Bates Motel episode 5 review: Ocean View

Bates Motel continues to weave a web of dysfunction for Norman and Norma Bates. Here's Michael's review of Ocean View...

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 Ocean View

Welcome to the doghouse Norman. Make yourself uncomfortable. 

It’s relationship crisis week in White Pine Bay, and a great opportunity to explore some of the emotional interactions that underpin the stranger goings-on in the town.   

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We start the episode with that staple of a young man’s development – the walk of shame. Walk of pride would be a more appropriate term, especially with the delicious grin that Highmore wears as he wanders back to the motel at eight in the morning. Enjoy it while you can, pal. It’s all downhill from here. 

The scene in the jail set the tone for the rest of the episode and was set up very well indeed. The moment in which Norman looks plaintively at his mother, separated from him by the cell glass only for her to turn away was great. If they are to be considered as lovers, this was the episode that dealt with estrangement. 

The tropes were all there. Norman waiting for her release, ineffectual with a cheap bunch of flowers like the kind of guy who buys a Valentine’s card on the way home from the pub. Norma looking at him like a wronged woman to her lover. Worse is her bitterness towards him. ‘You went and got laid, Norman’, she yells at him in a reproachful tone. Her concern is not that he wasn’t around when she needed him, but that he was unfaithful to her. Being thrown out of the car was inevitable. Norman is sleeping on the couch, metaphorically speaking. 

Their estrangement has been brewing for a couple of episodes. Now that it’s here, it gives us a moment to consider Vera Farmiga’s role. As Norma Bates, she’s been given something of a poisoned chalice. It is, on one level, a plum role -she’s the key to Norman’s behaviour and situation, and as the bearer of the hand that killed Summers back in episode one, she’s behind the season arc too. The show would fall apart without her. However, the ‘overbearing and possessive mother who smothers the sanity out of her son’ wanders a little too close to cliché, which can be a problem in a show that already carries the burden of adding to the myth about America’s Premiere Pop Culture Serial Killer.

She’s done a great job with the material so far. Her epic mood swings are somewhat overwritten, but those subtler moments between mother and son are the better ones and for the most part, they’re all hers. If the writers dialled the madness back a little, and let Farmiga and Highmore handle the oddness, it could be a great study in family horror.

Talking of family matters, the relationship between the two bothers has continued to develop. The brief scene of Norman riding Dylan’s pillion was just the right side of schmaltzy, and the slow, uncertain breaking of Norman’s smile wonderfully natural. The symbolism was a little too obvious –Norman can remain in the oppressive environment of his mother’s world, or let himself be picked up by his brother, who offers freedom and happiness. It was a little heavily done, but the joy on Norman’s face was sweet enough that it didn’t really matter.

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Relationships outside of the core Bates family are almost as important and one of the strengths of the show. For this reason, I was sad to lose Ethan. His brief appearances have been great and he was shaping up to be an excellent guide to the colossal criminal enterprise on which White Pine Bay is built. Every Dante needs his Virgil and as Dylan began to explore this North Pacific underworld, his temperamental buddy made for an engaging tour guide. He died as he lived, a ball of angry contradictions, denying Dylan an advance one minute, giving him a tasty wad of cash the next. His death was nicely handled, giving the episode a much needed burst of action and demonstrating that Dylan can handle himself in a crisis. That their friendship had started to take root was evident when he took brutal revenge on the killer. If it’s any consolation to his sanity, he looked as shocked as we did.

We seem to be on a rota system for Bradley and Emma now, with them appearing in alternate episodes. This is thematically appropriate, as they represent the two sides of Norman’s personality, or at least his destiny. In an inversion of the high school tropes we’ve known since Teen Wolf, the beautiful, popular Bradley represents normality, security and fulfilment (her dodgy dad aside), while the weird, less popular Emma is tempting the poor confused boy along the path to darkness. Given what we know of Norman’s split personality (and I make no claims to psychological accuracy) this duality is right. Somewhere along the line, Norman will have to choose between Bradley and Emma, as he will between his mother and Dylan. 

The moment of choosing is some way off yet, and for now Emma is happy to brush off Norman’s encounter with Bradley. How can it be serious if she hasn’t even updated her relationship status on Facebook? Fair point, Emma. It’s insight like this that helps her to locate the missing Chinese girl and give the plotline a helpful nudge. Her Sherlockian induction is brilliantly simple, ‘If I had an Asian sex slave, where would I hide her?’ Like so much else in this show, it has a dual meaning, as they now have to hide her from the malevolent Deputy Shelby. And where will they do that? The Bates Motel. Of course they will. Poor girl, talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Trust Me, here.

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