Review: Bates Motel ‘The Arcanum Club’

I’ll be the first to admit that, after reading the title and description of tonight’s episode of Bates Motel, Mother wasn’t the only one who had to figure out what the Arcanum Club was. It sounds like a cross between something I vaguely remember from old X-Men comics and a Tom Cruise a-sexual den of flaciddity. Given the close of last week’s season premiere, the Arcanum Club is going to have to be super interesting to take attention away from the disappearance of the motel’s new resident, Annika.

When Norma (Vera Farmiga) pays a special visit to drop towels by (to nail her bathroom window shut to keep her peeping tom son from watching her take a shower), she immediately picks up on the suspicious absence. She has a sixth sense for trouble this one, great Mother that she is. When she finds out Norman took Annika to a local bar and drove her Porsche back (side note: Norman most likely stripped every gear that Porsche had, so chances of it driving again are… well… dead), Farmiga lets a little Mother personality slip out.

“You shouldn’t have gotten in the car with her, Norman,” Norma berates. “You can’t keep getting into cars with ‘questionnable’ women… Slutty! Oversexed! Crazy!”

Norma somehow manages to cover the moment with concern for Norman and his penchant for said “questionnnable” women. She’s balancing this barely contained rage over Norman’s budding sexuality with genuine concern for his well-being, even his psyche. Later, when Norman (Freddie Highmore again proving that this is inded a two person show) tells her he’s dating Emma (Olivia Cooke), she looks relieved and vaguely happy. What she’s really saying, though, is that it’s a better choice than the “questionnable” women he’s been associated with previously – but she’s not all that thrilled about it even so. Maybe Norman isn’t either, to be honest. He has a hard time holding her hands, and their dinner-date sex talk is as torturous as watching Norman skin a baby goat.

Actually, there’s a fantastic scene between the two where they discuss the demerits of Peter Pan and Wendy. When Emma remarks that Peter and Wendy never got to have sex, Norman has a bizarre dry orgasm of awkwardness that alone should warrant Highmore Emmy consideration. I’m not sure the Pan reference really matches, though, as Peter never fucked his slutty high school English teacher and cut her throat. Details…

After Annika remains missing, Norma and Emma investigate her vacant room where Norma finds an engraved invitation to an event at the Arcanum Club, supposedly a “hunting club.” Of course, Norma being Norma, she decides to stake out the reculsive, gated club. She can’t get in despite being dressed to the nines and in possession of the invitation – she doesn’t have the password, definitely giving me a strong Eyes Wide Shut vibe. Later, she is somehow able to simply drive around back and scale a stone wall without detection. She witnesses a wealthy cast of characters watching a dimly lit sex act but is caught by Sheriff Romero who professes to be “pressing the flesh” with wealthy town council members. I bet he is…

Still struggling to find a reliable subplot worthy of his talents, Dylan (Max Thieriot) continues bonding with his father/uncle, Caleb (Kenny Johnson), as they discuss their blossoming vegetable crop (re: medical marijuana) with a mountain neighbor who may or may not be the new competition. Yawn. Also, Sheriff Romero finally leaves the Bates Motel after his recently burned down house is rebuilt, much to Norma’s chagrin as he brought an air of security and safety with him. That is, until she bumps into him at the log cabin sexcapades.

As good as last week’s season premiere was, this week’s follow-up episode led me back down all the same paths the show stumbled down in previous seasons. They build up this fantastic partnership between Norma and Norman and continue to surround them with poorly defined plots and characters. I’d recently compared Bates Motel to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, but the comparisons are strictly superficial. What Bates Motel really needs is the reliable stable of Peaks characters, bringing color and eccentricity to the game.

But just before I tune out, it serves up some Norma/Norman goodness that keeps me coming back week after week. The episode closes with Norman comforting Norma: “It’s all gonna be good Mother. You’ll see.”

Is that a promise, Norman? Should we just ignore that body in the water then?

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