“BATES MOTEL: Season 3, Episode 6” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
With the track record from the first and second season of BATES MOTEL, there was an aura of cautious optimism when this writer decided to cover the third season. But luckily, that faith has payed off in a big way, as BATES’ sixth episode this season is a full-on home run for the series, and introduced a milestone into the show’s familiar lore. And as Norman and Norma drifted apart further than ever before, Norman and “Mother” finally came together, and it offered one of the most surreal and satisfying scenes in the series’ history.
However, the reveal of “Mother” was not the only strong part of the episode, which once again worked as a showcase for BATES’ incredible ensemble. The writing on this episode fired on all cylinders, paying due diligence to the characters of Norma, Norman, Emma, Dylan, Caleb and Romero; hell, even the lovably weird Chick Hogan showed up to liven up the proceedings. Norma was shown at her most vulnerable, falling into questionable and irrational habits once she’s faced with a reality she disagrees with, while Romero goes from his most literally vulnerable to his most dangerously assertive. The episode, entitled “Norma Louise”, raises the tension while turning the narrative wheels, all the while doing so in a very constrained time frame; an impressive feat for each aspect singularly, let alone juggled with one another.
“Norma Louise” seems to almost be about resolution as much as it is about impending conflict. In the most shocking scene this season, Romero forces Marcus Young out the Sheriff race in an unpredictable and finite way, while simultaneously running towards an even more chaotic conflict. Norma, while seemingly finding peace with Caleb, unintentionally may be in the way of Chick’s manipulation. And Emma and Dylan raise their physical tension while Dylan’s relationship to the growingly unstable Norman is becoming intimidating on many levels. For an episode almost directly at the season’s midpoint, it’s fitting to close a chapter on the pre-”Mother” BATES, and with more men becoming closer to Norma than ever, there’s a chance “Mother” will have an even greater part in the latter half of the season.
Speaking of “Mother”, this writer must admit he is genuinely impressed with how BATES MOTEL and A&E are portraying Norman’s cross-dressing alter ego. While there’s an element of subtle fright, considering the audience knows just how far Norman can go when he’s having an “episode”, the character is approached as a mirror of Norma in many ways as opposed to a murderous caricature or an offensive hermaphrodite. In fact, Norman’s “Mother” is so devoid of Norma’s sexualized nature that it’s even more true to how the protective and obsessed Norman views his mother. And Dylan’s reaction is not of disgust or anger, but genuine confusion, and in a sense, understanding; in other words, Dylan’s laissez-faire attitude towards “Mother” is an underestimation that may prove damning for the character’s place in the PSYCHO canon.
Of course, the episode is another in a recent string of strong success for BATES MOTEL, all of which have also offered myriad great performances. Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore and Olivia Cooke are all excellent this week, with Farmiga’s drunk, broken desperation, Highmore’s multifaceted performance and Cooke’s subdued practicality making for some very engaging character choices. Meanwhile, Kenny Johnson, Nestor Carbonell and Joshua Leonard are all on point this week, even if their screentime is fairly limited in the big picture. But Max Thieriot really delivers this week as the episode’s MVP; his scenes between Cooke and “Mother”-mode Highmore made for some of the most nuanced and effortless acting I’ve seen on the show to date.
Overall, BATES MOTEL is going a path that’s not only into the more bonkers area of the series, but also one of strong, dramatic intensity. With just a taste of “Mother,” we’ve yet to see “her” in action when “she” has to remove the negative elements of Norman’s life, which will undoubtedly be when the show fully ascends into horror territory. But for now, BATES MOTEL simply works on so many narrative levels, and after “Norma Louise”, this writer has gone from optimism to outright excitement for where the series will go from here.