"Bates Motel" Pilot Review

Much like “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles” was much more about the journey of Sarah Conner rather than the life of John Conner, “Bates Motel” is much more about the psychosis and sheer lunacy of Norma Bates, rather than the origin of Norman Bates.

The series, from what the pilot alludes, is very much going to lead in to the descent in to madness that Norman Bates takes. And it’s all thanks to his mother. She’s a very crafty and manipulative woman who seems to know so much more than she lets on.

She mocks temperamental and fragile more often than not during the episode, using it as a tool to keep Norman at arm’s length, but often times she’s just so much more wily and intuitive than she lets on. The opening indicates such a notion when she fails to respond to the death of her husband when Norman discovers his body lying on the hall of their house. And later we’re subtly let in on the mind of Norma when she murders a townie who attacks and attempts to rape Norma thanks to his anger that she bought the property that belonged to his family, and seems to know just about every tactic involved in covering up the murder. She never misses a beat when planning to seal the murder, and her intent on covering the murder is based around her selfishness rather than fear of jail time. No matter what it’s clear Norma wants Norman above all else, and she has yet to openly admit it to herself.

Norman is already showing ticks psychologically in the sense that he’s a stifled and suppressed young boy with potential to burst from his shell and rule the world, but he’s so utterly devoted to his mother, he keeps himself grounded and simply can’t explore the world beyond her eyes. Norman garners an instant appeal to the popular girls in his new high school who invite him along on a ride to school on his first day and even invite him along for a study session that turns out to be a party, and Norman simply can’t experience his youth. Norma shields him from everyone literally and metaphorically, and relies on every excuse to keep Norman down, which infuriates Norman in to a bitter rage that will eventually explode in to violence. Norma seems to so far be a woman who has experienced a lot of misery with men, so she’s taken her son and tailored him to be the man she’s always wanted, save for the fact that he’s her natural son. After the immense Anthony Perkins, and then an unappreciated turn by James D’Arcy in 2012’s “Hitchcock,” Freddie Highmore has the Herculean task of giving Norman a new sense of purpose in this world, and must accommodate him to a new audience, inserting his own idiosyncrasies and emotional ticks while also staying true to the cinematic mold of Anthony Perkins.

Highmore embodies much of the build of Perkins, but he’s yet to display that sense of pure emasculation that would develop over time as his mother became more and more domineering and overbearing in her son’s life. Vera Farmiga in insanely gorgeous and devilishly sexy as this enigmatic woman who can revert from angel to animal in mere seconds, and seems to rely on her hatred of men to justify many of her erratic actions. It helps that Farmiga is not just a sexually appealing woman, but a very excellent actress who can provide something of a unique take on Norma, making her a villain we can somewhat empathize for, even she eventually rots in to a bitter old woman confined to a wheelchair, in her later years. Norman could be a sexual being, but he’s still the perpetual child thanks to Norman’s emotional manipulation and Oedipal reliance on him time and time again. They bicker and argue like a married couple, and in one instance she quivers over a delicately prepared dinner for Norman and storms out like a love deprived wife when Norman asks to try out for his school track team. Norman also has an apparent attraction to his teacher in school, but only because she may just remind him of Norma.

Perhaps Norman will pursue an affair that allows him to make love to his mother without actually doing so? “Bates Motel” may be jarring to some viewers. It was to me. It straddles the line between a period piece and modern horror fiction by drfiting back and forth in a vortex of the fifrites and the digital age. I assumed the show was set in the fifties, but imagine my shock when Norman is shown listening to an Ipod, to which he’s approached by a clique of young high school girls whom drive up beside him in a modern car listening to pop music on the radio. Meanwhile Norman and his mom dress like some twisted Norman Rockwell fantasy, and never seem to embrace modern conveniences, listening to records, and watching classic movies on vintage televisions.  A&E seems to have wanted a modern variation on the Bates mythos and met the creative team halfway by offering an abnormal Lynchian exploration in to the Norman Bates legend, and so far it’s barely distracting if you can accept the radical concept. “The Bates Motel” may be able to go on for a respectable run, if it can avoid consistent fan service, and just tell a remarkable story. I hope with the introduction of new characters that we’ll see everything about Norman’s character we saw in “Psycho” fall right in to place. The pilot has been a wonderful sell for me, and I hope the series delivers. I intend to watch with as much of an open mind as possible.

Only On A&E Network. Check Your Local Listings.