Bates Motel episode 3 review: What’s Wrong With Norman

Freddie Highmore continues to excel in Psycho prequel series, Bates Motel. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 What’s Wrong With Norman

Last week we saw the world of Bates Motel open up and the show upped its game as a result. Although this week returned the focus to the cosy, crazy world of the Bates family it was no less thrilling or compelling. Everything is being presented in a controlled, careful manner. Indeed, the show is shaping up to be very nicely balanced. 

Which is more than can be said for young Norman. The hints of deep rage continue to burst through his awkward, shifty exterior and he’s responding less and less well to pressure. Freddie Highmore is doing sterling work in the role, perfectly capturing Norman’s, how to put this? Peculiarities? He handles them like an affliction, revealing, for example, that he cannot even remember attacking his brother with the meat tenderiser. 

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He won’t be able to deny them for very long. He’s still hot for teacher, his violent fantasies involving her (and his mother) are getting more intense, powerful enough this week to knock him out and get him hospitalised. It’s a neat shout forward to the Norman we know from Psycho who also appeared to be taken over by his feelings and who acted as though his crimes were being committed by another person who just happened to share the same body. 

He is, I suppose, still technically the protagonist. The presentation of his condition as something that happens to him, rather than being an innate feature of him is helpful in preserving the viewers’ sympathies. The writers have done their job here, but the heavy lifting is all Highmore’s, without his painful, terrified performance we’d have lost him much sooner. 

Mom is still the semi-villain of the piece, refusing to accept that she is to blame for much of her son’s troubles (both her sons’ troubles, actually. Dylan is far from being a happy bunny). The scene in which she talks to the doctor about Norman was great, especially for the strength of her pointed denials that there was anything wrong. Best line of the episode however had to be the “Mr and Mrs Bates” comment from Dylan, proving that the show is capable of delivering the sinister with a large dose of grimly ironic humour. 

The ganja field storyline is well paced. We’re being fed enough juicy tidbits to sustain our curiosity without a massive reveal to spoil everything. The matey chatter between Dylan and his new buddy provided an excellent vehicle for exposition and a touch of lightness amid the horror. The shift from the California of Psycho to the Pacific Northwest of Bates Motel is paying dividends. The forest scenes are beautiful and the green Oregonian remoteness provides a setting that supports the narrative while adding a visually impressive background to the action. 

Deputy Shelby has been suspiciously supportive of the Bates but is now just flat out suspicious. His position is a testament to the efficiency of the writing, and I like the way he’s being used to force a dramatic wedge between ‘Mr and Mrs Bates’ as well as to develop the wider White Pine Bay storyline. 

It’s not the script’s only clever trick. The case of Summers’ belt provided a neat homage to Hitchcock in that it operated as a McGuffin, simply there to bring Shelby into the central storyline and give Norman a reason to discover the good deputy’s evil sex dungeon. This accidental discovery reflected Norman’s own inner conflict superbly. Unlike the hype-curious Emma, he’d rather have no part of it at all, but he cannot avoid his involvement. He is a strangely sympathetic figure, being slowly enveloped by the very evil that will come to define him. Try as he might, he cannot stop picking that scab. His unpleasant destiny taunts him at every turn and there is no escape. As I said before, he’s the real victim here. For now, that is. 

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Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Nice Town You Picked Norma, here.

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