Sunday, 31 May 2015

TV Show Review: Bates Motel Season 3 [Spoilers]

© A&E | Source: Den of Geek

USA; 10 episodes; drama, mystery, crime, thriller
Channel: A&E
Creators: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, Anthony Cipriano
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nestor Carbonell, Kenny Johnson, Keenan Tracey, Kevin Rahm, Joshua Leonard, Andrew Howard, Nicola Peltz, Ryan Hurst

“Oh, and, uh, the password to the WiFi is ‘MOTHER’, all caps.”  – Emma

In March, right before the premiere of season 3, Carlton Cuse revealed that the story arc of Bates Motel was meant to last five seasons. Since all of us Hitchcock-savvy people out there know how things are going to end for the infamous mother-son-connection Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), the show creator is certain that a speedy conclusion to the modern Psycho prequel is unavoidable. And right he is. Norman’s psychological decay can only be delayed for so long before the plot will begin to stagnate and run in circles. So, with the first half of the series almost over, the team behind the show decided to no longer beat around the bush and give the Bates family a firm push onto the road that will eventually turn Norman into the most prominent women-hating, serial-killing motel owner in cinematic history.

At the end of season 2, things were left in a pretty grim state. To begin with, the entire illegal marijuana business of our favourite coastal town, White Pine Bay, was destroyed after Norman’s half-brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) got caught in a feud between two rivalling crime families. Beside this, Dylan had to face emotional turmoil when he found out that the recently returned Caleb (Kenny Johnson) was not just his uncle, but also his father. The only good thing that came of it was that Norma, confronted by memories of her rapist brother, managed to strengthen her relationship with Dylan. But most importantly, the very end of season 2 had us witness how Norman, during one of his blackouts, adopted Norma’s personality in order to escape from an uncomfortable confession. With a brilliantly wicked smile, he faced the camera, paying tribute to Anthony Perkins’ vicious smirk at the end of Psycho.

Source: Sunsets on Piers
Season 3 continues the journey in a mostly satisfying manner. The overall atmosphere of the show is still dominated by gloom, unpredictability, suspense, heavy drama and the right amount of twisted humour. The storyline still has Norma navigate herself through the mess left by her mentally unstable son and a bunch of unsupportive villagers. Norman has yet to come to terms with his fall into madness. And Dylan still finds himself entangled in the crazy mechanisms of his family members as well as in some criminal activity. So, yes, business goes on as usual. But although I’d say that the ground the characters are treading on doesn’t offer many novelties plot-wise, I quite enjoy the development the individual roles are going through.

Let’s face it, Norma’s beef with Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm), the wealthy, criminal owner of White Pine Bay’s very own elite hunting club (yes, apparently, they have an elite hunting club there), doesn’t differ much from the beef she had with Nick Ford in season 2. While her powers remain focused on deferring the bypass that will lead potential guests away from her motel business, she, as usual, finds herself up against some dangerous men. Granted that this plot gives us the glorious and brilliantly hilarious moment in the Episode “The Arcanum Club”, in which Norma enters a grudge match against an innocent construction sign, there really is nothing new to be had.

Besides this, Norma’s temporary romantic involvement with college psychologist James Finnigan (Joshua Leonard), is reminiscent of her little tête-à-tête with George Heldens in the previous season. So, nothing new there either. I, personally, am still waiting for a season in which Norma is not endowed with an unnecessary romantic storyline because, well, we all know how this is going to end for her – in chaos and regret. 

Yes, yes, I can hear all you Normero fans shouting obscenities at me for saying such a thing. Don’t get me wrong. I love the tension between Norma and Sheriff Romero and, heck, I even hope they’ll end up together at some point in the series. I mean, who could resist Romero’s thick lashes, right? I just hope that they further delay this blossoming relationship for the sake of novelty. Spare Norma the boy trouble for once, please! 

© A&E | Source: AETV
The thing I enjoy most about Norma this season is how the writers explore her family ties. With news of her mother’s death in the very first episode, fittingly titled "A Death in the Family", and the confrontations with her brother and rapist Caleb throughout the season, Norma reveals bits and pieces about her life before she had Norman. Her vulnerability and longing for a stable and loving home seep through, giving us some quiet, heartfelt moments amidst all the craziness.

To be honest, though, I am a bit ambivalent about the Norma-Caleb-thing. While I appreciate how it brings another side to Norma’s character, the storyline still makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. At this point, I can’t really tell if it’s the kind of uncomfortable that gives credit to the show’s eeriness and twisted nature, or the kind of uncomfortable that just makes me want to turn away my head. What happened between the two is obviously a terrible crime, and we see Norma go completely mental about it in the wonderful episode “Norma Louise”. When she, at the end of that same episode, forgives Caleb and they both hug and cry together in a perfectly emotional and well-acted scene, I somehow feel like an important piece of the puzzle is missing. How can Norma forgive him? Why did Caleb rape her in the first place, since the show has done everything so far to make him appear like an otherwise decent and likable guy? Does this simply display the sick dynamics of Norma and Caleb’s family background? Is it a simple form of closure to a rotten deed? Is it a mere device to further set off Norman’s madness? Whatever it is, it paves the way for the episode “The Last Supper”, in which Norma invites all her close ones over to dinner. This lovely get-together conveys – for the first time – the feeling that something normal is going on inside the Bates’ living room. Everybody has a good time – except for Norman, who slowly realises that he is not the only one dear to his mother.

© A&E | Source: Nerdist
HOW hard is it to like Norman this season? As I mentioned earlier, the show seems determined to turn him into Psycho Bates asap. This is actually a good thing for the progress of the series, but I also find it hard to watch sometimes. From season 1 onwards, Norman has always been a nice character, a quirky teenager trying to make something of his complicated teenager life. I felt sorry for his medical condition and the way he suffered because he didn’t know what happened during his blackouts. I felt sorry for the way in which his mother tries to control his life, and how she puts her own needs above his. In contrast to this, I loved to see him develop independent connections with Dylan, Emma and Cody. I loved to watch him try to take control of his own life, despite the circumstances. Over two seasons, he grew dear to me, although I was well aware of his eventual fate. Now, in season 3, I find it hard to see anything likeable in Norman. Most of the time, he’s in a bratty, embittered, mean-spirited state. He takes advantage of Emma’s feelings for him, only to get back at Norma. Or he tries to destroy Dylan’s improved relation with Norma, even though Dylan has been nothing but supportive of him and his needs. Somehow, it is hard for me to witness one of the characters who actually started off as one of the relatable protagonists suddenly become so antagonistic towards all the other characters I like.

However, Norman’s descent into darkness is inevitable, and the show gives him some fantastic moments to display the batshit crazy potential of the character. As usual, there appears to be a murder mystery involving a prostitute, which leaves us wondering whether Norman committed the crime or not. Since this plot device really can be regarded as snows of yesteryear, I’m glad that the writers also included new features displaying Norman’s insanity, the most famous scene probably being the one from “Norma Louise”. Blacked out once again and feeling abandoned by his mother, Norman dons Norma’s dressing gown, adopts her high-pitched voice and starts preparing breakfast for a beyond confused Dylan. Yes, the whole thing is as creepy as it sounds.

© A&E | Source: Box de Séries
Despite being confused, there are other things for Dylan to do. Since White Pine Bay is facing a shortage in the supply of illegal substances, Dylan is keen on rebuilding the marijuana business. Luckily, after playing a major part in season 1 and 2, the drug plot is kept rather small this time around. Instead, Dylan is given room to bond with Caleb, and to encounter a new character in town called Chick (played with perfect weirdness and dry wit by Ryan Hurst), who asks him – as you do – to participate in some gun running. I mean, seriously. What is wrong with White Pine Bay? Is there not one single person without a criminal drive?

Anyways, what really holds my interest this season is the kindling affection between Dylan and Emma. I have no clue why all of a sudden there’s sweet, sweet love between the two, but I like it. Dylan, for once, doesn’t feel all alone, and Emma, for once, feels like finally a member of the Bates family is interested in letting her in completely. Additionally, since all of Norman’s social ties, including Dylan, Emma and partly even Norma, seem to be going south, it is lovely to have a couple in the show that is going strong and delivering some well needed positive emotions. More of that, please.

© A&E | Source: Twitter
The finale, “Unconscious”, offers closure for most of the topics from this season. Emma and Dylan share a first kiss, and, finally, there also seems to be some hope of cure for Emma’s cystic fibrosis. Sheriff Romero helps Norma by shooting Bob Paris dead (like we didn’t see that one coming), and Norman slips into his mother’s personality to murder his teenage sweetheart Bradley (Nicola Peltz). It’s White Pine Bay, folks!

When Bradley returned at the end of the next-to-last episode, my eyes rolled. When she tried to talk Norman into leaving town with her, my eyes rotated. I guess it depends mostly on the performance, but, for me, Bradley has always been one of the dullest characters on the show. Since she tried to lure Norman away from Norma, her fate was rather predictable. Still, I cheered with joy when Mother kept hitting her head against a rock. Good riddance.

© A&E | Source: EW
Besides making me happy, the season finale and the season in general present us with another evolution of Norman’s craziness. Sexuality has always been an awkward subject for him, but here his twisted mind comes full circle. Hallucinations of his disapproving mother haunt him during sexual encounters. Jealousy eats away at him when he knows that his mother is seeing other men. A fancy for his mother’s wardrobe is developing. Sanity is slipping out of his hands, turning him into a murderous danger. And while I, personally, have a hard time getting used to the new, vicious Norman, I cannot wait to see what upcoming episodes will have in store for him.

Season 3 of Bates Motel certainly suffers from some repetitive plot patterns, but it also brings back all the features I came to love about the show: the sombre atmosphere, the wicked humour, the outstanding performances (Vera Farmiga, you will always be my goddess) and suspense. Furthermore, it gives a different spin to the main characters, and paves the way for future developments, sealing the inevitable, gloomy fate of the Bates family.



  1. After I finally finished season 3, Ican proudly say that I read your review and I fully approve.

    While Freddie Highmore's repetitive act gets tiring for me sometimes, I will never get enough of Vera Farmiga's impulsive monologues / dialogues / physical outbursts ;)

    1. Vera Farmiga is a treasure!

    2. Thanks for reading, Kenny. It's nice to know that we share a view on the latest Bates Motel season. Vera Farmiga is the star of the show, without a doubt. And a treasure.