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“BATES MOTEL: Season 3, Episode 3” (TV Review)

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For a series based on one of the most terrifying schizophrenic killers in cinema history, I really shouldn’t expect the same duality from the narrative quality of BATES MOTEL. However, if the third episode of the third season, “Persuasion,” is any indication, that just might be the case. While I lamented the direction of the seasonal arc in the last episode, with the show once again returning to the “big town with dirty secrets” storyline that’s as tiresome as it is familiar, the third episode gets back on track with the inter-family tension between Norman and Norma seen in the first episode, and finally brings us to a super eerie place for the first time this season.

To be fair, “Persuasion” does show off a great balance between the various subplots so far for this season, with equal attention being given to Norman’s degrading mental state, Dylan and Caleb’s slowly healing relationship, Norma’s search for a missing woman and Romero’s power struggle. But as to their effectiveness, results are varied: Norma’s storyline is a bit predictable, Dylan and Caleb’s storyline doesn’t progress much and Romero’s plot is underwhelming even though bolstered by Nestor Carbonell’s performance. Norman’s storyline, however, is among the strongest it’s ever been, and small character moments, including Emma’s unwitting drug smuggling and Norma’s first interaction with a psychology teacher, go farther than any of the plots introduced in episode 2. And with the reappearance of “Mother,” in an all-too-familiar dress and hair-style, season three offers its first tease of Norman at his breaking point, and it’s one that’s likely to satisfy horror and casual audiences alike.

While this writer has expressed his grievances towards the “corrupt town” storyline, I must say that BATES MOTEL is certainly setting the stage for something much more intriguing. I’m sure it’s going to lead to an excess of time being spent on a conspiracy and the “sex party” clubs that the town’s most prominent have a stake in, but it’s also going heading for a confrontation between Norma and “Mother,” and that could lead to something much more surreal and terrifying. Despite its PSYCHO origins, BATES MOTEL has toed the line of being a full-on horror show, and with more of what we saw in this episode, BATES could make for some truly horrifying television… and sooner than we might expect.

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Speaking of what we might or might not expect, BATES MOTEL has also done a great job this season of implanting some serious red herrings, and with many of the variables out there, the idea that the slightest moment may pay off more so than a big reveal adds a clever sense of suspense to the proceedings. For instance, after last week’s cliffhanger ending, one might have expected this episode to be the fall-out of Norman’s implied actions, or Caleb and Dylan squaring off against Chic again, but instead, both paths diverted into less traveled territory. And with Emma serving as a narrative variable for Norman, Dylan and even Norma at this point, BATES MOTEL has a physical reminder of its subversive streak that could flip our expectations at a moments notice.

With “Persuasion,” BATES MOTEL also continues its reputation as one of the best-acted genre shows on television, with stellar performances from cast members both old and new. Once again, Freddie Highmore steals the show as Norman, offering an intensity to his frustration that makes his tantrums as childish as they are justified. Olivia Cooke also does a wonderful job this week particularly, playing to her characters desires while also offering an extra dimension to Emma in her scenes with Max Theriot. And while Nestor Carbonell and Vera Farmiga also deliver in their roles this week (especially when the latter takes the form of “Mother”), credit should also go out to Adetomiwa Edun and Joshua Leonard in their brief but effective introductions this week.

Overall, “Persuasion” marks BATES MOTEL living up to the quality and tension of the premiere, a welcome recovery following last week’s lackluster second episode. If the rest of the season can balance the melodramatic town politics with Norman’s descent into madness the way it did this week, the former won’t be as distracting and the latter will be all the more effective. And if they can keep up the suspense and creepiness built in this episode, not only will the transition to Norman’s complete horror story be less jarring, but also satisfying to the show’s oh-so-patient fans.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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