Bates Motel season 2 episode 1 review: Gone But Not Forgotten

Review Michael Noble 5 Mar 2014 - 16:42

We return to a White Pine Bay as uncanny and mysterious as ever. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.1 Gone But Not Forgotten

The first season of Bates Motel built steadily, but inexorably to its violent prom night conclusion. The second seems intent on stacking a few storeys on that foundation by following straight on from that bloodstained evening and embarking on a series of narrative threads that all have their roots in the first ten episodes. 

Naturally, the focus is still on the central pairing of Norm and Norma, the mother-son duo that remains as uncanny as ever. The ordinary travails of teenagerdom, getting on at school, learning to drive, are interspersed with, and interrupted by, the terrible desires that rattle through Norman’s gangly adolescent frame. His connection with Miss Watson, still closed to his conscious mind, has withered into troubling obsession. He keens and wails at his teacher’s funeral like a man possessed by a demonic grief and is drawn, physically and emotionally, to her graveside. ‘You’re a good boy’, says Norma to her son, but it’s not clear who exactly she is trying to reassure, him or her. The mystery of what actually happened that night is frightening for both of them; their attempts to deal with it will only accelerate that fear, with probably rather more certainty than learner driver Norman.

Prior to his detour into the graveyard (or even afterwards, depending on your perspective), the driving scene offered a taste of the bitter comedy that Bates Motel does so well, and which I’m hoping to see more of this season. The town meeting was another. The reference to the PTA concern over Crime and Punishment was a slightly heavy-handed but funny slice of self-referential humour. ‘Is this suitable reading for high school students?’, asked Marcie, White Pine Bay’s answer to The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy, ‘are we supposed to feel sympathy for a murderer?’. Well, quite. 

The scene reminded us of two things. Firstly, that Norma Bates does not tolerate being dismissed or ignored, least of all when the Chairman is so evidently ‘a dick’, and secondly, that the chief antagonist of Bates Motel is White Pine Bay itself. Threatened with a business-choking bypass, Norma dragged up hints about the foundations of the town’s economy (and means of protection), that won’t win her many friends among the town’s elite. The sinister goings-on in small-town America provide the show with its most direct link to Twin Peaks (an admitted heavy influence on writer Carlton Cuse) and also promise the most exciting expansion of plot and character. This suggestion was made firmer by the strange fellow at Miss Watson’s graveside may yet prove to be this season’s Man in Number Nine, though to be honest, if some weird kid started taking photographs of me, I’d be inclined to chase him off too.  

If he’s going to be spending any more time in White Pine Bay, he’d better increase his tolerance of unusual adolescents; its not just Norman after all. The events of the first season have had an understandably painful effect on Bradley and her months spent in psychiatric care have done little to soothe her. The connection between her father, Miss Watson and Gill is just one strand of the show’s most tantalising mystery, an enigma which has not been fully resolved by the discovery, or by Bradley’s decision to seduce Gill into redecorating his place in a fetching shade of brain. A violently policed love triangle is just a little too straightforward for a town like this; it’s a motive too easily resolved.

That sense is heightened by the return of the brilliantly low-key villain Sheriff Romero, a sort of quiet puppet master, whose soft manner contrasts superbly with the shrill Norma. The whole show is a study in such contrasts, chiefly light and shade. The quick switch from a night of dark recriminations to the sunny, optimistic and Haim-soundtracked brightness of day, just ‘four months later’ was just the most obvious example of the two-tone shading presented here. Still, it’s difficult to shake the belief that even the lightest moments have a dark core that will be exposed with enough digging. By the end of the episode, it looked like Bradley wasn’t just asking Norman to help her; she was asking him to pick a shovel. 

Read Michael's review of the season 1 finale, Midnight here.

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