Checking In to “Bates Motel”

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“First You Dream, Then You Die” (premiere airs 3/18/13)

If you’re a Comcast subscriber, you can watch the first episode of A&E’s buzzy new series “Bates Motel” before it premieres later tonight!  I highly suggest you do this, especially if you’re a fan of the original Hitchcock film like I am, and if you’re ready to get hooked on another awesome cable show.

Thriller/horror series are definitely popular, and A&E is hopping on the bandwagon with this original program that is a prequel to the 1960 film “Psycho” starring Freddie Highmore as awkward teenager Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his seemingly bipolar mother Norma.  Although it’s a prequel to the events that happen in the film, it is set in present day (although there are costumes, sets, and props that feel very 60s, which is a little confusing but also a great nod to Hitchock’s vision).

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I, of course, don’t want to spoil a thing for any of you, but I’ll give a brief summary and my thoughts.  Read with caution!

When we meet our new Norman and Norma in Arizona, a tragedy has struck, and we instantly see what kind of people they are.  Something tells me that we will learn more about this tragedy, and why it happened, as the season progresses.  The situation that the two are put in makes them decide to move to a new place a few months later – White Pine Bay in Northern California.  There, Norma has purchased a house (THE iconic house) and the fix-er-up-er Seafairer Motel on the property so that they can start a new life.  She’s very happy and excited about their change of pace, which is a bit odd since that tragedy we just saw happened only six months ago…

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Norman is a gawky teenager, and Freddie Highmore is perfect casting since he is a gawky teenager and resembles Anthony Perkins.  Even though he’s weird, the high school girls are very intrigued by him.  This might be surprising, but if you remember the film, Norman was sort of a charmer with Marion Crane and other characters.  Everyone is curious about him, from Bradley (a girl, not a boy… very weird name choice) who’s a popular, cute girl, to Emma, who’s also a cute girl, but not really popular, especially with that oxygen tank she drags around with her.

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Bradley and her gang of girls that Norman meets at the bus stop invite him to a party.  But, this isn’t just any typical high school party in someone’s backyard or living room – it’s basically a club.  See the picture above for an example (glow-in-the-dark wigs and outfits, say what?!  We had dance parties in high school, but weren’t that extreme!).  Norman is totally out of his element in this interesting scene, but does a good job pretending he knows what to do or say.  We immediately see different groups and cliques, and Bradley introduces him to all the people who matter – many of them also curious about the new kid.  However, Bradley’s friend/boyfriend Richard, a jock type, isn’t so curious and barely makes eye contact with Norman.

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Where Bradley is outgoing, well-known and well-liked, like a Kelly from “Saved by the Bell,” Emma is more awkward, quieter, a little disheveled, and is sick with cystic fibrosis.  We don’t meet her until much later in the episode, when she finds Norman sick and overcome with nausea at school.  Both of these girls like and care for Norman, even though they barely know him, perhaps because he seems so vulnerable, thoughtful, and out of place.  I have a feeling this will set up a love triangle, and maybe screw with Norman’s social skills and sense of self.  Not sure how Emma’s illness will come into play, but it’s a very interesting detail for the writers and producers to give her.

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Now, although Norma is excited to have this house and motel, she immediately makes an enemy out of someone.  This enemy, Keith, used to live in the house before it was foreclosed.  He’s obviously upset he and his family lost the house, which still has antique furniture and decorations (and a creepy drawing book) in it that the Bates duo is using, but Norma doesn’t do much to sympathize.  She tells him about her plans to rename the motel and make it her own, which further irritate him.  Although Keith (played by W. Earl Brown, who I’ve liked since I saw him as Kenny the cameraman in “Scream,”) looks like a bumbling drunk, he’s very dangerous, and Norma seems like she almost wants to invite that danger as she forces him to leave the property.

When Norman is at that high school party that looks like it should be a music video set, Norma is alone in the house… until an intruder makes her night utterly awful.  It’s a hard scene to watch, and I wonder if rape scenes really need to be the go-to way for a male attacker to hurt a female victim in films and television (but then again, the news story about the Ohio teenagers reminds that rape is everywhere and not disappearing).  Just in time, Norman appears and helps his mother out, and once she’s free, Norma lets out her intense rage on her attacker.  She urges Norman to not call the police, since this could seriously ruin the Bates Motel’s reputation, and hers and Norman’s too.  As seen in the 30-second promo for the show, Norma has blood on her and shouts, “We came here to start over and I am starting over!”

It’s this important scene, and line, that brings Norman and his mother even closer.  What unfolds after that is very reminiscent of what we saw in “Psycho”… hiding the body, covering up the blood stains, nosy cops (played by Mike Vogel and Nestor Carbonell, who ALWAYS plays a cop) showing up.  It’s all very exciting and nerve-wracking, and our lead characters try to keep it together.  In the middle of the night, when mother and son are in a little boat about to dump the body, Norma, played beautifully with a range of emotions by the always sort of crazy-looking Vera Farmiga, starts to break down.  She wishes Norman had a normal life and that she was a better mother, but Norman soothes her, saying, “It’s you and me.  It’s always been you and me.  We belong to each other.”  Normally this dialogue and setting would be romantic… maybe if it was sunset… and if it was spoken to the boy’s girlfriend or boyfriend instead of his mother… and if a dead body wasn’t lying in between them.

This show is fantastic – it’s a great mix of thrills and intrigue, assembled beautifully, and includes strong performances and great plot possibilites.  And the last minute will really shock you!  So again, if you have a cable provider who has the sneak preview of “Bates Motel,” I recommend you watch it right now.  That way, you’ll be able to re-watch and relive all the best moments when it airs at 10pm on A&E tonight.  🙂

One thought on “Checking In to “Bates Motel”

  1. I kinda loved it! I wish it took place in the 50(s) though. (That’s the right age for Norman to be a teenager right?) It would have been more of a challenge to pull off, but I think would make the show more interesting. I think Norman killed his dad, he seemed out of it when he woke up and found him. What was going on in that last scene?!? I’ll keep watching!

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