Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bates Motel 5x01 Review: "Dark Paradise" (Dead Mommy Issues) [Guest Poster: Erin Allen]

"Dark Paradise"
Original Airdate: February 20, 2017

“Mother, do you ever have the same nightmare over and over again, but you can’t remember it? You just remember the feeling of it?”

Remember the feeling when Norma died at the end of last season? This season will be a constant reminder of that nightmare. There is so much pain, but it comes with the campiness and quirkiness that have become hallmarks of the show. Everything I love about Bates Motel — and the entire Psycho franchise, actually — is in this episode, and I predict this final season will be an epic ride.


Vera Farmiga is captivating as Norma Bates — dead or alive. Norma Bates was a beautifully complicated woman and Farmiga played her masterfully. Now, she has the task of playing Norma as Norman’s sick mental invention. Not an easy feat, I imagine. What she delivers in “Dark Paradise” is nothing short of brilliance. When she was alive, Norma was charming and sassy and feisty. As Norman’s figment she is still all those things (hashtag: blessed), but there is a subtle difference. That she’s able to achieve this is a testament to Farmiga’s talent.

Norman’s creation of this “Mother” character mixes his many confusing and deranged thoughts. Part of her is his conscience. She warns him that he shouldn’t be driving since he is prone to blackouts. Part of her is what he wishes she was like before she died. Norma had told him to deal with the fact that Alex Romero was in her life. Norman was displaced from being the center of her world. In this twisted fantasy, he reclaims that role. Another part is the mother he loved — the comforting, maternal figure that fixed everything. The conflation of these feelings creates this complex personification.

We are able to see all of that insanity going on in Norman’s head because of Farmiga’s portrayal of Mother. It is fascinating to watch. You revert back to watching Norma and then Farmiga will make a face or use a tone that reminds you that this is not that Norma. These nuances take the show to a whole other level. It is now a cerebral experience where you continually have to reinforce the nature of its reality.

Every scene between Norman and Mother delineates this new labyrinthine relationship. Farmiga’s performance is dynamic. A couple of times Mother mentions how crazy this all is. Remember this is Norman trying to tell himself this, but it comes in the form of his mother trying to talk some sense into him. “We’re doing it, right? A mentally ill boy and a dead woman. We are actually doing it,” she says, incredulously. She directly points out the absurdity, which is funny, but also disturbing and sad. Each of their scenes elicit conflicting emotions.

I really love this “new” character, Mother. We get all the delightfulness of Norma with this added demented dimension. And in Farmiga’s capable hands, we are in for a real treat.


As I referenced above, Farmiga as Mother is a large part of the role of Norman played by Freddie Highmore. But, she is not doing all the heavy lifting; they are sharing the weight. Much like how they helped each other carry the body to the car. Highmore gives a heartbreaking and maddening performance. His crimes are heinous, but he is also so broken and alone that you feel bad for him. In the midst of the lunacy, you are reminded that this fragile boy lost his mother, his whole world. Although, his mental disorder has him dealing with this grief in a destructive way, he tells himself — through his manifestation of his mother — that he is doing it to survive. “It is you and me, Norman. That is all that we have. We would die without each other. Do you understand that?” This is what he tells himself when he is trying to make sense of his actions. And just like Farmiga contributes a great deal with her “portion” of the role of Norman, Highmore delivers, as well. When he tells her, “Yes, Mother, I understand,” we see how everything he does now is because he is in survival mode.

An indeterminate amount of time has passed since the season four finale, and we know that Norman’s psychosis has become way more severe. But, he is struggling. He’s trying to understand. He’s trying to manage his blackouts. He’s trying to establish a life out from under his mother’s thumb (even if it is a self-imposed, imagined authority). Highmore weaves this in seamlessly. You can see his effort and how scared he is. It’s like watching someone unravel right before your eyes, but instead of a quick, clean pull of the thread, it is a tangled mess.

Highmore plays Norman a lot like Anthony Perkins did in Psycho. It’s a well-crafted, understated display. The end of the peeping tom scene didn’t really play to those strengths. It followed the version of the 1998 Vince Vaughn Psycho and it cheapened this important scene, in my opinion. We got a lot out of Perkins’ muted performance and Highmore is more than qualified to expand on that.

It’s very interesting to see Norman behave as the obstinate child when he is the one that created this mother figure to chaperone himself. He feels suffocated by her jealousy and control over him. After one of their arguments, he goes down to the cellar where Norma’s body is in cold storage. It’s kind of like he goes to frozen Norma to get away from the nagging mother of his imagination. It must be difficult to convey this strange comportment, but Highmore is doing a great job of it.


My dilemma with Dylemma is the timeline. But, first, let me say it is so satisfying to see good characters actually being happy. It won’t last long because THEY DON’T KNOW NORMA IS DEAD. I find this really out-of-character for both of them. We know quite a bit of time has gone by because they had a friggin’ baby! So even if Emma got pregnant right at the end of last season, at the very least, nine months have passed. It is hard to believe that the argument that Dylan had with Norma and Norman ordering him to stay away would keep him from telling them that he and Emma were having a child. Also, I can’t believe that Emma wouldn’t encourage him to reach out. “There’s a grandkid involved now.” When you are nodding along in agreement with Caleb, you know something is not sitting right. It’s possible that Norman interfered, making more of a rift than what we saw at the conclusion of season four. I hope it is not to just prolong what will be a really painful revelation for Dylan and Emma. It was one of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about during the nine months between seasons.

They are willing to let Caleb stay in their house with their newborn baby, but calling Norma to tell her she’s a grandmother? Nah. Emma is so judicious and reasonable when she tells Caleb he has to go, I know she could’ve come up with a way to talk to Norma and Norman.


Romero’s reaction to Norma’s death broke my heart last season. Watching him endure his prison sentence, thinking only of exacting vengeance, is gut wrenching. He has the photo of them from the Winter Lights Festival up in his cell. Ouch.

He is on the other end of the dead guy’s phone in the final scene. Romero has been making plans. I can’t wait to see how he tries to get to Norman from prison. He was denied parole and has two more years to serve, but we know that he is crafty and has revenge rage to fuel him.


Bates Motel does a fantastic job of doing the original source material justice and taking it in its own direction. There are direct nods to Psycho balanced with fresh interpretations.

The reference to the Hopper painting is first-rate. House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper was Hitchcock’s inspiration for the infamous dwelling. Joel Gunz has a great analysis of Psycho and its Hopperesque qualities, which you can read here. Some of his theorizations can be applied to Bates Motel, as well, since it shares some artistic attributes with the film.

The hardware store is owned by the Loomis.’ Sam Loomis was Marion Crane’s boyfriend, who worked in a hardware store in Psycho. Sam comes to the motel, supposedly with Marion — although, we never see her face. We’re not even sure it’s Sam because he gives the name David Davidson. All this is speculation, though, really. I hope this is how it goes. It’ll be an interesting narrative with Norman lusting after Madeline Loomis. Little departures like this that connect the original story but take on a life of their own are provocative. Not all shows that reinvent existing universes can pull that off.

Bates Motel is essentially Norman Bates’ origin story. The first season reeled the viewer in with its connections to the iconic film. The following seasons created and maintained its own creative storylines which were entertaining and fascinating. The last season comes full circle and really enmeshes Hitchcock’s Psycho into its modern Hitchockian reincarnation. Rather than use that as a crutch it is simply a bonus.

Motel Amenities:
  • I am not liking Romero’s prison hair. It’s too short on the sides. 
  • The song choices and the score were on point. 
  • Norman has a line in the beginning that accurately describes Norma which kind of indicates how well he knew his mother: “She was really very artistic and always wanted everything to be beautiful. I think it was her way of fighting what wasn’t beautiful in the world and things that she couldn’t control.”
  • “How’d I get so lucky?” “You had quite a tour of duty in the lower levels of hell.”
  • “We don’t rent rooms for a few hours. This is the Bates Motel. We’re not that kind of establishment.” Norman says this with the sass of his mother. 
  • What is Norman going to do with that Luminol? 
  • “What is wrong with me? Well, let’s see. For starters, I am dead.”
  • “I literally gave up my life to protect you.” Give her the Mother of the Year award. Oh, wait, she’s dead.
  • It was cool how Norma appeared in the window like on the Universal Backlot Studio Tour.
  • “Norman, you do not have autonomy here. You can’t just make unilateral decisions about everybody else like you’re the little dictator.” I love how Farmiga delivers this dialogue, putting emphasis on “dic.”
  • It’s crazy how they can go from physical comedy when Norma grabs him by the ear and drags him back to the house to a really emotional scene where Norman remembers killing the man who lies dead in their icebox. “Mother, what is wrong with us?” “I don’t know!”
  • “Well, it’s not like we haven’t done this before,” in regards to disposing of a body.
  • The final scene of them in the boat dumping the body echoes the scene in the first season when they first dumped a body together. How, uh... sweet? 


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