Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 1 “Dark Paradise” Review

by Colleen Conway

With three sparkling 2017 People’s Choice Awards in hand(Favorite Cable TV Drama, Favorite Cable TV Actor (Freddie Highmore) and Favorite Cable TV Actress (Vera Farmiga) Bates Motel returned for its fifth season on February 20th. At the San Diego Comic-Con last July, the show’s panel “officially” announced that Season 5 will be the end. We have known this for a while, with executive producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin professing their 5-season vision all along. And according to Ehrin, “It’s going to be cathartic as shit. Bring your tissues.” (Yahoo!TV)

I usually steer clear of teasers; I prefer to don my blinders and chew my fingertips live. I’m making a semi-exception this time. Being that this is the final (sniff) season of one of my favorite shows, I’m treating the premiere as a farewell party and it’s helpful to know what kind of grab bag gift to bring. Some things we know about the next 10 weeks: the story picks up 18 months after Norma’s death, a woman named Marion Crane checks in (portrayed by Grammy Award-winner and series fan Rihanna); several episodes are written and directed by Freddie Highmore (“Norman”), Max Thieriot (“Dylan”) and Nestor Carbonell (“Romero”), and the reshoots of the classic A&E posters prove that a frosty, cerulean mother’s love has no boundaries.

The most important thing we know (and need to remember) is that the creators of the show have “pulled Psycho into Bates Motel, not vice-versa.” (Entertainment Weekly) At SDCC, Carlton Cuse told IGN, “We will be intersecting certain events in the ‘Psycho’ mythology but definitely doing our own versions of them.”

Norman’s relationship with Norma has significantly evolved in the 18 months since her death and it’s pretty simple: Norma is dead but Norma is alive. In his world, Norman has separated his mother into different dimensions– both the undead Norma and the undead Imaginary Norma. At times he appears to be in control of her, most notably in his rule that she must stay in the house – mentally and physically. Even though he visits (and embraces) Norma’s frozen cadaver locked in the basement, Norman genuinely fears that someone will see her peak out the curtains.

Norman also seems to manipulate how Norma will interfere to the point where she will only tell him what he expects to hear. Normally, I would call this predictable but because this dynamic is nearly two years in the making, it has a lucid dream quality to it. Norman becomes smitten with the new hardware store owner who wears blonde locks and flowered cotton frocks? Norma ridicules him for his pseudo-incestuous crush. Norman peeps into Room #1 from the motel office at the man and his female companion looking to book a room at an hourly rate? Norma rings the office forcing Norman to juggle the phone while zipping his fly.

Norma’s interference also serves multiple purposes, another layer of Norman’s psychological restraint. Norma insists that Norman skip a town meeting with the hardware store owner so that they can dump the latest murder victim instead. Prevent a murder to cover up a murder?? But it gets even better when we discover that Norman has killed in self-defense for presumably the first time. Norman “sees” his mother commit the murder, but soon learns that the corpse they’re about to toss into the lake was a hitman hired by the imprisoned Romero to take out Norman. Having been denied parole, Romero will have to try again from the inside which creates an enticing bridge between the two worlds.

Dylan and Emma have turned their escape from White Pine Bay into an endearing new start. A new baby, a new job, a beautiful home….a visit from Dad. I get that Dylan feels obligated to Caleb considering he got him the cash for Emma’s lung transplant. When Emma finds out, however, she’s grateful but doesn’t give a shit. Kudos to her for choosing her storybook life for as long as she can because as soon as Dylan finally learns that his mother is dead…well, I smell a road trip!

The season premiere, “Dark Paradise”, is aptly named as it continuously drifts from radiant normalcy to murky reality. When Norman is home with Norma, the house is filled with music, fresh flowers, sunshine, candlelight, aromatic delicacies, big-bowed aprons, knitting, etc. When Norman leaves, the viewer sees the shadowy disarray of his true surroundings – dirty dishes, unmade beds, piles of clothing on the floor. The oxymoron is also evident as we watch Caleb darken then lighten the doorstep of his son’s family.

“Dark Paradise” was a good opening; a solid start with a passage of time that felt smooth and seamless. Freddie Highmore’s delivery was mature and vulnerable – both in and out of control. Vera Farmiga was precisely what you would expect of someone who was alive, dead, real and imagined all at once. Subtleties with colors and props such as the powder blue pickup truck, the stack of shower curtains in the hall closet added a layer to the story. The teasers for the remainder of the season are intriguing and I am excited to see Chick Hogan. I just hope they don’t make me wait too long…


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