Bates Motel Ep 1.09: “Underwater” is the most entertaining episode yet

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Bates Motel Season 1, Episode 9 “Underwater”
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Carlton Cues and Kerry Ehrin
Airs Monday nights at 10pm ET on A&E

“Underwater,” the penultimate episode in Bates Motel’s first season, may well be the most entertaining episode yet, by introducing some much needed dark humour to the series. Between Norma and Dylan’s reactions to Norman’s new pet Juno and Emma getting high; “Underwater” is terrifically funny in and throughout. Unlike last weeks episode, the wacky comic relief here is purely intentional. Take for instance Norma’s confrontation with the stoners and her, count them, three breakdowns (not to mention the assault on a real-estate broker).  Bates Motel has the ability to balance a sense of the fantastic and the horrific with a touch of dark comedy, and that’s part of what keeps most viewers watching. And while I’m still not convinced that the “pot-plot” fits in well with the mix of hilarity and bone chilling terror, director/producer Tucker Gates, along with show-runners/writers, Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin, do a stellar job in juxtaposing the multiple story-lines here.

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Norma: “Why do crazy people keep gravitating toward me?”

“We all go a little mad sometimes,” says Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, but in Bates Motel, Norma seems to lose her cool more often than not. While Vera Farmiga’s performance seemed a tab bit over-the-top in the past two episodes, here she finds the right balance of shifting between calm and bat shit crazy. The storyline this week is held together entirely by her performance, as she awkwardly delivers dialogue like “smoking a doobie” or “chill your own ass”.

Norma reaches her fever pitch when she learns that the motel is now worthless thanks to the ne expressway being built, and thus interfering with her plans to move away. And if that wasn’t enough to push all her buttons, in comes Mr. Abernathy, an unseen force up until the episode’s final moments. Norma might not be the most pleasant person to spend time with, but I’m pretty sure the tear dripping down her cheek in those final moments, left many viewers sympathizing with the tormented single mother of two. The truth is, Norma’s craziness is somewhat justified, given everything she’s been through lately. Let’s quickly recap everything that has happened to her so far: There’s a creepy man who’s made death threats to her; her realtor chose not disclose the highway situation; she was inadvertently linked to human trafficking; she was raped upon moving into her new home; her ex-lover was a runner of a sex slave ring, and later killed by her son; and just last week his decomposing body was found lying in her bed. To be fair, her sudden outbursts and disappointment with the actions of her two sons is entirely warranted. You’d think given her recent bad luck, they’d be a little more supportive, if not understanding, and disposing of a mattress shouldn’t be a big enough deal to argue over.

“I had an idea, when I moved here, on how life was going to be. And ok sure, while life can be disappointing, no one prepared me for the colossal freaking face dive off a cliff that living in the crazy town really is. However my idea of what happens in my property is still under my control, and it doesn’t include people in torn jeans with tied-eye clothing and dirty hair, hanging out on my new furniture smoking a dubie”.

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Abernathy insists that Deputy Shelby owed him $150,000 and assumes Norma has it secretly stashed away. Delivering both an ultimatum and a rendezvous point, Norma has less than 24 hours to resolve the situation. The good thing about the character of Abernathy, is that Jere Burns is doing a remarkable job in creating a menacing figure. The bad news is that “Underwater” sets up a final showdown, leaving me doubting that the ‘Man from Number 9’ will be back next year.

Surprisingly, Dylan has been one of the most intriguing characters in the series, despite the fact that each scene revolving around his workplace has never been interesting. This week, Bradley and Dylan grow much closer, as she enlists his help to retrieve her father’s gold pocket watch in his former office. Only instead, she discovers love letters from a mysterious women, only known as “B”. It feels a bit odd to introduce a new mystery so late in the season, and while their interactions along with the newfound letters will lead to resolving the mystery of her father’s death, I just can’t help not caring.

Bates Motel has been doing a great job of getting inside the head of Norman Bates. Helping us understand how he becomes the adult-Norman we all know, is his nocturnal inducing nightmares. This episode features one of Norman’s most disturbing dreams yet, an image of him strangling poor Bradley, while underwater. Freddie Highmore continues to do great work once again, and I couldn’t help but shiver at his expression when confronted by Dylan about his vision. Credit to director Tucker Gates for positioning the dutch angle on Norman as he turns back to tell Dylan it was only a dream. And props to Highmore for his subtle but creepy smirk.

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Often times Norman seems like an innocent boy who’s become a victim to his over-controlling mother. Other times, we are reminded of the darkness that’s buried deep within. “Underwater” continues to explore the strange relationship between him and his mother, and features Norma and Norman in some rather awkward situations, particularly when mother and son decide to sleep together, side by side in the same bed. In another scene Norman loses his temper calling his mom crazy. The moment is played for small, but tragic no less. And while it is quickly interrupted by Emma who’s consumed one too many magic cupcakes, Norman remains stiff on the couch, deeply regretting his hurtful words. It was another fine performance by Freddie Highmore, and a great piece of directing by Tucker Gates. Its moments like this that really help elevate Bates Motel, and leave some of us forgiving of its many flaws.

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Extended thoughts:

Norman already has violent, sexual feelings towards women, and as Norman’s teacher Miss Watson becomes increasingly supportive of his creative writing efforts, one can’t help but think there’s a sexual undercurrent bubbling between them.

Bates Motel has done a great job with the character of Emma. Although she spends a good chunk of the episode by herself, she remains the most fun to watch. Credit to Olivia Cooke for once again putting on a great performance.

I’m a big fan of the kid who sent Emma the cupcakes.

I love how Emma explains how she might explode if she smokes a joint.

Dylan: “this is just setting fire to $600!”

Norman: “Do you want to sleep where a dead body was?”

Dylan: “That’s why Lysol’s for!”

I love the choice of music this week, especially “The Cisco Kid” by War.

The guitar-wielding hippie playing “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls, was a nice touch.

Romero: “Funny you went into the service industry, because you don’t seem to want to serve anybody.”

Rauf? What kind of name is that?

Dylan gets an office!

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