At the halfway point of Bates Motel last week, I wrote about my concerns that the show had reached a creative peak and expressed my hopes that it would continue climbing rather than begin going downhill. Well, after this week’s episode, The Truth, I must report that it is going downhill… but in a good way, like a roller coaster descending at breakneck speed.
The series has become relentless as the story unfolds. There are no pauses between cliffhangers or any “special” episodes to delay resolution of plot points. It’s moving full speed ahead. Therefore, in episode six, we get not only the climax of the previous episode’s revelations, but also answers to questions presented from the very beginning, as well as groundwork for where it might go next. This episode accomplishes a lot in its 40-some minutes.
It also reaches somewhat of a turning point. Up to now, I’ve believed it was Mrs. Bates who was the monster, driving her son to insanity. But now I’m not so sure. This episode presents the possibility that Norman’s “condition” is more a result of nature than nurture. It all depends on what you believe. Although the episode is called “The Truth”, is that what Norma really told?
As Norman again blacks out after a fit of rage, Dylan continues to rise as the show’s hero. I’ve said it before, but he’s the most interesting character to me. Originally appearing as a foil to Norma’s plans, he emerged as a champion for Norman and now evolves into a father figure for the entire family. At the same time, he’s a little bit crazy himself, driven (literally) to murder in episode five.
I haven’t praised the acting lately, but it continues to be fantastic. Vera Farmiga’s performance as Norma falls just shy of Jessica Lange’s in American Horror Story (season one). Her ups and downs mirror those of the show itself. Freddie Highmore’s performance as Norman has turned it into a role of his own, rather than an uncanny representation of Anthony Perkins. Max Thieriot’s performance is less showy, but smolders with intensity.
Though not critical to the series, Bates Motel missed a delicious opportunity to make a nod to Hitchcock in episode six. As a wounded Deputy Shelby chased Dylan upstairs, the camera panned across the top of the staircase. I would love to have seen Shelby meet his fate in close-up as he stumbled backwards down the stairs, just as Martin Balsam did in the original Psycho.
Instead, it created its own cinematic flourish, immediately sweeping downstairs to see Norma dragging her son outside, just below the action upstairs. This one scene may represent what Bates Motel has best succeeded in doing as a series: taking the familiar and turning it into something new and exciting.
What’s next? With four episodes remaining in season one, Bates Motel can ill afford to coast. Plus, it has a second season to set-up. I’m not going to obsess about that, though; I’m going to sit back and enjoy the ride.