TV Report Card | 'Bates Motel' Season 2 Review

Overview: Norma attempted to hold together the fragile life-force of her family and business, Norman continued his descent into madness, Dylan became more engrossed in the local drug cartel, as Emma felt on the periphery of all of the excitement. Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero tried to keep the peace in White Pine Bay.

Storyline Pros: For the Bates family it was a season filled with criminal intrigue, romantic excursions and the surfacing of dark secrets. The only series to consistently deliver in every episode, “Bates Motel” lived up to its outstanding freshman season and then some. Picking up after last year’s cliffhanger concerning the murder of Miss Watson, Norman was inconsolable as the airiness of summer, soon gave way to sinister truths. Norma’s fear for his mental health reached perilous heights and their relationship started to buckle under the strain of their shared fear. 

The most fascinating aspect of the series continues to be the art of its ambiguity. It wisely avoids painting itself into a distinct corner, remaining malleable to several interpretations, which works heavily in its favor. It’s more lifelike in that regard as reality isn’t always so cut and dry.

Norma, by far the most fascinating female character on television, is a force of maternal nature and feminine resilience, the gritty survivor trying to thrive in the face of bleak odds. This season her journey as a mother saw its share of obstacles. Her relationship with her two sons grew tricky as her confession to Norman last season played out in surprising fashion. “Bates” went for the jugular in a bold plot twist that dared to push the limits of a taboo subject. While some shows would’ve simply played it for shock, “Bates” played it for story, hitting its emotional notes and fallout with utter sincerity. 

As much as Norma openly tries to be a good mother to Norman, it was watching her admit she’d not tried half as hard for Dylan and why, that led to her greatest evolution. The journey of the Bates family’s dynamic from delicate togetherness at the start of the season to being torn apart in conflict and then trying to find their way back together again was a core storyline that breathed into every facet of the other plots.

The drug storyline intersected them with the rest of the town, which was essential to the umbrella story. It also drew Sherriff Romero into things, putting him back in Norma’s orbit. Emma’s entwinement with the family provided a pure juxtaposition to the often muddled moral waters they were immersed in. She’s innately good and a strong moral compass for the show. 

There continues to not be a single weak character in the ensemble as they are all written with exceptional profundity. The protagonists are flawed in mysterious ways and “Bates” consistently challenges its audience to try to judge their decisions and intent. The fact is you’re often too engrossed in them to ever make a call.
Storyline Cons: Flawless. There wasn’t one misstep.

Production Caliber: The production felt more open this season as the town become more of a character.

Performance Quality: The best ensemble on television. Vera Farmiga was dazzlingly brilliant as she conveyed Norma’s desperation, as the empirical proof her beloved son was suffering from a deteriorating psyche became impossible to ignore. Farmiga always knows how to strike the perfect balance between Norma’s optimistic approach to survival and the thin veneer hiding her shaky confidence it will actually come to fruition. Only Farmiga could bring such pathos to a singing scene and make you feel every ounce of what she didn’t need words to say.

Freddie Highmore continues to astound as Norman, his performance consistently breaks ground on emotional levels that continually adds dimension to the oft enigmatic Bates. Highmore demonstrated the crippling level of Norman’s mental illness in the finale with such devastating conviction that it made other’s response to protect him, completely comprehensible.

As Norma’s eldest son, Max Thieriot gave a subtle, poignant and highly effective performance. There’s a raw vulnerability and ferocity that he imbues in Dylan that complements the ensemble's characterizations. His portrayal is one of the most crucial and underrated turns of the series. 

Olivia Cooke’s quirky charm and girl-next-door tenacity as Emma; created a character you continually wanted to see more of. While Nestor Carbonell brought magnificent personality to the role of Sheriff Romero, his chemistry with Farmiga an unmistakable gem.

Overall Grade: A+ [Best Television Series of the Year], expectations were high and Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin delivered. Dark, light, twisted with a touch of innocence all rolled into one. In the course of 10 episodes, they took viewers on a roller coaster ride, bringing them conflict, romance, treachery, action and family drama.

Immaculately written, performed and directed, watching an episode of "Bates Motel" unfold should feel inevitable given we all know how it ends and yet its beauty is in making one hope we don't.

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