Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bates Motel: "Dark Paradise"/"The Convergence of the Twain" (Season 5, Episodes 1 & 2)

Full disclosure: I have not seen every single episode of this show (not even close). I tried to get into it back in 2013, but was so confused/off-put by Norma still dressing like it's 1955 while Norman has an iPod. The background information I know is cobbled together from the episodes I've watched intermittently and "previously on" segments. Spoiler alerts for this whole thing.
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Season 5 begins on a nice, sunny day. Norman wakes up in Mother's room and goes downstairs to find she's whipped up a lovely breakfast for them. They chitchat about Norman redecorating the motel rooms and such. The scene changes; the kitchen is really an utter disaster and there's no food on the table. It seems that last season ended with Norman murdering Mommy Dearest, taxidermying her corpse, and stuffing it in the basement. In Norman's mind, Norma is merely pretending to be dead and can't leave the house because of that. Norma, of course, is bitter and resentful.

When Norman goes to the hardware store to buy paint, he's intrigued by the blond female employee who dresses a hell of a lot like Mom. He realizes he has a stranger's wallet and almost uses it to pay. I have more than a slight suspicion he's been murdering the guests. Norman is quick to let everyone in town know he's adjusting to life without Norma quite nicely, thank you very much.

Norman has taken over the managerial duties of the motel. David Davidson (tell me that's not an alias) tries to rent a room for a few hours. "We're not that kind of establishment," Norman says haughtily. (No, just the kind where the occasional guest is murdered and the manager spies on guests having sex with their mistresses).

Meanwhile, Norman's older, illegitimate half-brother Dylan has gotten the hell out of White Pine Bay. He lives in Seattle, has a real job (last I saw he was starting his own pot farm), and is married to Emma. I remember her as the cystic fibrosis patient from Season 1 who lost her virginity to Dylan. She's no longer sick and the couple has a baby. Dylan throws a wholesome suburban barbecue to celebrate Emma's birthday.

An unexpected visitor turns up on their porch: Dylan's uncle/father Caleb (Kenny Johnson), who's flat broke after running into God knows what trouble in Canada. Is it cool if he crashes on their couch for a while? They let him in. Caleb asks to hold his granddaughter/great-niece Katie, revealing that he's done some Facebook-stalking to see her pictures.

Later that night, Emma wakes up because Caleb is making as much noise as possible while helping himself to half her birthday cake. Caught red-handed, he mumbles an apology; he was just too hungry to sleep. Had it been any other show, Emma might've joined him for a slice.

Emma owes a debt to Caleb that she can never repay; it seems he spent almost everything he had on a lung transplant that saved Emma's life. This allowed her to become a wife and mother, two things she never thought possible. Caleb is all "aw, shucks, you never need to thank me for that." In almost the same breath, Emma tells Caleb he needs to get the hell out of their house. She knows her husband Dylan is the byproduct of Caleb impregnating his own sister Norma.

Former sheriff Alex Romero is still in prison on some kind of frame job. He can't wait to get out and seek revenge on Norman.

The second episode "The Convergence of Twain" cranks the intensity up to 11. Norman is disappointed to learn his hardware store crush Madeline is married. Hoping to ease the hurt, Madeline offers to take Norman on a double date with her friend Joanne. Norman instantly recognizes Madeline's husband Sam as last week's "David Davidson." Sam, a real charmer, threatens to kick Norman's scrawny ass if he tells Madeline about his adultery.

Norma meddles, confronting her son about Joanne in the restaurant bathroom. She asks if he's gonna be "one of those guys" that dates someone just like his mother. At the end of the date, Norman gives Joanne the brush-off. Mother knows best, after all.

Oh yeah, Alex picked a fight in prison and purposely lost. He was able to convince the warden it's too dangerous behind bars for an ex-cop, so he'll be getting out soon.

There's another interesting scene where Norma pouts about not being able to leave the house. To pass the time, she uses language-learning software on Norman's computer to teach herself French. Among useful phrases like "The cherry is red," Norma practices saying, "The traitor was hung." First of all, it's "hanged." Second of all, why is that phrase even in the program?

Emma and Dylan seem surprised to find neatly folded blankets and a note from Caleb on their couch, even though Emma kicked him out last episode. Caleb drifts back to White Pine Bay to visit Norma. While checking into a different motel, the clerk informs him that Norma committed suicide a while back. Caleb is sure it's impossible; he was just visiting Norma's other son and he didn't mention that.

Caleb goes to the cemetery, where, sure enough, he finds a headstone with Norma's name on it. There's also an extremely long, flowery epitaph signed "Norman." Caleb falls apart, sobbing and hugging the tombstone. As bizarre and twisted as his relationship with Norma was, I felt really bad for Caleb. He and Norma grew up with crazy, abusive parents; the siblings could only rely on each other. (That in no way excuses what Caleb eventually did). Now rejected by his son and new daughter-in-law, Caleb has nobody to turn to. Whoever you are, that's a sad situation to be in.

After composing himself, Caleb goes to what I call the Haunted Mansion in search of his other nephew. The pile of dirty dishes in the sink and dust everywhere further convince him that his sister is dead. Curiously, it appears as though somebody is sleeping in Norma's room while Norman's bed is neatly made. Caleb also finds taxidermy books and gets spooked enough to leave.

Caleb drowns his sorrows at a local bar. Chick, played by fellow Sons of Anarchy alum Ryan Hurst, expresses disgust about Caleb's incestuous relationship with Norma and almost gets strangled for it. Caleb is adamant she wouldn't have committed suicide; he had warned her that Norman might snap. Why, oh why, didn't she listen?

Loaded up on liquid courage, Caleb takes a taxi back to the motel. He stalks the halls of the old house, screaming for Norman. He makes it to the basement and discovers Norma's body. Stealth mode Norman creeps up behind his uncle, clocks him over the head, and knocks him unconscious. Also, Norman is wearing a blond wig and a particularly hideous dress of Mother's.

Seeing the first 2 episodes of Season 5 has really made me want to go back and catch up on all the littler details I might be missing. The second episode in particular had a great, old-school horror movie feel to it. I was literally on the edge of my couch, shouting, "No! Don't go in the basement, you idiot!" I think Chick summed up the situation best: "Holy shit."

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