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Norman Learns Taxidermy in “A Boy and His Dog”: Bates Motel Review

By on May 7, 2013
Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. Image © A&E

Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. Image © A&E

Considering this week’s Bates Motel, “A Boy and His Dog”, is one of the last few episodes of the season, it isn’t terribly exciting. We do not really learn anything new, but instead points that have already been made are emphasized. This does bring some touching (and a few entertaining) moments. In general, this feels like the calm before the storm. Hopefully the final two episodes will give us the thrilling finish that this show deserves.

High-school girls can be so very cruel. While in a bathroom stall to use her inhaler, Emma overhears some catty peers mocking Norman. She defends him in a way that ends up coming back to bite her, because it causes Bradley to turn – again – on Norman. Poor Norman cannot cope with Bradley being angry with him very well. Unfortunately, this causes additional tension between Norman and Emma.

Eager to keep the peace, Emma gives Norman a heartfelt apology. She’s so lovable with those doe eyes that Norman cannot stay mad at her. The show is setting Emma up to be a beloved character, but it is difficult to guess where her storyline might go. Norman is more interested in spending time with Emma’s dad (the taxidermist) than with her. If there is a shocking death before the end of the season, Emma seems like a potential target.

After Norman’s school suggests it, Norma reluctantly brings her son to a therapist. According to the school staff, Norman is “emotionally unusual”. Obviously, the therapist notes that there are severe control issues in the mother and son’s dysfunctional relationship. His suggestion of continued (and private) therapy is quickly shot down by an extremely offended Norma.

Guest star Ian Hart (left) and Freddie Highmore. Image © A&E

Guest star Ian Hart (left) and Freddie Highmore. Image © A&E

Besides, Norma has other things to worry about. The suspicious and creepy man in number nine – Jake Abernathy – continues to be suspicious and creepy. After getting wound up at the therapist’s office, Norma boldly kicks Jake out of the motel. She threatens to call the police if he doesn’t leave, though really, what good are the police going to be in White Pine Bay? Sheriff Romero himself describes to Norma how he would “burn her to the ground” if necessary. Those are not exactly the comforting words you want to hear from the man supposed to serve and protect you.

However, Norma’s threats work – at least temporarily. Jake vacates number nine, and for half a minute it looks like everything will be okay. Norma cheerfully goes to change for dinner with her eldest son, opening her bedroom door to find a decaying Deputy Shelby on the bed. Jake must have had to pull some serious strings to arrange that unpleasant surprise.

Dylan’s part of the story is quite dry. Even the observing bartender is unenthused when Dylan breaks into a fist fight with a co-worker. Going off orders from Gill, Dylan and Remo pick up some “trimmers” for work. The trimmers appear to be guitar-playing hippies with an attitude problem. Dylan, who is on a bit of a power trip these days (I think giving him a gun went straight to his head), kicks the lead instigator out of the van. He brings the rest of them to the motel as business for Norma, which she thoroughly appreciates. Will the new guests want to stay when the authorities arrive to pick up another – err, the same – dead body?

Vera Farmiga remains, quite effortlessly, the best part of this show. Of course that is saying something considering the talent displayed every week, but she is in a league of her own as Norma Bates. She is playing her character so seamlessly that it would be easy to overlook the work she is doing. This would be a mistake. She is so brisk and authoritative about her actions that we find ourselves second-guessing her insanity. We hate her for smothering Norman, yet still fall victim to her (many) passionate guilt-trips. Occasionally fragile, but more often fierce, she is a terrific walking contradiction.

Engaging in a war with Jake Abernathy may have opened up an intriguing new plot to develop, and perhaps it will relate to Dylan’s new “business”. Despite all that has happened up until now, we have still barely scratched the surface of the twisted mother/son relationship between Norma and Norman. There is certainly plenty to explore in season two of Bates Motel. 

What did you think of the episode? Check into the next Bates Motel episode Monday, May 13 on A&E.