Commentary on Bates Motel which airs on A & E Monday at 10:00 pm
About half way into season two of A&E’s ultra noir series Bates Motel I realized just how good it was. Season one might have had some minor problems: a ham-handed Jere Burns as the mysterious bad guy, Jake Abernathy and a plot line that went nowhere. But season two, although it has strayed somewhat, seems more focused on the relationship between Norman and his mother, Norma Louise. As Norma, Vera Farmiga is unmatched by the rest of the cast. She inhabits the role of overbearing mom with a delightfully neurotic turn, one moment alluring the next shrewish. Freddie Highmore, who plays Norman, is, at first blush, a bit over the top, but when studied more carefully his portrayal is revealed to be carefully calibrated. After all, it is Norman Bates, perhaps the most camp psychotic in Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre. Their increasingly dysfunctional bond is methodically revealed episode by episode.
Things I like to look for throughout the series are the homages to Hitchcock’s Psycho. In the first season we visit the familiar swamp where in the movie a car is exhumed. You can hardly enjoy the view from the top of the stairs at the Bates house without being reminded of good old Detective Arbogast’s ghastly fall. We are treated to a few views of the motel room’s showers, though the best was when the police chief– the permanently eye-lined Nestor Carbonell late of Lost– asks Norman to help him fix a curtain rod. And then of course there is the creepy basement, the setting for the film’s climax, where we can find young Norman toiling away at his new hobby: taxidermy.
Bates Motel’s writer’s have gotten very creative with the cast of supporting characters: Surprise! Norman has a brother…sort of (Dylan turns out to be almost the polar opposite of his disturbed sibling); and an uncle, but not for too long. It turns out Norman is quite the chick magnet as well, though mainstay love interest, the buoyant Emma Decody (played wanly by the talented Brit, Olivia Cooke), who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and must cart around an oxygen tank wherever she goes, can’t quite seem to catch his eye; but hey that’s probably a good thing. There are loads of nefarious characters populating the sleepy town of White Pine Bay, Oregon too. In fact they seem like the majority. Drug gangs, corrupt militia, abusive alcoholic fathers, you name it.
This season’s finale promises some intense reckoning. Norman, throughout, has been experiencing blackouts, episodes of rage brought on mostly by the guilt caused by Norma Louise’s protective obsession with him. Of late, he has been slowly discovering shards of these deeply buried treasures. Once he finally realizes what he has done, the disposition of his unconscious mind, I have a feeling good old Mother will be the one in his cross hairs.