Let’s get this straight right off the top: Bates Motel is one of the best shows that you probably aren’t watching. And it’s never been more on fire than it is right now.
Bates Motel is (obviously) a prequel series to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. When it first began, we met Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) and a teenage Norman (Freddie Highmore) as they were moving to White Pine Bay, Oregon following the super-sketch’ death of Norma’s husband. [Aside: The show is set in Oregon as opposed to the film’s Fairvale, California location – and while we’re at it, the series is also set in modern times, not the 60’s. /Aside] The two start setting up their new motel business when in pops Dylan – Norman’s half-brother he never knew he had. Dylan works as a guard for a marijuana field, which opens the story up to a heap of mystery surrounding the town government’s involvement in the drug trade. This plus a psycho-in-the-making, and naturally, the plot thickens from there.
The beauty of prequels (which I must admit, I’m not always a fan of) is that we know Norma and Norman’s end. Watching the writers fill in the puzzle pieces that arc toward the plot of Psycho is quite thrilling, supported by the consistently sharp character work and crescendo of suspense throughout. While Farmiga’s Norma might not be the all-out psychopath that her youngest son is, she certainly has sociopathic tendencies. These tendencies are handled beautifully in the hands of Farmiga, who brings Norma’s many past traumas to the forefront of every scene she’s in, even before said traumas are revealed to the audience. She’s erratic and impulsive and creepily attached to Norman.
Highmore’s Norman, on the other hand, seems as normal as he can be from the onset. As the Bates’ family secrets are slowly revealed, Norman’s sanity slowly whittles away. The unnatural relationship between “Mother” and son is extremely uncomfortable and squirm-inducing, painting a portrait of two incredibly unstable individuals who are 100 percent dependent on each other. While there is a storyline revolving around incest (and there may be another lurking around the corner), the show’s dark tone blurs the boundaries between all of its familial relationships, which only fuels the fire of its stellar award-deserving performances.
In the April 13 third-season episode “Norma Louise” (AKA – The Episode Vera Farmiga Needs to Win an Emmy For”), multiple balls were at play all at once. Norma finally confronted Dylan’s dad about their troublesome past, Norman’s family (and BFF Emma) finally became aware of just how certifiable he really is (like seriously, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, you guys), and Sheriff Romero (played by Nestor Carbonell, the dude from Lost who never aged) proved how much of a badass he was by taking out a threat to his office. In sum, this was the episode where shit got real. And fast.
Did I mention that Norman dressed up in Norma’s clothes to make breakfast in the middle at night thinking that he was his mother!?
(I shudder just thinking about it.)
Mid-season three, we’re the closest now than ever before to seeing Norman become the Psycho we all know and fear from the film, and there’s surely more death, horror and possibly incest on the way. If you like your TV gloomy and disturbing, look no further than Bates Motel. It’s time to check in.