*Full spoilers for Season 1 and this episode of Season 2*
Even though Freddie Highmore’s teenage Norman Bates has not been off our screens for too long, his return is still more than welcome in this great season opener. The first season was a well received rollercoaster ride, focusing on the relationship between Norman and Vera Farmiga’s Norma, his loving, yet unstable mother. There was much more than meets the eye though, and the season ended on a huge cliffhanger. Did Norman murder his schoolteacher Miss Watson? With a great supporting cast including Nicola Peltz’s Bradley, Olivia Cooke’s Emma, and Max Thieriot’s Dylan, the first season wrapped numerous storylines together, creating an excellent opener for the modern day prequel to Psycho.
We return for the second season to the Twin Peaks-esque village, White Pine Bay, where Bates Motel, bought by Norma in the pilot, is attracting huge numbers of customers. It is four months since Miss Watson was murdered, yet still Norman remains hung up over her death, constantly visiting her grave. He doesn’t exactly remember what happened at Miss Watson’s house, due to his blackout, but he admits to feeling bad about her death. Highmore is excellent as always as Norman, as we feel hugely suspicious of him (it does seem likely he was the one who killed Miss Watson), yet we sympathise with him a great deal. His loud crying at the funeral is uncomfortable enough to make the Priest stop what he is saying, but we feel sorry for a teenage boy who has lost someone who meant a great deal to him. He’s greatly confused and is struggling to deal with what is happening, even going as far as photographing a man at Miss Watson’s grave to give to the police as he suspects he may be the killer. He is searching for the answer, possibly to clear his own conscious as much as to get justice for Miss Watson.
Glimpses of the other side of Norman are shown too, especially in a scene where he almost playfully moves what looks like Miss Watson’s pearl necklaces through his fingers. For a split second you get the feeling he knew what he was doing all along. This passes though, as his more emotional side returns. The problem is that he has nobody to speak to. His main confidant is Norma, but until the end of this episode she is caught up in a race to stop the new bypass being built. Farmiga continues her brilliant form as Norma here, who really just wants some good to happen in her and Norman’s lives. She’s had a lifetime of problems, some clearly caused by herself, and wants to be able to settle down in White Pine Bay. She knows the new bypass will mean her motel misses out on valuable customers and so goes to a council meeting to try to persuade the community to suspend the construction. Her good family-based intentions are evident but unfortunately she fails to prepare adequately and her views are twisted to sound selfish. A rather heartbreaking outburst is wonderfully performed by Farmiga, as the erratic Norma points out the flaws in the town that nobody seems to want to acknowledge. You can’t help but support Norma as she rants and raves, and it’s quite fantastic to watch.
As the episode nears the end though, a chance meeting with Sheriff Romero, brings Norma back to Norman, and what follows is the best scene of the episode. They discuss the night of Watson’s death, with Norman admitting he didn’t confess everything originally for fear of disappointing his mother. What was absolutely great was the curve-ball thrown in here, as Norman confesses he felt guilty, not because he possibly killed her, but rather because he left before the murder took place. He felt he should have stopped it! This sort of insight into the deranged mind of Norman makes for wonderful television.
The other main story-line is Bradley’s who, after a failed suicide attempt, goes out looking for whoever murdered her father. This is much darker territory for Bradley who was the popular, sweet girl at the start of season one, who you couldn’t help but enjoy, before the untimely, extremely suspicious death of her father. Despite this sudden, quite unbelievable turn of events, Peltz executes it rather well, particularly towards the end of the episode where her hard exterior finally melts to reveal the terrified, lonely child underneath.
There are a lot of moving parts with this show but it is held together well, with almost every story being addressed, from the Bradley/Dylan relationship, which seems to be on hold due to Norman’s feelings for Bradley, to the Dylan/Norma relationship. He is attempting to be civil and it seems to be working… sort of. Norman tried being a friend to Bradley but didn’t seem to make any headway, well not until the last scene anyway. That feels like less a move due to friendship though and instead more of a move out of desperation, where there was nowhere else to go. It’s unlikely that Norman will see it that way, and this could have some repercussions for Bradley if she admits they aren’t truly friends in the future. What felt missing from this episode though was Emma, who was a major part of the first season yet seemed to fade into the background here. We saw her very briefly, and it was only to establish her rocky relationship with Norman at this point (who quite frankly was oblivious to it or just didn’t care). Here’s hoping she gets more to do next week.
I like that everything is tying together, with Miss Blair Watson being the ‘B’ Bradley is searching for, as well as the girlfriend of Gil, Dylan’s work colleague. Everything that may have seen out of place in the first season now makes much sense. This was a good opener, and with the thrilling last moments, intrigue couldn’t be higher, as a new world of possibilities for this show has opened up.
Thoroughly enjoyable season premiere which leaves the viewer wanting more.
8.5 out of 10