This review contains spoilers.
One unqualified success of Bates Motel is how good it is at the shipping game. No Psycho prequel should be able to make me scream ‘KISS’ multiples times during any given episode, yet with the juggling of the Dylan/Emma and Norma/Romero pairings, the show is overloading on sexual chemistry right now, in a way that could be frustrating, but kind of works. However, the success of the show’s romantic entanglements throws sharp relief on a major problem that has plagued most of Bates Motel’s third season; there just isn’t that much going on.
For a penultimate episode, Crazy just didn’t feel all that different to anything else this season. Caleb and Chick had some tension, Dylan and Emma were cute, Norman imagined his mother telling him to do things and Norma and Romero argued over that damn flash drive while Bob Paris acted vaguely threatening. By the end of this episode, none of those various strands really feel like they’re building to a climax. The languid pace and lack of tension are really making the show suffer, and at this point I can’t tell you what the main conflict of the season has been.
Of course, all of that could change with next week’s finale, but chances are with such a lack of build-up, any huge twists or developments will just feel kind of sudden and unsatisfying. I guess we’re building up to Norman killing Bradley, but she’s such a bland character it’s hard to imagine anyone will care. Norman has killed before; his murdering another young woman is hardly a huge development at this stage. Is it meant to be more impactful now that his first love is in danger? Maybe, and maybe the show can sell me on it if the focus is strongly on how Norman comes to terms with it, but the abrupt ending of this week’s episode doesn’t bode well. Granted, I’m assuming Bradley dying is a given at this point, but what else can they do with her? And with so much effort put into showing us that everyone except for Norman thinks she’s dead already, any other outcome would be surprising, and probably not in a good way. If Bradley’s murder is the endgame of this season, then I am going to be hugely disappointed. She was not a character who ever had much impact or was particularly missed during her absence.
In fact the more I think about it, the more I realise just how inconsequential this week was. Caleb left, so I guess that’s a thing, but the whole affair was handled in such a muted way it’s hard to believe he won’t be back. There was a brief tease of Norman turning the tables on his mother and blaming her for his killings, which could be either foreshadowing or a plot development depending on how things play out next week, but in this episode at least the idea didn’t go anywhere. Even the romance subplots, as enjoyable as they are, didn’t have much advancement. I’m glad Dylan got the money to Emma’s father, but that’s about the only thing that happened that is bound to have a long term effect on proceedings, ensuring Emma stays around a while longer. Which is nice, but, y’know, not exactly riveting drama.
Oh, and Romero gave the flash drive to the DEA, but again, it’s more set-up than anything else. The only surprising thing about the Arcanum Club has been how toothless they ended up being. Even the bland scumbags of seasons past at least did stuff. Being dumb is a crime. Being dumb and boring is unforgiveable, and this subplot bears the dubious honour of having been both from day one. Will next week see some movement on this front? I hope so, but a finale is really too late to start ramping up the tension.
It’s hard to imagine any scenario where whatever happens next week can make up for this season. There have been signs of life here and there, but while Bates Motel seemed to be steadily improving last year, now it’s just plateauing. It might have started out as a mess, but it was an entertaining mess that always seemed like the people making it cared about the show. Now it just feels like its marking time. The performances remain top notch and there are some fantastic character moments here and there, but much of this season has just felt like a show going through the motions, repeating the same relatively successful beats until they mean nothing anymore. When the most exciting things a series can do are play with romantic pairings and make more and more references to a revered source material, you know you have a problem.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, The Pit, here.
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