Bates Motel season 2 episode 3 review: Caleb

Bates Motel is preparing the ground for the season ahead. Here's Michael's review of this week's episode...

This review contains spoilers.

2.3 Caleb

There was a sense of transition this week, that Bates Motel is making a subtle shift in both gear and direction and that the path that the season will take will be clearer from now on. Aside from the one big revelation (of which, more later) there were some significant changes made that closed off certain strands while opening others.

First of all there’s Bradley, whose ‘suicide’ has been accepted as fact by the townsfolk, and their newspaper, even if their reaction to it suggests that they might not have taken it as seriously as any other town of a similar size. White Pine Bay isn’t that large, it’s certainly small enough for everyone to know one another’s business (Norma is already ‘town-famous’ simply for her theatrics at the public meeting) and yet the apparent suicide of a young girl merits little more than a mention in the paper. Were it not for the efforts of prominent local sentimentalist Emma, the poor absent girl would have been forgotten anyway, rendering the effort to write a note largely pointless. The party, sorry, memorial, on the beach seemed to take place in spite of, rather than because of, Emma’s efforts and the general impression was that those kids would have been there drinking, smoking dope and making ‘very bad choices’ anyway without anything so intense as the loss of one of their number to harsh the buzz. Even Emma succumbed part of the way until her constitution commingled with her conscience and she vomited her chance away.

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Bad as it was, her evening wasn’t as poor as Norman’s. Having swiftly replaced Bradley with Cody as the object of his confused fascination (he, at least, has the excuse of knowing that Bradley isn’t in fact dead), he once again found himself bemused by her worldliness. She saw through his weak lie about the hair dye and breezes with confidence while he rattles with uncertainty. Her ease at the polysexual nature of her relationship with Philip contrasts with Norman’s simple insight that her ‘boyfriend is probably gay’. For the sheltered, callow Norman, spotting that the young man drunkenly groping his leg is possibly homosexual counts as impressive social intuition. Bates Motel handles these generally lighter teenage moments very well and provide a naturalistic tale of adolescent outsiderdom that contrasts and supports the murderous main thread. It would have been all too easy to have made Norman a complete outsider, the new kid in town who is directly ostracised and bullied by the cool kids. As it is, Norman’s story is far more real and affecting. He’s not an outsider because no one wants him – his brother, Emma, Bradley and Cody have all extended their hands to him – he’s an outsider because despite all that, he’s still somehow different. A nice, even sweet, boy who just can’t get his head around what makes people act the way that they do.

Norma finds things, well some things at least, rather easier than her son. Although nervous at Christine’s sudden invitation to the garden party, she quickly finds herself warmly absorbed into the pleasant middle class social life of the town. The fluency with which she rescues the conversation from dwelling on her husband’s death demonstrates her capacity in social situations and is a reminder that the public Norma is very different from the private one that we see shrieking and wailing at her own unpleasant past and the dark promise of her son’s future. The arrival of Caleb brings such contrast into sharp relief. He is, as she tells us, her repeated incestuous rapist and the father of her eldest son and is deservedly ejected from the house. His manner could not be more different, quiet, patient, even politely apologetic. As a bad guy, he pulls the neat trick of making Norma look like the unhinged one (not a difficult task), and offers sufficient doubt of his villainy that Dylan is rather swayed by him, before the question of paternity is raised, that is.

Caleb is almost certainly one of the season’s Big Bads (the brief reappearance of Blair’s dad suggests that the grieving father is another) and the battle against him will be a highly personal one and rather more directly intense than the conflicts with Shelby and Abernathy in the first season. An escalation? Perhaps. A transition? Certainly. Welcome to White Pine Bay, Caleb. Make yourself at home. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Shadow Of A Doubt, here.

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