Review: Bates Motel ‘Persuasion’

So the body found in the marsh at the end of last week’s Bates Motel wasn’t the body of missing high class call-girl, Annika Johnson. Sheriff Romero called Norma down to the morgue to ID the body, and Norma failed to positively identify the corpse as the missing girl. A less eccentric show would satisfy with a simple disgusted glance from Norma.

Yet, Bates Motel – more specifically Vera Farmiga – digs deeper than that. Farmiga doesn’t just show Norma glancing at the body – she dives into it, comically putting her face mere inches from the corpse (remarkably well preserved for floating in a marsh) for several seconds. It’s a brief, classic touch. One that revels in the oddities of Norma Bates, and one that I wished the series repeated more often.

Later, the Norma / Norman dynamic escalates when Romero visits the Bates house to question Norman on his connection to Annika. Norma, taking her traditional overprotective stance, firmly asserts herself next to Norman, but he shows uncharacteristic strength and bravado by instructing her to finish making dinner in the kitchen. I’m not sure what was more surprising: the fact he did this or the fact that she unquestionningly obeyed. After Romero’s questions lead nowhere, Norma and Norman have an rather frightening altercation on the epic Bates stairs. It’s filmed with Norman a quarter way up, hovering above Norma like some large, menacing bird. He physically dominates the conversation, dominates her, and she seems to be completely terrified.

Toward the end of the episode, he again confronts her, further unhinged, and creepily asks her, “What game are we playing today, Mother?” You could practically hear the Anthony Perkins in Freddie Highmore’s voice. The episode is capped off by an amazing conversation between “Mother” (Farmiga dolled up in her “Mother” finest) and Norman where she convinces him to dip his head under water to see if he remembers killing Annika. These are the moments when I love Bates Motel. I realize it would be exceedingly impratical for the series to feature only two characters, but they’ve yet to give me anyone else (I know, here I go again) to focus on with equal attention.

Case in point, Dylan continues to build his medicinal marijuana greenhouse with Uncle Father. Then, comic doormat Emma (Olivia Cooke) gets involved when a grow partner mistakenly brings a collection of small plants to the motel. She fills her small Beetle with the plants and drives to Dylan’s farm with a stereotypical regae song playing on the soundtrack. Sure, she officially meets Uncle Father, which I’m sure will feature into upcoming plot lines, but these scenes are wastes of their talent and my time and attention.

Also, Romero’s status as sheriff of White Pines Bay is called into question when he runs afoul of the big-wigs at the Arcanum Club. Apparently, he’s up for re-election, and they subtley hint that they’re none-too-pleased with the recent burning of the drug crops. They introduce a shill to run against him. Romero is unphased. Yawn.

On the plus side, Farmiga has a few nice individual scenes as she returns to college to get a degree in Business Marketing. She has a meet-cute moment with a Psychology professor – he is rude to her because she’s sitting in his chair, she’s in the wrong class. Later, he approaches her after class, suggesting that she seek therapy for what he perceives as her damaged childhood. It’s apparently the kind of baggage for which he has a second sense.

By the end of the episode, I’d started to wonder exactly why it had been titled “Persuasion,” but I believe they’re hinting (strongly suggesting) at the power of “Mother’s” persuasive hold over poor Norman. As we’ve seen before, his psyche has official split in half, and the crimes he commits are based on the urgings or persuasions of “Mother.” She even convinces him to nearly drown himself in an attempt to remember his actions while under her influence. That “Mother,” she is quite persuasive, they seem to be saying, establishing the basis for Norman’s murderous habits. The “Mother” Norman orchestrates in his mind is a defiant killer.

In reality, Norma Bates is a strong woman but hardly one as calculating as Norman makes her out to be. Sobbing, she retreats to the motel on the pretense of closing it down, but she really needs a moment to gather her thoughts. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your vantage point) for her, Annika Johnson drives up in another wildly expensive car, bleeding from her stomach. Before apparently dying, she gives Norma a flash drive containing something that, as Annika suggests in her dying breath, she can use to do something good in the world.

While it’s a nice twist that Norman didn’t actually kill Annika (something I did actually suspect), I’m a little disturbed that we’re going down another road of small-town intrigue, a seemingly more modern variation on Twin Peaks. I so desperately want this show to be a psychological drama, not CSI: White Pines Bay. Clearly, it’s not what the creators have in mind.

Guess I need to get over it.

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