TV Autopsy: 'Bates Motel' Season 1



bates motelCongratulations A&E. You did something that no one else has been able to do: make a successful spinoff in the Psycho mythology. There were a lot of naysayers out there for Bates Motel (from people saying that the show was pointless to people saying that the show would trample on Hitchcock’s legacy) but you bitch-slapped them all down.

And why was it successful? Because it is good. And much of that praise goes to stars Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. Highmore, as Norman, walks a brilliant tightrope between sweet - if emotionally stunted - teenager and a boiling cauldron of rage and psychosis. His portrayal is so subtle that if you didn’t know the story of Psycho, you may miss little twitches and shifts in demeanor that convey more than mere words can. Farmiga’s portrayal of Norma is insane and over-the-top - but completely believable. Norma never feels like a caricature, just an emotionally stunted mother who is trying to do the best she can.

Executive producer Carlton Cuse has already given us a hint about season two, that we will discover more of Norma’s twisted family tree. Will the brother who raped her for years show up? In the season finale, Norma says that she never told her dad about the incest because she was convinced he would kill him, so no matter what horrible things her brother did to her, Norma has some sort of love for him. Will she let him stay at the motel? And, more importantly, will Norman let him live? I can only imagine that if Norma’s brother shows his face, Norman’s first instinct will be to kill him, but I am thinking he is not successful... at least, not the first time. It will create a fantastic, tense dynamic.

Norma also mentioned her parents. Dad was a violent alcoholic, but she didn’t have much to say about her mom - just that she was “no longer there.” To me, that sounds more like she wasn’t there mentally. Norma has to have a family history of mental instability. Maybe her mom was bi-polar, or even schizophrenic. On top of all that, just who is Dylan’s father? Nothing much is said about him, other than that he and Dylan don’t get along even more than he and Norma don’t get along.

I truly hope they keep the focus on the Bates family. That is where the strength of the show lies. Off and on throughout season one, it seemed like they were trying to make Bates Motel like a darker Twin Peaks. And I think that is a mistake. The entire Psycho legacy has always had its root in family, and that is the most interesting material in Bates Motel. You can’t recapture the magic of Twin Peaks, so everyone just stop trying.