Bates Motel, derived in part from the much earlier Hitchcock thriller Psycho, is a series about a legend. It is psychological drama at its best. The series takes into account the displacement of individuals and groups in extreme situations from normal to abnormal psychological patterns.
Witness a family suffering still developing turmoil, and foresee coming consequences. Witness a social situation wherein families through generations have broken ties with the normal, and entered into the world of the extreme. “We deal with our own. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is now a guiding credo.
The town of Vale, Oregon, we learn, has been the site of captivity, depravity, and sexual slavery. The Bates Motel played a part in this seamy past. Now it is being occupied by a woman and her son, in extreme turmoil. Bates Motel provides wrenching drama and soul thrilling passion in an exciting venue. Bates Motel is today’s best, with gripping story lines, and a cast destined for greatness.
Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) at the onset are renovating their newly acquired motel, and blood is in the air; bodies will be burning.
Still at episode two, shy self-conscious Norman struggles to maintain or reestablish normalcy as befits a 17-year-old boy, while dedicated to being a good son to his hard working but bereaved mother. His mother doesn’t see it that way. While Norman wants to love his mother, to forgive her shortcomings, she has developed strange feelings. She needs someone to replace her dead husband. Norman is the candidate. She is protective and seductive. When Norma strips off her lacey blouse as they discuss her plans for the evening, she understates “There’s nothing weird, or anything” about it.
In this episode we meet Norma’s other son, Dylan Bates (Max Thieriot). Dylan has some suspicions as to the cause of his father’s death. Was his mother to blame? Norma doesn’t want to deal with Dylan. Dylan, so normal, so all-American-boy in his demeanor, his very presence makes Norman appear strange and less than normal.
Norman loves his mother; Dylan says she’s a “Whore.” Norman calls her “Mom” while Dylan calls her, simply “Norma.”
Max Thieriot will appear as Dylan in three episodes. He is a fine actor, and plays the part without flaw. As to Norma, with her lithe body and grey-blue eyes, we, like Norman, forgive her. We like her, usually, and are beginning to speculate that at some later time, Norman will find grizzly ways to punish his parent. That anticipation is foreshadowed, and still to come.
We also begin to learn of the illogical wealth and corruption of the town’s residents. Many of the townspeople have known their neighbors for many years; they know, too, of the underlying horror and pain that centering in part on what now is called the Bates Motel.
The casting is superb. Freddie Highmore as Norman is thin, tall and pale, nearly sickly so. He has met Emma (Olivia Cooke), a sweet and unassuming classmate, herself with terminal cystic fibrosis; she awaits with little hope a lung transplant. In one nasty bit of dialog, Norma asks Emma about her anticipated life expectancy. “About 27,” she is forced to reply.
Sets and camera work seem to work in tandem with the cast, and the state-of-the-art scripting to create the right tone and atmosphere. Emma’s shop, for example, is darkly, dimly lit with fading tiffany lamps. Her interest in taxidermy is strongly suggested by the aging and tattered remnants of animals now stuffed on every shelf and plane in the shop. In evidence too, the skeletal remains of animals long dead. These things we see alongside iron remembrances of ancient mariners, and a host of antique saleable merchandise. Emma is a student of things, a lover of poetry and philosophy, who wonders why the maker of the universe, who made beautiful and wonderful things, will still make the ugly, and the terrifying. Emma noticed Norman, a soulmate perhaps, at his first appearance in Vale.
The original music for the series comes from Chris Bacon. The music is subliminal; we seldom notice it. It is deep throated, with a classical feel, but laden with painful and throbbing rhythmic heartbeats. At one point, Bacon provides hot and evocative stripper smooth-blues. At another juncture we hear an emotional classic from Burt Bacharach, “This Guy’s in Love with You.”
“Bates Motel” is directed by Tucker Gates. The series was written by Robert Bloch, Anthony Cipriano, Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Jeff Wadlow. Cinematography is provided by John S. Bartley and Tom Yatsko, with special effects from Alex Burdett. “Bates Motel” casting comes from Sara Isaacson and April Webster.
Photo: Hollywood reporter