Tuesday, April 30, 2013
TV REVIEW: BATES MOTEL - SEASON 1 EPISODE 7 - "The Man in Number 9"
Another week of Bates Motel, another week where I feel like calling up Gus Van Sant and letting him know he's not the worst thing that ever happened to the Psycho franchise.
To start things off, Dylan proves his continuing horribleness in the pre-credits scene by getting all haughty with Sheriff Richard Alpert. Why is he feeling so perturbed? Because he and his family are getting away with murdering a both Keith Sommers and a deputy and he's not getting any credit for it. I really hope he falls down a bottomless pit that's mysteriously located in the woods next to that marijuana field that obviously didn't matter. Maybe it leads to the overpass that Norma mentioned in the pilot, you know? The one that would affect her hotel's livelihood? The one that hasn't been mentioned for the entire season?
This is another classic Bates Motel episode where things do progress, but it doesn't feel like it at all. Norma finds out about Norman's tryst with Bradley, and gets...jealous? Protective? It's hard to figure out exactly what her response to this knowledge is, but that's probably because the writers don't understand their characters at all (there's a big rant at the end of this article all about that). Norman is all head-over-heels for Bradley, oblivious to the fact that he was a grief bang and nothing more. The only bright spot in this episode is near the end, when Norman goes to profess his love to Bradley and she shuts him down. He walks away and starts talking to himself, repeating the words his mother said about Bradley verbatim. This is one of the first real bits of familiar mythology the show has given us, and while it's not worth exalting, it is nice to see something resembling the Psycho characters we know. I wonder if the show will ever go the distance and have Norman speak in his mother's voice. Maybe he takes up ventriloquism? I won't hold my breathe.
As far as the titular Man in Number 9 goes, it's classic Lost mystery-baiting at its worst. Oooooooo, he's got lots of money but we don't know why! Stay tuned for more secrets. The show has an over-abundance of this kind of stuff, and I guarantee that whatever Nine-Man is involved with, it'll be thoroughly underwhelming. As boring as things have been, he better be part of a monster brigade that meet every two months to sacrifice virgins to the blood god Mammon. Or he's a government agent that meets up with aliens in the hopes of developing a serum that turns people into pure energy beings. That's the kind of batshit insanity the show needs at this point.
This episode does have one thing worth extolling, and it comes from the one area Bates Motel is spectacular at: unintentional comedy. Norman befriends a stray dog that slowly begins to trust him. When he returns from his "breakup" with Bradley, he sees the dog standing across the road and asks it to come to him. Well, what do you think happens? A car passes by and roadkills the poor mutt instantly. This leads to Norman cradling the canine corpse and sobbing, "I killed my dog!" Comedy. Gold.
And that's pretty much it for this episode. Another slog through various plotlines, all ending up as uneventful and uninteresting as the last batch, and just setting up even more threadbare plots. What follows below is a (probably incoherent) rant about the show that has been bugging me since last week's episode. The review is over, but the raving starts...now.
Last week, it was revealed that Norman actually killed his father and had no memory of it. Norma then reveals to Dylan that she has been "protecting" Norman from himself and the knowledge of what he did. When I first saw this (as I noted in last week's column), I really enjoyed it. It was a decent enough twist and it got the story back around to the character we came to see. But, over the course of the week, I started reevaluating what it actually meant, and I came to this conclusion: the writers/showrunners have absolutely no idea (or just don't care) what the characters of Norman and Norma Bates were about. Now, you can argue that since this is a reimagining (or whatever term you wish to apply) that these aren't the same characters as the ones introduced in Robert Bloch's novel, or more directly Hitchcock's film. That's fair, but there are fundamental things about those characters that make up the core mechanics of who they are. The big reveal that Norman actually killed his father and has always been crazy completely undermines what Psycho is about: an innocent boy driven completely insane by his domineering mother.
Hitchcock's Norman Bates was the poster child for nurture over nature. Norman Bates was a nice guy (except for being a perv), and would have remained that way if not for his dementedly overbearing mother. Bates Motel's Norman is troubled from the outset, and his mother (while not completely rational) is forced to try and protect him from himself. Now, this could all get rectified if they show flashbacks of Norma with Norman as a child, conditioning him and imposing a psychological control over him early on. They could end up (in a boringly roundabout way) still blaming Norma for the madman Norman becomes, but as far as we've seen, that's not the case. This Norman is the very opposite of Hitchcock's: his nature dooms him to evil. That makes Norma a fairly useless character. She is supposed to be the force that shapes an otherwise normal boy into a cross-dressing murderer. This show is positing that Norman was always going to be unhinged, and now his surroundings are simply bringing that part of him out. It not only makes the character predictable, but it takes away a crucial component of Norman Bates: pity.
In Psycho II, Norman is released from the mental institution and reenters society. All the while, he's afraid of "Mother" coming back, and the audience feels sorry for him. It's not his fault that he is the way he is, and we actually want Norman to stay sane and beat the curse his mother put on him. It's impossible to feel sorry for Bates Motel's Norman because it's not his mother's fault he is the way he is. He's crazy from the get-go, so why should I feel bad for him? This makes me feel like the show's creators had no idea what made these characters so morbidly enticing in the first place. I hope they do some retconning in order to course correct, but it'll still feel roundabout and lazy. They should have had a better grasp on the characters from the beginning. AND THEY DID! The first two episodes positioned Norma as a conniving manipulator, and even acknowledged the incestuous chemistry between Norman and his mother. At this point in the series, all that has taken a backseat to soap opera plots and mystery boxes filled with nothing but hot air. I'm committed to reviewing the entire first season for this blog (and will do so as objectively as I can), but it'll take time-traveling cyborg werewolves kidnapping Norma to get me invested into a second season. No matter what happens from here on out, I have to declare Bates Motel deader than Marion Crane.