Bates Motel, Season 1, Episode 3: “What’s Wrong with Norman”
Written by Jeff Wadlow
Directed by Paul Edwards
Airs Mondays at 10pm ET on A&E
“What’s Wrong with Norman” moves the plot forward, and perhaps a bit too far, too soon. While the characters of Norma and Norman remain fascinating, viewers already know what happens to them in the future thanks to Hitchcock’s legendary film Psycho. What we don’t know, is what secrets the residents of White Pine Bay hold. So revealing the mysteries of the small strange town, specifically the Deputy’s dark secret, so early in the first season, may have been a huge misstep on the part of the writers. Mystery is always a good thing, and without it, Bates Motel might have trouble keeping an audience tuned in. “What’s Wrong with Norman” answers a couple of questions, and pushes Norman closer to the Bates we all know from the 60’s thriller; culminating with a cliffhanger which can potentially leave Norman in grave danger – although I seriously doubt it.
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In Bates Motel, the audience is led on a journey into the psychological abyss. Littered with Freudian symbolism, the series is both suffocating and schizophrenic – and it’s central character is tragically imprisoned by both his past and his mind. Bates Motel is a prolonged intrusion on the personal space of the Norman and the viewer. Last week on our Bates Motel Podcast, I mentioned how Norman was keeping a memento in the form of Keith Summers’ tool belt. For the unfamiliar, Norman Bates was modelled after the famous serial killer known as Ed Gein, an American murderer and body snatcher who became famous after authorities discovered Gein dug up corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Much like Gein, Norman unknowingly hangs on to souvenirs from dead men.
“What’s Wrong with Norman” goes further in capturing the essence of the character as depicted by Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins. More of Norman’s dark side is revealed when approached by Emma to further investigate the grave of the kidnapped girl. His temper tantrums are downright frightening, and increasingly more violent by the minute. Norman becomes ever-increasing weirder and eventually hallucinates his mother’s voice telling him to get back the tool belt from Deputy Shelby. His trance along with his conversation with Dylan earlier on, makes it abundantly clear that Norman has no memory of his homicidal impulses and violent actions. Our first impressions led us to believe Norma was responsible for the death of Mr. Bates, but now it seems that Norman is in fact, to blame.
As for the manga book; it should be noted that in the original Psycho film, Marion Crane also discovers a mysterious book lying around the study. She opens it with great surprise, and while we the viewer are never shown what is inside, we are led to believe the images are pornographic. In Bates Motel, Norman is sexually intrigued with the manga book he finds in the motel room, and the images spark something inside him. His meltdown in the classroom, as he imagines his teacher bound and chained like the women in the drawings, parallels a sequence from the previous episode in which he flips through the pages of the book. If you go frame by frame, you’ll also notice a quick insert of Norma laid down in bondage as well. The montage is a great way to illustrate Norman’s ever growing affliction, and Freddie Highmore continues to do great work here. His performance perfectly embodies the boyish and sympathetic Anthony Perkins we all know, and much like Anthony Perkins, Highmore gives a career-topping performance as the future motel owner with a nasty mother complex. The show is doing a superb job in handling Norman’s character, but as mentioned above, it feels like the series is moving his arc a little too fast.
Dylan serves as an interesting contrast to Norman, but his scenes away from his family are undeniably lame (although I did appreciate his Deliverance reference). Dylan works best as the force of good, and the voice of reason. His brief moment with Norman on the couch is the highlight of the episode. “You need to get out more, Norman,” Dylan says, “This isn’t normal.” Norman is already exhibiting strange behaviour, and when his brother Dylan tries to bond with him, Norman makes it clear to the viewers that he does not remember attacking Dylan with a mallet. “I forgive you for trying to kill me,” Dylan says and Norman replies, “I’m sure I really struck fear into your heart!” Dylan doesn’t identify with Norman but he feels sorry for him and deep down inside, he truly cares. The creation of Norman Bates, a kind, reserved, mama’s boy – who seemingly couldn’t hurt a fly, is a fascinating watch.
White Pines Bay has plenty of secrets, and it seems every adult is somehow involved with a criminal underground organization. The twist ending regarding Deputy Shelby does come with a surprise, but in hindsight, it should have been obvious. Looking ahead, we can only assume nobody, including Norma, will believe Norman, when he tells them about his discovery in Shelby’s Basement. This should eventually set Norman’s jealousy levels to a dangerous high. “What’s Wrong with Norman” is a chilling, often baroque journey into madness – exemplified by a great turn from Freddie Highmore. However the series is far from great and when Highmore is not onscreen, things fall apart. The citizens of White Pine Bay aren’t very interesting and neither are the subplots of human trafficking and pot growing fields. With seven episodes left, I doubt even great performances will be enough to overlook some strange story lines, and some pretty dull supporting characters. We can only hope for the best.
– Ricky D
The show-runners continue to show Norman’s affection for black and white movies.
Emma’s idea of a good date is looking for dead bodies.
Don’t forget to listen to our Bates Motel Podcast. New episodes drop every Tuesday night.