Director – Tucker Gates, Ed Bianchi, S.J. Clarkson, Paul A. Edwards, Johan Renck, David Straiton
Cast – Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nestor Carbonell, Mike Vogel, Nicola Peltz, Keenan Tracey, Ian Tracey, Keegan Connor Tracy, Aliyah O’Brien, Jenna Romanin, Vincent Gale
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I am sure that Bates Motel doesn’t need an introduction four years after it debuted (March 18th, 2013). But for those just getting to the series like I am, it is the obvious “contemporary prequel” to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho. While set before the events that took place in the film/novel, this story takes place in a different town (White Pine Bay, Oregon) and is also set during our modern day. Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring series) stars as Norman’s mother, Norma Louise Bates, and Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is Norman. Six months after the sudden, accidental death of Norman’s father, he and his mother relocate to a small Oregon town to start a new life. The death of Norman’s father awarded them the necessary funds to buy a run-down hotel, which Norma re-opens as Bates Motel. While the two of them are able to escape their former life, they are unable to escape their demons. Norma’s obsession over controlling Norman, which she terms as “protecting” him, begins to develop a negative effect on his psychological state. Compounded by revelations from their past and the
trials of being a lonely teenager in a new life, their search for tranquility proves to be anything but for the Bates family.
I like prequels, and was genuinely curious to see how Norman was crafted to become that “psycho killa” as Ole Dirty Bastard once put it. We learn that Norman wasn’t always a delusional killer, and that he tried to live a normal life. He cares about relationships, friendships, school dances, and good grades. His mother, however, is threatened by anything that will stand in the way of their bond. I was glad to see that this series is just as much about Norma as it is about Norman. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree here, as you will see Norma’s character go through the same emotional extremes as Norman.
Norma and Norman aren’t alone for too long though. Norman’s half brother Dylan (Max Thieriot; My Soul to Take) plays a strong role in the series. I enjoyed his character, as he is both a foe and an ally to the family. When things get awry, the family is forced to take on risky scenarios to ensure they stay afloat in their new town. Most of these situations involve their legal problems, which they must keep from the town’s chief law enforcement officer, Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell; Lost). I was glad to see Romero employed in same fashion as Dylan. He will be hated and liked. Throw in the adorable Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke; The Signal, Ouija, The Quiet Ones), a girl with cystic fibrosis and a big crush on Norman, Bradley (Nicola Peltz) – the popular girl Norman likes, and Norma’s love interest deputy Zach Shelby, and your have the core of characters for this season.
I took my time getting to this show because I never was in the mood for what I assumed would be more of a drama than a horror show. As far as this first season goes, that is mostly the case. The writers take their time in developing Norman. Because of this, the majority of the conflict comes from things not so horrific. We are treated to a kill in the first episode, but it isn’t at the hands of Norman. After that it takes a while for more kills to appear, and again, they are not from Norman. Instead, the conflict comes from their troubles in getting the motel off the ground, Norman’s personal relationships with people, and an equal amount of issues surrounding his mother. It is even safe to say that the majority of the conflict in this first season stems from Norma’s actions. This conflict does come well-executed and results in some fairly tense scenes. I found myself genuinely intrigued by what would happen next, and the show did not disappoint. By the time the end credits rolled during the season finale I was left excited to see what the next season has to offer. It took ten episodes, but I was given the payload I was waiting for.
Overall, Bates Motel: Season 1 is a positive start to a series centering on one of the genre’s most significant icons. The overload of drama and lack of horror is why I am giving this a 7 and not a higher rating. If you are looking for a new horror show I suggest giving this a shot and seeing what they have up their for the next season. That is what I am doing now.