The sun is sinking behind Bates Motel's Vancouver set as cameras prepare to shoot Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) scaling the familiar stone steps leading up to her iconic hilltop home. Spying an approaching flock of crows, the director instructs Farmiga to "wait for the birds" to enter the frame before commencing her ascent. At this point, one half expects the silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock himself to pass by one of the house's windows.
In the second season of A&E's creepy Psycho prequel, four months have passed since the burial of Norman's (Freddie Highmore) murdered schoolteacher, Mrs. Watson, and things are finally looking sunnier for poor Norma, who's sporting a short and stylish new platinum 'do that Farmiga adores. "It's chic, '40s and very Hitchcock heroine," says the Emmy-nominated actress.
Norma is also enjoying a thriving motel business, and several props have been added to the set to reflect her newfound prosperity. A birdbath stands in her new garden, where ripened tomatoes are ready to be picked. Down by the motel, flower baskets hang outside guest rooms, and there's now a swing set and a tetherball pole adjacent to the parking lot.
"Season 2 is a fresh start," Farmiga says. "We have recovered from the trauma of Season 1, and Norma has achieved a certain measure of success...and peace. It's her definition of normalcy."
But on this show, normal is always, well, relative.
Norma can't help but be bothered by her son's growing interest in taxidermy, which he has taken down into the family fruit cellar. (Yes, the very same fruit cellar where Psycho's Norma ultimately ends up stuffed!) "It's his main hobby that he loves," says Highmore, who was tasked with stitching up a beaver carcass for a scene in the season premiere.
And that's just one aspect of Norman's increasingly bizarre behavior. Norma and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) find it unusual that the troubled teen can't seem to stay away from Mrs. Watson's grave, suggesting that he may have had a hand in her murder. "He doesn't remember certain events," Highmore says of Norman's mysterious blackouts. "But he starts to question why he doesn't remember and what he may be capable of."
The spiderweb will get even stickier with the revelation that Mrs. Watson was romantically involved with one of the town's drug kingpins, which will lead to Norman butting heads with his half brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot), as the elder sibling's involvement with the drug cartel deepens. "There's a lot of madness that happens as Dylan climbs the ranks," Thieriot says. "He has some good gun involvement this season, with a lot of shooting."
And then there's the matter of that dreaded bypass, now under construction and threatening to veer traffic away from the motel. Norma realizes she needs to find some allies — and fast. "In order to network within the community, she has to become a part of that community," says Farmiga.
Eventually, Norma will make a friend who introduces her to a rich man named George (Alias's Michael Vartan). Though Norma is smitten with the enigmatic gentleman, "Norman's not quite happy that his mom's going to be taken away," says Highmore. "It's that jealousy thing they both share because they function as husband and wife. When someone else is seen as a threat to that, it's going to cause friction."
Further weighing down Norma's already overflowing plate of predicaments is the unexpected arrival of her brother Caleb (Kenny Johnson), whom she claims raped her years earlier.
"It's not a happy family reunion by any means," adds Highmore. "And Norman's always prepared to do what's required to stop his mom from being hurt." Fortunately, Norman will be distracted by a troubled new girl in town named Cody Brennan (Paloma Kwiatkowski), who will get him involved in set construction for the local theater.
One fun upcoming scene finds Norman, his ex-flame Emma (Olivia Cooke) and their new lovers out by the lake, taking turns on a rope swing. "We all meet for the first time on an unexpected double date that becomes quite awkward," says Cooke, who recalls shivering on a rock while shooting the chilly scene.
But a case of goose bumps is nothing compared with the other maladies that have plagued production this season, including a rank odor from a nearby landfill that wafted through the set, a swarm of flies that congregated outside motel room No. 11 and pesky wasps that stung a number of crew members. Then there's that upcoming Norman-Dylan brawl, which left both actors in need of medical attention.
"I cut my nose," says Highmore, dismissing the wound with a shrug. "It was nothing, really. Just a little blood."
"But it was real blood, not the fake stuff they put on us," stresses Thieriot, equally unfazed. "Freddie and I just laughed about it."
Then again, around these parts, what's a little spilled blood between family members?
Bates Motel returns Monday, March 3 at 9/8c on A&E.