‘Bates Motel’ Season 1, Episode 3 Review – Just Who Is Norman Bates, Anyway?

Published 2 years ago by

bates motal whats wrong norman Bates Motel Season 1, Episode 3 Review   Just Who Is Norman Bates, Anyway?

Identity is a subject explored throughout Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography, be it secret, mistaken or dangerously ambiguous in nature (Psycho examines all three, to some degree).

Tonight’s Bates Motel episode, ‘What’s Wrong with Norman,’ approaches the question of identity with more subtlety than last week’s “Nice Town You Picked, Norma” looked at the duality between exterior beauty and interior ugliness. In fact, the latest episode contains some of the most organic homages to the Master of Suspense’s work, between the dark subtext and expressive stylistic choices made by director Paul Edwards.

‘What’s Wrong with Norman’ also benefits from hitting the brakes when it comes to making White Pine Bay seem like the most noxious and corrupted quaint town on Earth. The first two episodes of Bates Motel kept throwing more creepiness into the mix, as if the showrunners were primarily interested in topping each disturbing revelation with something worse (rapists, sex slavery rings, drug fields that hide sex slavery rings). It was fast-moving toward the danger zone, where the sheer amount of moral decay would become too ludicrous – even for the show’s “Psycho meets Twin Peaks” universe.

Instead of continuing down that path, this week’s episode stops to take a breather and explore just what makes the characters and setting of Bates Motel tick. Dylan (Max Thieriot), as it turns out, really just wants a comfortable relationship with his family and steady employment, while Norman (Freddie Highmore) doesn’t want to be another bad apple living in a vile town. The problem is that Dylan’s “mundane” job includes poppy fields and artillery; by comparison, Norman’s creepy desires are reaching the point where eying pornographic real-life sketches and hugging Mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) ever so tight just aren’t enough anymore.

bates motel whats wrong norman highmore Bates Motel Season 1, Episode 3 Review   Just Who Is Norman Bates, Anyway?

Consider, for example, how the episode opens with Dylan practicing his tough guy mannerisms in the mirror (complete with a gun), but concludes his onscreen time with a scene where he and Norman enjoy a tender brotherly moment by laughing at their own dysfunctional natures. Dylan will soon face the dangers of demons from the outside world – as future episodes will surely address the dangerous nature of his work – and Norman can only hope to keep his inner-demons at bay for so long. For now, however, they’re both people who do wish to neither pretend to be a monster nor actually become one (as it the case with Norman).

Meanwhile, the female characters of Bates Motel continue to be the most intriguing in the series. Even the relatively uninteresting Bradley (Nicola Peltz) is beginning to gain substance, though she has a ways to go. Emma (Olivia Cooke) remains an odd duck – her claim that most students’ text messages are dirtier than Norman’s “secret journal” is worth rolling your eyes at – but she has real moral fiber and purpose to her existence now, which goes beyond getting weird Norman to like her. Similarly, this is the first episode I recall where Norma wears pants, as opposed to old-fashioned flower print dresses (a symbolic gesture that reflects her gaining power in a patriarchal world).

Emma and Norma are pulled back down to Earth by the men around them before the episode runs its course. The former is shouted down as Norman starts to crack at the seams, while the latter dons a low-cut outfit in order to please Deputy Zach (Mike Vogel). Cooke and Farmiga continue to deliver nuanced performances on the show, which should help as their characters further develop. However, in a world as dangerous for women as that of Bates Motel, you have to be worried about any female character with a strong personality – save for Norma, seeing how we know which member of the opposite sex will be her undoing (and it’s not Zach, who I can now say for certain is the ghoul I’ve suspected all along).

bates motel whats wrong norman cooke highmore Bates Motel Season 1, Episode 3 Review   Just Who Is Norman Bates, Anyway?

Screenwriter Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) handles the theme of identity well in “What’s Wrong with Norman” by revealing that so many people on Bates Motel know exactly who and what they are, but keep asking the question anyway, since deep down they don’t like the answer (Norman very much falls into that category). Eventually, though, they have to deal with reality, no matter how terrible it is – and in this case, it’s as bad as it comes. On the plus side, it provides us viewers with all the more reason to keep tuning in to find out where this crazy train is headed next.

Stray Observations:

  • “Everyone seems better in old movies. Happier maybe.” – Norman, on why he prefers old black and white movies.
  • When Norman set off to Deputy Zach’s place, it felt like the show was suddenly turning into an episode of American Horror Story.
  • Wadlow’s script work on this episode makes me more hopeful about Kick-Ass 2, which he wrote and directed.


Bates Motel continues next Monday with “Trust Me” @10/9c on A&E. Check out a preview of the episode below:


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  1. The show has exceeded my expectations and I am enjoying the ride so far.
    I had my doubts about Freddie Highmore but he has proved them groundless.
    Plus I realized tonight I had seen him before and I thought I never actually had.

    Freddie was a lot younger and it was Finding Neverland and in that haunting ending
    I remember thinking man that kid can act and he is proving that playing Norman.
    The casting, writing, and production are first rate so I’m glad I checked in.

  2. I was skeptical about this show, as I’m with all shows at the beginning, but it has won me over. The first two episodes were good, but this show is now starting to get really good. Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are great in these roles. I feel bad for both of these characters because they’re trying to do good, they’ve just been put in bad situations. The little conspiracy storyline with Emma is great. From the preview of the next episode, it seems as of things are going to get better. I was skeptical at first, but I can see this show lasting for a good 4 seasons.

    • The only thing I didn’t like about the episode was the Bradley character. So far, she’s not serving a purpose, and her dialogue is terrible.

      • Tay,
        I agree about Bradley, but I have a feeling she’ll get better and her character will develop some, but it might be a hope more than a feeling,lol! We’ll see,but yeah,so far I’m LOVING this show! :)

  3. All aboard the crazy train! Loving the show. :)

  4. “Bates Motel” just keeps growing better and better!

  5. I can’t put my finger on it but after last nights episode I’m starting to question Norman & Emma’s friendship. For a while I was starting to wonder if Emma is even real because she doesn’t seem to interact with anyone besides Norman but then I remembered her conversation with Norma.
    Anyway… I’m really surprised by how much I’m enjoying the show. It’s not perfect but it’s off to a pretty solid and interesting start.

    • She interacted with that one dude, remember? While she was waiting in thT place

  6. This show bothers me, and here’s why. This series is supposed to be a prequel to the movies right? Yet it’s set in modern time. So why does Norman have a cell phone if they didn’t exist yet when the show is supposed to be set? I mean they still had a black and white t.v. but cell phones?? Oh and the other cars they used, too new. Yes I’m a bit of a purist and I feel they should correct this and start over.

    • It’s supposed to be set in modern times.

      So no, it is not a direct prequel to “Psycho”. Just a re-imagining of the setting in modern times. The characters are the same, times are different

      • Agreed ACW 007!

    • I can understand this frustration, but I assume it’s an updated account of the Bates family which means it’s set in modern day. I don’t think they were watching a black and white tv, but merely a program that was black and white. They have internet and a lot of other modern things that would definitely be anachronistic if it was really in the past.

    • There have been a few times when momentarily I thought this
      show was not present day and I think it is the Bates Home
      with appliances from another era that largely is the cause.
      The television and refrigerator come to mind. And toaster.

      The whole ambiance of the Bates Home and Motel is retro and
      all scenes taking place there seem to be from a prior time.
      Add the almost film noir style to the direction and the
      feel of what you are watching is not present day.

  7. I thought this would be a dumb show like most of what is on TV. I was wrong its very fast moving and never a dull moment. The only conflict is the original movie was in the 1960’s I think. So like all the cars are from this time frame and seemly everyone’s got I phones. Norman, Dylan and Norma give great performances every week. Glad this show on now that the Walkers is gone. Go Norman ..Can’t wait till next Monday to see happens…

    • I can see where your gripes are, it is a solid point. I feel like even though they’ve made it aware that it is modern times, they aren’t going hardcore on that idea. They’re simply just moving the story of Norman Bates for people of the current generation without destroying what made the original “Psycho” a legendary film.

      In other words, this is smart writing cleaning up and hiding the body of what was the remake of “Psycho” with Vince Vaughn.

      • I think they are doing and excellent job in balancing modern with the 50-60’s. Even though it is played out in present day, it still got the ”feel” of the old Psycho movies.

        Like Norman always watching old black and white movies on old tv sets for example.

  8. Love this show so far. The casting of Norman and Norma Bates: Best i’ve seen in a loooong time.