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“BATES MOTEL: Season 3, Episode 2” (TV Review)

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Last week’s premiere for A&E’s BATES MOTEL was a solid start to the third season, disassociating itself from many of the show’s problems from season 2 and focusing on Norman’s descent into his darker side. Yet sometimes, you realize a tiger can’t change its stripes, and even as entertaining it may be, it doesn’t quite make for as compelling television as a show stripped down to its basic emotional elements. Hence, the second episode of BATES MOTEL’s third season seems to go into a direction that, while watchable, seems to go down the path of some of the more ridiculous places in season two.

The main narrative problem, of course, is how to use Norma and Dylan to a proper effect. Despite the last episode’s assumptions, Dylan is apparently still in the drug trade as much as ever, now saddled with his estranged father/uncle Caleb, who comes face to face with a backwoods nutjob (played by SONS OF ANARCHY alum Ryan Hurst). And Norma is now on the hunt for a missing prostitute who resided on the hotel, which now mixes her up with a seemingly secret society. It’s all interesting, sure, but it also feels forced and unnatural; for a show that nails the Norman side of things so well, the larger Bates picture is consistently uneven and far-fetched.

Furthermore, despite the incestual undertones of Norma and Norman’s relationship, Norma’s psychological abuse has yet to go off the rails, and the show’s focus on Norma’s universal attractiveness makes her to be a difficult counterpoint and influence on Norman’s growth. In essence, Norma is frankly becoming “too” normal to have inspired Norman’s schizophrenic and homicidal urges; if anything, the show could use Norma as Norman’s primary antagonist, and is refusing to do so. Instead, we have the all-too-familiar scenario of Norma getting close to the obviously-troubled Norman, and then going on her goose chases that unnecessarily tie into the town’s bigger picture somehow.

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Luckily, at least BATES MOTEL is still guiding strong with Norman’s storyline, pursuing Norman’s relationship with Emma as well as his adaptation to his mother’s paranoia. In this sense, not only do we see Norman deal with his sexual impulses, but also begin to see his behavioral sadism; at this point, one doesn’t quite know if pulling back from Emma’s affection is Norman being shy and scared or fulfill a more emotionally abusive desire towards the women in his life. In any case, it’s showing an intimate new dimension to Norman, and one that will likely shed a light on how he will further deal with his murderous behavior.

Furthermore, even with the unfortunate wain in storytelling, BATES MOTEL still brings strong performances to the table. Olivia Cooke ends up being the highlight of the episode, effortlessly stealing scenes from Highmore and Farmiga throughout. Speaking of, Highmore does some really great work in this episode, while Farmiga makes the most of her sadly underwritten material. And strong notices should also go out to Hurst, Kenny Johnson and Nestor Carbonell, all of whom seem to be aggressively elevating their material with unexpected yet believable physical choices.

While BATES MOTEL’s second episode is admittedly a disappointment in terms of development, the show hasn’t lost this writer yet. In fact, the closing moments of the show will undoubtedly provide more fascinating familial tension between Norman and Norma, which will hopefully draw some attention away from the more ridiculous and repetitive storylines. But in any case, one hopes BATES MOTEL is intentionally playing with our expectations, and that our steps towards PSYCHO will be along a creepier, less melodramatic path.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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