The first season of Bates Motel was pretty nuts. Understandably, it’s hard to take one of Hollywood’s greatest horror characters, transpose them into a modern day teenager and show his taxidermy-practicing, mamma-loving origins, all in an hour-long soapy drama. When the show debuted last year, there was a difficulty in balancing serious issues with the ridiculous nature inherent in the show. In these first two episodes of season two, Bates Motel seems to be streamlining its story, focusing more on the Norma-Norman dynamic, which is exactly what this show should have been doing in the first place.
“Shadow of a Doubt” (nice Hitchcock reference) looks like it’s giving us a conclusion to the troublesome Bradley. She’s been hiding out in Norman’s basement after killing the man who killed her father, dyes her hair and gets a bus ticket out of town, thanks to the help of Norman. While Bradley has disappeared, her actions have caused big problems in the drug world in town. The man she killed, Gil, was Dylan’s boss, so now Dylan’s new boss is seeking revenge by killing members of a rival drug operation. By the end, when Dylan drives Bradley to the bus station and makes her write up a suicide note, he becomes the only one to realize the problems that she has caused.
I’m sure this will cause more problems in this escalating drug battle, but anything involving the corrupt drug running of this city just isn’t as interesting as it should be. The only aspect that makes it compelling is Sheriff Romero’s involvement in the corruption, as he tries to find the balance of just enough bad to let the good mostly win. This episode, he starts investigating the Blair Watson murder case with a greater focus, arresting drug dealer Kyle after finding traces of his semen on the deceased. When Romero admits that there were other samples found in Miss Watson (Norman?), he still plans on making sure Kyle goes down for the case, since he’s narrowly escaped other convictions in the past.
But at the Bates Motel, Norma has found pearls in Norman’s room and suspects they may be Watson’s, especially since Norman still can’t remember the details of that evening. She suggests that the two of them try out for the local community theatre production of South Pacific, which Norman has no interest in. The argument between the two of them at the theater is quite exciting by this show’s standards. Norman clearly doesn’t want to do the musical, he doesn’t want to continue being smothered by his mother, but most importantly, he wants to leave the audition before it happens so he can drive Bradley to the bus station. Yet Norma feels the need to keep an eye on Norman so that he won’t blackout and cause more problems, like maybe murdering more people.
Vera Farmiga has her best episode by far, as she has a breakdown talking to Norman in the theatre parking lot, as she shows just how terrified she is for a future without her son she loves so much if he gets convicted of murder. She takes all of this drama out during her audition, which is incredibly powerful, as she belts out her emotions over trying to start a new life, yet always struggling to get away from the problems that have plagued her for so long. It’s a fascinating scene and maybe Bates Motel’s finest scene so far.
When the two return to the hotel, Dylan has driven Bradley to the bus station, Bradley has left Norman a sweet note that he is the best guy she’s ever met, and Emma tells the two of them that Sheriff Romero has arrested someone in the Watson case, a relief to both of them. All in all, everything seems to have worked out! Except of course for the capper to the episode, in which Norma’s brother is searching for her hotel…
“Shadow of a Doubt” is a very strong episode of Bates Motel due to its focus on the Bates family and sorting out one of its biggest problem characters. Yet with a drug war potentially starting up and a long-lost brother arriving soon, hopefully the show won’t lose its focus on the pair that truly matters.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.