Before Bates Motel even aired six weeks ago, there was one thing everyone already knew about the show: Norman Bates is a killer. So it wasn’t a question of if Norman Bates would kill, but rather when he would kill. I—and I think most people watching—assumed that we would see his first kill in the season finale, setting up a second season with the Bates that we all knew. But instead with “The Truth,” we’re shown that Norman has killed before the show even started, in fact moments before the premiere started.
“The Truth” feels like a season finale, but Bates Motel needed this episode before the conclusion of its first season. By having the reveal that Norman has in fact murdered—his father no less—we also get character motivations for Norma, who has up until now just seemed like an overbearing mother. Now, Norma is a mother who is rightfully scared of what will happen when someone isn’t keeping an eye on Norman.
But “The Truth” also builds tension in a way that the show should have always done, even if how this tension comes around is all sort of foolish. These characters make some silly choices in order to get all the pieces in the right place for a episode conclusion that finally brings some true action to the series. For example, Norma distracts Deputy Zack by having sex with him only rooms down from the sex slave Zack had trapped on his boat. The sex slave also later runs away from Zack, which will probably lead the police to not believe the Bates family’s story about why Zack is now dead in front of their hotel in the next few episodes. Even Zack’s death is sort of ridiculous, as the shootout between Zack and Dylan ends with Zack bleeding and shot in the eye, heading towards Norman and Norma, dying mere feet away from them.
But to be fair, Bates Motel has always been filled with ridiculous moments, and frankly some of these are the least offensive awkward choices that the series has made so far. The choices that “The Truth” does make are much more daring than the ones usually made by the show. By giving us the moments that we expected to be saved for later, the second half of this season is wide open when it comes to what direction it could go in. My guess is with Zack gone and Norma without protection, the Bates family will have to confront Sheriff Alex Romero by themselves. You can’t have Nestor Carbonell on a show from one of the showrunners of Lost and not have him play a pivotal role.
Before Bates Motel, it seemed sort of obvious what we were going to be getting: a coming-of-age story for Norman Bates, a character we all sort of thought we knew all about. He was a man obsessed with his mother, so much so that he would black out and believe himself to be his mother, murdering any woman that gets close to him. But “The Truth” makes the Norman Bates story much more interesting, sort of making Norma more of a sympathetic character rather than the monster she was believed to have been. It’s also a nice touch that “The Truth” strengthens the family bond of the Bates family, making Dylan now a part of Norman and Norma’s plans.
Bates Motel has its inherent problems, ones that aren’t going to go away just because “The Truth” is the best episode of the series so far. It’s an episode that is able to surprise in a way that Bates Motel didn’t seem capable, or really that interested in doing. By subverting expectations, Bates Motel has actually sort of become interesting again after a lackluster first half of a season.