A&E debuted the new TV series “Bates Motel” about 3 weeks ago. In the weeks to come, I will recap the first episodes, new episodes as they air, and take an in-depth look at Hitchcock’s original Psycho movie, as well as that movie’s long legacy on screens big and small.
First You Dream, Then You Die – Episode 1 – Original airdate 3/18/2013
This series begins with a dreamlike scene in which a young and seemingly disoriented Norman Bates finds his father in the garage, dead on the floor, while his emotionally vacant mother comforts him coldly. Dissolve to mother and son in the car, heading to a new town and a fresh start. This show is not a prequel to the 1960 Hitchcock movie; the creators of the show refer to it as a reimagining. We see a teenage Norman Bates, and his very-much-alive mother, Norma, but we also see cell phones and ipods. Yes, the show is set in contemporary times. The setting has also been moved, from the fictional town of Fairvale, California, to the fictional town of White Pine Bay, Oregon. These changes serve the show very well, allowing the characters to act in ways that would not have been possible if they were tied to a setting that predated the movie. The modern-day setting will certainly broaden the show’s appeal as well. And yet, for all its modern touches, there is that house, that motel. Norma has bought a run-down motel and adjoining house, and they are identical to the ones in the movie, inside and out.
As the Bates begin settling in to their new home, the previous owner of the property shows up, and he is a walking cliche, resentful that he lost the house, mentioning that his grandpa or some other relative built the motel, making vague threats. A character written this poorly is clearly not going to last long; he could have entered the scene wearing a t-shirt that read “I am an asshole, kill me now”, and it would have been no less subtle. Another scene from the “only on TV” department: Norman is waiting for the bus on his first day of school, and ends up getting a ride with a car full of attractive girls. That never happened to me when I moved to a new town; I was probably at the wrong bus stop. Or maybe the girls just find Norman irresistible.
Young Norman is played by Freddie Highmore,( best known for Finding Neverland and August Rush ), and much like Anthony Perkins, his Norman is cute in a quiet and self-effacing way. Highmore was well cast, and does a great job with the role. Vera Farmiga, in the role of his mother Norma, also does a superb job in a difficult role, walking a fine line between sexy and creepy.
Mr. previous-owner asshole rather predictably breaks in the house and begins to rape Norma, and she is able to fend him off, killing him rather violently in the process. She convinces Norman that they should not go to the police, and together they dispose of the body. During the cleanup, Norman finds a book inside one of the motel rooms, hidden under the carpet. It is hand drawn, and looks like some twisted manga, images of scantily clad girls in states of bondage. After the Bates meet the local law enforcement, the episode ends with a brief scene that leads the viewer to believe the hand drawn images in the book may not be fantasy, but reality. A very promising beginning.