Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recapping Bates Motel Season 1

A few days before Season Two of Bates Motel debuts on A&E, I finally finished  watching Season One.  I’ve had the complete first season on my Dish Hopper since the show finished the first run of ten episodes last spring.  However, I opted for viewing on Netflix which was more seamless. 

Until a few weeks ago, I had only watched the first two episodes, not because I had no interest in continuing on, but life gets in the way sometimes.  So much to do so little time.  The question is, is the show really worth a second season?

Obviously A&E thinks so.  But then, A&E makes decisions that sometimes aren’t so hot and the fact that Norma, Norman, Dylan and the gang reside on that network is probably the worst thing about Bates. 

A&E is the Network that brought us the showcase for celebrating homophobia and racism known as Dork Dynasty.  The show that feeds into the brainless twats who love to hide their prejudices under the guise of religious freedom.

But Bates Motel is a scripted fictional show (so is Dork Dynasty, but they disguise it as reality) so no worries there unless one of the writers or stars do their own Gentleman’s Quarterly interview and say something  totally off the wall stupid like Phil “I Never Met a Black Man or Gay Man I Liked” Robertson.  I don’t see that happening though.  Once bitten, twice shy.

For those who may not have been watching, Bates Motel is a re-imagining of events that happened before Norman Bates sliced and diced Marion Crane in the Hitchcock classic Psycho.  By labeling it a re-imagining, and since it is fiction, the Producers, Directors, and it’s team of writers can do just about anything they damn well please with the whole she-bang, and that is exactly what they have done, purists and internet fan boys be damned.

In the very first episode, Norma and Norman take ownership of the now infamous Motel which has been relocated from Fairville, California to White Pine Bay, Oregon.  I guess it’s easier to make Canada where the series is filmed look more like Oregon than California.  Weather being the damn nuisance that it is.
The ownership of the Motel is a new start for the gruesome twosome after husband and father Sam Bates (David Cubitt) has been mysteriously killed in an accident that is not so accidental.  It’s a mystery that is cleared up halfway through the season, and one of the few that is.  Bates Motel asks a lot of questions, but like the series it’s modeled after, Twin Peaks, it answers damn little of them.  So take it any way you can get it.

Previous owner,  Keith Summers (W. Earl Brown) is none too happy about losing The Seafairer (the previous owners spelling, not mine) and the house overlooking it to a bank foreclosure and he wants it back.  And what better way is there to get the old homestead returned to the family fold than raping the new owner.  Yeah, it’s that kind of show, and from that extremely violent point on you can anticipate just about any plot manipulation possible and an outburst of bloody violence at any moment when you least expect it.

The Sheriff of White Pine, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonelli), begins nosing around the Bates Motel along with deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel).  There’s not much that goes on in Sheriff Alex’s town that he doesn’t know about.  And if by chance something escapes his attention, such as why Keith Summers parked his pickup truck in an unlikely place and just left it, Romero will find out why before gracing the windshield with a parking citation.  Deputy Dawg Zack does his own nosing around in his own special way as well, spending much of his time sniffing around Norma.  He’s much much friendlier towards her than Sheriff Romero is.  How much friendlier?  To put it bluntly, he goes in where Keith Summers has been except he doesn’t have to force entry to do so.  But he does have a secret tool that helps pry her pants off.  Shelby, just like practically everybody else has secrets of his own.Norman also meets his first real love interest in episode one, when Cystic Fibrosis stricken Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke) befriends him on his first day of school.  It’s pretty much a one way street on her part though as Norman only has eyes for Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) whose father is mysteriously murdered.  I guess you can just go ahead and attach the word “mysterious” to anything that goes on in this neighborhood.  And although Norman is there when Bradley needs a shoulder to cry on, there’s a difference between being a “thing” and “hooking up” as Emma tries to explains to Norman, who isn’t very open to that explanation.  At least not until Bradley’s real boyfriend explains it to him in the season finale.

By episode two, Norma’s other son, Dylan (Max Thierot) takes up residency at the creepy famous house on the hill.  This is not an example of the Prodigal Son returning home to the welcoming arms of mother and brother.  Norma and Norman would just as soon  he be on his way, but the producers having invested in putting Thierot’s name on the opening credits, we’re pretty sure he’s not going anywhere for a while.

Dylan gets a job being a security guard.  Well, sort of.  He’s hired to protect the local marijuana crop which is also the main source of income for practically all the residents of White Pine, as it was for the former residents who keep showing up slightly dead.  He takes to the life of crime like a duck to water, which means he’ll fit right into the town of White Pine Bay.

English Teacher Miss. Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), takes a special interest in Norman.  But not the kind of interest that Miss Landers showed for Beaver Cleaver and his classmates.  No, Miss Watson’s seems to have kind of a creepy way too much for her own good  kind of attraction towards Norman.  Think of her as being sort of like Norma without the shrillness and actually being sympathetic.  That being said, it’s never really spelled out for sure exactly what her thing is, and by the end of Season One, it’s one of those plot points that we are left wondering if it will ever be cleared up. It’s sort of like the whole is there or isn’t there some kind of incestuous relationship between Norma and Norman.  It’s never spelled out one way or another. It’s hinted at on more than one occasion, but either it’s a line the network, the producers, and the writers don’t seem to want to cross openly, or it’s left to be resolved for certainty at a later date.  It may be the same reason that Mary Kay Letourneau double, Miss Watson, intentions are left for us to decipher because by the season finale, there’s a good possibility we may never know what was up with her and that would not be good.  Plot points left hanging are a very bad thing in series television.Midway through the season, the villainous Jake Abernathy takes up residency in Room 9.  He’s looking for something, thinks Norma has it, but she doesn’t.  We do find out what he is after, but this too just leads to more and more questions. 
Norman adopts stray dog.  Dog becomes Road Kill.  So Norman does what any kid in the U.S. would do when losing a pet.  He takes it to a taxidermist to have it stuff so he can keep it with him forever and ever.  Hey, don’t knock it.  At least he didn’t bury it in the Pet Semetary which would make this an entirely different show.
It is actually Emma’s dad Will (Ian Hart) who make his living doing taxidermy.  And no, he doesn’t stuff the animals with marijuana leaves which is probably why Will and his daughter are kind of out of place.  He decides to teach the trade to Norman, which does relate back to Hitchcock’s film where taxidermy was Norman’s hobby.  A hobby that would serve him well later on in life.  Besides the two main characters and the name of the Motel, it’s one of the few times the series actually acknowledges the original film.

It would be impossible for me to relate every sudden plot twist and turn that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.  Bates Motel is not a series you can just drop in on and know what the hell is going on.  I’ve watched all ten episodes and even I’m not sure.  You would be best served going back to watch the first season on either Netflix, DVD or Blue Ray, or look for reruns on A&E before jumping in. 

It will hold your interest throughout, but whether it can keep up this pace for much longer is questionable.  There could be problems ahead.

Notably, on the one hand Vera Farmiga does a terrific job as Norma.  She’s overbearing, obnoxious, shrewish, creepy, annoying, and way over the top in everything she does.  And I guess that’s a necessity in explaining what happens with her sons.  On the other hand, a little of this goes a long long way and after a few episodes it begins to wear a bit thin.  You just wish there was something more to this woman than constant bitching.  More Norman and Dylan and less Norma would be a very good thing, and if she ever bites the dust I’m sure her demise won’t be looked upon with any regret.

Bates may also be running into the old too much of a good thing problem.  So many minor plot details are left hanging that you wonder if they’ll ever be resolved or just forgotten as if they didn’t exist.  This often happens in series that begin to think plot twists for the sake of plot twists and no sensible solution will get them by. 

This was part of the problem with Twin Peaks as time went on.  So many open ended plot elements and issues left open ended, you have to wonder if these writers have an end game in mind or is this another make it up as you go along and throw things in just for the hell  of it sort of thing. It’s one thing to play your audience like an instrument, but eventually you’re going to wear down and break those guitar strings and your audience will quickly disconnect.  As Twin Peaks went on, audiences were worn down and eventually tuned out.

Highmore as Norman is okay as far as it goes.  You just wish he was more animated.  We never know for sure what he is thinking, feeling, or what is real and what isn’t.  Maybe we’re not supposed to and that may work in a feature film, but I’m not sure that in a series it will hold up that well for a long length a time. 

Even Tony Perkins who played the adult Norman understood that you have to bring more to the table than appearing to sulk your way through ten episodes.  Most of the time we can even sympathize with Norman because of how he is treated by Norma, Bradley, and some others.  But his disconnect and treatment of Emma makes us just think he’s nothing more than a brain damaged spoiled little shit.  And frankly, the whole is it real or is it Normanized shtick will quickly get old under these circumstances.  Another gimmick that could quickly wear out its welcome.  Those who have watched, know what I mean.

Max Thierot is a revelation, and one of the best things about this show.  Despite his criminal tendencies, he's just about the only main character who lives in reality and sees things for what they are.  Back in 2007, he had the misfortune of playing Ned Nickerson in Emma Robert’s Nancy Drew movie.  About that I said:

This Ned is written as the exact opposite. He's not sure about anything and although he comes out to Hollywood to join Nancy, he isn't very helpful and is given little to do except sit around and mope, even to the point of worrying that Nancy is going to run off with thirteen year old Corky. By the time he heads back to River Heights, he had already overextended his welcome in my opinion. And if this Ned had popped up in the books, Nancy would have vanquished him by the end of Nancy's Mysterious Letter, the volume where he popped up in the first place.
You can forget that. Given the chance to actually act, he's much much better here and is one of the few things that helps keep this potpourri stirred.  But he’s six years older as well so maybe it’s the maturity.

While it doesn’t exactly have me on my feet giving it a standing ovation and clamoring for season two, Bates Motel has drawn me in enough to stay tuned.  There are  a lot of good things here, so lets hope the writers and producers make good use of them and unscrambles some of the plot mess they’ve made.  I mean, even the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer wasn’t really great, but by the second round it turned into one of the most memorable shows in Television History.

Speaking of round two, that starts up on A&E Monday March 3.  Check your satellite and cable listings for time.

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