Bates Motel season 2 episode 2 review: Shadow Of A Doubt

Uncertainty threatens everybody in this week's Bates Motel. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.2 Shadow Of A Doubt

The 1943 Alfred Hitchcock film from which this episode takes its title is, naturally given the director, a suspenseful thriller that inserts feelings of terror and uncertainty to a small American town. The film tells the story of Charlie Newton, a teenage girl who idolises her uncle, also called Charlie, but begins to suspect that he is actually the ‘Merry Widow Murderer’ and starts to follow up her suspicions. Psycho, the obvious source of inspiration for Bates Motel, may be Hitchcock’s most well-known film but Shadow of a Doubt was his favourite. Its neat story of developing a burgeoning fear of a loved one is a psychologically powerful one and forms an obvious parallel with Bates Motel’s ongoing story arc that explores Norma’s terrified suspicions of her son and her attempts to control him.

Still, community theatre? I’ll say this for the latest maternal plan to keep Norman on the straight and narrow: it was very Norma.  Plucking an idea out of thin air and insisting through sheer force of personality that Norman takes part is entirely consistent with her personality and their joint singing session with her at the piano was one of the more benign examples of their strange relationship. It’s to Norman’s credit that he was able to call her out on the somewhat unexpected nature of their new shared hobby but even so, there was no escaping it, even when he had a more pressing engagement with Bradley. The growing desperation in his voice and actions, well handled by Freddie Highmore, as he complains that the pair of them are so close they even sleep ‘just six inches away from one another, with nothing but a ‘thin wall’ between them. The deepening of Norma’s suspicions, exemplified by her awkward smear test conversation, the discovery of Miss Watson’s pearls and by Norma’s sheer blessed relief to hear that someone else has been charged with the teacher’s murder, is already adding pace and emotional depth to this season. For some time it had seemed that the developing relationship, one of the defining features of the original characters, would emerge as a response to Norma’s personality and her oppression of her son. The events of the end of the first season, continuing now, reveal that it’s more of a symbiotic relationship; that Norma’s suffocating protection of Norman is both the response to and cause of much of his behaviour. Put another way, she’s just as much trapped in the motel with him as he is with her. Very smartly done. 

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Equally smart is the linking of the show’s murders with the drug industry storyline. As Zane points out ‘You don’t get yourself killed in this business without some culpability’, and Gil’s murder can’t go unanswered, even if by pointing the finger at ‘the other side’, Gil’s confederates are asking the wrong question. 

Or are they? This is a small town in which everybody is involved in one another’s business. Nick, the man from the graveside who appears to be Blair Watson’s father, is the also the man from ‘the other side’. His return, made for genuine reasons (it preceded Gil’s death for one thing) cannot go unremarked. As unofficial referee Sheriff Romero points out ‘this wasn’t some pissant trimmer, this was Gil Turner.’ His death was a declaration of war. If that declaration was phoney then the overenthusiastic revenge killing by his brother, a man who even Remo admits is a liability, makes it very real. 

The balance between the perception of the drug gangs and the reality of death by grieving daughter hits a dramatic sweet spot. Wars, real no-foolin’ inter-state wars have been started on such spurious pretexts, things could really kick off in White Pine Bay,  supercharging the season and threading the very delicate balance that currently obtains. That spot is even sweeter when you consider the position in which Dylan has been placed. His urgent phone call from Norman giving him the truth of what happened that night at Gil’s place. It makes him almost a ‘reverse Norma’; like her he is aware of something badly wrong and is powerless to do anything about it in the open and must instead manipulate things behind the scenes to ease everyone’s passage. Unlike her, he knows who is responsible for the killing. Hers is a trap of uncertainty, his of deadly confirmation, both remained pinioned by that awful shadow of a doubt. 

Dylan’s attempt to stage manage the aftermath is fraught with danger. The fake suicide note, written in an unusual departure from the thriller convention, actually by the subject, is unlikely to be taken as sufficient closure, even with Bradley’s physical departure. The sense of closing that her bus trip provided was accompanied by the opening up of another thread, the arrival in White Pine Bay of Norma’s brother, leaving Norman, like Charlie Newton, in the presence of an uncle whose intentions remain unknown. For now.

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Gone But Not Forgotten here.

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