Last year, Bates Motel proved itself a surprisingly strange and hypnotic entry to the TV landscape. Not only did the series find a way to be much more than just a prequel to the Hitchcock film, but the performances (particularly by Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates) were unlike anything else. Bates Motel also created a unique setting — modern, yet a throwback — and expanded the world of White Pine Bay beyond the motel and its infamous inhabitants. “Gone But Not Forgotten” picked up right where the show left off last year with its mysterious and potentially damning finale, but in its typical way, ultimately wriggled away from what seemed to be the obvious truth. Hit the jump for why “this is the road that’s going to ruin our lives.”
So much happened last year on Bates Motel, it’s always interesting to see what the “Previously On” chooses to remind us about moving forward. The three main plot drivers this year, so far, seem to be: the issue of the bypass, which might ruin the motel’s business; Ms. Watson’s murder and Norman’s possible part in it; Bradley’s quest for truth.
Each of these things plays into the show’s greatest strengths. When it comes to the bypass, the show is foreshadowing how the sunny days of “no vacancy” are not going to last for the Bates, because Norma is underwater on the motel and the house and they can’t leave. It also provides some great opportunities for Norma at her finest (which of course means weirdest). Her “lobbying” the city council, and her outburst afterwards, were classic Norma, but didn’t she also have a point? It was a scene that also showcased the series’ unique humor, and the Stepford-like qualities of White Pine Bay, where as long as everyone stays quiet and stops reading Dostoyevsky, everything will be just fine …
The second and third major arcs are tied together more closely though, with Bradley’s quest to find “B” (who is revealed as the only other character with a name who starts with B: Blair Watson) finding a way around to connect with Norman. On one level, the two are connected through Ms. Watson, who Norman probably killed, but there are also plenty of other possibilities (the jealous Gil, or someone he hired, or possibly even Norma). On a second level now, they’re connected through Bradley’s murder of Gil, and presumably, Norman’s desire to help her.
The last thing Norman needs, of course, is to be linked in any way to another murder. Creeping around Ms. Watson’s grave is strange enough, but getting involved with Bradley puts him at risk of even more. It’s likely that Dylan will swoop in to save them both, as is his wont, but kicking the season off with an attempted suicide and a murder is a heck of a way to jumpstart things.
Beyond that though, “Gone But Not Forgotten” kept Emma, Dylan and Romero on the edges, but still in sight. Romero’s questioning of Norman, and then telling Norma about it later, was interesting. Is he starting to fall under Norma’s spell? Is he trying to protect her from her son? Everyone seems to have some suspicions about Norman, Norma in particular, but for now all that is known for sure is that he spends a lot of time in the cemetery and sewing up dead animals. It’s not normal, as Norma points out: “I feel like you’re obsessed with morbidity. You spend your days moping over a dead teacher and working with dead animals … it’s weird and it makes me feel like a bad mother. You need to spend your time with living organisms.”
Though Bates Motel is filled with hints, foreshadowing and allusions to where we know the Bates themselves end up, it’s also created enough of a story around that to be invested in the more immediate plots, like Norma versus the bypass, and Bradley’s quest to find out all of her father’s secrets (and if that means killing a few people along the way, so be it). A strong start.
Episode Rating: A
— It seems so obvious that Norman killed Ms. Watson that that alone makes it kinda unlikely he did it. But he did blackout at a convenient time, and does possess her strand of pearls …
— Bradley jumping off of the bridge to start the episode was a little campy, but her rebirth as a femme fatale is a great one.
— Norma dressed the part for the council meeting, but had nothing to help her with her case. Were all of those folders and that briefcase just props? If they had any real information in them she should have used it!
— That guy was a dick, though.
— Interesting that Romero didn’t even care about the photos. Does he know who killed Ms. Watson, but has been told to not pursue it? Or does he really suspect Norman?
— The show is really pushing Dylan’s good-guy persona, from trying to pay Norma rent, to pulling out the bro code when Bradley wanted to know why he hadn’t emailed her back.
— “Your dad was a shitheel, with no loyalty” – Gil, who was also a shitheel.
— I also did a one-off review for Those Who Kill, premiering right after Bates. It’s worth looking into, though not sure yet if it will be anything special.