29th Jan2014

‘Bates Motel: Season One’ Review

by Paul Metcalf


Some shows come along and you just can’t help being sceptical about them.  Bates Motel Season 1 came with the news that it would be a “modern re-imagining” of the Psycho origin story, putting Norman and his mother in a modern-day setting with an aim of looking at the routes of just what made Norman the killer he would become.

After the death of her husband Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) move towns taking over an old motel with the aim or making it a success.  With news of a new road bypassing the motel completely though and the arrival of Dylan Massett Norman’s half-brother tensions run high between the small family.  With dark family secrets and the new town they live near not being the more normal of towns, it’s not long before blood is shed and the Bates family are dragged into the towns strange secrets.

Bates Motel could have gone down the safe route and kept Norman and his mother true to the Hitchcock movies but instead they almost tease the fans with the introduction of Norman almost being a normal boy.  The more we delve into his psyche though and the more stress is placed on him we see that he is anything but normal, but the most questionable when it comes to sanity is Norma whose dominance and control of her family borders on an almost psychotic obsessiveness.  Farmiga plays the character on the just right level of crazy, bordering on comical, especially later in the season when the pressures on her are raised up to levels that even a saner person wouldn’t be able to stand.  Of course the audience’s focus is on Norman, but we can’t help but look at Norma with interest and wonder just where her character will go.

Before even looking at Norman and the excellent performance that Freddie Highmore puts into the show we have the fictional town of White Pine Bay, Oregon.  This is a different town from where the original Psycho is set and is very obviously a town created in the hopes of recreating the strangeness found in Twin Peaks.  The first characters from the town we are introduced to is the law in the form of Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and his deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel).  Hints are given straight away that Norma is going to have her problems with them and they both play a big part in the season, and are deeply connected to the many secrets of the town.

While the law enforcement apply the pressure to Norma, Norman has his own encounters with the towns teenagers, like Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) and Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke).  Bradley is Norman’s main crush for the season and is obviously the girl who gets everything, as she manipulates Norman easily.  Emma is the best friend who deserves to have Norman’s affections but in a way she’s lucky she doesn’t have that.  Her relationship with Norman though pulls her not only into the Bates family lives but also give us one of the best characters of the show.  Olivia Cooke creates an adorable character who provides plenty of humour and an inquisitive mind that will sure come into play in later seasons as Norman’s psyche starts to crack.

Norman himself is a character who would make or break the show and for the most part Freddie Highmore plays the character as a normal boy, but with that added edge that makes you feel like there is something not right about Norman, though we obviously know this ourselves.  The small revelations of his character are interesting but I like that we don’t rush into making him an all-out psycho like we would expect.

Bates Motel works as a show because it doesn’t work on the conventional Psycho story line and rigidly stick to it.  Blood is spilt and the Bates are very much in the centre of the show, but there is so much going on in White Pine Bay that there are brief sparks of brilliance that remind you of watching Twin Peaks.  I’d not say it’s on Twin Peaks level, but it wants to be and with plenty of story lines opened up and ripe for continuation Bates Motel is one of the stand out new series of 2013 and can stand quite proudly with other strong shows like Hannibal.  Now to wait for the second season and hope that they don’t mess it up.

Bates Motel: Season One is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on February 3rd.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek.com

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