With a strong script, complex characters, and outstanding performances, Bates Motel is a must watch for fans of both horror and great television.
As Norman, Freddie Highmore does a masterful job presenting the monster he will ultimately become, while still remaining charming and sympathetic. He does thoughtful and caring things, like carrying a classmate flowers when her father dies, but he is also becoming conscious that something isn’t right with him.
As impressive as Highmore is, Vera Farmiga is arguably better, selling every shade of this sensitively unbalanced, controlling matriarch.
Irregular and unstable, Norma is cruel, reckless and unreasonable. She kicks Norman out of the car moments after he bails her out of jail. But, at the same time, she is caring, helpful and genuinely vulnerable. She loves her son, but their relationship is unhealthy, and there are incestuous undertones. In one scene, she prepares a candlelit dinner for the two of them. In another, she casually undresses in front of Norman. “I’m your mother,” she says.
Still, their messed-up goings-on are mesmerizing to watch, especially when the balance is upset by the arrival of Norman’s older half-brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot), an anxious boy who finds work in the town’s rude underbelly — though he is also the one who tries to steer Norman towards regularity.
We all know where the story is heading, of course. But it’s a testament to everyone involved that we can’t help but still hope for a happy ending for these characters.
BATES MOTEL should be your new passion. Norman is one of the most notorious, insane villains in cinematic history, which should be enough of a reason to watch. But just in case you need more reasons to check in to this criminally underrated show, here are five more great reasons to watch (one for every season of the show) .
Five Reasons to Check In To Bates Motel
1. A NORMAN WORTHY OF ANTHONY PERKINS’ LEGACY
Freddie Highmore is such a great actor, and I can’t think of one other person who would be better suited to play this complex role. It’s not an easy job to make a psychopath compassionate, but Highmore does it episode after episode. Regardless of all evidence that you should fear Norman instead of feel for him, Highmore makes you do both equally. He and Vera Farmiga as NormaBates are great independently — and terrifying brilliant together.
2. COMPLICATED, MULTI-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS
As difficult as it is to make a character like Norman compassionate, that difficulty is magnified with Caleb, the sibling who raped Norma when they were teenagers (resulting in the birth of Norman’s older brother Dylan). Caleb’s arrival in White Pine Bay — and his attempts to reconnect with his sister and his son — opened a door on just how difficult conditions were for Caleb and Norma when they were teenagers…and just how depressed Caleb has been ever since. Norma pushed it all down someplace so she could run, but Caleb wears his blame and embarrassment like a raw nerve. Kenny Johnson does a marvelous job adding depth to a challenging character.
Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is another example of a wonderful three-dimensional character we become quite invested in, along with Norma and Norman. He went from possible opponent to the Bates family to uneasy ally, to finally falling in love with Norma.
3. GREAT SUSPENSE AND LOTS OF SURPRISES
I love shows that keep me on the edge of my chair, desperate to watch the next episode. If you do too, then you can’t get much better than Bates Motel. There’s always a new plot twist and a surprise around every turn. Without giving too much away, the suspense continually builds up so that, once you start watching, you literally cannot stop!
Even if I’m not feeling a particular sub plot, there’s always enough great performances and story lines to keep me hooked. From the first season to the last, the show just kept getting better.
4. A BRILLIANT BALANCE OF HORROR AND HUMAN DRAMA
Given the nature of the show, of course there is plenty of darkness. But, where the show really shines is how it handles the delicate interpersonal relationships between the characters. There are the wonderfully surprising connections you don’t see coming, like when Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Dylan (Max Thieriot) bond over their mutual love for Norman and their desire to protect him. These two sell the hell out of their unlikely relationship.
Then there’s the tangled relationship between Norma and Sheriff Romero. Farmiga and Carbonell are so good together and have such chemistry — whether they’re raging at each other or trying the best that two extremely damaged people can to retain a tiny bit of normalcy. Also compelling is the doomed relationship between Norman and Bradley (Nicola Peltz), which helps fuel Norman’s inevitable descent into madness.
5. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
It’s not just the incredible performances that make Bates Motel so compelling. Every detail is perfect, and it all works together to create an authentic and utterly engaging viewing experience. It starts with a great setting. White Pine Bay is a “Twin Peaks” like small town of diners, drug deals gone bad, town meetings and local politics, and a seemingly never ending tide of mysterious events and intrigue. The influence of the evil Bates house and its accompanying motel goes without saying.
The show uses its beautiful Vancouver setting to maximum effect. There’s also that iconic Mercedes belonging to Norma Bates that becomes an important plot point. Equally iconic is Farmiga’s wardrobe as Norma.
The True Power of “Bates Motel”
As important as all those five reasons are, the true power of Bates Motel lies with that core relationship of Norman and Norma Bates, mainly through two remarkable performances by Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. Vera lifts up every scene she’s in, chewing scenery in the best possible way to create a character that is so many things: understanding, scary, physically powerful, susceptible, comical, and scheming.
Highmore had perhaps the ultimate job, taking on one of cinema’s most iconic characters.
But he’s established himself to be more than up to the task, providing that same anxious power Perkins did approximately 50 years before. Watching Norman’s awkward, even sweet social interactions followed by a volatile outburst that hints at his dangerous darkness is completely captivating.
That mother-son relationship has been convincing from the start, ranging from controlling, rough and unhealthy to loving, happy, and intense. This concluded in the dreadful climax of Season 4, the most positive run yet. Norman ultimately did the act of matricide the show had been building towards all along. But by this point, the boy and his mother had already become the same. They are together forever. It was stirring — an epic season that took an already strong series to another level entirely.
I first heard of Bates Motel back in 2012, around the time it was announced as a series by A&E. I can frankly say my response was nothing short of flip. A television show serving as a prequel to one of the greatest horror films ever made sounded like a terrible idea. But I was wrong…and quite pleasantly so!
The show ended up being a huge success with both audiences and critics, with more great reviews as the series went on. The show has been so successful that it was even been turned into one of the more popular online casino games called “Psycho Slot Machine”.
If you missed it during its original run on A&E (from March 18, 2013 to April 24, 2017), you can now catch all 5 seasons on Netflix. And, lucky for you, there won’t be any painful week-long wait between episodes. I promise you’ll be hooked from the first episode, and it really does just keep getting better and better.