The dominant storytelling form of the show Lost, which I very much loved and which shares an executive producer with Bates Motel, was the disruption. Two characters would be having an otherwise mundane conversation, and then something would come out of nowhere and disrupt it, turning everything on its head. The show did this often enough that it should have become predictable, but it somehow never did. The series kept its head about it, so when the disruptions would come, they would come at odd rhythms, or they would simply be so strange that it never quite lost its enthrallment for the series’ fans. The problem is that this style of storytelling is much easier to pull off on a strange, mystical island than it is in a small town, even one that apparently features one budding serial killer, a sex-trafficking ring, some sort of organized drug-dealer crime organization, and somebody who sets people on fire. Yet there we are, watching Dylan have a conversation with Ben Fong-Torres from Almost Famous (I finally recognized who that guy was, thanks to my wife), only to have someone shoot poor Ben in the throat. Whoo!
“Ocean View” strikes me as the episode where I finally just let go of trying to make any sense of this show and just enjoyed it as a bugnuts, albeit unintentional, comedy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the show pulls itself together for an interesting episode or two somewhere along the line, but I’m also not going to sit here and try to make sense of it. I’m going to give it the “American Horror Story season one” treatment, where the grades are largely ironic, the reviews are just an opportunity to laugh about the ridiculousness of the show, and we’re all just here to have some fun. Because, really, this episode just soars all the way over the top and into goofy ridiculousness, as the show has been threatening to do for a while but hasn’t yet truly accomplished.
The tone is set by the scene where Norman waits to find out if his posted bail was successful in getting his mother out of jail, which is communicated to him via a text alert. (Yes, if you’ve been wondering if your bail was successfully posted, well, did you make sure to sign up for your local bondsman’s text alert services?) At first, it almost seems as though the series is going to just have Norma be out of jail and waiting for her trial, before she successfully gets Zack to misplace the evidence that implicates her in Keith’s murder. Naturally enough, this is when Norman and Emma start playing junior mystery squad and find Zack’s sex slave—whom he didn’t set free, apparently—on a boat owned by Keith Summers that Emma found with a little creative googling (or so it would seem). Emma and Norman bring the woman back to the motel, and Norma bursts in on them, because she… I don’t know, doesn’t like the look of Emma’s VW Beetle, only to result in a protracted scene where Norma refuses to believe that the woman Norman says he first found in Zack’s basement and has now seemingly conjured out of thin air was actually her new boyfriend’s sex slave.
This could be an interesting plot development if I believed a single piece of it. For one thing, having Zack now hold such power over Norma that she can’t do the right thing could allow for some interesting moral conundrums going forward, and bringing Norma in on Norman and Emma’s secret is the sort of thing another series would have waited five or six episodes for. I do like the stutter-step storytelling rhythms of this show, even if they sometimes leave me scratching my head, and I think there’s a way to make all of this play without feeling like the writers are picking up action figures of all of the characters and smashing them together. The construction of the storyline is quite elegant; the actual execution is all over the map, tonally messy, and often inadvertently funny.
Take, for instance, the scene where Norma gets mad at Norman for not being around for her arrest because he was out getting laid—an event that the show continues to play as if it actually happened, which almost certainly means it didn’t. I get that the show is playing Norma as this super-controlling person who sometimes scares Norman, and I liked Vera Farmiga’s little, “Sometimes I scare you?” directed at her scary, scary son, but it all just feels too much. I don’t get the sense that Norma has a center, beyond someone crazy who can cover up all of her craziness most of the time but other times just doesn’t bother. I don’t buy that she wouldn’t tell the police she killed Keith in self-defense, and though I sort of buy her anger about Norman telling Dylan about the murder, it still feels like we’re missing far too many puzzle pieces. My wife theorizes this is because we’re going to learn (in the finale, I guess) that Norman’s been killing for many years, so she doesn’t want to reveal that she killed Keith in self-defense because it would uncover all of those deaths. But if that’s the case—and it would mostly make sense with what we know so far—then I think the show did a real disservice by trying to preserve it as a “twist.” This is a prequel. We already know Norman will murder people. The dramatic dynamics would be better served by being upfront.
But, okay, that scene is weird and messy and I don’t buy a damn thing anybody does in it. But it’s nothing compared to what follows, which is the Weird Filmmaking Choice Of The Week, involving Norman getting onto his brother’s motorcycle (and is Dylan just always around on his motorcycle?) to hitch a ride back home, a scene that turns into something out of a Muppet movie, with Norman stretching out his hands in glee as he rides behind his brother and Dylan leaning down over the handlebars like the two of them are about to burst into song. It’s all so ridiculous, and it’s just the cherry on top of an already ridiculous episode.
Look: I can handle this if it’s all supposed to be camp. Maybe it is! Maybe the intent is to be funny here! But it doesn’t feel like that note circulated among the entirety of the cast, as if only Vera Farmiga found out about it, then resolved to see if she could drag everybody else onto her camp planet with her. For the most part, the many fine actors and writers and directors in this increasingly desperate show feel as if they’re all making completely different shows from each other. Olivia Cooke is in a hyper-sincere drama about teens who solve mysteries. Freddie Highmore is in a creepy understated psychological horror show. Max Thieriot is in a bumbling comedy of errors. And so on and so on. This is rarely the best way to create good TV, but, man, it’s still entertaining to watch everyone slowly realize they’re not even in the same universe.
Grade: “C” for “Crazy motorcycle shenanigans”
- Cooke is really good in that scene where she cries because Norman tells her that he’s seeing Bradley. Also, doesn’t she look like a young Kate Winslet, sort of?
- Vera Farmiga runs like Tom Cruise. It’s sort of awesome.
- The lighting in that scene on board the boat obscured things a bit too much. It seemed like Norman and Emma opened an overhead compartment or something, and the Chinese woman tumbled out. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, right? Right?!