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Bates Motel Ep. 2.02 “Shadow of a Doubt” flails for purpose

Bates Motel Ep. 2.02 “Shadow of a Doubt” flails for purpose

bates motel 2.2

Bates Motel Season 2, Episode 2 “Shadow of a Doubt”
Written by Kerry Ehrin
Directed by Tucker Gates
Airs Monday nights at 9pm ET on A&E

I suppose if a show is going to dive swim in the oceans of ridiculousness, there’s no point in wading in the shallow end; “Shadow of a Doubt” takes the bat shit world of Bates Motel to a new level, adding in ludicrous marijuana mulers (who shoot teenage dimebag sellers, apparently), a completely misguided drug war, and a teenage girl who leaves a note for the boy she spent most of the first season ignoring (after she slept with him, of course). And this is all before we get to the single oddest thing in Bates Motel‘s short existence: Norma Bates emotionally singing “Maybe This Time.”

Unfortunately, it’s all just a little too silly for its own good – and more importantly, none of it really makes any sense. Let’s be honest: the brewing marijuana feud between the two suppliers of White Pine Bay (and apparently the entire West coast, the way characters refer to it) is just not interesting. Blair’s role in it is not interesting (apparently, her “daddy issues” caused her to sleep around, possibly leaving a Norman Bates semen sample behind for the world to gasp at), Bradley’s murder of Gill (who apparently was important? Kind of hard for that impact to be felt if we never knew the guy) is not interesting – and neither is Dylan’s confused face in all of it, his wrinkled brows furrowing more with each scene complicating the “conflict” between the two “families” (they seriously refer to them as “families”, as if Marlon Brando’s stroking his chin somewhere in a dimly lit, smoky Italian restaurant). And this story line thoroughly dominates the episode (don’t forget Romero, who wants to put the handcuffs on the handcuffing he receives from these massive, influential drug battalions), leaving the most interesting – if not equally preposterous and over-the-top – moments lingering in the shadows.

Elsewhere, we get lots of awkward Norman, who decides the basement is the best place for Bradley to wait. Not a new character beat, but this situation spurns the two most enjoyable parts of the episode; Norma and Norman’s rendition of “Please Mr. Sandeman”, and Norman’s trip to the grocery store to buy hair dye and other supplies to cut and dye Bradley’s hair with, so she can start a “new life” in Boston at the ripe age of Still-in-High-School (another thoroughly stupid, rushed resolution to get Nicola Peltz to Michael Bay’s green screen Transformer sets).

In those rare moments, Bates Motel lives up to the horror/teen angst drama/serial killer mash-up it wants so badly to be, a mix of awkward hilarity (Norma grilling her gyno about her son’s sanity) and unsettling weirdness, the feeling that everything is slightly off-kilter upstairs with Norma and her son. But those moments are quickly washed away, replaced by repeating stories (Norman getting mad at his mother for smothering him) and an over-reliance on Farmiga’s campy performance, particularly when she delivers her waaaay-too-lengthy solo at the community play audition (a scene that Farmiga apparently asked for, making the entire plot of the episode contrived for a single, self-serving reason… hardly a way to write intriguing, unique drama).

I often feel like Bates Motel is trying to hard to be something; a creepy origin story, an unsettling serial killer tale, a bloody teenage drama… but it doesn’t feel much like the writers of the show have anything to bring to the table in any of those narrative genres. Episodes like “Shadow of a Doubt” feel like they are searching for real purpose, something beyond a empty, dramatic vehicle for a fantastic actress, or a series that exists to cash in on the culturally significant film that preceded it by numerous decades. Everything on Bates Motel – the characters, the exposition-filled introductions to pre-existing dramas – feels like a show desperate to be something more than it is in its best, most unique moments (more too far and few in between in “Shadow”); an entertaining, occasionally pulpy look at two of America’s most iconic horror characters, and how they came to be.


— Randy