As Bates Motel moves into its second episode, we’ve already seen at least one murder at the hands of Norma and Norman. And they’ve only lived in town for a couple days, so that really puts an emphasis on them as the weird neighbors. So when the cops start snooping around in “Nice Town You Picked, Norma…”, things begin to get a little tense between Norma and Norman.
But we can also attribute that to Norman’s brother’s appearance. Dylan (Max Thierrot, who’s making a very similar appearance to the character he played in House at the End of the Street) uncovers where Norma picked up and moved to after her husband died. She didn’t tell him, because she’s not as fond of this problem child as she is of Norman, but Dylan sniffs them out anyway. He’s lost his job and his money, so he believes that he’s entitled to stay with Norma now. The character comes out of nowhere in this episode – he was hinted at in the first in a telephone call, but now that he’s suddenly appeared in the matter of days, the show has to work doubly hard to develop him along with Norma and Norman.
He’s supposed to be something of a brute, but Bates Motel isn’t really giving us anything to dislike him for. It’s really Norma and Norman that take the brunt of the hate here; Norma treats Dylan with utter disrespect, even going so far as to say that she hates him, while Norman tries to take a mallet to his head. The characters aren’t winning over too many fans, I would presume, which begs the question of who we’re supposed to root for through all of this. Of course, Norman is the go-to character: Psycho has and will always be about him, but Bates Motel is almost going too far too quickly with his inner demons. It leaves Dylan one of the only protagonists that’s likable, even though he isn’t supposed to be.
But it’s a double-edged sword, because Dylan’s appearance shows just how fragile Norma really is. Vera Farmiga is solid, and her mood swings and emotional instability is well-presented. It’s fun to watch how crazy she can get with Dylan, then alternate back into loving parent mode with Norman. It’s also creepy when she changes her shirt in front of him, remarking, “What? It’s not weird, Norman!” It’s weird, very weird.
The cops are suspecting of Norma this episode thanks to her truly terrible interrogation responses, and rightfully so. I love the brooding aura that Nestor Carbonell has been giving off in both episodes – you can just tell that this man is a bulldog and he can’t wait to get under your skin. Deputy Zach Shelby is easier to woo, and Norma sets out to do just that with a little coffee shop talk and a date to the local fair. The relationship happens super fast, which is kind of the name of the game within this episode of Bates Motel. Since the first episode meandered through its plot, really only focusing on Norma and Norman, this one has to pick up some of that slack. But it’s rushing through characters too fast, and the love interest between the two would be better off slowing down.
There’s also a budding romance between Norman and Emma (Olivia Cooke), a classmate of Norman’s. She comes over to his house for a project; there’s an excruciating exchange between her and Norma about her cystic fibrosis where Norma enquires about her life expectancy in detail. When Emma finds Norman’s art diary, one he himself found underneath the carpet of one of the motel’s rooms, she knows exactly what it’s about, and they set out to find the spot the artwork depicts. These events are seriously lacking in development; they’re not realistic, and they really blindside the viewer. The inclusion of them in this episode, so early in the season, probably wasn’t the best idea – they would be better off mid-season. And the relationship with Emma is equally as abrupt. Searching on IMDb, it seems Emma’s character disappears in the third episode, so Norman’s romance is probably short-lived anyway.
The eerie nature of the show’s first episode isn’t apparent in this episode; Bates Motel tries to throw in some shocking scenes of two burning men, but the episodes reluctance to even broach that subject means that the initial surprise falls flat. And the heavy introduction of three new characters and their relationships to Norman and Norma is top-heavy; the episode simply can’t carry that much baggage effectively. The slow build of the premiere is offset by this fast-moving episode, but Bates Motel needs to focus on developing a steady plot arc before it can afford to develop secondary relationships.