Spring 2013 Review: Bates Motel

19 Apr

Norman and Norma

Bates Motel reminds me of fellow new show Hannibal in some ways.  It’s an earlier time in a story we all know well; in Hannibal, we know Hannibal Lecter will get caught as a cannibalistic serial killer, while Bates Motel tells the story of the teenage life of Norman Bates, who we know will go on to become a psychotic serial killer later in his life, and interact with and dress up as his deceased mother.  Knowing where the story leads is both limiting and empowering; it means that to some extent, the audience knows how the story ends, and there’s really nothing the creators can do about that, but there’s a lot of leeway in how they get there.  The writers can always place winking clues to where we know the story leads.  Like in Hannibal, Bates Motel takes place in modern times rather than around when the story originally took place.

Unlike Hannibal, in which the villain, Lecter, is already well into his serial killing ways when the show begins, Bates Motel features a normal-ish Normal who while facing some very serious issues and badly in need of a psychologist, doesn’t appear to have seriously contemplated killing anybody quite yet.  Like the Star Wars prequels, Bates Motel attempts to take an incredibly famous villain and explain how he got from being a regular person to an evil, or crazy, killer.

In the opening scene, Bates’ father dies.  We then flash forwards to six months later, where Bates’ mom, Norma (Vera Farmiga), is driving him to their new home, a motel, which they will now run, and is destined to be the fabled Bates Motel.  Norman is already a little bit of a weirdo, and it seems like that’s due mostly do his super controlling, passive aggressive and seriously fucked up mother.  His mom keeps moving him around and is pretty much the only person he communicates with on a regular basis, and she seems to do her best to ensure that he doesn’t develop any other relationships.  Some girls who live nearby want to hang out with Norman, but his mom keeps trying to prevent it, and she tries to caution Norman against joining the track team, which his adviser recommends.  It’s a field day for looking out for potential signs of what could drive him bonkers, from the behavior of his mother, to his behavior with the girls at school, but since this is a TV show without a set number of episodes it’s going to take a while to get to crazy Norman presumably.

The show also has sort of an American Horror Story feel.  In the first episode, a creepy and irate W. Earl Brown (Dan Dority from Deadwood) comes up to the motel and reams them out, explaining that the motel was built by his family and is, and will always be, his.  He pops up again later on, invading the motel at night, tying up and raping Norma, until Norman, arriving late because he had snuck out and was at a party, hits him over the head.  When he comes to, Norma stabs him to death out of rage, and insisting that no one would ever stay at the motel if this went public, convinces her son to help her wrap up the body and dispose of it.  Mother of the year, right?  Later the police, led by a sheriff played by Drug of Nation favorite Nestor Carbonell wonder by the motel randomly, and almost walk into the body, hidden in a bathtub, before it’s disposed of.  Norman finds some creepy and strange notebook under some carpeting him and his mother are pulling up.  Also, in the last couple of seconds, there’s a mysterious flash to some person being held capture and injected with something without any way to put that scene into any context.

As mentioned before, there’s a limiting factor to knowing the kid is going to grow up to become a serial killer, but there’s certainly room for an interesting journey getting there.  I enjoyed the episode more than I thought I would.  It was sometimes a little bit difficult to watch the way poor Norman is treated by his mother, who seems like the real villain of the series so far.  It definitely combines a potential high school show with a horror show, which is an interesting combination, and I’m honestly just curious in what direction the show leads, because I don’t think it’s obvious, in terms of what aspects the show focuses on, or how gory versus psychological it gets.

Will I watch it again?  I’ll say yes, because I think it’s worth a second episode, but it’s far enough down on my queue that I can’t be sure I actually will.  It’s jumped above The Following on shows I had said I would watch again but don’t feel like immediately watching (admittedly influenced by the fact that everyone I’ve talked to says The Following gets way worse).  I liked it overall, but I didn’t feel, like when I watched Americans, that it had the potential to be great, or like with Hannibal, that I immediately wanted to watch the next episode.

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