As Season Two opens, Norman is fixating on the death of a local woman, the economic livelihood of the motel is threatened when Norma finds out the bypass is moving forward, ahead of schedule, and Bradley's (Nicola Peltz) hunt for her father's killer drives her to dangerous extremes.
After a pretty outstanding first season, it was perhaps inevitable that 'Bates Motel' would take a step backwards in quality in Season Two. The acting and directing are still top-notch, but the stories themselves aren't quite as memorable the second time around. Fortunately, there's still very much to enjoy here.
Season Two picks up right where the previous season left off, with Norman (Freddie Highmore) coming home after a rendezvous with his high school English teacher. A teacher that has wound up being murdered that same night. Did Norman do it? Well, he can't remember due to another one of his blackouts. Those blackouts and Norman's guilt or innocence in the murder play a big part of this year's storyline.
Sadly, however, the showrunners decided to devote an even bigger chunk of Season Two in dealing with the drug trade in White Pine Bay, Oregon – the small town where the Bates Motel resides. That puts much of the season's focus on the character of Dylan (Max Thieriot) – who is Norman's older brother - as he finds himself dealing with both the dealers that run the drug operation he's in (a brother/sister team played by Kathleen Robertson and Michael Eklund), as well as the man in charge of the town's rival drug gang (well-played by Michael O'Neill). Dylan also gets a pretty interesting storyline during the first-half of the season, as a man named Caleb (Kenny Johnson) shows up in town with the news that he just might be Dylan's father. The problem? He's also Norma Bates' (Vera Farmiga) brother, making Caleb possibly both Dylan's father and uncle. Robert Towne would be so proud!
Unfortunately, while much of the main storyline is focusing on Dylan, not nearly enough is being focused on Norman and Norma, who are – and should be – the heart of this series. Both Norman and Norma get temporary significant others early on in the season, who are pretty much all but forgotten by season's end. Meanwhile, Norman's two potential love interests from Season One – Bradley (Nicola Peltz) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) – don't get nearly as much screen time as they deserve. In the case of Ms. Peltz, it's because she needed to exit for a big chunk of the season so she could go off and film the latest Transformers sequel. As far as Olivia is concerned, I can only guess that the writers just couldn't figure out what to do with her character this season, and that's a shame because she's one of the most likeable (and, let's be honest, cutest) females on the show.
One of my biggest complaints about Season Two is that it is mostly missing the sharp wit and dark sense of humor that made so much of Season One a joy to watch. All but gone are the snappy, quick one-liners from many of the characters, making this batch of episodes more serious than they really need to be. The pacing of the show is a little slower as well, as one of the great things about Season One was that storylines that most series would take all season to develop were wrapped up in just a few episodes. This time around, viewers get more of a season-long arc for the majority of the developments.
However, even though Season Two of 'Bates Motel' isn't the equal of its original season, there's still much here to admire. When the show focuses on Norman and Norma (and, for the record, things do get back on track for the final two episodes), you won't find two better actors on television, and even though this season gets distracted with stories that don't really have much to do with Norman Bates, that doesn't mean those subplots aren't still pretty watchable. So while I can't recommend this release as highly as I did the first season, Season Two is still worth picking up.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season Two of 'Bates Motel' slices its way onto Blu-ray in a standard-sized Elite keepcase, which houses a pair of dual-layer 50GB Blu-rays, along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the season. The reverse side of the keepcase's slick (seen from inside the box) contains a list of the episodes with a short synopsis of each one, as well as a list of the discs' bonus features. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The first disc in the set is front-loaded with trailers for Season One of Dracula, the Universal Classic Monsters collection, the Alfred Hitchcock collection, and Season One of Continuum. There are no front-loaded trailers on the second disc. The main menu consists of the same still that appears on the box cover with (in typical Universal menu fashion) selections running down the left side of the screen.
This Blu-ray release is region free.
Like Season One, Season Two of 'Bates Motel' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment, and just like the Season One Blu-ray, viewers once again get treated to a top-notch video transfer, with lush colors, sharp details, and excellent black levels (a big plus, since many scenes take place either at night or in dimly lit areas). Unlike the Season One set, which for some odd reason had one disc with a MPEG-4 AVC codec and one disc with a VC-1 codec, both discs this time out use MPEG-4 AVC.
In terms of any flaws, there are none to note. The image throughout appears to be free of any banding, aliasing, haloing, or other defects that would distract from one's enjoyment of the picture. In short, this is reference-quality stuff that really adds to the fun of watching each episode.
Almost as impressive as the video quality is the audio, with each episode providing an English DTS-HD Master Audio track that really delivers. Viewers won't be very far into the first episode of the new season when (due to a rain storm on-screen) they'll be looking outside to see if it's really raining. There's a really immersive quality to the track here, which does a nice job with ambient sounds as well. Everything is well balanced throughout, and there's some effective use of both directionality and some fun LFE use along the way. Even with everything going on, dialogue is always crisp and clear, and never drown out by any of the other offerings the audio has to offer.
In addition to the lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, there's also a French 5.1 DTS track for each episode, along with subtitles in English SDH, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Although it never manages to reach the heights of Season One, Season Two of 'Bates Motel' still proves to be highly watchable fare. This year gets bogged down in a drug-themed storyline that the series really could have done without, but the acting here is still top-notch and both Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore continue to impress with their performances. Recommended.