Ah, I do love the smell of dysfunction on a Monday. A&E’s Bates Motel did not slip in viewership, even when pitted against the sloppier zombie buffet of The Walking Dead. This story is proving to be as layered as the characters that populate it. This isn’t a simple survival homily. Bates Motel has done what I wanted it to do. Introduce more developed supporting characters, and foreshadowthe role that the idyllic little hamlet on the Oregon coast, complete with artisan cheeses, organic vegetables, and a thriving drug economy that keeps its denizens in foreign cars and mansions, plays in the dismantling of Norman’s compromised psyche.
When his half brother shows up on the doorstep, broke, hostile, and ready for a fight with his estranged mother, Norman is thrust into their uncomfortable power play. There may be love between Dylan and Norma, but it is hidden under the layers of years–betrayal and rejection. There seems to be a lot of that going around in this sleepy little town. Unfortunately, as we learn early, choices come with consequences. This town is zipped tight, operating not just above the law but with a law that everyone seems to understand as reasonable: “An eye for an eye.” When Bradley Miller’s father is set on fire and jettisoned down the road, crashing into an embankment, you get the distinct impression that something is seriously wrong here, something that has nothing to do with Norman or his mother. They aren’t the hostile center of a calm timber town turned counter-culture utopia. They just landed smack dab in their element.
Norma realizes immediately that her happy vision will have some tests. Not that that’s going to stop her. Her delusion of a better place is so consuming that she will stop at nothing, even going so far as to gently seduce the attentions of deputy Zack Shelby, a handsome young officer who immediately forms an attachment to the Bates. His boss…not so much.
I get the distinct impression, and hey, I may be wrong, but call it a hunch…Nestor Carbonell’s Sheriff Romero knows and is involved in a hell of a lot more than he lets on. He has a powerful presence, is familiar with his town, intimately familiar. And was best friends of the previous owner of the motel, who has suddenly “disappeared”. The man has some unanswered questions but then so do I. For instance, we learn that the journal Norman obsesses over was in fact found in one of the hotel rooms and depicts scenes that actually occurred; scenes of sex trafficking and the burial of a corpse in a shack of a familiar wood. Romero’s BFF was the man who raped Norma–the man who owned the motel previously. It had been in his family for generations. Just sayin.
Shelby is kind and trusting, but he understands what drives the machine of the madness around him. Play the game, protect the people, uphold the laws of the land. The laws of their land are unique.
The journal sleuthing was accomplished by Norman’s school friend, Emma, one of, if not the first primary character in a show that has cystic fibrosis. She’s sick. She’s got to live with it, and she does. She is the anti-Bradley. Where Bradley Miller is polished and popular, Emma is what she is. An oxygen tank and tubing won’t stop her from living, and she has the instincts to barrel through Normans’s shyness and make him see her. In her father’s shop, we get a glimpse of Norman’s future. Her father is a taxidermist, raising his sick daughter alone. Emma was abandoned by her mother eight years before. There is a link between these two kids. Something about this girl, this fragile yet fierce young woman, is going to change Norman forever. And not just with his first kiss.
The episode ends with a corpse, set afire in the town square, panicked locals running to and fro, deputy Shelby directing traffic as Norma looks on in horror. Maybe she should have gone with Kansas.