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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Bates Motel: Season Two (Blu-ray)
Bates Motel: Season Two (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // October 7, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 7, 2014 | E-mail the Author

If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today, I think he'd get a real kick out of Bates Motel. This modern prequel re-imagines the story of Norman Bates, his equally unbalanced mom Norma and their relationship at the business that bears their name, mixing the ordinary and the bizarre with unpredictable, broad strokes in a slightly more modern setting. Hitchcock always intended his classic film as a pitch-black comedy...and from that perspective, Bates Motel shares a few similarities beyond its central characters and the all-too-familiar motel grounds. Though it actually takes place in present-day (and fictional) White Pines Bay, Oregon, the show's small-town atmosphere and vintage set design don't feel too far removed from the Psycho era. If not for the occasional smartphones, text messages, Google references and soundtrack cuts from the last few decades, you'd probably forget when you were. Surprisingly enough, this creative decision isn't distracting.

Season One served up ten episodes of drama, suspense, pitch-black comedy and small-town dirty secrets, as Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) settled into their new business. Much like the possibly-resurrected Twin Peaks, it didn't take very long for the innocent facade of White Pines Bay to dissolve: blood was spilled, politics and secret partnerships emerged, and the discovery of a massive drug ring showed us where most of the town's economy came from. The struggling motel was faced with greater hardships, too, as the planned construction of a new bypass---and, of course, the urban sprawl that comes with it---seemed to spell disaster for the Bates family. They got a little help from Norman's half-brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) and fellow student Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke)...but, for the most part, Bates Motel has always been about Norma and Norman against the world (and, occasionally, each other).

Season Two expands on these characters and, not surprisingly, adds in a few more for good measure; it makes Bates Motel feel more complex without being overcrowded. Standouts include Caleb (Kenny Johnson, The Shield), Norma's estranged brother; Zane Morgan (Michael Eklund), the new drug kingpin whose hot-blooded personality leads to an all-out war; Jodi Wilson (Kathleen Robertson), Zane's sister and the real mastermind of the operation; Christine Heldens (Rebecca Creskoff), an exhausting social butterfly who takes Norma under her wing; George Heldens (Michael Vartan, Alias), Christine's brother and a potential love interest for Norma; Nick Ford (Michael O'Neill), a "friend" of the Heldens' with deep political connections; and Cody Brennen (Paloma Kwiatkowski), a rebellious girl who helps Norman come out of his shell, for better or worse. What's more is that, despite their shared running time with Bates Motel's established cast, there are very few lags during this ten-episode season. Even Emma Decody, who felt like an afterthought during the first year---and Season Two's first half, especially---is given more to do in later episodes, and she's all the better for it.

On the whole, then, this character-driven season path gives Bates Motel even more potential for future seasons. Much like NBC's Hannibal, this series builds on an established franchise successfully and, as a result, plays out much better than expected. Production values are high, giving Bates Motel a potent, effective atmosphere from start to finish. The writing is strong and admittedly soapy at times, but this series walks the line between camp and ensemble drama very deftly this time around. The result is ten more episodes that you'll blow through in just a few days---if you haven't already, of course---and a viewing experience ever-so-slightly more satisfying than the series' first year. Universal serves up another capable Blu-ray package, though the A/V presentation is much better than the weak bonus features.

Video & Audio Quality

As expected, these 1.78:1, 1080p transfers look fantastic from start to finish. Thomas Yatsko's cinematography favors lots of browns, greens and dimly-lit interiors; luckily, the color palette is rendered nicely, shadow details are strong and black levels hold up nicely. Image detail is also quite good, especially during outdoor scenes and intense close-up shots, while a natural layer of film grain is also present along the way. The only problematic scenes are those shot in extreme dark with focused light sources, as some of them appear to have been shot on lesser equipment or digital video. Still, this is most likely a source material issue, as no other elements seem to suffer from problems like banding, digital noise, interlacing, edge enhancement, or compression artifacts. Simply put, it's another strong effort from Universal.

DISCLAIMER: These promotional images were compiled from official outlets and do not represent this title or its native 1080p resolution.

Not to be outdone, the terrific DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track generates an effectively cinematic atmosphere. Though Bates Motel is a dialogue-driven series (which sounds clean and crisp, by the way), it has no shortage of suspenseful, music-driven segments and occasional bursts of action along the way. Channel separation is strong and surrounds are reserved for subtle background ambiance and occasional jump-scares. The low end also gets time to shine, especially during several music cues and other creepy moments. It's a small-screen production to be sure, but one with a suitable dynamic range that won't have you reaching for your volume control every few minutes. It's mixed a bit loudly overall, although this could just be in comparison to the rather flat and subdued menu interface music. Speaking of which...

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

You know what I love? Skipping a company logo, selecting a language, and skipping nine separate bi-lingual warning screens before the main menu loads! Thankfully, a handy "resume" function eliminates the need to do it more than once. This two-disc set is housed in a standard dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive two-sided artwork (including episode descriptions) and a nice matching slipcover. Also tucked inside is a Digital Copy Redemption Code, if you absolutely need to watch Bates Motel on the bus. Optional English SDH subtitles are included during the episodes and extras.

Bonus Features

Season One was a little weak on supplements...but unfortunately, this follow-up doesn't fare much better. First up is a collection of Deleted Scenes (14:43 total) spread across both discs. Seven of the season's ten episodes are accounted for, including "Gone But Not Forgotten", "Shadow of a Doubt", "Check-Out", "Plunge", "Presumed Innocent", "The Box", and "The Immutable Truth". Much like before, most of these are simply minor character moments or transition scenes and, in some cases, are presented out of context...but, given the lack of meaty extras, you'll still want to have a look.

Three featurettes are also here. The first and most interesting is "Origins of a Psycho" (12:32), a collection of brief interview segments and behind-the-scenes footage. Featured participants include Vera Farmiga, co-creators Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Nestor Carbonell, Olivia Cooke, and production designer Mark S. Freeborn. The other two are installments of "After Hours", a post-show gossip party. These two episodes deal with the season premiere (21:15) and finale (21:02)...but despite the participation of key cast and crew members including Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nestor Carbonell, Kerry Ehrin, and Carlton Cuse, this is pretty much a step below celebrity gab-fests like Entertainment Tonight. If you can stomach annoying, bubbly hosts and surface-level questions (usually posed by fans via Twitter), perhaps you'll enjoy these episodes more than I didn't.

Like some of TV's best shows, Season Two of Bates Motel expands upon what already made the first season so enjoyable: great characters, tons of small-town drama, plenty of twists and turns, and a fascinating relationship between our two magnetic leads. It's undoubtedly soapier than Hannibal and more grounded than Twin Peaks...but it's just as enjoyable as either one, in my book. Universal's Blu-ray package serves up a fair amount of support for this all-too-short season, including a top-notch technical presentation and a handful of surface-level bonus features. It's a decent package that established fans should enjoy, and you'll have plenty of time to get caught up before Season Three arrives next year. This comes Highly Recommended, though anyone new to the series should obviously start from the beginning.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.

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