Disclaimer: My reviews of media here do not mean that I lay any claim to the media in question. All reviews are entirely subjective. I may talk about how well the movie objectively works in my opinion, but it essentially all comes down to what I think of the movie. My liking a movie is not the same as thinking it's a great movie. If I trash a movie that you love, or love a movie you can’t stand, it’s not because I hate you. Also, all reviews are likely to contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movies in question and don’t want to know what happens, then you probably shouldn’t be reading about them here. Finally, a blanket trigger warning for people who don't want to read about common horror movie content such as sexism, racism, violence, etc.: I will likely discuss all of the above when they show up in the films I review, so please tread with caution. Check out this post for more on how my reviews are set up.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Horror Episode Review: Bates Motel, Episode 3

Episode 3: What’s Wrong with Norman

Overall: C+
Acting: C+
Writing: C
Story: C+
Technical aspects: C
Effects: C

Directed by:
Paul Edwards

Freddie Highmore
Vera Farmiga
Max Thieriot
Nicola Peltz
Olivia Cooke
Mike Vogel

Particular trigger warnings: creepy incest vibes, images of/implied slavery, mentioned rape
Passes the Bechdel test? No.

            The plot continues to thicken. As was fairly obvious from the last episode, Dylan (Max Thieriot) is now working guarding the pot fields. Emma (Olivia Cooke) confesses to Norman (Freddie Highmore) that she hadn’t initially believed that the sketchbook described anything real, but had just wanted to spend time with him; however, now she realizes it is true and feels like they have to do something about it. Norman tells her to give the book back and forget about it. Norman then has a blackout in class, and is hospitalized. Bradley (Nicola Peltz) visits him, and Norma (Vera Farmiga) checks him out early. The police have searched the house, and Norman confesses that he kept Keith Summers’ belt after they disposed of his body, and the belt is now missing. Norma meets with Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel), and he tells her that he took the belt and is willing to protect her. Later, Norman hallucinates his mother blaming him for the danger they could be in from the police, and she tells him to go to the Deputy’s house to retrieve the belt. While there, he finds a locked room in the basement, and a terrified Chinese girl locked in; apparently one of the girls depicted in the sketchbook.

            This is one of those times I feel somewhat conflicted, this time about pacing. I’ve complained a lot about shows that feel like they’re plodding along without progress toward a goal (see pretty much every review of an episode of The River.) This time it feels like it’s racing along too fast, especially where Norman is concerned. The hint of crazy during his attack on his brother (defending Norma’s honor) was good. And the reveal in this episode that he didn’t remember doing so is also good. But adding in the scene where he’s envisioning his teacher in bondage, that he’s full-on hallucinating conversations with his mother… seems like it’s jumping pretty far forward. The allure, in my opinion, of a “prequel” of sorts to the Psycho story that we know, is in seeing how he got that way. And the controlling, manipulative actions of Norma’s in the first episode especially, though continuing into the second, really make sense as the kind of thing that’ll fuck a kid up, considering the codependent/near-incestuous relationship they have. But now we’re being shown a Norman who is clearly already all the way crazy, not one who is slowly slipping.
            There could also be complaints regarding how convenient it is that all of our characters find ways to be tied to each other. The Deputy with the enslaved women, Dylan with the drug ring, etc. But hey, it’s a show with a relatively short guaranteed run, so I’m willing to forgive that. (Though I think it’d make more sense if they also did more to capture the small-town feel in other ways.)
            Once again, I found it jarring when we’re given scenes that really look like they could be set decades in the past (the old-style TV, a lot of the wardrobe, the rest of the sets in the Bates’ home) and then someone whips out their iPhone. I don’t know if it’s some kind of deliberate anachronistic choice, if I’m supposed to be inferring great meaning from it, or what.
            The acting was pretty all over the place. Freddie Highmore is great, I think, and there were a couple scenes where he looked very much like Anthony Perkins. And I still really like Vera Farmiga as Norma. Most of the rest was pretty serviceable. But Nicola Peltz had some badly delivered lines… she’s seemed shaky to me on and off since episode one, but this one was not her best.
            Otherwise, everything seems pretty unremarkable, in a not entirely bad way. Nothing about the sound direction or filming or effects sticks out in a bad way, but nothing being done makes me think “oh, that’s amazing” either.
            The bad things (some lousy acting, weird pacing) bugged me a little more this episode, but not in a way that makes the show unwatchable or anything. I’ll keep tuning in.


  1. I'll admit that I haven't been downloading and watching the show past the first episode. I might eventually watch it if they put it on Netflix where I can sit and watch it all in a row like I've done with other series lately. I love Freddie Highmore to pieces, and I want to support the show for him, but I just became really meh after the first ep.

    I -am- watching Hannibal, which I didn't think I'd do. I was leery about the whole concept, and there are still a few things I have issues with, but I won't mention them until you post a review and I see what you think about it. But I'm actually enjoying the show more than I thought I would. Which is good because tonight and next Monday are the last two eps of The Following until next season, and I'm already feeling withdrawal of what is probably my favorite TV show. Also waiting for the last few episodes of Touch to air and see if they're signed on for a third season of that.

    1. I've felt like it's pretty 'meh' too, to be honest. I'm still watching it, obviously, but... it hasn't impressed me much. It's really inconsistent, and honestly feels like bad fanfic (which I think I mention in another episode's review.) Though I didn't grade the first episode very highly due to some particular things I didn't like, I honestly think it was objectively the best episode, in terms of characterization especially. Since then it's felt like it's all over the place with the characters and their relationships and their roles...

      I'm actually really liking Hannibal. It's... very pretty to look at, if nothing else, and I really like the cast. That one I actually look forward to each week, haha.

      I have not seen any of The Following, and saw very little of Touch. Touch I didn't really care for, but I'm not sure I even know what The Following is about.

      Bates Motel got renewed for a second season, and I have no idea where they think they're going to go with it.

  2. The Following is about FBI agents dealing with serial killers bordering on a cult status. Hell, not really even bordering. This first season, it's about FBI agents Ryan and Mike (Kevin Bacon and Shawn Ashmore -- Iceman with scruff for the win!) and Parker (a very strong female character who was raised in a cult by her parents and she left, and now she's a specialist on cults) who are trying to first deal with the followers of serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who was a college literature professor (woot!), who loved Poe and based his killings and cult off of Poe's writing. The very last ep of the first season's next week when it'll all go down, and they'll take Joe down somehow. It's been renewed for a second season and Bacon, Ashmore, and the actress who play Parker should be coming back to it. They're an awesome team. But it'll somehow deal with new followers/serial killers/cults. It's fucking fantastic and it's easily my favorite thing on TV.

    I love Touch. I'd never even heard about it but stumbled on it I think at the end of last year when I was done with school. I watched it all and then downloaded it and have been downloading the new season. I usually hate math and numbers, but this is making it very interesting. The story with the autistic son who can communicate through numbers and is a part of something bigger with a corporation trying to get to him and others like him -- it's just really awesome, and the stories tug on the emotional strings. I don't know if it'll go for a third season, but I wouldn't argue it.

    Hannibal is pretty. I LOVE that they made Freddie Lounds a woman. A smarmy, self-centered woman. I mean, Lounds as a man was already that (and Phillip Seymore Hoffman did a great job as him in Red Dragon), but I love that Lounds is a woman in this, and I love that she's cut no quarter for being a woman. I mean, if Graham punches her at any point, I'll cheer as much as I would have during Red Dragon. When I realized last week that Hannibal is latching onto the teenage girl (who's father was that first killer?), it hit me that he's turning her into the first surrogate Misha, and I was all, "Whoa." I even really like Lawrence Fishburn as Jack Crawford, and so far, the main female seems like she could be strong and not annoying in anyway that she shouldn't be. What I don't care for is that they felt the need to make Graham an Aspie just to explain away his ability to figure out crimes as deeply as he does. I mean, I don't want to dis on people with Asperger's or say that it's not possible. I just feel that them making Graham have it was possibly doing that the way a lot of fans calling Sherlock Holmes one, pretty much for the same reasons, and to put out a big sign that says, "Oh hey! See? We're giving you a character you can relate to!" When there was no sign in the original stories that those characters are that. I guess it could be okay, but I even read Red Dragon, and Will didn't display any other signs that he could be an Aspie, and he wasn't socially reclusive, and he didn't mind being touched. It's like they're going to negate Molly and Josh right out of the story because of his social awkwardness. I won't give up on the show, but it's my least favorite thing about it at the moment (second ep with the mushrooms was delightfully creepy and ew)!

    1. Okay, I know which one The Following is, now! I saw an ad for it and thought it looked pretty good (and I think you mentioned it to me when we were talking about Ashmore one time) but hadn't connected the title in my head.

      The corporation subplot sounds fairly interesting for Touch. I saw a bit of it and it didn't really grab me, but I might check it out at some point. (I think I was also soured on it because it was so aggressively advertised initially, that some show I was watching kept getting interrupted for "a five minute preview of Touch!" and I got really sick of seeing those five minutes, haha.)

      And I agree mostly with you on Hannibal. It's visually stunning, and I love the casting. I like their choices of characters to gender- or race-swap, because I really like more dynamic casting, and all of them seem to have been well-developed as individual incarnations of their characters (good characters and bad.)
      I am also not a fan of having made Graham Aspie or Autistic... he doesn't label it exactly (he says something about being "closer to autism than psychotic" but doesn't give a real diagnosis) but it's still clear what they're going for. I really don't like the "mental illness/atypical state as superpower" trope. I think that he is played well for that (I mean, I feel how uncomfortable he is dealing with people in every scene) but I don't really like that they chose that direction to go.
      And I loved the second ep. The mushroom garden! It almost felt like watching an ep of X-Files, which is a complement in my book.

  3. The Following is fantastic. One of my friends thought that it was too derivative, but I think it's extremely original. I mean, it might have a few things similar to other stories about serial killers, but I think it's got a lot more going for it as a new thing. Especially since they're wrapping up this first season next Monday and wrapping up the first story. Next season, it should be featuring wholly different serial killers with followers. The cast is just outstanding -- the knowns and the unknowns. I think this might be one of Ashmore's best roles and show of acting ability. I love him as Iceman, sure, because that's the geek in me. This character is unfolding beautifully. He's not just a fanboy of Ryan Hardy's (Kevin Bacon). And there are some really good strong female roles in this. My favorites being Parker (the FBI agent who's an expert on cults -- I can't wait until they unravel more about her in season 2) and Claire -- the ex-wife of Joe Carroll (James Purefoy - the main serial killer whose cult it is). I think you'd be pretty damned impressed with how the women are. Even the main female serial killer, Emma (I'm amused by the name, mind, considering this show has Bacon and Ashmore in it) is damned strong and well-rounded. She's still a crazy bitch, and I hate her. There's nothing about her that makes me like her or feel for her, and I'm really glad that they haven't given her some weepy background full of abuse that would make her be this way - she just wants Joe's attention and love. I've never looked forward to Mondays in my life, but now I do because that's when The Following is on! LOL

    I can understand how that would annoy you about Touch. See, I'd never heard about it at all until I ran into it on Netflix, and I like Sutherland, and it sounded interesting, and what helped was that it was only one season when I found it. That was enough to hook me in. It's intense, it has gripping side stories each episode, which connect in with the bigger storyline involving Sutherland's character and his son.

    1. Well-rounded and developed characters of any gender are totally up my alley. (Well-written female characters are just harder to find, it seems.) I may have to try and check it out once it's on DVD. (I just lost cable, so I'm going to have to find online sources for the shows I've been watching. Fortunately most of them are easily [and even legally!] available from their source 24 hours after they air, it looks like.)

      Though every time I see Sutherland I think of him in Stand By Me. Every. Time. I don't know why that's the role I can't shake him from.

  4. Oh oh oh! Then if you've seen tonight's ep (which is actually ep 5 -- you'll need to either download ep 4 or watch it on YouTube), then you'll see that there's interaction between Crawford and his wife. What I LOVE LOVE LOVE about this is that they've got Lawrence Fishburn as Crawford, but they've got his real-life wife Gina Torres (of Firefly fame!) as his TV-wife. Their interaction is gorgeous and painful. It's loving and hurtful. Man. I would love to see an interview with those two to see how they're handling the roles because Crawford's wife's cancer just gets worse and worse (if you've read the books, then you know). Sometimes with gender-swaps, I get really annoyed. Not because I'm unimaginative and can't see a woman playing a certain male-originated role but because I feel sometimes that it's being pushed at us and done in a way just to make feminists happy and where the character just doesn't seem right as a female. Maybe the character just doesn't work as a female (and shouldn't? - I mean, does everything have to be gender-swapped for people to appreciate the character?) or maybe the actress they've gotten isn't very good or convincing in the part? I don't know. But sometimes it just feels forced down my throat to accept a normally male role being adapted as a female. This isn't always the case. In the most recent adaptation of The Temptest, Helen Mirren plays the normally male role of Prospero as Prospera. Shakespeare can be adapted in so many ways that work, and what they did with that movie was stunning - visually and cast-wise. Who'd have thought Russell Brand could do Shakespeare so brilliantly, for example? I didn't, and then I was blown away by him. But in that role, it worked to gender-swap. I think Freddie Lounds being female is a GREAT interpretation, and it works because I've known so many female journalists who feel the need to be twice as smarmy as male journalists in order to compete and get the stories they think should be theirs and not men's. This actress is extremely good at delivering this part without seeming stilted or one-dimensional. I don't expect to like her just because she's female because Freddie Lounds is an abhorrent character, regardless of gender. I'm really looking forward to some of the cast that will be coming up -- like Gillian Anderson (speaking of X-Files!) and Eddie Izzard! I love that Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall is one of the main medical examiners. He was not someone I was expecting to see in something so serious. I'm just uncomfortable with Will Graham being so unstable and being "closer to autism than psychotic." I've read Red Dragon. I just don't think it's fitting for his character, but for some reason, they've felt the need to make him really unstable and socially awkward. Then again, I think social awkwardness and introvert behavior have become somehow...trendy and encouraged and praised at the moment, so perhaps that's what they're trying to tap into? So many people online identify/relate to social awkwardness (and even seem to...I don't know...cultivate it?) that movies/TV shows are now perpetuating this social awkwardness-is-good trope, and I won't lie. I don't like it. It makes me uncomfortable, but then social awkwardness makes me uncomfortable because I'm not good at treating people with kid gloves or tip-toeing around. Still, regardless of Will Graham's personality, I'm loving the hell out of the show, and I'm loving Hannibal. Cannibalism or not, I really want to like...take a cooking class from him just on the finer points of how to prep-cook-present an amazing meal. You know?

    1. Looooooove Gina Torres! One of my earlier reviews (I know I have to get on posting them) mentions how excited I was/am for her being in the show. Especially as Jack's wife! And I loved it. And you bet your ass that I'm super excited for Gillian Anderson and Eddie Izzard. I didn't even know he was going to appear until recently.
      For the gender-swapping of characters, I think this show has dealt with it really well. I like the characters they chose (in that they aren't all good or bad people) and I think they were developed well. I also think it's one of the ways this adaptation sets itself apart, and makes it clear that none of the characters in the show are trying to be other incarnations of the characters. But at the same time, I think they've stayed very true to the spirit or feel of the story (I don't like that cliche phrase, but I don't know how better to say it)... it feels like the people who made the show know a FUCK TON about the source material, the side characters, the plots, how people are involved with each other.
      Which is really nice compared to something like Bates Motel, which feels like they watched Psycho, and then wrote some poorly-plotted AU fanfiction rife with OCs and OOC canon characters. :P
      I'm with you on Will's personality/psychological weirdness. I think that they're handling it well(-ish) for what it is, I just think it was a bad choice to go that direction. The show was conceptualized years ago, so it's possible that their interpretation was considered prior to the trend of social awkwardness being somehow cool, but I am really tired of it at the moment.
      Is it just me, or does tumblr seem to bring out the worst of the "I'm proud of being awkward and want to one-up you on how awkward I can be" crowd? (And the incorrect labeling of every awkard person as having aspergers/autism.) I get that there are people who have severe anxiety or other types of mental illness that make interaction difficult. Sometimes that's treatable, sometimes that's not. But there are a lot of people who are psychologically "normal" in that they don't actually have a diagnosable condition, yet they still want to cultivate the "haha, I'm so awkward and inappropriate to the point it negatively affects other people. Isn't that quirky and awesome!" It's not that everyone needs to be a wonderful social butterfly who is confident and perfect in every situation. I mean, I'm a super-introvert, and I can be very shy and awkward in situations I'm unfamiliar with. But I can also be polite and make appropriate conversation with people. It takes practice, like any other skill. I'm all for self-acceptance and not changing yourself to please others, but the "you're a special snowflake that can cultivate your negative traits as much as you want because you should always express yourself in any way you want no matter how inappropriate" can go way too far.
      And yes, I'd love to take a cooking class from Hannibal. Maybe sans cannibalism, since people are gross enough when they're still alive, but still... I bet he'd make people delicious, haha. Also, since I'm on a different computer, I see that my sponsored ads on this page are for a baking school. Coincidence? Clearly I need to be making people-pastries.