Sophomore seasons of a television series are always interesting to watch. Will the show be able to sustain what made it popular in Season 1, or will the magic somehow be lost? This week brings us the Season 2 premiere of ‘Bates Motel’, which was one of my favorite new series of 2013. However, the first episode of the new season turns out to be a rather mixed bag.
The first season of ‘Bates Motel’ concluded with Norman’s English teacher, Ms. Watson, being killed by an unknown person. Evidence is pretty strong against Norman, who has had one of his blackouts and only recalls his teacher asking him if he needed a ride and then the memory of running home. As Season 2 begins, Norma gets a call that her son’s teacher has been murdered. Norman claims to know nothing about what happened, but he sure cries a lot at the funeral. Meanwhile, Norman’s on again/off again girlfriend Bradley (who’s depressed because she found love letters to her deceased dad addressed from “B” and knows her father was having an affair) gets drunk while out driving one night and decides to jump off a bridge.
The show then jumps (pardon the pun) forward four months in time. It’s now summer in White Pine Bay, Oregon, and business is booming at the Bates Motel, which has finished all the upgrades that Norma started in Season 1 and now looks like a place where one would actually want to spend the night. Norma, however, is worried about Norman, who spends most of his time practicing taxidermy in the basement of their house.
Bradley, as it turns out, has survived her suicide attempt, but has been placed in a local mental institution. As soon as she’s released, she becomes obsessed with finding out who her father had an affair with. She goes to Gil – who was not only her father’s boss but is currently Dylan’s (Norman’s older brother, in case you’ve forgotten) boss – for more information. When it becomes obvious that Gil will only talk in exchange for getting into Bradley’s pants, she retreats.
One day, Norma and Norman are out for a drive, with mother giving son some unwanted driving advice throughout the journey. Norman decides to visit Ms. Watson’s gravesite, which freaks Norma out. Norman lets his mother drive home, but she makes a pit stop as well when she sees large construction vehicles about to start work. Pulling into the site, she learns that the bypass (which was a plot point early in Season 1 and all-but-forgotten mid-way through last season) is about to start construction. If the bypass is built, all traffic going through White Pine Bay will no longer pass the Bates Motel, almost assuring a huge drop in business.
Norma goes to a town council meeting, where she hopes to persuade the board to stop construction on the bypass. Needless to say, the council is far more concerned with bringing new businesses into the area than whether Norma’s motel is able to survive.
Meanwhile, Norman makes another visit to Ms. Watson’s grave. This time, he sees Gil there – though Norman doesn’t know who Gil is. He takes a few photos with his cell phone. Gil sees him and gives chase, but Norman gets away. Norman then takes the photos to Sheriff Romero. The Sheriff certainly knows who Gil is, but he doesn’t tell Norman that. Instead, he starts to question Norman about his whereabouts on the night of Ms. Watson’s murder and tells him taht they’ve found fingerprints at her house. (Since Norman has never been fingerprinted, the sheriff doesn’t know if they’re his.) There’s always been something suspicious about Romero, but whether he’s trying to cover for Gil or is just constantly suspicious of Norman is yet to be revealed.
At work (on the illegal marijuana farm which Gil oversees), Dylan learns from his boss that he was dating Ms. Watson before she died, and that her first name was Blair. When Dylan shares this information with Bradley, she realizes that her father was having an affair with Ms. Watson at the same time Gil was dating her. She goes back to Gil’s, this time acting like she’s willing to take him up on his offer – but instead pulls out a gun and puts a bullet in his head, killing him instantly. Leaving the crime scene, she seeks out Norman and pleads for his help.
In case you’re wondering about Emma, the young girl with cystic fibrosis who has a huge crush on Norman, she’s in this episode but not given a whole lot to do. It also looks like Bradley has offed the person who really killed Ms. Watson. (I doubt it was Norman – whose first killing I suspect will be of a much more prominent cast member… Although we did learn in flashbacks that he killed his father). So, now Norman will not only have to deflect attention from himself in the Watson killing, but deflect suspicion away from Bradley once the cops find Gil’s body.
While Bradley’s mental instability (is she crazier than Norman?) is a nice new twist in Season 2, not much goes on in the premiere that doesn’t feel like retread material from Season 1. Norman is suspected of bad things; Norman has blackouts where he can’t remember things; and Norma is obsessed with getting rid of the bypass. One of the nice things about Season 1 was that it had several story arcs over just ten episodes. My guess is that the Ms. Watson/Gil investigations may be wrapped up sooner than viewers might suspect. Let’s hope so, because the Season 2 premiere doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground.
Also, as a side review, I’m not sure how many people stayed up for the live ‘Bates Motel: After Hours’ show that featured the main cast (Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot and – via satellite from Cambridge, England – Freddie Highmore) and producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin, but it was nothing short of horrible. Hosted by Carrie Keagan, it became obvious rather quickly that she knew nothing (or, at least, very little) about the series and relied primarily on rather lame questions submitted via social media. You could see the actors physically squirming in their seats – particularly Thieriot, who probably couldn’t wait for the show to end. Keagan is clearly no Chris Hardwick, and this train wreck of an after-show proves how important it is to hire a host with encyclopedia-like knowledge of the series being covered.