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Bates Motel - 2x01, “Gone But Not Forgotten” - First Review

As Bates Motel opens its second season this Monday there’s a bit of catch-up to be done by viewers. Several months have passed since Miss Watson was murdered and now Norman can’t seem to stop visiting her grave - a fact noticed not only by his mother, Norma, but also by Sheriff Romero. “Gone But Not Forgotten” doesn’t just set up the season ahead but also ties together hanging threads from the first season. This is easily the most cohesive the series has ever felt - plot points that seemed out of place last year are either minimized or more intricately tied to the main story now. Bates came out of the gate strong, but there was always room for improvement. After viewing the latest episode, I’m more excited than ever to see what’s ahead.

When it premiered early last year this series quickly surpassed all of my expectations - I was entirely skeptical that the writers could create an interesting and believable backstory to live up to the original Psycho. In retrospect, the premise of the film is an incredibly unique one and it certainly leaves many unanswered questions about its characters. There’s a lot setup for this series to explore, and with Vera Farmiga as domineering matriarch Norma Bates and Freddie Highmore as her unusual son Norman, the first season accomplished the task of getting viewers invested despite knowing how it would all end up. But while knowledge of where the story was headed is certainly a bonus for writers, it seemed to also work against them at times. Some storylines during the first season seemed out of place, unrelated to the main story and almost distracting to viewers. Early on fans claimed that all of Norman’s high school scenes were unnecessary, but clearly given the Miss Watson storyline that was not the case. I did find Emma to grow quite tiresome throughout the first season though, I never really got the point of her character, and she only appears for a brief time in this weeks premiere. Like most shows with a strong first season, the key moving forward is to figure out what works best and stick with it. If this episode is any indication, the writers behind Bates know what they're doing. While I enjoyed Max Thieriot as Norman’s erstwhile older brother Dylan last season, his work story also felt disconnected and ultimately unimportant at times. That seems to change in the premiere as more of Miss Watson’s past connections begin to reveal themselves.

Likewise, it seems that Bradley will play a large part in the main arc of this season. The discovery at the end of last year that her father was having an affair with Miss Watson drives her story into the forefront and the way it ends kicks off a whole new series of questions. Bates Motel works best when at its darkest, examining the psyche of these monumentally flawed characters. Norma is enjoying a turnaround at the motel with business thriving, but she still can’t get Norman to snap out of his depression since Miss Watson died. She does everything in her power to try to get her son to do "normal" things - for one, she'd like him to leave behind taxidermy and stop visiting his teacher's grave. Norma seems to believe what the audience has been led to - that Norman had a fit and killed Miss Watson - but her son has no memory of what transpired. All he remembers is being at her house, briefly, and then running home. Either way, Miss Watson seems to be much more important to the plot now that she’s dead than when she was alive. If the second season can keep a tighter reign on storylines and continue to give fantastic material to its leads (Farmiga and Highmore are unarguably one of the best duos on TV) then there’s reason to believe that Bates Motel will be among the strongest dramas airing in 2014.

Stuff You'll Love:
- How dark it gets. Like I said, season one was a bit all over the place in parts, but this episode finds its footing quickly and doesn't shy away from how dark these storylines and characters really are. The ending is fantastic.
- A new mystery. While the focus of the series will always be the Norma / Norman relationship, season 1 began to introduce us to a larger world of characters around the town. While they felt disconnected at times, this episodes begins to tie things together and leads viewers onto a whole new set of questions.

“Gone But Not Forgotten” premieres Monday, March 3rd at 9/8c on A&E.
Hit the comments to let us know what you’re most excited for this season and feel free to follow me on Twitter for updates on Bates Motel Season 2 and all my other SpoilerTV work.

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