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- Episode: Plunge (Season 2, Episode 6)
- Starring: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Olivia Cooke
- Written By: Nikki Toscano
- Directed By: Christopher Nelson
- Network: A&E
- Studio: Universal
Bates Motel: Plunge Review
The plots thicken.
By Michael Henley
April 12, 2014
Bates Motel: Plunge Review
Mark one more on the White Pine Bay police blotter?
“Plunge” is split into three thirds: one fair, one rather poor, one really very good. The great stuff involves Norman’s descent into deeper psychosis as his loved ones watch on with horrified concern. The middling material involves Norma Bates’ bid to win a vacant city council seat. The bad stuff involves Dylan being essentially adopted and promoted by Zane’s sister, although it’s a relationship that does lend itself to late night sexcapades. If there was ever an episode that proved that Dylan can be the weak leg of the Bates family triad, this is it.
But that’s not a big deal, because what works in the episode works very well. A caveat, however, to that, involves the character of Cody. So far, the reactions to her character have been very negative, and I understand why. She’s abrasive, a bad influence, and trades in angry teen clichés (loud music! Bad attitude! Tattoos! Drugs and liquor!) But I have to confess…I kinda like Cody. A lot of it has to do with Paloma Kwiatkowski bring a degree of pathos to a character that may not even exist on the page. I like that although she’s snotty to adults, she takes her friends very seriously. I like that her romance with Norman feels genuine—at least, as genuine as it can feel when you’re that age. I like that her bad habits feel like honest defense mechanisms, and not exclusively lazy screenwriting ticks. And I love the fact that, especially this week, she expresses genuine worry for Norman Bates.
And she has every reason to. Norman seems to have turned a page in the way he processes his psychotic breaks: they’re coming more frequent, they erupt more volcanically, and even his stillness (fueled by flashes of abuse that we would be wise to question) is deeply unsettling…he’s like a cobra coiling himself up for an attack. There’s a lot of bottled up anger in Norman, yes, but as we’ve seen in previous weeks some of that anger is made of spare parts from other people. The episode is punctuated by two frightening outbursts from Norman: one verbal, one physical, and it’s become abundantly clear as this season has developed that Norman is a very impressionable kid, and he has nothing—nothing—but bad influences to draw from.
The verbal assault comes at the climax of a double date between Norman, Cody, Emma and Gunner, which starts awkwardly but soon evolves into swinging from a rope above the town swimming hole. Emma, unwisely, tries this for herself by unhooking from the O2, and ends up almost over-exerting herself. To say that Norman takes this poorly is an understatement: he lashes out at Cody enabling such reckless behavior, giving voice to every criticism his mother has ever hurled at Cody. (Once again, note how Norman keeps cycling through borrowed thoughts and emotions instead of taking ownership of his own.) This alarms Cody, and so she later communicates to Emma her knowledge of Norman’s increasingly common blackouts. This scene between the two most important women in Norman’s life (besides Norma) is well-played, striking the right tone of closeness between these two: they’re neither good friends nor hateful enemies. This is nice to see, because usually teen dramas vacillate between two polar extremes when figuring out relationships.
Of course, Cody’s well-intentioned message backfires, in a roundabout way. Because Cody tells Norma, Norma goes ballistic and blames Cody for Norman’s condition (wonderful mom logic there), and then spitefully sabotages Norman’s driving test. Norman, enraged, runs to Cody, where there is an altercation with her father, leading to (possibly) yet another fatality on Norman’s (lack of) conscience. Once again, not a character that we’re likely to miss (although Cody, despite her tough talk, will doubtlessly be torn about it). But it’s sad and engrossing to see another character become a stepping stone on Norman’s tempo-increasing spree. And again, we must look to the little things that propel Norman Bates: look at the complicated scene (post-swimming hole), when Emma tenderly talks to Norman and admits it felt good for someone to stand up for her. This innocent comment, sadly, is not the type of thing you would want to tell Norman Bates.
So, yes. All this stuff is really strong. Freddie Highmore knocks it out of the park once again, the other teen performances are solid and centered, and the whole thing percolates with tension as we go deeper into the abyss of Norman Bates. The episode’s title is an appropriate one.
So then there’s the Norma stuff, which is made of standard conspiracy thriller building blocks, mixed with a little small town politics and some quaint idealism from a man who loves The Man who Shot Liberty Valance. That’s Michael Vartan’s George, who comes by to prep Norma through her attempt to be given a city councilwoman seat, after last week that seat was vacated due to a tragic accident. That this is Tom Ford’s doing is somewhat inevitable—he practically admits as much when he tells Norma that death can be sometimes very convenient. He does everything but top off his evil monologue with “mwahahaha.” Norma is somehow not impressed by Tom’s hammy demonstration of a murder motive, so she excuses herself from him and vows to go it alone. Despite her marathon of preparation however, her interview with the mayor is hilariously brief, as he simply confirms the people that she knows in town. She gets the seat, of course, because shady things are what White Pine Bay is all about, and you can tell she feels a little broken up about being given a position that she “earned” only through inadvertent favoritism. Do you think Tom Ford will start calling her up for inappropriate favors? Of course he will…let’s go ahead and start looking forward to it. This stuff is all plot-heavy, and as a set up for things to come, it’s fine.
What isn’t fine is the Dylan story this week. Recovering from his hospital stay, he’s whisked away to a nice house owned by Zane’s sister, the woman behind the man. She’s taken a shining to Dylan and shows her hydroponic garden where she cultivates gourmet weed, and throws lines at him like “I love dirt. It’s honest.” Oh, please. She appeals to him to secretly reign in Zane, running the business under her unstable brother’s nose, and seals the deal with sex, because…I have no idea why. Because Kathleen Robertson’s got needs, basically (although she could do much better than Dylan). I’ve given the crime material a pass in weeks past, but the story this week is so divorced from everything else (save for one small line about Dylan not having a family), and so fragmented on its own that this is not interesting, at all. It’s just a few things that happen. Maybe I’m just getting tired of the blank look that Dylan has whenever people tell him crazy information.
Still, let’s enjoy the good stuff in “Plunge.” It’s interesting how much Bates Motel is borrowing from traditional teen show clichés while developing its central character. I’m sure that’s a disappointment to some. But I actually rather enjoy it, maybe because it seems to fit: when you’re a teenager everything is a matter of life and death, so what’s the difference between Norman Bates coming into your life and making that literal?