So. I have to be honest. After the awful events in Boston, I must admit it was hard to get back into the spirit of Bates Motel, a series all about the psychological makeup of a budding serial killer. Stories like this appeal to us, I think, because they give us a way to cope and process real-life tragedy we often see around us, but on a day when those tragedies were especially vivid, sometimes it can be tough to take. So I apologize in advance if it seems I wasn’t in the correct headspace.
That said, “Ocean View” is Bates Motel’s fifth episode, and marks the halfway point of its first season. It’s a not-bad, just-unremarkable affair, dealing mainly with the fallout from last week’s entry: Norma’s arrest for murder, the distant string pulling of Deputy Shelby, and the ever-widening divide between mother and son, encouraged by Dylan. There’s also a drop of romantic woes, as Emma returns this week and reacts to the news of Norman and Bradley’s relationship, in one of those classic “this hurts me but I won’t admit it” scenes. Emma, being oh-such-a-21st century kid, dismisses Norman’s late night rendezvous as a meaningless “hookup,” and perhaps the episode agrees, because outside of one next-morning bedroom scene, Bradley fails to make an appearance.
I expected more progress on the teen drama front this week, but then, I could say that about every plot, for there is a surprising amount of wheel-spinning. Oh, sure, things are looking grim for Norma, but then a key piece of evidence is stolen by Deputy Shelby, and so the whole murder investigation angle devolves into well-trod territory, as Norman once again warns his mother that the deputy is using her. Meanwhile, Emma and Norman team up for more Nancy Drew-style snooping, and although this endeavor gets results (they find the girl who went missing from the deputy’s basement last week), it doesn’t really point to anything earth-shattering. Norma is horrified to have proof that the deputy is a perverted creep, but how are we supposed to feel? We already knew that.
What is up with the character of Norma Bates? Sometimes I think they’ve really created a plum part for an actress as talented as Vera Farmiga, and other times I think she’s doing a Herculean job of papering over huge inconsistencies. While I get that Norma’s arrest would scare her, and I’ll buy her perception of Norman’s new romance as a threat and betrayal, I’m not sure how much sense her character makes this week. She rebuffs Norman and Dylan’s offers of help, antagonizes Norman in a series of repetitive moments, and seems to have no plan of her own. “I don’t need a defense; I didn’t do it,” she sniffs to her attorney. Can she be this naïve? Is she just projecting her own genuine guilt, and if so then why is she so relieved when the state’s case falls apart? And why should we care about her disillusionment regarding her boy toy, the Deputy, when Norma has already been well established as a super-manipulative, passive aggressive opportunist?
Also, for the second week in a row, Norma gets the worst/funniest line of the episode. Last week, it was “I killed the crap out of him!” and this week, it’s her angry attack on Norman: “You went out and you got laid!” Come on, guys. Ms. Farmiga is better than this.
More intriguing—somewhat—is the material involving Dylan and his attempts to secure more of Norman’s freedom, perhaps by getting his own place and bringing Norman along. Dylan’s partner in crime, Eddie (Terry Chen) scoffs at Dylan’s request for an advance, but he eventually drops a huge sack of bills in Dylan’s lap…and then promptly gets murdered in what I’m presuming is an assassination by a random thug. Dylan, furious, encounters the hitter again and runs him over with his truck. More on that later, I’m assuming. All of the Dylan-as-criminal threads feel like an attempt to synthesize a lite version of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.
I kid, but the thing is, despite it all, I’m really starting to come around on Dylan. Ever since he bonded with Norman last week and encouraged his half-brother’s love life, Dylan has shown a heart that—I think—is in the right place, and has really started to become a positive force in Norman’s life. My fear is that down the road he’ll do something forcing Norman to reject him and swear his allegiance back to mother, but I hope the writers are cleverer than that.
The episode ends with Norma and Emma, having decided that the Deputy’s kept sex slave has been moved to Mr. Summers’ old boat, rescuing her and taking her back to the motel, where a curious Mrs. Bates comes in and acts shocked, but…to be honest, I think she takes the sudden appearance of a disheveled Chinese woman sputtering “He made me have a-sex” (second worst line) surprisingly well. When she implicates the deputy, it’s now clear that the plot is going to be moving in the direction of…um…I dunno.
I don’t think Bates Motel has mastered the art of the episode-ending cliffhanger yet. Weird, since it comes from a creator of Lost. There’s some good stuff in here, both this episode and the series, but can we just pick up the pace a little bit? It’s halftime now, so I wish we had a better sense of where we’ve been, and where we’re going.