Bates Motel Season 2, Episode 1 “Gone But Not Forgotten”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Kerry Ehrin
Directed by Tucker Gates
Airs Monday nights at 9pm ET on A&E
Ahh, Bates Motel. In a world full of serial killers, pot fields, and taxidermy, the first season of Bates Motel was a prime example of a show trying to figure out what it was on the fly – and although it liked to think of itself as a thoughtful horror series, it really wasn’t much more than a bloody high school drama with some “dark” twists thrown in, courtesy of the two iconic characters at the show’s center. It was campy… but deeply superficial. Visually arresting at times… but utterly predictable with plot and characterization, a show whose only definition of “surprise” was a random plot thread (more serial killers! Drug lords with hipster glasses! Teenage love triangles!) and a lot of allusion that White Pine Bay is a Hell that nobody escapes.
Has any of that changed with “Gone But Not Forgotten”? In short, the answer is no: the Bates Motel of 2014 is the same as its predecessor, pushing silly stories and bad characters to the forefront in service of dredging up an aura of mystery the show’s never earned, with its blank portrayal of its town beyond “drug haven where lots of people are murdered”. In fact, the season two premiere of Bates Motel refuses to separate itself from the freshman season, spending the entire episode focused on the death of Blair Watson, a character who barely existed before becoming the centerpiece of the season finale, murdered (most likely) by Norman when he blacks out, unearthing (another) love triangle and growing conspiracy in the process.
Problem is, none of that is interesting: neither Norman, Bradley, or Dylan’s reactions to B’s death find anything new or intriguing about its characters. Bradley tries to commit suicide in the opening scene, and four months later exits the psych ward with a murderous edge, and a lot of droopy eye make up to show how ragged she is mentally after the death of her cheating, pot-growing father. Roll eyes… and move on: Bradley’s character remains as uninteresting as she did in season one, rebuking Norman and inviting Dylan’s attention to establish yet ANOTHER love triangle for Bates Motel to fool around with this season (let me guess: someone in the triangle not named Norman ends up dead at some point), another romance-based tool for Norman to lose his sanity.
It’s all very ridiculous, but not a campy, light-hearted way that would at least make the proceedings pulp entertainment: no, Bates Motel is a show that takes itself very seriously (save for Norma’s behavior, a weird tonal problem the show still suffers from in “Forgotten”), and suffers all the more from it. The drug trade in the town is established as the big hush-hush moneymaker keeping things moving – which is fucking ridiculous (and hilarious), but one that’s only played to dramatic effect on the show. Bradley’s dad sold the pot, and there’s a competitor, another “family” in town looking to make a move on B’s dead, cheating father. It’s so silly – but Bates Motel only addresses this with a straight face, the same stoic, empty glare it gives Norman’s taxidermy habit or Bradley’s newfound Gothic touch in her makeup.
Bates Motel is not a show that’s just not having any fun: the only time it does is when Norma graces the screen, the bright wardrobe of Ms. Bates highlighting Vera Farmiga’s fantastic melodramatic performance. Her scenes are the only moments “Forgotten” has any kind of personality; her diatribe in front of the council, her concern with Norman’s growing obsession with death, her reaction to just about anything (like Romero scaring the shit out of her on the street) – if there’s one reason to continue watching Bates Motel, it’s her performance (sorry, Freddie Highmore… “Forgotten” is a little too content with having you make Norman’s trademark “I’m weird” face to convey any sort of nuance), which sees her calling out the town’s housewives, and pointing out they live in a town fueled by drug money, and that axe murderers and dead hookers are shoved under their carpets… and since we’re in the random Hell of White Pine Bay, why shouldn’t they believe her?
There are a lot of things Bates Motel wants to be: a creepy, atmospheric tale of a serial killer being grown (and unintentionally nurtured by his mother), a high school drama, and a LOST-like “what the fuck is wrong with this place” serialized narrative. Problem is, it doesn’t commit 100% to being any of these things, settling instead for the simplistic stories of a girl murdering someone on an assumption, competition between pot farmers, and a new highway being built that makes Norma angry. In a nutshell, that’s what “Gone But Not Forgotten” is about; only when it stops to enjoy Farmiga’s accidental guidance of her son’s fractured mind into full psychosis does Bates Motel feel like it has any kind of unique personality. Otherwise, it’s just another bloody drama that undersells its female characters (remember: Norma’s own violent nature is attributed heavily to repeated incestual rapings) and spends too much time building up a “creepy” town that literally adds no personality (or even sense of setting) to it. In other words, not much has changed: the fictional Bates Motel might be full for the first time, but on a thematic, narrative, and character level, Bates Motel still feels surprisingly empty.
– Ricky will be covering the season week-by-week over here: I’m just filling in for the season premiere.
– “We only see the tip of the iceberg with people.” Too bad that is all that exists for most characters on this show.
– Norman’s learning how to drive – and Norma’s nervous about it.
– Norma, to the head of the city council: “You’re a dick.”