgot about Sheriff Romero. How the hell did I do that? This guy is a force to be reckoned with. Well it's late, I'm tired, and this review is long, but I'll say this. Romero (Nestor Carbonel) is a baaaaad man. His motives aren't totally clear, but the guy is a force of nature. He also gets more involved with the Bates family, which was an interesting revelation after his rivalry with Norma in the first season. He's right up there with Vera Farmiga. This is a fun character to watch.

Diagnosis: Thumbs up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on May 30, 2014.

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