In “Trust Me,” the weird tonal issues from the first and second episodes return. Last week, I thought we were getting somewhere, with Norman invading Deputy Shelby’s house and finding a woman he was holding captive as a sex slave. I mean, that’s not exactly a walk in the park, but it was at least something happening. This week, however, the show goes out of its way to walk that development back so it can keep it in its back pocket until the last couple of episodes this season—and maybe even beyond, since the show was renewed for a second season today. This is an episode of television that includes:
- Two teenagers making love filmed in such a way as to suggest a commercial for a super-softening laundry detergent, all scored with gentle piano and luxurious strings.
- Vera Farmiga screaming, “I killed the crap out of him!”
- Vera Farmiga also saying, “My whole life, I’ve had to put up with things,” when she’s talking about how her character was raped and physically assaulted.
- Emma’s weird, oversharing British father.
- Very strange sexual chemistry between Dylan and his mother (though I suspect this, at least, was part of the plan).
As episodes of television go, it’s not really a success. As things that made me laugh for all the wrong reasons, however, it was by far the best episode of the show so far. Yet at the same time, I don’t know that I’m not supposed to be laughing. Farmiga’s performance, at times, is screamingly funny, and I think she might be in on the joke. For instance, is there any reason to take “I killed the crap out of him!” as a serious line? I suspect not, and Farmiga finds the laugh in it. But the moment—Norma and Norman realize they can’t get into the dump (because it’s not a 24-hour dump, like they’re apparently used to) to retrieve the carpet the cops will use to tie them to Keith’s murder—doesn’t really cry out for a laugh line. The tone wanders all over the place. It’s a sleepy small-town show one minute, and then somebody is being burned to death. It’s kind of a wild, dark comedy for a bit, and then there are sex slaves chained up in somebody’s basement. Don’t get me wrong! I like ambitious TV that mashes up a lot of tones, but not like this. Not like this!
This is not to say that there isn’t some okay stuff in here. The more I watch the show, the more I find myself wondering what it might look like from the perspective of some of the other characters. Like, can you imagine this episode from the point-of-view of the sheriff, particularly that scene where he calls her into his office for some good, old-fashioned interrogating, and she just deflects his questions by acting like she has no idea what he’s talking about. Or imagine if this show was from the point-of-view of Dylan, this ne’er-do-well son who came back to live with his mother and half-brother and found himself having to deal with his half-brother dumping the entire story of a murder on his head? That might be a kind of crazy show to watch.
I also liked that this episode delves even further into how Norma’s not really well. Norman tries to say that there’s nothing wrong with her, but the more things start to come apart, the more she seems to be falling apart as well. Farmiga’s performance remains my favorite thing about this show, and she’s digging into Norma’s unstableness in ways both subtle and wackily over-the-top. Hell, she even freaks out at the notion that Norman would be out with a girl, resulting in Dylan pushing her against the wall and the aforementioned weird sexual tension (my wife said, “Kiss her!”). Also, she seems to be blurring the lines in her relationship with Shelby in ways that could get her in even deeper trouble. The most promising development in this episode was probably that Norma gets hauled off to jail at the end. Seeing how she deals with this—and guilts everybody around her into feeling bad for her—has potential.
Sadly, the rest of the episode was pretty poor, even on the level of languorous hangout dream theatre that made last week’s episode almost work. The previous three episodes had their problems, but they largely felt of a piece with each other. This episode feels as if somebody on high came to the producers and said, “Are you sure about this sex slave business?” and they panicked. Don’t get me wrong: I am all but certain that Norman is not making up what he saw, and the season will conclude with the body of the woman being found somewhere. (Well, it’s that or Shelby was in a loving, committed relationship, so he set his sex slave free, like you do.) But by trying to introduce some indecision about whether Norman was telling the truth, the show isn’t proceeding. It’s deflecting. It’s getting off on other rabbit trails, as if it’s not precisely sure how to fill out 10 episodes with this stuff. Last week’s cliffhanger demanded a moment that pushed the story forward; instead, we got something that retreats to the status quo as quickly as possible, a wait and see approach to things.
Bates Motel is a show driven almost entirely by intimation, by the idea that something terrible might happen, which is then interrupted by, well, something terrible happening at the end of the episode. The problem with this is it’s hard to keep building on intimation when you’ve got, like, people set on fire and sex slaves chained up in the basement. Once the threat becomes concrete, it’s that much harder to take it back to the level of implied, and once the threat becomes concrete, it’s that much harder to feel like it’s important to see whether Norman and Bradley hook up or whatever.
I sense that I’m liking this show less than many of you, and that’s too bad, as I like liking things. But the show is still an interesting collection of elements that have yet to add up to anything firm to me. There are several storylines here that compete for the audience’s attention, but not a one of them has yet risen to the level of consistently compelling. The murder of Keith Summers has proceeded in fits and starts, but it’s not enough to ground the whole show. Without a storytelling engine—without even Norma and Norman fixing up their hotel anymore—there’s just a bunch of people acting like scary things might seriously start happening any minute, you guys, and that’s not the best way to build a show. More than anything, Bates Motel needs to coalesce.
- Norman Bates alert: Norman’s been having those hallucinations for many years! Norma acts like this is just no big deal. They have such a loving and supportive relationship.
- Seriously, that sex scene was so awful. I don’t know what the intent behind filming it like that was, but it just made the whole thing feel so fucking goofy. Norman and Bradley hooking up could do some nice things for the story, however.
- That Shelby and Norman go fishing scene strained for so much tension and just didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, I liked enough of what it was going for—including further intimations of Norman’s dad being abusive (which might suggest that Norman, indeed, killed his father, as some of you are theorizing)—that I didn’t mind it.
- I liked that Dylan helped his brother out when Norman was trapped in Deputy Shelby’s house. It was a bit too coincidental, but at least it didn’t involve Norman developing super-strength or something.
- Okay, I really liked the image of that hand turning up in the fisherman’s catch. It’s the kind of eerie the show sometimes does well.