This thing we call ‘adulting’ is one high maintenance little ‘mare and tends to zap all of the spare time I used to have to keep up to date with all things film and television. Between pairing freshly washed socks, dragging myself to the gym and scowling my way around 3 different supermarkets in one night, I’m missing out on most things the Netflix mob are always ranting and raving about. However I recently managed to fit in a good binge session of Bates Motel (albeit 4 years late) and boy, was it worth the wait.
A prequel to Alfred Hitchcock‘s iconic film, Psycho (1960) is one of those ingenious ideas that I wish I’d have thought of first. Alas, without a $10,000,000 budget in my back pocket, I’m glad the entertainment gods left it in the capable hands of Carlton Cuse, Anthony Cipriano and Kerry Ehrin. Being 5 whole seasons strong and with my tendency to ramble, I didn’t think it wise to talk you through the show from start to finish so here are just a few of the main elements that I loved so much about Bates Motel.
(While you read, I’m off to carry on drooling over the contents of the Bates Motel Screenbid page because who doesn’t want to own Marion Crane’s license plate or a motel room key?)
Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Norman Bates
Okay so this might seem like a really obvious and cliché point to make but stick with me because I’m coming at it from a pretty controversial view point – I was anti-Freddie for two (or three) entire seasons. There, I said it. I mistook his diluted expressions, monosyllabic dialogue and almost overacted character delivery for substandard acting.
I still reserve my judgement on this up until Season 4 to be brutally honest but be it bad acting or my personal misinterpretation, Highmore most definitely proved that Vera Farmiga (‘Norma Bates’) had picked him for a reason. It takes a great talent to come across delicate and demonic in equal measures. While I’m at it, I’d also like to tip my hat to the development of ‘Dylan Masset‘ (Max Thieriot) – brother of Norman Bates – and his eventual wife and baby-mamma, ‘Emma Decody‘ (Olivia Cooke).
Dylan and Emma are the only two characters to make it out of the Bates circus of psychological violence alive, along with their daughter Katie. A classic happy ending but an open finale that I really, really, really wish could be continued further down the line. But what would Bates Motel be without any Bates’? Who knows…
Norma Bates. Just everything about Norma Bates.
So yep, Freddy Highmore elevated himself to new levels of awesomeness as each season unraveled and the big, bad Norman Bates character was perfectly portrayed in my opinion but for me, it was all about Mother. Norma Bates (or Norma Bae-tes as I’ve fondly come to refer to her) was embodied by the super talented and incredibly versatile, Vera Farmiga. Not an actress I’ve ever come across beforehand but definitely one I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.
In the Psycho film, Norma, Norman’s beloved, hallowed and psychologically intricate ‘Mother’ really only ever appears as a rotting, wheelchair-bound corpse sitting in the lofty heights of the looming Bates residence. The 1960 interpretation of Mother is nothing more than a nameless vehicle through which the narrative can centralise the character of Norman and his sinister, sinister psyche really. Bates Motel however, propels this formidable female straight to the forefront of the narrative and I know I’m not alone in saying that I fell head over heels for Norma Louise.
Like a lioness protecting its cub but corrupting him through extreme attachment and a borderline sexual connection simultaneously, Norma Bates is a complex character but for me, the star of all 5 seasons (alive and dead). Always clad in retro garb to compliment her vintage peroxide hair do, Norma is the pinnacle of past tense and the ideal emblem for a Freudian presentation of mother-son relationships – a savvy driving force for a Psycho prequel is she not?
The bravery of reinvention
As a former Film student and lover of retro cinema, I imagined myself clenching my fists in frustration at anything that dared stray even a line of dialogue away from the iconic Psycho concept and it did indeed take quite a mammoth diversion throughout all five seasons. However, here I am celebrating the departures and looking back in admiration at the balls it took for the Bates team to chop and change one of cinema’s most iconic narratives and its illustrious characters.
I’d be here until Sheriff Alex Romero (Nester Carbonell) rose from the dead listing all of the ways in which the prequel series defies the film so I’ll just go with the most significant – the dilution and reinvention of Marion Crane. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you’ll know that R&B icon-come-actress, Rihanna (Robyn Fenty) stepped into Ms. Crane’s shoes which for starters, is one great big whoa there moment in itself.
Hitchcock was always renowned for his penchant for mysterious blondes so casting a Barbadian badgal as this seminal leading lady was a daring move. Not a move that I personally gelled with but admirable nonetheless. Crane meets her fate in Hitchcock’s immortal shower scene but in the 2017 interpretation it is in fact her sordid lover, Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols) who meets a bloody end at the hands of Norman-psycho-Bates.That’s a whole other gender power and inversion story for another time though I think.
So would Hitchcock be turning in his grave? Most probably. Would I recommend a weekend bingeing on Bates Motel anyway? Wholeheartedly.