Director: Tucker Gates
Writer: Kerry Ehrin, Anthony Cipriano
Summary: After his father’s bloody death, Norman Bates and his mother Norma begin a new life for themselves when she becomes the owner of a roadside motel in White Pine Bay, Oregon.
As if awoken from a dream, Norman Bates groggily hurries to the garage and finds his father Sam lying in a pool of blood. Norman pulls his mother Norma from her shower, although the sight of the body does not seem to surprise her.
Six Months Later – Norma purchases the Seafairer Motel with the intent of starting a new life for her and her son in White Pine Bay, Oregon. While unpacking the car, Norman briefly glimpses his mother in her underwear through the upstairs window.
While waiting at the bus stop, Norman meets fellow student Bradley Martin and four of her friends, who all take a liking to Norman. Norma receives a phone call from her older son Dylan. Dylan is upset that Norma moved without telling him. He asks for money before Norma hangs up on him. At school, teacher Miss Watson is concerned with the grades on Norman’s transcript. She recommends that Norman try out for the track team as a way to become involved. Norman is late for dinner because of track practice. This upsets Norma as she expected Norman to help more with the motel, but she reluctantly signs his permission slip.
Keith Summers shows up on the Bates’ doorstep. The property was in his family for generations before the bank foreclosed and he is angry with Norma for buying the home and motel business. Norma dismisses Keith by returning his anger. Bradley and her friends later come to the door and ask if Norman can go with them to the library. Norma says no, but Norman sneaks out of the upstairs window after arguing with his mother. Norman meets up with Bradley and learns that the girls are actually taking him to a party. Bradley and Norman become closer at the party, but her friend Richard interrupts. Back at the house, Keith breaks in and rapes Norma, who cuts her hand in the process. She repeatedly calls for Norman, who finally shows up and hits Keith with an iron. While Norman retrieves first aid, his mother stabs Keith to death.
Norma tells her son that they cannot tell the police about Keith because it would stigmatize their business as the “rape and murder motel.” They argue about his trip to the party before she enlists his help in wrapping the body in bed linens and storing it in a motel room bathtub until morning. While carrying the body to the tub, the body drops and leaves a bloody stain on the motel carpet. Norma suggests that they rip up all of the carpeting so as not to arouse suspicion. While tearing up carpet in one of the rooms, Norman discovers a homemade book of bondage manga.
Sheriff Alex Romero and Deputy Zack Shelby come by the motel as a courtesy, but Romero asks to look around. He uses the bathroom with the body in the tub, but never pulls back the shower curtain. The lawmen leave without incident. At school the next day, the sight of blood on Norman’s shoe causes him to vomit in a cafeteria trashcan. This draws the attention of Emma Decody, a girl with cystic fibrosis who becomes Norman’s friend. In town, Norma discovers that White Pine Bay is considering a highway bypass that would divert traffic from the motel. That night, Norma and Norman row out to the middle of a lake and dump Keith’s body.
The Seafairer Motel sign is replaced with a Bates Motel sign. Norman reads more of the bondage manga, which includes a drawing of a girl receiving injections. Mother and son then share a moment while looking at the new motel sign. Elsewhere, a chained woman is shown receiving an injection in her needle-tracked arm, but it is not clear who is administering the shot.
“First You Dream, Then You Die” is the series premiere equivalent of a circus high wire act. That is an ashamedly amateur metaphor, but there is no clearer way to describe how perfectly yet precariously balanced each element is in “Bates Motel.” Director Tucker Gates and writers/creators Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, and Anthony Cipriano deftly blend two or more sides into every facet of the show. Blending a 1960’s style with a 21st Century setting could have been a relationship as strange as Mother Bates and son. But just like Norma and Norman’s peculiar bond, the look and feel of “Bates Motel” is equal parts arousing, alluring, intriguing, and salacious.
When Sam Bates meets an untimely demise via unsurprisingly suspicious circumstances, Norma uses the opportunity to start fresh with her son by moving from Arizona to Oregon and opening a roadside motel. What “Bates Motel” does in its pilot episode is to take what “Psycho” aficionados both know and think they know about Norman Bates’ origin and distill everything down to the basic foundation. Literally and metaphorically, the Bates Motel is rebuilt from the ground up into an incredibly unique presence as imposing as the silhouette at the top of the stairs.
The creators appear to be challenging themselves with creatively weaving familiar motifs into their own framework, retaining their fresh vision while respecting the spirit of its source. Undeniably close, Norman and his mother are intriguingly intimate without being overtly incestuous. Norma poses for her son while perched on her car like a pinup model in a manner as suggestive as it is playful. Indeed, “Bates Motel” is adept at depicting moments of intimacy that are as sensual as they are deniable. When Norman unintentionally grabs an unreadable eyeful of Mrs. Bates clad in bra and panties while he unpacks the car, there is a distinct question of whether that visual was intended for Norman or for an audience familiar with a much different image of Mother in that very same window. The taboo is teased tastefully, sometimes bordering on imperceptibility.
Norman Bates himself is just as familiar as he is different. His antiquated interest in old movies and anachronistic sense of fashion concurrently roots him to the Hitchcock depiction while rounding out his awkward mannerisms. In a refreshing change of pace, this Norman Bates is reserved, but not uneasy around girls. Saucer-eyed Freddie Highmore gives Norman a nerdy outsider appearance that actually makes him more appealing to several of the most attractive girls at school. In another show, the gangly new boy in class would be immediately alienated by the “cool kid” clique and a psychopathic turn could be blamed on the torment from peers and derision by the opposite sex. Norman will have to look elsewhere for excuses to become a sociopath. This is more than a different approach to depicting Norman Bates. This is a different approach to depicting teenagers.
Vera Farmiga as Norma melds matronly nurturing with highly seductive charm. It would be hard to fault Norman for adoring this woman, even if it teeters into lust. The performance and characterization reveal so many varied reasons for attraction that sorting through their dizzying effects is understandably confusing. Her mannerisms are more subtle than Norman’s. It remains to be puzzled out if what is known about Norman’s fate is due more to his predisposition or to her manipulative nature, both intentional and unintentional. Like the moody town of White Pine Bay as a whole, they are mysteries as absorbing as what Norman and Norma put into one motel room and what Norman takes out of another.
Inspired by the film with the most infamous shower scene in history, “Bates Motel” even fits in two different shower-related moments without the slightest use of force, including a clever use of the same tub where Marion Crane will presumably meet her end down the line. That so many pieces are placed on the board for future use seems secondary to delivering a well-told story in a well-paced hour. “Bates Motel” is atypical in that respect as a first episode. It seamlessly avoids choking itself on exposition by wringing the most out of its “Psycho” touchstones without unnecessarily chaining itself to the mythology. And in less than one hour it sets up intrigue and delivers entertainment at a rate that some shows struggle to accomplish in an entire season.
Episode 2 - Nice Town You Picked, Norma...
Writer: Kerry Ehrin
Summary: While Norman and Emma explore the mystery of the manga journal found in a motel room, tensions rise in the Bates house when Norma’s other son Dylan comes to stay.
Norman continues to be transfixed by the bondage manga he found underneath the motel carpeting. Underneath his bed, Norman has hidden the tool belt he kept from Keith Summers’ body. Norma’s other son Dylan shows up at the front door, as he has nowhere else to go. While Norman waits with Bradley and her friends at the bus stop, a car careens off the road in front of them. Inside is Bradley’s father Jerry Martin, who is horribly burned.
At the crash site, Sheriff Romero tells Norma that Jerry was burned when someone set fire to his warehouse. Dylan needles Norma, who tasks her son with picking up an order of bed linens for the motel. Romero discovers Keith Summers’ abandoned truck near the crash scene. Norma tells him she does not know why Keith left the truck there and that she has not seen Keith. Emma partners with Norman on a class project and plans to work on it with him at the Bates house. Norman brings flowers to Bradley at the hospital, but his gift is intercepted by Richard. In the Candy Stick strip club, Dylan meets a grieving employee of Jerry Martin’s. When the man flashes a stack of cash, Dylan asks where that kind of money can be acquired in White Pine Bay. Norma berates Dylan for returning late with the linens and the two of them argue about their family. It is revealed that Norma had two husbands, making Dylan a half-brother to Norman. Norma admits that the money for the new home and the business came from her late husband’s insurance settlement.
Norma and Norman scrub Keith Summers’ remaining blood residue from the kitchen. When Emma arrives at the house, Dylan appears to relish that she is there for Norman. Norma asks Emma intrusive questions about her family and her cystic fibrosis, including inquiring about her life expectancy. Dylan goads Norma with a joke about Norman and Emma making out. While discussing their project in his bedroom, Emma discovers Norman’s manga book. She asks to borrow it. A large scar is seen on Norma’s inner thigh. Romero and Deputy Shelby come to the house and question Norma about Keith Summers. Romero confronts Norma about an eyewitness statement claiming she was seen in a heated discussion with Summers. Romero becomes suspicious. Norma refuses to allow him inside and he leaves.
In town, Norma has coffee with Deputy Shelby. She flirts with Shelby while both are dismissive of Romero’s accusations. Shelby invites her to the Woodchuck Festival that evening. Norma tries on dresses in front of Norman. The man from the Candy Shack introduces Dylan to Gil at the shipyard. Gil asks Dylan if he can use a gun. At home, Norman sees that Dylan lists Norma as “The Whore” on his cell phone. This leads to a physical fight between the two brothers. Dylan stops Norman from killing him with a meat tenderizer.
At the logging festival, Shelby intimates to Norma that people in White Pine Bay make money through questionable means. Bad things are known to happen, including acts of revenge. After seeing Norman’s injuries, Norma decides to kick out Dylan. Norman receives a text from Emma to meet at her father’s shop. Norman is intrigued by the taxidermy displays he sees there. Emma has translated the story from Norman’s manga. Four girls from China come to America illegally, believing they will become citizens if they work as housemaids for seven years. In actuality, they are forced to have sex with different men every day. One of them dies from an overdose. The other girls are forced to bury her by a shed in the forest. The girls are then sold into sex slavery. In one of the illustrations, Emma identifies the mountain depicted as Ladyface, which is just outside of White Pine Bay. Emma kisses Norman and the two decide to search for the burial location. Norma confronts Dylan about leaving. Dylan asks how her second husband died. Dylan also hints that he considered telling the insurance agent what her marriage was really like. Norma lets Dylan stay.
Emma and Norman search for the burial location from the manga, but uncover a marijuana farm instead. Two men with guns chase after them. While running, they find the shed from the illustration, but cannot stop. They eventually make it back to Emma’s Volkswagon Beetle and escape. Norma drives through town where onlookers gawk at a man on fire hanging upside-down.
The second episode of “Bates Motel” tidies up exposition ground not covered in the previous hour by establishing key relationships that should be important as the season continues. Norman and Mother will have to keep a tighter lid on their misdeeds as Dylan, Norma’s son from her first husband, is now on the premises as both troublesome half-brother and potential eyewitness. His last name may not be Bates, but since closet skeletons run on the maternal side of the family, Dylan comes with significant baggage. To categorize his relationship with Norma as the polar opposite of Norman’s would be an understatement. His keen smirks expose a secret knowledge of Norma and Norman’s peculiarities, and he is happy to oblige with a sharp poker when the family fire needs stoking. As evidenced by his strip club excursion, Dylan is interested in attractive young girls. Yet his smile when Emma comes knocking at the family’s door to visit Norman is a failure to hide the delight it gives him in knowing how a female guest will goad Norma.
Vera Farmiga digs more depth out of Norma Bates than the Grand Canyon. Seemingly nothing is outside the capabilities of either the actress or the character, particularly when scheming with snakelike duplicity is involved. Flirting adeptness can be added to Norma’s skill set résumé of single motherhood, businesswoman, and murderer.
Norma decides to step out in front of Sheriff Romero’s suspicions over Keith Summers’ disappearance by romancing Deputy Shelby. As if getting the motel off the ground was not work enough, she now has additional plates to spin with misdirecting suspicion, staying ahead of the investigation into her activities, and driving a wedge between sheriff and deputy. Not to mention the effect that her new relationship could have on Norman.
Now that mother and son each have romantic connections to split affections, there is ample jealousy on all sides. Norma and Norman are locked in a neck and neck race to decide who will succumb first to an incestuous rage of jealousy over the other’s paramour. Norma might be cheating a bit when she casually tries on dresses in front of her son’s eyes, giving Norman another titillating peek at his mother’s sultry figure. She may also need to be more careful about leaving her discarded clothes on Norman’s bed like that, within such easy reach for a curious and confused boy.
Readily available ladies garments are not the only nod to “Psycho” in “Nice Town You Picked, Norma…” Prior to Emma planting a kiss on his lips in her father’s store, the heir apparent to Curious Goods antiques from Friday the 13th: The Series, Norman has a chance to develop a crush of his own. Except his is related to the stuffed animals on display, which are not the kind won in a carnival game. Norman and Emma then start up a separate mystery of their own by investigating the origins of the manga discovered in a motel room.
While new plotlines are coming out of their gates, “Bates Motel” scores its biggest coup by introducing the idea that Norman is far from being the only psycho in White Pine Bay. By painting the picturesque town of White Pine Bay as having an undercurrent as dark as its denizens, the writers have found a creative way to maintain a regular body count without putting the blood on the Bates’ hand every time. After only its second episode, “Bates Motel” has erased a lot of doubt over how suspense and storylines can remain engaging with two central characters whose fates are already determined. The title of the show is “Bates Motel” for a reason. The intrigue and entertainment extends well past one psychopath and his mother into a roster of personalities that could be just as devious and conniving, if not more so.
Episode 3 - What's Wrong with Norman?
Director: Paul Edwards
Writer: Jeff Wadlow
Summary: Deputy Shelby entrenches himself deeper into the lives of the Bates family as the mystery of the manga journal continues to unfold.
Dylan practices being menacing with a gun in the hallway mirror. He tells Norma that he cannot receive a carpet delivery because he has a job. Emma is terrified about the men she and Norman saw at the marijuana field. She tells Norman that she only wanted to hang out with him and did not initially even believe that the manga might be real. Norman insists on getting the book back. In class, Norman fantasizes that his test is the manga and imagines his teacher Miss Watson in bondage. Norman goes into a trance and blacks out.
Dylan’s job makes him one of the new guards of the marijuana field along with the man he met at the Candy Stick. Norma tells the doctor that Norman does not have a history of blackouts. She reluctantly leaves Norman at the hospital to take delivery of the carpet at the motel. Bradley visits Norman with the flowerpot he brought her previously and watches a movie with him in his hospital bed. Bradley’s father is still in a medically induced coma with a negative prognosis. While the carpet is delivered, Sheriff Romero executes a warrant to search the Bates house. Against the doctor’s orders, Norma pulls her son out of the hospital and tells him about the search. When Norman arrives home, he checks under his bed and finds that Keith Summers’ tool belt is missing. Norman wonders aloud what is wrong with him.
To Norma’s surprise and dismay, Norman tells her that he kept Keith’s belt and that it has been taken. He has no explanation for why he kept it. Dylan learns from his partner that the marijuana field is owned by families in town and keeps White Pine Bay in business. Emma and Norman go to room number 4 where Norman found the manga journal. She notices when Norman receives a text from Bradley. On the sink in the bathroom, Emma finds a Chinese symbol, leading her to believe that the dead girl from the manga was once in that room. Norma meets with Deputy Shelby to ask about the search. He tells Norma to meet him later at his house.
At Shelby’s house, Norma learns that Shelby took the belt during the search and that no one else knows about it. He asks about the scar on her leg, which Norma says she received in a childhood accident. Shelby pledges to take care of Norma and they kiss. Dylan reveals that he learned to hunt pheasant in South Dakota. His father is from Kansas and they no longer speak. Back at the house, Dylan sees the hospital bracelet on Norman’s wrist. Dylan tells his brother that Norman needs to break away from Norma. Norman has no recollection of attacking Dylan with a meat tenderizer.
Norman falls asleep in his mother’s bed while waiting for her to return. He learns that Shelby has the belt and worries that Shelby will use it as leverage to take advantage of Norma. Norman admits that he wanted to keep the belt as a memento. Norma does not understand why he wants a memento from a violent experience. Emma interrupts a conversation at school between Norman and Bradley. Emma reveals that the Chinese character translates to “beautiful.” Norman becomes volatile when Emma says she wants to go to the police about the Chinese girl. Later, Norman imagines a conversation with his mother and he decides to steal the belt back from Shelby.
Norman uses a baseball bat to fend off a dog after breaking into Shelby’s house. He finds a set of keys that unlock a door to the basement. Inside, Norman discovers a dungeon setting and a Chinese girl held captive. She pleads for help just as Shelby returns home.
Something the residents of White Pine Bay have in common is that nearly everyone is leading some sort of double life. He intended to be sarcastic, but Dylan’s remark last episode of, “nice town you picked, Norma” was right on the money. Norma could not have chosen a more suitable hamlet when it comes to tolerating dark secrets and hiding skeletons in the closet, although the latter is most likely temporary.
Norman is a bit different from everyone else, however. And not in the manner that gives him a proclivity for transvestitism or cramming sawdust in animal hides, either. Unlike the other duplicitous schemers populating the immediate radius around the motel, Norman has not yet mastered the ability to keep his secret self entirely hidden. Emma’s casual mention of going to the police with suspicions about the Chinese woman from the manga journal does not light a fuse so much as cause an instant explosion. Yet even without Mother’s calming presence, Norman is able to regain his composure.
Norman is not at all unaware of the fact that he has “issues.” The title of the episode, “What’s Wrong with Norman,” is a question wondered aloud as the pressures of bondage titillation, blacking out, and discovering a missing murder memento cause a breakdown of the sane part of Norman’s mind, or whatever may be left of it.
And that is to say nothing of the ever-expanding Oedipus complex. Norma and Norman each have a familiarity with the other’s bed in a way that is uncomfortably creepy without technically crossing a line. While waiting for Mother to return home from another date with Deputy Shelby, Norman falls asleep in Norma’s bed, long past the age when such a moment could be considered cute. Indeed, all three episodes thus far have included a bedroom scene, usually with mother and son on the mattress together, with such a subtle hand that one has to dig into a foreknowledge of the Bates family fate to find a nefarious subtext.
Episode Three introduces a new level to ongoing mysteries by suggesting that some things may exist only in Norman’s head, possibly even entire events. The first glimpse is given that he has conversations with Mother even when she is not there. Had Norma not already met Emma and Bradley, there could even be questions about whether or not entire people in Norman’s life exist. This may be the influence of “Bates Motel” co-creator and “Lost” showrunner/executive producer Carlton Cuse making sure the audience pays attention to every detail, as twists may come from whatever clues go unnoticed. From this point forward, nothing from Norman’s perspective should be taken at face value.
More worrisome about Norman’s behavior is that his blackouts do not always result in a harmless state of unconsciousness. That vacant stare trance that Norman entered before trying to club his brother with a meat tenderizer? Norman has no recollection of it. He offers his brother a smirking apology because he is sure Dylan is joking when the fratricide attempt is mentioned.
As Dylan’s screentime develops, so does his character. He displays a brotherly concern for Norma’s smothering with genuine sincerity. Norma’s declarations of “I hate you” and Dylan’s smarmy attempts at blackmail have painted him as despicable when he may just be misunderstood. Dylan flashes streaks of kindness and empathy that are almost out of place for someone with Norma’s blood in his veins. It could be a weakness that proves his undoing down the line.
“What’s Wrong with Norman” lacks the openly sinister moments of the previous hours, but compensates with smoldering fires poised to blaze white-hot. Already fascinating characters continue to grow more so and viewers have been put on notice to take nothing for granted. These are characters with second layers in direct opposition to their first, and the Bates are not at all the only dangerous personalities populating White Pine Bay. Jealousy, sexual deviancy, and masks of normalcy are routinely traded commodities to rival logging, artisan cheeses, and burning corpses in the town square.
Episode 4 - Trust Me
Writer: Kerry Ehrin
Summary: Suspicion descends on the Bates house after a discovery at the marina and on Deputy Shelby after Norman’s visit to his basement.
As Norman makes his way to Shelby’s house, Dylan passes on a motorcycle and follows his brother to Shelby’s. Deputy Shelby arrives home just as Norman discovers the girl in the basement. Dylan rings the doorbell and pretends to be a stranded motorist looking for directions to a gas station. The distraction gives Norman time to escape, although the girl grabs at Norman’s ankle on his way out the window and pleads for his help.
At home, Dylan confronts Norman about breaking into Shelby’s house, but Norman denies being in any trouble. The next morning, Norman stops by Artful Artifacts to walk Emma to school. Emma’s father greets Norman and says that Emma has the flu and will not be in school for the week. Mr. Decody also reveals that Emma has a crush on Norman and he hopes the boy is decent to her. Shelby and Norma have a rendezvous in one of her motel rooms. Dylan is on the porch outside when they exit. Dylan and Shelby eye each other but say nothing of their meeting the previous night.
Norman sees Bradley planting a flower memorial for her father by the side of the road. Norman comforts her. Dylan and Norma have an encounter in the kitchen. Dylan warns his mother to be careful because he does not trust Shelby. Shelby spots Norman walking home from the video store, but Norman pretends not to notice him. Shelby corners Norman and pressures him into a fishing trip to get to know each other. Norman tells his mother about Shelby’s basement. When Norman says he went there because Norma told him to, Norma tells her son that she never said such a thing and that Norman is prone to visions when he enters a trance. Norman denies his mother’s claim. While sleeping at Shelby’s, Norma searches the basement, but finds it is empty.
Norma claims Norman is jealous about her relationship with Shelby. Norman says he does not trust the deputy. This leads to a fight and Norma tells her son that he is “acting crazy.” Norman shows his mother the bruise on his ankle from where the captive girl grabbed him. While fishing, Shelby tells Norman that they need to trust each other. Shelby is called to the marina. Sheriff Romero has discovered a decomposed hand wearing Keith Summers’ watch caught in a fishing net. Norman meets Bradley for ice cream and they grow closer while discussing death and grief. She reveals that the police discovered a hand. Norman runs home to warn his mother. Just then, Deputy Shelby arrives and tells Norma that Romero wants to question her.
Sheriff Romero tells Norma that carpet fibers were discovered underneath Keith’s watch and they are going to match it to the carpet Norma removed from the motel. Norma denies the accusation. Romero asks where she dumped the carpeting, as he has not yet located it. Norma says she does not remember. Norma and Norman search the dumpster where they disposed of the carpet, but it is empty. Norma drives to the dump and goes into a rage when she cannot get past the gate. Norman calms her down, but at home he listens to her crying in her bedroom. Norman finds Dylan outside the motel and reveals everything that happened with Keith Summers’ murder, the belt, and the girl in Shelby’s basement. Dylan says he will help his brother. Norman receives a text from Bradley and Dylan convinces him to go see her.
Norman continues consoling Bradley in her bedroom. They end up kissing and becoming intimate. While looking for her son, Dylan tells Norma that Norman is with a girl. Dylan tells Norma that the girl is taking Norman away from her, which prompts her to start hitting Dylan. Dylan holds her against the wall as the doorbell rings. Sheriff Romero arrests Norma for the murder of Keith Summers.
As simple a title as “Trust Me” is, those two words accurately encapsulate the fourth hour of “Bates Motel.” Deputy Shelby’s affection for Norma has graduated to the stage where the two of them are now personally breaking in the motel’s new bed linens. And Shelby is well aware that endearing himself to a single mother who is as close to her son as she is will require endearment to Norman, too.
Shelby takes Norman on a fishing trip, although the goal is more about sizing up the boy’s potential threat level than about any real male bonding. His mouth says, “trust me,” but the deputy’s deliberate stare and leveled tone say, “fear me.” Shelby knows something is up, but he is not sure what, and it is time to hedge his bets.
As is par for the course around White Pine Pay, speaking out of both sides of the mouth is an infectious trend. Shelby is not the only person offering veiled threats and silent warnings. Mr. Decody tells Norman about his daughter’s crush on the boy, and advises that Emma’s emotional health is as fragile as her physical condition. Shelby and Dylan communicate without words during a staredown after Norma’s introduces them. Although neither mentions the fact, it is actually their second meeting. The first was on Shelby’s doorstep when Norman made his basement discovery. But as they lock gazes in front of the motel, it is unclear if either of the men has an upper hand when it comes to having something over the other and staring daggers.
Subtlety is not anyone’s strong suit. And everyone tends to ignore anything said that might be inconvenient for ulterior motives. Norman and Dylan both warn Norma not to trust Shelby. Except what started as a means to the end of insider information on a murder investigation may have a deeper meaning for Norma after all. Norman’s warning is dismissed due to insanity. Dylan’s warning is dismissed due to it being Dylan.
Still on an arc of anti-hero development, Dylan takes a brief respite from tormenting Norma to lend an ear towards his brother. He is then brought up to speed on the Keith Summers murder details and why Shelby is so important. Dylan does what big brothers do and pledges to help Norman, and provides a nudge to baby brother when Bradley needs a little late night consoling. With the discovery of a decomposing hand pointing a finger back at the Bates house and a bruised ankle from a chained-up Chinese girl grabbing for help, a romantic high school interlude would be woefully out of place on a different show. But “Bates Motel” finds a way to slip it in amongst the drama as a means to deepen the relationship between brothers and keeps the scene from succumbing to poor timing.
Even writer Kerry Ehrin plants a flag in the episode’s theme of trust/mistrust by warning viewers not to let details go unnoticed. Remember when a motorcycle briefly passed Norman while en route to Shelby’s during the previous episode? That was no idle motorist, and it turns out to be a critical moment. As the season nears its halfway point, this can be chalked up as one more reminder that this show is not ordinary. Keep an eye on everything that happens or risk being left behind.
Which is sage wisdom not only for the audience, but for anyone within the vicinity of the Bates Motel. The theme of trust will reach beyond this single episode. “Trust me” can continue to be the mantra, but the opposite intention is what is clearly coming across. Keeping the bodies buried, figuratively and literally, requires false faces and eyes on anyone who could be a threat to exposing one of White Pine Bay’s dirty secrets. And if these secrets are to stay hidden, the best advice in this town is to trust no one.
Episode 5 - Ocean View
Writer: Jeff Wadlow
Summary: After the police investigation into Norma takes a turn, Norman and Emma make a shocking discovery while searching for the captive Chinese girl.
Following their night together, Norman leaves Bradley sleeping in her bed as he walks home with a smile on his face. Dylan tells him that Norma is in jail. Norman and his brother visit their mother, but she is dismissive of their offers to help.
In the motel office, Norman searches for the motel deed to offer as collateral for Norma’s $100,000 bail. Emma arrives and Norman finds the deed. Emma drives Norman to Jonn’s Bail Bonds. Dylan asks Ethan, the man who recruited him into their line of work, if their employers would give him a $5,000 advance to get his own place. Ethan laughs. Shelby brings Norma’s meal to her cell. While waiting for Jonn’s Bail Bonds to open, Norman tells Emma that he found the girl from the manga, but he cannot reveal all of the details and now the girl is gone. Emma kisses Norman. Later, Norman texts Bradley, but she does not respond. The following morning, Norman waits with flowers for his mother’s release. Norma refuses to speak to her son.
Norma and Norman meet with attorney Rebecca Craig. While Rebecca tries to work out a self-defense plea, Norma adamantly claims that she had nothing to do with Keith Summers’ murder. On the drive home, Norman tells his mother that she is being unreasonable. Norma is upset that Norman was “getting laid” the night she was struggling with the circumstances before her arrest. Norman tells her that she scares him. Norma grows upset and forces her son out of the car. While Norman walks home, Dylan rides by on his motorcycle and picks up his brother. At home, Dylan tells Norman that he is getting his own place and Norman should move in with him to get away from Norma.
In town, Ethan loans Dylan $5,000 for rent. A burnout familiar with Ethan comes up to their truck and shoots Ethan in the neck. Dylan rushes to the hospital and drops Ethan off. Norma meets with Deputy Shelby, who tells her that they need to stay away from each other for a while. Upset, Norma stalks off, but Shelby stops her and says, “I love you.” They end up kissing in each other’s arms. At the police station, Shelby distracts Regina the receptionist while he turns off the surveillance cameras and steals the carpet fiber from police evidence. While driving, Dylan spots the man who shot Ethan and runs him over.
Emma researches boat registration titles under Keith Summers’ name. Rebecca Craig calls Norma and tells her there is no longer a case because the police lost the fiber sample. Norman leaves an awkward phone message for Bradley. Norma tells her son that the murder charge has been dropped, likely due to interference from Shelby. Norma’s adulation of Shelby causes Norman to leave the house. On his way down the outside steps, Emma picks up Norman. Emma tells him that she worked on a hunch that if Shelby was in the sex slave business with Keith Summers, it makes sense that Shelby would now be hiding the girl on a property belonging to Summers, since Keith is dead. Norman tells Emma that he slept with Bradley and that they are now together. Emma tells Norman that it was just a hookup and not the start of a relationship. Norman and Emma break into Keith Summers’ boat and find the captive Chinese girl.
Norman and Emma take the girl back to the motel. Norma enters the room and her son explains that this is the girl from Shelby’s basement. Norma refuses to believe that Shelby is responsible. She retrieves a newspaper from the office with a picture of Deputy Shelby from the Woodchuck Festival. The Chinese girl then positively identifies Shelby as the man who confined her in his house and used her for sex.
“Bates Motel” is only a Spanish accent away from being a full-blown telenovela. On one hand, the criticism is warranted, what with the show’s too convenient scene segues. At precisely the same moment when Norman clicks off his phone following a call in the fifth episode, “Ocean View,” the front door opens for a timely update from Mother. This update prompts Norman to don his jacket and leave in a huff. Just as he reaches the bottom of the steps outside, Emma pulls up in her car to spirit Norman away on an urgent adventure. Meanwhile, Dylan seems unable to drive or ride anywhere in White Pine Bay without accidentally running across Norman en route to a burglary, Norman after being booted from Norma’s car, or the random burnout whose earlier gunfire merits a case of eye-for-an-eye. Chalking up the uncanny timing of such sequences to serendipity is an insult to genuine coincidence.
On the other hand, “Bates Motel” does have just 10 episodes to complete the first season arc. The story is only spinning enough plates to keep its hands occupied. But there is still enough going on within a short enough timeframe that forgiveness for artistic liberties with event pacing is as warranted as the soap opera criticism.
Which is not an implication that being a soap opera is an insult to the quality of “Bates Motel.” Lusty manipulations and sexy taboos, once confined to the daytime programming block like a Chinese sex slave to a bathroom sink pipe, are appropriate themes for the titular business, not to mention an enticing carrot that keeps audiences returning for each new chapter.
For the first time since the series premiered, Norman and Mother are not featured in a scene while on a bed together. Although they come close during the final scene, when Norma sits on a motel bed with two other girls while Norman is in the room. Still, mother and son Bates remain on an emotional rollercoaster usually reserved for a teenaged prom king and queen. When Norma confronts Norman about his rendezvous with Bradley, she pouts like a jealous girlfriend instead of offering the rational guidance of a concerned mother. Her ensuing breakdown flashes the matronly dominance that will presumably unhinge her already unstable son’s mind down the road.
Forget rollercoaster. Norma and Norman are better illustrated by a seesaw, teetering and tottering as each take a turn exploding in rage while the other balances the board with a voice of reason. Woe be unto anyone in the way when that plank breaks and both Bates’ find themselves sinking in the deep end.
While Norman finds himself juggling Bradley and Emma (and Norma), Mother of course has her own drama on the burner with Deputy Shelby. Shelby breaks out the L-word a touch early here, seeing as how in real-world time it has not even been four hours since their first date. Maybe the discovery of Keith Summers’ watch reminded him that the season has reached its midway point, and events need to maintain a brisk pace in advance of the second half. Given the plot developments up to this point, that latter half is poised to be on an even faster slalom run than the former.
Those without the patience for stomaching such contrivances of time risk falling off the fan bandwagon. Though anyone with an appetite for melodrama will barely have time to digest the juiciest developments before the next overflowing buffet plate is served. No matter which side of that fence a person is on, no one can claim that “Bates Motel” is uneventful.
Episode 6 - The Truth
Writer: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin
Summary: Norma tells Dylan what happened the day that Norman’s father died as Shelby’s secret comes out in the open.
While Norman and Emma talk, Norma runs for her car with the intention of confronting Shelby. Norman jumps through the passenger side window and grabs hold of the wheel. After driving in circles, Norman is able to take the keys and throw them out the window. Norman talks his mother down and convinces her to be patient regarding Shelby. Dylan meets with Gil, his employer, and tells him that both Ethan and Ethan’s killer are dead. Gil instructs Dylan on how to dispose of the truck, which Dylan later sets on fire.
Dylan is picked up by a man named Remo. Remo claims that he was sent by Gil and he now works for Dylan. Norma tends to Jiao, the Chinese sex slave. Emma wants to bring Jiao to the authorities. Knowing that they cannot involve the police, Norma and Norman convince Emma to wait. Norma and Emma also share a bonding moment.
Norma plans to meet Shelby so that she can steal Keith Summers’ tool belt. Norman asks if there is something wrong with him and Norma claims that she made up the story about his blackouts. Dylan eavesdrops and is brought up to speed. He decides to go back to the boat with Norman and find the belt. On the way, Dylan tells Norman that he has made the deposit on a two-bedroom place and wants his brother to move in with him. While searching the boat, Dylan asks Norman how he thinks his father died. Dylan suspects that Norma killed Sam Bates. Dylan finds the belt and later throws it into the water. Meanwhile, Shelby shows up at the Bates house. Norma has trouble pretending that everything is okay with Shelby, but they eventually move their encounter into a motel room.
Shelby hears water running in another motel room. He pulls his gun and investigates. Norma tries to lie about a painter staying in the room, but Jiao answers the door. Jiao takes off running at the sight of Shelby. Norma grabs Shelby as he fires a shot at Jiao. Shelby pushes Norma to the ground and runs after the girl. Dylan and Norman arrive. Dylan tells their mother that Norman is moving in with him. Norma tells her sons about Shelby, but she is suddenly more concerned about Norman leaving. Norman asks her if she killed his father and she says no. Shelby returns and moves the three of them into the house at gunpoint.
Shelby contemplates what to do with his hostages. When he hits Norma, Norman goes into a trance and attacks Shelby. In the ensuing commotion, Dylan grabs a gun. He and Shelby begin a shootout that moves throughout the house. Norma tends to her Norman, who knocked his head while rushing Shelby. Norma drags Norman outside and calls the police. Dylan retreats to a bedroom to reload his gun while Shelby stalks him. Norma gets Norman into her car and then sees and hears three gunshots from the house. Shelby stumbles outside and dies on the steps. Dylan follows and Norma meets her older son with an embrace.
Dylan says he is going to tell everything to the police. Norma reveals that Norman was actually the person who killed Sam Bates while in a trance, and Norman does not remember. Norma convinces Dylan that to protect Norman, they cannot tell the truth to the police.
In the opening moments of the sixth episode, “The Truth,” Norma plants her foot on the accelerator while Norman jerks the steering wheel and the Bates family vehicle spins wildly out of control. Meanwhile, the audience is sent on a less literal but just as disorienting whirlwind before finally pausing to catch a breath at the “Bates Motel” equivalent of a lull.
“Bates Motel” still requires a priest-like level of absolution for its preponderance of convenient timing. Dylan’s fortuitous stumbling upon of Ethan’s shooter in the previous episode is an easily swallowed convenience compared to this hour’s coincidences. Shelby arrives at the Bates house while Dylan and Norman are busy burgling his boat. Yet the boys return home precisely as Shelby has pushed Norma to the ground before running into the night. Mother and sons barely have time to argue with one another and catch up on their individual escapades when Shelby makes his timely reappearance. Had just one person’s watch been running only a minute ahead or behind, the entire storyline would have played out differently.
But what the “Bates Motel” creators know very well is how to pace their template for engaging drama so that these plot gimmicks are either unnoticed or unimportant. Such clichés are easy to forgive when the entertainment value offers a grand payout in return. “Bates Motel” has a clear style that is intentionally part nighttime soap opera. At this point, audience members either gladly accept the formula or should disembark the train. The rest of the ride will be full speed ahead on the same track.
In this episode, the Asian sex slave operation, as well as Shelby’s association to it, reaches a resolution. But it is definitely not the final resolution. The Bates clan has a slight pickle to wiggle out of in the aftermath of these events, and a big key to the entire affair is now running in the woods behind the motel.
As a matter of fact, the sex slave ring is creating more trouble for Norman and company than it is for Jiao, the Chinese girl at the center of it all. Emma is stepping up her character development while needling a thorn in the Bates’ collective side simultaneously. Mother Bates extends her matronly manipulation techniques to the teenager as a way of distracting the girl’s pressing interest in bringing Jiao to the authorities. It works as a way of seeing into Norma’s self-serving intentions while she unloads a pretense of compassionate concern. Emma also delivers the episode’s best and worst lines. Her reaction to Norma and Norman’s donut spins in the parking lot is an on target moment of levity. But her dialogue of, “I can’t imagine what a shock … a guy you were really into turning out to be a monster like that,” has all the subtlety of a plane crash.
But developing into a monster is exactly what Norman appears to be doing. The jury is still deliberating whether he or his mother qualifies as the most unhinged of the pair. Dylan now wonders that very same thing after Norma presents her version of what happened to Norman’s late father. Whether anything she has to say can qualify as “The Truth” is another question entirely.
When the episode began, it seemed as though pacifying Emma might be Norma and Norman’s most immediate concern regarding Jiao. Very quickly, Emma was sidelined as the least of their worries and the result became an unexpected hour of action-oriented gunplay with series altering consequences. Once again, the writers have a message for the audience. Not only is no one safe, but also nothing should be taken at face value or assumed to be fact. The episode is deliberately titled “The Truth,” after all. Even if no one can be sure what that is just yet.
Episode 7 - The Man in Number 9
Director: SJ Clarkson
Writer: Kerry Ehrin
Summary: Norman learns that his relationship with Bradley is not what he thinks and the Bates Motel’s first customer is revealed to have a tie to Keith Summers.
Sheriff Romero arrives at the Bates house and examines Shelby’s body. After hearing the Bates’ version of events, Romero creates a story to cast himself as the shooter who gunned down the deputy, supposedly having discovered Shelby’s corruption. The Bates’ agree to support Romero’s claim and wash their hands of the whole affair, as Shelby is also blamed for Keith Summers’ murder. Dylan is annoyed that Romero receives the credit for taking out Shelby. Dylan watches his mother and brother embrace strangely in celebration.
Norman fantasizes about sex with Bradley. While fixing the lattice underneath the porch, Norman finds a stray dog. Norma is upset that Dylan still plans on moving out, even with what he knows about his brother’s condition. While taking out the trash, Dylan meets a mysterious man looking for the Seafairer Motel and Keith Summers. Bradley is aloof with Norman when she returns to school. Norma learns that local businesses and townspeople are leery of her and the motel after the Summers and Shelby scandals. Norma notices a man attempting to enter room 9. He identifies himself as Jake Abernathy and claims he had a standing reservation for room 9 on the first week of every other month. Norma gets a new key and lets him rent the room.
Dylan learns that the man in room 9 is the same man he met earlier that morning. Dylan tries collecting the man’s driver’s license and credit card for information, but the man pays in cash. Abernathy claims he works in Sales. Dylan attempts to convince his mother that she cannot scrub Shelby’s blood out of the stone steps. While the brothers are in town, Bradley walks by and is introduced to Dylan. She and Dylan lock eyes as they part ways. Norma is awoken by noises downstairs that turn out to be a door in the wind.
Emma stops by to see Norman, but he asks his mom to lie so that he can avoid her. When Emma starts tearing up, Norma decides to take Emma with her on an errand. On the drive, Emma tells Norma about Norman’s interest in Bradley. With Mrs. Bates’ curiosity piqued, the two ladies stop by a yoga studio so that Norma can see what Bradley looks like. Norma has flashes of her son having sex with Bradley as she realizes that Bradley is the girl who took Norman to the party after they first arrived in town.
Norma scolds her son for feeding the stray dog, which he has named Juno. Norman wants to keep the dog because having a family pet is “normal.” Norma tries telling her son that he should not have sex with Bradley and that she is not a nice girl. She also reveals that she hired Emma to work part-time at the motel. Norman is upset that his mother is dismissive of Bradley while supportive of Emma. Norman storms off to Bradley’s house.
Bradley tells Norman that she is not interested in a relationship with him and that she should not have had sex with someone like him. Norman leaves in a trance, repeating to himself the disparaging words about Bradley spoken by his mother. Bradley catches up to him. He tells her that he does not think she is a nice girl. She apologizes and embraces him. Abernathy makes an arrangement with Norma to rent all of the rooms for one week every two months. Norman sees Juno outside of the motel. He calls to her, but she is killed by a passing vehicle. Norman blames himself and wants to take Juno to Emma’s father so he can “fix” her. Norma tells him the idea is crazy, which causes her son to explode. Norman then tells his mother that he was wrong about Bradley. Norma runs for the car to take Norman to see Emma’s dad.
Since the previous hour already met the quota of dropped bodies and spent shell casings, episode seven dials down the action so that it can dial up the crazy. Meaning that while the Bates family and the viewers recover from the frenzied hour preceding this one, the time has come to refocus on the cerebral aspects of what makes White Pine Bay’s denizens so devilishly dangerous.
At the forefront of that tall order is the ever-vacillating dynamic of mother and son. The incestuous undercurrents in “The Man in Number 9” run a full range over the course of the episode. Things start tee-heeingly enough when Dylan watches his brother and mother embrace a touch too comfortably while celebrating their relief over the Shelby-Summers drama seemingly arriving at a satisfactory resolution. Dylan’s quizzical pause as he takes in the sight elicits a giggle from the audience.
Later in the hour, there is a tingle of guilt about that giggle when Norma’s jealousy over Norman’s affair with Bradley eclipses that of Emma’s. To say Mother Bates’ imagination runs wild when she pictures her son having a bare-skinned encounter with beautiful Bradley is an understatement. Those incestuous tones twist into something much more perverse when Norma pushes Emma aside to fully peep the sight of Bradley posing provocatively in a yoga studio window. As titillating fantasies about her son’s presumed sexual escapes spread in her mind like wildfire, the question is raised about where the line is drawn between concerned mother and scorned love.
Norma tries instilling a cautious fear of intimacy with women into her son by equating sex with “dangerous stuff.” Women are, after all, chemically altered by sex and Norman is warned to tread lightly with such power.
Mental and emotional dangers associated with sex are not the only distorted seed to blossom in Norman’s mind. More than one foreboding theme comes courtesy of Juno, the stray dog that Norman takes as his own. Norma is adamant about her position to not allow a strange animal into their home. Norman knows just what to say to his mother, though. Appealing to her unspoken concern for his mental stability, Norman convinces her that adopting a pet is what “normal” families do. How can Mother ignore that logic?
The poor pooch becomes another symbol of Norman’s cracked mind when Juno meets the wheel of a passing car. Norman’s solution is to take the canine to Emma’s father because he can “fix” things. Norman’s fascination with animal taxidermy is taking on a meaning deeper than just being a creepy hobby for a creepy personality. When Mother tries to reason with the boy’s demented logic, Norman excitedly retorts, “it’s not crazy!” Shelby and Summers look like harmless ballerinas in light of the intangible dangers unraveling in Norman’s warped psyche.
Casting remains one of the show’s strongest and most reliable boons. The established regulars have long since proven their mettle. Freddie Highmore has an ability to inspire chills even when he is being nerdily sweet. Look no further than the way he coaxes a dog out of hiding with a hammer in one hand. It is not just what is known about Norman’s murderous tendencies that makes such moments suspicious. Of course, serial killers are known to have origins with animals, but there is something more sinister behind Norman’s eyes that betrays his true nature. While endearing himself to the animal a second time, there is a noticeably tense uncertainty about whether Norman is going to scratch the dog’s ear, or simply twist its neck.
Strong guest roles are another staple. Jere Burns, fresh from another season as cool and calculated criminal Wynn Duffy on “Justified,” brings those same adjectives to the character of Jake Abernathy, the titular man in number 9. Going toe-to-toe with the insanity already present at the motel is a difficult challenge, but the understated intensity and quiet menace of Abernathy is in a striking position to make Shelby an even further distant memory.
Comparatively speaking, “The Man in Number 9” was quieter than previous episodes, but no less dangerous in terms of ongoing stakes for the residents of “Bates Motel.” Emma handles her broken heart while Norman handles his. Dylan and Bradley lock gazes in an “uh-oh” moment and there is also the matter of why Romero insists on being fingered as Shelby’s shooter. Questionable motivations and potentially devious schemes are on everyone’s menu and each person is downing more than a full plateful. More than a few fuses have been sparked and it is even money on which powder keg will explode next.
Episode 8 - A Boy and His Dog
Writer: Bill Balas
Summary: Norman tempers his female frustrations by taking up taxidermy as his mother learns more about the man in number 9.
Using Juno’s carcass, Mister Decody begins teaching Norman the art of taxidermy. When Emma overhears a group of girls at school making disparaging comments about Norman, Emma defends him by revealing that he had sex with Bradley. Norma tries calling Sheriff Romero after reading in the newspaper about the bypass construction. She also notices Abernathy staring at her house from the motel parking lot.
Gil instructs Dylan to take Remo and pick up trimmers in Fortuna, California. Bradley confronts Norman about Emma telling the school that they had sex. She tells him that it should not have happened and that she has a boyfriend. Upset, Norman leaves school. Miss Watson tries to stop him, but Norman’s flailing arms push her away. Norma and Abernathy have a tense conversation while she cleans his room. He asks her about Shelby while she plays coy.
Norma meets with Romero and asks him to endorse her for the city planning committee so that she can influence the bypass decision. Romero makes it clear that he is unwilling to do any favors for Norma and that he will not be intimidated. Norman asks Emma why she told their classmates about Bradley. He asks her not to betray his confidence again. Miss Watson and Principal Tom Hudgins speak to Norma about her son’s behavior. They recommend that Norman see a school psychologist. Norma refuses but placates the educators by saying she will choose a private therapist for Norman. On their way to California, Remo and Dylan have a bar fight to settle Remo’s jealousy over Dylan’s standing with Gil. Dylan learns that there is a boss higher than Gil. He also discovers that no one quits their line of work.
Norma asks Norman about his outburst at school and pleads with him to try harder at fitting in. She discusses her concerns about Norman’s new taxidermy hobby with Will Decody, but he appears to allay her fears somewhat. Dylan and Remo pick up the marijuana trimmers. Remo recommends leaving behind the lead hippie, as he was a pain on a past trip. Norma follows Abernathy to the marina, but he catches her in the act of spying on him. Abernathy is looking for something. He tells Norma that he knows about her and Shelby. He also tells her that Keith Summers was on the bottom rung while he is on the top.
Norma and Norman meet with a therapist. After their joint session, the therapist recommends that he see mother and son separately as Norma has too strong of an influence on Norman. Norma is offended. When the lead trimmer continues to be arrogant, Dylan forces him from the van at gunpoint, which pleases Remo. Norma returns Abernathy’s money and demands that he leave the motel.
Abernathy drives away from the motel. Emma explains her actions to Norman and they reconcile. Dylan brings the trimmers to the motel for housing. Excited about the unexpected business, Norma plans to have dinner with Dylan. When she goes to the house to change, Norma discovers Shelby’s dead body lying on her bed.
Whether it is blown top rage or daggered stares delivered icily, “Bates Motel” offers characters of both varieties when it wants to imbue a spine with chills. Norma and Norman generally cover the former, while Romero and Abernathy capably handle the latter.
With Shelby removed from the equation early, there was an initial question about where the Bates would find the next ongoing menace to trouble their lives and keep the shadow of Keith Summers looming. Jere Burns as Abernathy turns in such a calm shade of chilling venom that any remaining tears mourning Shelby’s passing are quickly forgotten. This is a villain with an ordinary but “not quite right” façade to rival the masks of normalcy worn by Norma and Norman. And his secret self may be even more dangerous than their own. If he were not terrorizing the Bates, he could marry Norma and fit right in as one of the family. This makes him an ideal adversary.
Throughout the first season, “Bates Motel” has excelled at subtext and hiding nods to its Hitchcockian roots with subtle tributes. Two of episode eight’s most revealing moments are tucked into larger scenes where their importance could go unnoticed. This layered approach to development is what makes White Pine Bay’s population so rich in character, even with only seven and a half hours of runtime over an entire season.
The initial fascination that the popular girls had with Norman’s awkwardness has decayed in tandem with Keith Summers’ corpse. His unusual personality manifests itself more clearly when Bradley spurns him after Emma reveals their sexual tryst to the entirety of the school. His heart in pieces, Norman lashes out physically at Miss Watson, and then emotionally at Emma.
While other teens might heal their wounds through poetry or artwork, Norman channels his energy into dead things. Under the tutelage of Emma’s father, Norman discovers that his salve is taxidermy, and the flattened carcass of Juno makes a perfect first foray into the field. Already concerned about Norman’s ability to fit in, Mother is understandably concerned about her son’s new hobby. While she does come around, she might have a more interesting reaction if she could see the effect it has on her youngest boy.
When he last confronted Emma, Norman ended the conversation with a demanding, “don’t ever tell anyone something I tell you in confidence again.” But when Emma continues her apology in a later scene, Norman welcomes her with an open smile. His hurt and anger are visually subsided as he strokes the fur on Juno’s stuffed body. How telling it is that Norman heals emotionally when comforted by the body of something dead.
An equally telling character trait is revealed about Norman’s mother when she makes a shocking discovery in her bedroom at the end of the episode. She knows very well that her son is having dinner at Emma’s, yet the only intelligible word she screams while shrieking at the top of her lungs is, “Norman!” When confronted with horror, she instinctively relies on the presence of her son for comfort.
Given the creepiness of Norman’s hobby and the figure that waits for Norma in her bedroom, it is easy to overlook these quick glimpses into the Bates’ warped psyches. With so much to satisfy the senses upfront during every hour, it often is not even necessary to peel back the layers and find the other threads woven into the story. But there are no throwaway details in “Bates Motel.” Everything matters. And this is exactly how the series creators have taken a story where the ending is known from the outset, and have made it consistently fresh, surprising, and highly entertaining.
Episode 9 - Underwater
Writer: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin
Summary: Dylan grows closer to Bradley while Norma tries finding a way out of White Pine Bay.
The marijuana trimmers housed at the motel watch as Shelby’s corpse is removed from the Bates house. Norma tells Sheriff Romero her suspicions about Jake Abernathy. Norma’s sons toss her mattress in the dumpster. Norma tells the trimmers that they cannot smoke pot on the motel porch. Norma indicates that she wants to move from White Pine Bay.
Norman dreams that he drowns Bradley. Norma tells Emma not to allow the motel guests to smoke pot while she is gone. Norma is delivered flowers with a card that says, “see you soon.” Bradley sees Dylan in town and asks if he can get her into her father’s old office at Gil’s. Norma visits her realtor and demands that he return her money and put the property back on the market. Miss Watson asks to work with Norman on a short story he wrote that she believes should be published. While cleaning a motel room, Norma sees a dark car drive by. Norman brings the stuffed Juno home. He tells his mother that he does not want to move. Norman tells Dylan about his dream.
Dylan asks Gil about Jerry Martin’s office. Gil gives the office to Dylan. Emma befriends trimmer Gunner after admonishing him for smoking pot at the motel. Miss Watson works with Norman on his story. Sheriff Romero tells Norma that Abernathy’s information is fake and he has no leads that would identify or locate him.
Norman sees Bradley at school. Emma finds a marijuana cupcake in the motel office left for her by Gunner. Dylan meets with Bradley and agrees to sneak her into the office. Norman and Norma have an argument about moving that culminates in him calling his mother crazy. Emma shows up at the house high. Norman apologizes for calling Norma crazy.
When Dylan and Bradley sneak into Gil’s, Remo shoots at them. Despite Gil’s hatred of the Martin family, Remo lets the pair go to the office. Bradley finds love letters to her father from a mistress named “B.” Dylan comforts her. Norma sleeps with Norman in his bed because she is scared of her own room.
Norman tells Miss Watson that he does not believe his mother will let him publish his story. Norma confronts the realtor, who tells her that she is underwater on her property. When she returns to her car, Abernathy pulls a gun on her from the backseat. He tells her that Shelby owed him $150,000 and he believes Norma has it. Abernathy demands that Norma deliver him the money by midnight the next day or he will kill her family.
Sandwiched between the climactic shock of the previous hour and the soon to follow season finale, episode nine is the calm before the presumed storm. Filled with quiet moments and laughs both overt and understated, “Underwater” settles the audience into a subdued state of relatively easy breathing while the last pieces are put into place for the final hour.
While the audience recovers from the sight of Shelby’s decaying corpse staining Norma’s mattress, “Underwater” induces chuckles by injecting far lighter moments, such as Emma’s loopy experience with a marijuana cupcake. But leading the comedic charge is Vera Farmiga portraying Mother Bates at her most animated. Episode nine is a showcase of Norma being completely daffy, to the point of wondering if she is purely off her rocker or at least partially daft.
As cunning and as resourceful as Norma has been shown to be, she has reactions in this hour that raise questions directed at either her behavior or at her characterization. It is one thing that she is slow on the uptake when it comes to piecing together the identity of the cash crop fueling White Pine Bay’s economy. It is another thing that Norma is not immediately suspicious of a curiously timed bouquet delivery. When the previous evening ends with a mysterious stranger leaving a dead body in your bed, an anonymous flower arrangement in the morning might not be cause for a welcoming smile.
Norma puts the entire series in perspective before the opening credits when she exhaustedly asks, “why do crazy people keep gravitating towards me?” On one hand, the writers are offering a wink at how unbelievably insane the past few months have been for the Bates family. On the other hand, the line highlights an interesting framing of the nature versus nurture debate.
Until this series developed, an exploration of Norman’s psyche could be encapsulated as a variation on the chicken and the egg question. How much of Norman’s warped mind was inevitably genetic and created by his own behavior? And how much fault could be laid at the feet of his unusually domineering mother? Except now that we have seen just how psycho the rest of White Pine Bay is, it can be asked, did Norman ever stand a chance? Any corpse not created by the Bates still finds its way into their lives. Sociopathic predispositions aside, what hope could there ever have been for Norman to grow up normal in this turbulent environment?
Clues are hidden in plain sight about that exact predisposition. In “Underwater,” Dylan asks his brother, “you wouldn’t actually want to hurt anybody though, would you?” Norman responds, “of course I wouldn’t want to. I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone.” The use of the word “want” in those three lines is quite deliberate. Of course Norman does not “want” to hurt anyone. But that does not mean he will not. As has already been shown, that behavior is outside of his control, and operates independently of what his conscious mind might actually desire.
Complicating that battle against his unconscious actions is the continued emergence of Miss Watson as a mother figure to Norman. Existing as an adult in the world of teenage hormones and romantic crushes, Miss Watson bridges that gap between matronly influence and attractive young woman at school. Before they met, Norma was already at odds with the teacher when she reluctantly signed the permission slip for Norman to join track at Miss Watson’s urging. Miss Watson also has a knack for showing up whenever Bradley has just sent Norman’s emotions into a whirlwind. The lines that distinguish mother, teacher, crush, and friend continue to blur for the future motel manager, and Miss Watson is in the eye of that maelstrom.
In the meantime, Mother adds her own fuel to that fire of confusion when she joins Norman in bed. Far from the first time that mother and son have shared a mattress, this is the first time they have cuddled under the covers. As has been the case since the series premiered, the “Bates Motel” creators keep the scene simultaneously tame yet partially disturbing. The odd pair might be well past the age of such actions being acceptable, but really, nothing about their behavior has ever been specifically sexual. Discomfort from the duo being depicted in bed together still comes more from what is known about Norman’s fate than from questionable staging on behalf of the series.
Gunfire comes into play briefly during an underwhelming subplot involving Dylan and Bradley. Otherwise, much of episode nine is as mellow as the stoners enjoying a joint on the motel porch. Except that when “Bates Motel” does mellow, it comes with a slithering undercurrent of sinister foreboding. This hour may have been occupied by quieter than usual scenes, but there is little doubt that the ultimate payoff will be anything but.
Episode 10 - Midnight
Director: Tucker Gates
Writer: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin
Summary: Norma involves Sheriff Romero in her conflict with Abernathy as Norman’s girl troubles boil over at the dance.
Norma informs Sheriff Romero about her confrontation with Abernathy and his demand to bring him $150,000 on the docks at midnight. Romero pledges that he will handle the situation, but does not provide specific details. Norman agrees to go to the Winter Formal dance with Emma. Norma asks Dylan for a gun, but he refuses. Romero is revealed to be in possession of the money that Keith Summers owed to Abernathy.
Norma discusses her personal issues with Norman’s therapist, including her family history. Norman overhears Miss Watson arguing with a man named Eric during an upsetting phone call. She hugs Norman for comfort.
Sheriff Romero meets with Keith Summers’ sister Maggie, who was the bookkeeper for the sex trade operation. She knows Jake Abernathy as Jeff Fioretti. Romero asks her for information on how to locate him. Emma shows Mrs. Bates her dress for the dance and notices Norma’s leg scar, which Norma explains as a childhood accident. Dylan decides to give his mother a gun and takes her for shooting practice.
Maggie Summers introduces herself to Norma and warns her about Abernathy. Bradley comes to the Bates house looking for Dylan. Norman eavesdrops as his brother gives Bradley her father’s belongings from Gil’s office. Norman vents his frustration by yelling at Norma and then arguing with his brother about Bradley. Norma reveals to Norman that she grew up in Akron, Ohio and was molested by her brother. In a rush while having sex with her brother, their father arrived home unexpectedly and she received the scar on her leg by knocking over a hot iron. Abernathy calls Norma to confirm their midnight meeting.
Emma leaves the dance upset when Norman continues to stare at Bradley. Outside, Bradley’s boyfriend Richard punches Norman and warns him to stay away from her. Miss Watson picks up Norman when she finds him walking home in the rain. After seeing the injuries on his face, she decides to take Norman to her place and treat his wounds.
Armed with her gun and a bag stuffed with clothes, Norma hides at the dock when a car pulls up. Romero emerges and he waits for Abernathy. Romero pretends to make a new business arrangement with Abernathy before shooting him dead into the water. Romero throws the moneybag after him and tells Norma to go home, having known she was hiding all along. Miss Watson cleans the blood from Norman’s face and then goes to her room to change. She leaves the bedroom door open and Norman can see her undress. He imagines his mother criticizing the situation, ending with her comment, “you know what you have to do.” Norma greets her son when he runs home without any recollection of how the evening ended with Miss Watson. Back at her house, Miss Watson is shown on the floor in a pool of blood. Around her slit throat is a necklace with the letter "B."
For better or for worse, “Bates Motel” has never shied away from its identity as a nighttime soap opera with a thriller genre veneer. That characterization has alienated viewers who point their noses in the air at what they perceive to be a slight against the Hitchcock-rooted mythos. Too bad for them. Whatever perceptions or misconceptions some might have about the production style, the first season of “Bates Motel” has been more consistently thrilling and more fun to watch than the film series upon which it is based.
The series creators have a sincere interest in exploring the crack formations in Norman’s psyche. His relationship with Mother and that relationship’s effect on his development has always been the pulse beat of the show. But not once have they compromised entertainment value for a single scene or story beat. “Bates Motel” is not a creative indulgence. It is a show intended to be savored by an eager audience enamored with the creepy twists and eerie turns.
Consider the primary storyline involving Jake Abernathy. $150,000 would barely buy a home in Cleveland, Ohio. As far as cash sums go for crime bosses, this is a paltry amount to be worth the effort of digging up a corpse and surreptitiously placing it on a bed in the Bates home. Particularly given the stairs one would have to climb to get it there. Then there is the matter of so many promised executions. Are the murders of Norma and her two boys really worth the risk of acquiring such a relatively small bag of money?
Critics may scream about poor plotting. Except they would be forgetting that Hitchcock is as synonymous with “Psycho” as he is with the term “MacGuffin.” The specifics of the plot device are irrelevant. The amount of money Abernathy demands and the circumstances surrounding it are secondary to the conflict created between characters. This storyline is not about the money. In this episode, it is about how Norma handles a dire situation and how it affects her ongoing relationship with Sheriff Romero. The writers are well aware of what makes “Bates Motel” work well, and that is the various tensions between the central players.
Consider also that Romero has zero story-related incentive to go through his dockside song and dance with Abernathy. Already aware that Norma was hiding in the wings, Romero had a plan to dispatch Abernathy all along. And that plan always ended with a bullet-riddled body in the water. So why go through a complete routine about establishing a new arrangement in the sex trade operation when he could have just fired the moment Jake stepped out of the car? If not for Norma’s benefit, then it was purely for the audience. This scene was meant to hold the viewers in suspense about the sheriff’s true intentions and about a possible change in power for White Pine Bay’s seedy underbelly. This scene alone is a prime example that “Bates Motel” is out to entertain. Well, as long as that entertainment goes hand in hand with the burgeoning drama amongst the Bates clan.
As the finale of the first season arc, it seems as if “Midnight” should be the fastest and most suspenseful of all episodes to date. Except it is not. Episode ten is peppered with as many restrained moments as the more expository hours of the series. But for very good reason.
The early minutes of “Midnight” feature a quieter scene with Norma visiting Norman’s therapist from episode eight. It is easy to be anxious while watching Norma flinch her way through dodgy questions about her family history as the audience wonders when the episode will return its focus to dropped bodies. Yet this turns out to be a highly essential scene. Later in the hour, Norma confides secrets to her son that reveal a sordid history of molestation at the hands of her brother and the truth behind the scar on her thigh. These are defining moments for Norma and her relationship with Norman. Not simply for the burden of knowledge she places on him, but for the revelation that Norman is who she turns to when she is most vulnerable. She finds solace in Norman that professionals are unable to provide. What matters most here is not what she told Norman, but the fact that she told Norman at all, and no one else.
Similarly, “Midnight” illustrates the ongoing tug-of-war that exists for Norman between his mother and every other woman in his life. In the previous episode, Norman lashed out at Norma when his perceived relationship with Bradley was threatened by the possibility of leaving White Pine Bay. In this episode, Norma is the focus of his ire when that relationship is threatened again, even though Dylan is now the culprit.
But the converse is equally evident. Norman’s switch is flipped when the connection to his mother is threatened, as well. And in these cases, his rage is directed at whomever dares to impinge upon that maternal bond, whether it is a legitimate threat or simply one perceived in his mind with the aid of a motherly visage. Norman is incapable of having any relationship with a female unless something is taken away from his connection to someone else.
Some fans may have expected more fireworks from the finale. But “Midnight” wraps up the first year arc very neatly while leaving enough dangling threads to entice a return for season two without resorting to an infuriating cliffhanger. Bradley and Dylan are clearly positioned to provide Norman another round of restless nights. That much is obvious. But “Bates Motel” has never trod upon the obvious path and has consistently asked its viewers to pay attention to the smallest details. While not exactly hidden, the “B” pendant worn around Miss Watson’s neck will afford the creators a number of potential avenues when the next arc begins. At the very least, that necklace alone can point suspicion away from Norman. At most, perhaps what was not shown about Miss Watson’s fate is not as obvious as it seems.
“Bates Motel” is all about relationships. And these relationships are much more complicated than their initial appearances make them seem. This is why the series has a soap opera feel despite its macabre tone and subject matter. The relationships almost exclusively deal in pairs. And what happens with one pair affects how another pair relates to one another. This makes for the type of salacious nighttime drama that some might classify as a “guilty pleasure.” Yet it would only be a guilty pleasure if the melodrama were more outlandishly trashy and ashamedly tacky. Instead, “Bates Motel” is just simply a pleasure. More than that, it is the best new series of the season, and far and away the most entertaining.