A&E Journeys Into the Heart of Darkness with ‘Bates Motel’ Season 2 and ‘Those Who Kill’ Premieres

Bates Motel Season 2 Episode 1 Gone But Not Forgotten (7)

“You have to be worse than them,” Catherine Jensen (Chloe Sevigny) tells her best friend’s daughter in the pilot of A&E’s new series, Those Who Kill. The line sets the tone for the darkness that will swallow A&E up whole on Monday nights beginning tonight, March 3rd at 9pm ET/PT with the grim double-hitter of Bates Motel season two followed by the series premiere of Those Who Kill, a new cop drama staring Sevigny as a detective obsessed with her brother’s disappearance. While Bates Motel continues to take us into a heightened world of a small town with a seedy underbelly, and the destined to be infamous Bates’ family, Those Who Kill turns Pittsburgh’s industrialized environment into a playground for devils.

As the established series, Bates Motel has the benefit of returning viewers to a story in progress. The action picks up where it left off last season with Norman running from the murder of his teacher and Bradley teetering on the edge of destruction. A four-month time jump after the opening sequence takes us to the summer where Norman and Bradley’s twin obsessions continue to twist their actions. Norma, knowing what her son did even though he does not, is trying her best to wear happiness like a badge of honor as the hot months bring tourist to the motel by the droves.

It’s Norma and Bradley far more than Norman who form the centerpiece of the premiere. Norma’s facade drops in a stunningly sharp scene that finds the mother Bates facing off with the city council. Vera Farmiga shines as she calls the city out on its underhanded dealings, confronting yet another man who seeks to dismiss her and deny her a voice. Bradley’s story takes a more sinister twist, but both women are fighting to protect their families in their own unique ways. They live in a world populated by questionable men, those they love, those they hate and those who underestimate them. Like Catherine, they believe the only way to win is to be worse than the monsters.

Those Who Kill Episode 1 Pilot (1)

Catherine, Sevigny’s stone-faced Those Who Kill detective had a similar relationship with men. She deals with combative co-workers, teams with Thomas (James D’Arcy), a professor so consumed by the work of serial killers that he allows Catherine to writhe in terror in one particularly disturbing scene and who is, in the first episode, degraded by a twisted psychopath. Catherine too is harder than she appears, with motivations that run just as deep as those of Norma and Bradley. Those motivations make her capable of blurring the line between good and bad to suit her own sense of justice. They also make her team with Thomas whose own sanity is left a question mark.

While Bates Motel sings in its second season opener, moving both closer to the Psycho mythos and further away at the same time, Those Who Kill falters in places. Catherine and Thomas’ partnership is unconventional and twisted by obsession, giving the series a strong center, but it lacks polish and too often leans on explicit torture. Horror is most present in the unseen, in those knife twists we never see coming until its too late, when a series wallows in visualized misery and abuse the effect for a viewer can be revulsion. Knowing the darkness and reveling in it are two different things. Add in some odd pacing choices and predictable dialogue and it becomes clear Those Who Kill still has some work to do to catch up with the shiver-inducing nuance of Bates Motel. With Sevigny on board, I trust the series will improve, but for now I understand why it is Bates Motel that has to flash the “No Vacancies” sign.

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