Bates Motel Season One recap: best, worst, unanswered questions


Bates Motel debuted in mid March with a lot of hype and a lot of anticipation.  Now that season one is wrapped up, let’s take a look back at some of the best and worst moments.

Best overall performance:    Freddie Highmore does a spectacular job as the young Norman Bates.  In many ways he follows in the footsteps of Anthony Perkins.  There is no deliberate attempt to mimic Perkins’ performance, but Highmore manages to create a very real character who generates a lot of sympathy from the viewers of the show.   Vera Farmiga probably has the most difficult role, because Norma Bates is certainly a contributing factor to Norman’s mental state, and it would have been easy to make her a villain.  But she is not.  It is very hard to vilify her, because we see her own struggles, and her genuine concern for her children, as misguided as it might be at times.

Best supporting character:   Olivia Cooke does a wonderful job as Emma.   When she first appeared on screen with her oxygen tank in tow I groaned and thought “Oh great!  The token character battling a serious illness.”  What a pleasant surprise to see that Emma is much more.  Her character is very endearing, and often provokes a much needed smile from the viewer, something this show needs from time to time.

Worst supporting character:   This is a minor quibble, because all of the supporting characters are good.  But Keith Summers, played by W. Earl Brown, is a shallow caricature at best.  Granted, his character is killed off in the first episode, so there is really no time for character development.  He almost has to step on screen portraying menace from the first second.  Still, it did not need to be so painfully obvious that he was going to do something bad, and be killed in the process.

Best episode:  Episode 6, titled “The Truth”, was a real standout.  It featured the Bates family members all uniting together to take down Deputy Shelby.   The family dynamic was believable;  it was nice to be rooting for the family unit as a whole.  And the tension level was very high.  I have seen season finales of other dramatic shows that could not compare to this mid-season episode.

Worst episode:    There is no really bad episode, but episode nine (“Underwater”), felt like the series was just treading water; there was no real ratcheting of the tension leading into the series finale.  And the ending “surprise”, with Jere Burns character Abernathy hiding in the back of Norma’s car with a gun, was predictably boring and cliched.

Best reference to the original Psycho movie:  There are several moments in this series that recall the original movie.  My personal favorite is the origin of Norman Bates interest in taxidermy.  Recalling the scene in Psycho when Norman Bates talks about how he likes “stuffing things”, one can almost imagine him recalling a dead dog from his childhood.  The shows’ writers managed to take what many would consider to be a creepy hobby and add an endearing touch.  Bravo!

Creepiest/most shocking moment:  There are plenty of choices here.  My favorite would be Deputy Shelby’s decomposing, post-autopsy corpse lying in Norma’s bed.  Truly shocking, and completely unexpected.  The runner-up moment would have to be Norman and his mother snuggled up together in Norman’s small bed.

Unanswered questions:   For starters, Sheriff Romero’s character is one giant enigma.  He was written and played very mysteriously all season, and even though viewers might have a little better understanding of him now, there is a lot we don’t know about him.   We have to assume he knows about and probably condones the pot-growing operation.  But what about all the deaths?  For a very small town, a lot of people die, many in gruesome fashion.  Does Romero have any real authority, or does Dylan’s boss run the town?  How could someone being hung upside-down and set on fire in the middle of town be such a ho-hum affair?  A similar event in a major metropolitan city would create a media frenzy.

Body count:  Keith Summers, Bradley’s father, the unnamed person hanging upside-down and on fire, Ethan (the Asian dude that is Dylan’s partner watching the pot fields), Jiao (the poor Chinese girl), Deputy Shelby, Jake Abernathy, Miss Watson.  Eight murders in one small town in a few short months.  That would almost certainly make the fictitious White Pines Bay the murder capital of America, yeah?

Overall rating:  Season one of Bates Motel gets a solid A rating.  It can appeal to fans of Hitchcock’s original film, and a younger generation of viewers that have never seen it.  It is both contemporary and classic.  It has good writing, great performances, and likable characters.  It channels its influences well (Psycho, Twin Peaks, Lost), while still being original.  We can only hope season two lives up to the high standards established here.

Bates Motel – Episode 10 (Season finale): “Midnight”

batesmotelepisode10one Midnight – Episode 10 – original airdate 5/20/2013 For the last three episodes, this show has been building up for a Norma/Abernathy showdown.  After the somewhat formulaic ending of last week’s episode (how many times have we seen the bad guy suddenly pop up in the back seat of the car and place a gun to the driver’s head?) it was natural to assume that this season would end with the Bates family facing off with the sinister sleazebag Abernathy.   Or would it?  There have also been plenty of surprises, so maybe the season would end with another didn’t-see-that-coming moment.   How about a little of both?

First off, hats off to writers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin, who also wrote the excellent episode 6, and the underwhelming episode 9.  This is a very well-written conclusion to the first season, and it  does just what a good season finale should do:  it answers some questions, provides some clues to others, and piques the viewers’ interest for next season.  Last week I questioned the relevance of the Norman/Miss Watson storyline,  saying that it was wasted screen time if it didn’t build to something.   Well the writers knew exactly what they were doing, because it builds to something pretty big, and completely unexpected.  batesmotelepisode10two

Nestor Carbonell continues to impress as Sheriff Romero.  His character has been hard to peg;  he has been written and played as a guy who may go either way.  Is he the good sheriff who cares about his town, or is he just another Shelby, or worse?  I found myself cheering for his actions in this episode, although I think there are still questions about him and his choices.

So lets review Norman’s last day of season one.  He asks Emma to the dance (or Emma tricks him into asking her); he overhears Miss Watson having a violent conversation on her cell phone, after which she gives him another of those awkward embraces; he sees Bradley and Dylan together and realizes that they are clearly attracted to each other;  his mother Norma confesses to him that her brother forced her to have sex with him while she was a teenager (really Norma?  while you are waiting with your son for his date to arrive, his date to his first ever school dance, that’s when you decide to spring that?  Granted, you are worried about your showdown with Abernathy, but still, how could you?); Norman stares at Bradley at the dance, prompting Emma to leave (way to be a jerk Norman, she is clearly the girl for you);  Bradley’s bf punches Norman in the face; Norman is walking home from the dance in the rain, when a car pulls up… (Pretty messed up day, huh?  Any wonder he has problems?)

The expected showdown is kind of a bait and switch by the writers, giving us what we wanted, and something else we didn’t expect, which left me pleased overall, and hungry for more.

Stay tuned next week for a season one summary, including some questions that didn’t get answered this season.

Bates Motel – Episode 9: “Underwater”


Underwater – Episode 9 – original airdate 5/13/2013

So last week’s episode ended with what has to be the creepiest, most shocking, what-the-hell moment yet in this series.  It was quite a present that Jake Abernathy left for Norma.   Deputy Shelby is such a cad,  he just can’t keep out of Norma’s bed, even post-autopsy.  That seemed to set this week’s episode up for some incredible tension, right?  The season finale is only one week away.  Instead, this episode kind of fizzled.

Norman has some further interaction with his English teacher, Miss Watson, played by Keegan Connor Tracy.   Miss Watson has popped up in a couple of previous episodes,  and she’s always trying to nurture Norman, to encourage him to step out.  There is something a bit awkward and off-putting in the way she looks and speaks to Norman.  It’s unclear whether the show’s writers are setting up something with this student/teacher relationship; if they are not, then it is really wasted screen time.

Dylan befriends Bradley, and even risks his job to help her out.  It’s pretty clear that there is mutual attraction between the two, and the implications of a Dylan/Bradley hook-up could not be good for anyone’s sake.    Emma eats a pot-laced cupcake, which was a cute moment, but a moment that seemed to exist only to provide a little comic relief.

batesepisode9twoBest line in this episode:  Norma asking the question “Why do crazy people keep gravitating towards me?”

Creepy mother/son moment:  Norma asks Norman if she can sleep in his room.  He offers to sleep on the floor, but mother is having none of that…she climbs right in bed with Norman.  Right into his small twin bed, the two of them snuggled up close.   It could almost be a sweet moment, were it any other mother and son.

Jere Burns’ evil character Jake Abernathy makes an appearance at the end that seems almost obligatory.  Really, as surprising as the last episode’s ending was, this one was equally predictable.   In a show that has been consistently strong, this is one of the weaker episodes to appear up to this point.    Fans will expect much more than this for the season finale, and I’m confident the show will deliver.

Bates Motel – Episode 8: “A Boy and His Dog”

 A Boy and His Dog – Episode 8 – original airdate 5/6/2013

batesepisode8oneNorman Bates and his mother are sitting in a psychotherapists office.  The therapist says to Mrs. Bates “you seem to be a little controlling.”  It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually a deliciously juicy scene in this episode.   After the brief respite we received in the last episode, the tension begins to creep upwards again tonight, as momentum builds towards the season finale in just two short weeks.

The writers on this show have done a fantastic job with the pacing on this show, and maintaining suspense.   Even though we know that this show cannot have a happy ending for all the characters involved, all the main players are well developed, and generate sympathy.

Fans of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” who enjoy connections between the TV series and the movie will enjoy many moments in this episode.   Remember the scene in the movie when Norman sits with Marion, surrounded by birds mounted on the wall?   He says “My hobby is stuffing things.  You know, taxidermy.”  We see the birth of that hobby in this episode, inspired by the death of the dog.  Norman’s loving stare at the stuffed dog is not so much creepy as sad, in light of all he has been through.  Fans of the movie will also appreciate the reference to the highway bypass, and the line “twelve rooms, twelve vacancies.”

Meanwhile, Dylan goes on a road trip for the bossman, with his new partner.  And Mr. Abernathy is beginning to look like he will be more of a pest than Deputy Shelby ever was.


Jere Burns plays Abernathy perfectly, with a subtle, insidious undertone of evil.  Sheriff Romero puts Norma in her place, in Nestor Carbonell’s best scene yet in the series.  And dear sweet Emma continues to be dear sweet Emma.

And the final scene?  I thought I was prepared for anything, after all the shocking and bizarre images this series has shown us.  I could only utter three words:  holy freaking shit!

Bates Motel – Episode 7: “The Man in Number 9”


The Man in Number 9 – Episode 7 – original airdate 4/29/2013

  So how does this show follow up what was far and away the best episode to date?  By scaling back on the tension and giving viewers a much-needed breather.

The messy showdown in episode 6 is cleaned up very tidily in about two minutes.  When did Sheriff Romero become such a nice, understanding guy?  And what about that poor Asian girl?  Turns out she was just a MacGuffin, which  in Hitchcockian parlance means a plot device used to advance the story, without necessarily adding any intrinsic value to the story.   So much time was spent trying to find her, to protect her, without ever giving her a real identity, and in the end she is wasted offscreen, and casually referenced once in this episode.  How sad.

And suddenly its all laughs and smiles in the Bates household.  But not for long.

This episode focuses on Norman’s relationships with several females:  his mother, Bradley, Emma, and a dog named Juno.  Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of Norma is eerily good.  Norma is a woman whose mood can turn on a dime, and Farmiga shows these sudden changes without ever sinking to mere charicature.  Norma has become the master of the awkward embrace.  Bradley is as distant to the viewer as she is to Norman, hard to dislike, hard to understand.  Emma has rapidly become my favorite character on the show, and I can only hope her role will grow.   She describes Bradley as a “locomotive of sexual energy”, with a mix of distaste and envy in her voice that made me smile.

And we meet the first guest in the newly renovated Bates Motel, a strange guy who had a standing arrangement with the previous dirtbag owner Keith, to stay one week every other month.  Jake Abernathy is a guy who “likes his privacy”, pays cash in advance, and responds with nervous laughter when Norma asks if he’s up to anything illegal.   Jere Burns, the actor who plays Abernathy, should look to familiar to fans of “Breaking Bad”;  Burns played the guy who ran the twelve-step program that Jesse attended.

Chances are we haven’t seen the last of him.   Ultimately this was just a transitional episode,  demonstrating that the


shows’ writers  have a good sense of pacing.  And what about that dog?  Thinking back to the original “Psycho” film, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of her.   What will next week bring?


Bates Motel – Episode 5: “Ocean View”

Ocean View – Episode 5 – Original airdate 4/15/2013


Early in this episode we see Norman walking home from Bradley’s house in the morning, jacket casually slung over his shoulder.    He is walking like any 17-year old boy would walk after spending the night with a girl for the first time.  It could almost be called a strut.   You can practically imagine “Staying Alive” playing in the background.  Well, maybe a Keane cover version of “Staying Alive” played at half-tempo.  Go ahead and strut Norman.  You deserve it, because your already messed-up life is about to get even messier.

This episode focuses on Norma’s arrest for murder, and the actions that Deputy Shelby and Norman will take to help her.  It turns out that they with both do quite a bit.  Norman works hard to secure her bail, and succeeds in doing so, only to get the cold shoulder from his mom because she is angry that he slept with a girl.  Poor Norman.  Meanwhile Deputy Perv-hole is willing to risk not only his job, but a jail sentence as well, to see that Norma isn’t charged.    Did he really fall for Norma that quickly, that he would risk everything?    It is impossible to sympathize with this guy, considering his hobby of chaining women in his basement.  And yet Norma sides with him.  This episode ends with a major turning point, when Norma is confronted with irrefutable evidence that  Shelby is not the stand-up guy she thinks he is.  Will she finally believe in her son?


And then there is Emma.  Sweet Emma.   She is really growing on me, and I wish she would grow on Norman too.  She is cute, empathetic and wise beyond her years.  Of course we know there is not going to be a happy ending to this series, right?  There will never be little Normans and Emmas running around the Bates Motel.

Also, that was a dirty trick to make Dylan’s work partner seem like such a cool guy, and then have him get shot in the neck for some yet-to-be-disclosed reason.   Really, how many of your friends would loan you $5,000 of their hard-earned illicit pot-field-guarding money?

We are halfway through the first season, and so far this show continues to entertain, and exceed expectations.  There are a lot of loose ends, though, a lot of unanswered questions.   Will we get all the answers we are craving, in the long term?  And in the short term, will Norma (hopefully) side with her son for once?  Stay tuned.

Bates Motel – Episode 4: “Trust Me”

batesmotel8Trust Me – Episode 4 – Original airdate 4/8/2013

When this episode began it seemed to be a recap of how the last episode ended, with Norman breaking into Deputy Shelby’s house to try and retrieve the utility belt.    It is in part a recap, but we get more information this time.  It turns out that brother Dylan trailed Norman to Deputy Creephole’s house and saw him enter.  When the deputy, (played by Mike Vogel), returned home a moment later, Dylan acually rang the doorbell to create a diversion so Norman could escape.

This episode focuses on shifting family alliances.   Norman fills Dylan in on everything that has gone down in this wacko town, such as mommy killing Keith, and the chained-up Asian girl.  The relationship between Norman and mommy is strained.  Norman doesn’t like that his mother is “spending time” with Shelby, and who can blame him, after all he keeps women chained up in his basement.  But Shelby also has the trump card, which is that damn utility belt.  And he wants to be buddies with Norman too, inviting him on one of the most awkward fishing trips of all time.

Meanwhile Sheriff Romero (played by Nestor Carbonell), who has clearly suspected Norma Bates of being involved with the disappearance of Keith from day one, begins to tighten the legal noose around her.  (That darned Keith just won’t go away;  even from the grave he gives the sheriff a hand in his investigation.  That would be his actual, decomposing hand, sporting an easily identifiable watch that only a perv like Keith would wear.)   And as the noose tightens, her crazy comes to the forefront.   The more crazy she is, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

Also of note in this episode:  Norman gets some!  At his brother’s urging he goes to Bradley’s house late at night and she takes him into her room.  Way to go Norman.

Cringe-worthy moment:  when Norma accuses her son of being jealous of Shelby, and Norman replies “I’m not jealous, you’re not my girlfriend, you’re my mom.”    Yeah.


Bates Motel – Episode 3: “What’s Wrong With Norman?”

batesmotel5What’s Wrong With Norman? – Episode 3 – Original Airdate 4/1/2013

Lost Syndrome:  A television show inspired by the success of ABC’s hit show Lost, that introduces several intriguing characters and mysterious plotlines very early on.  In most instances, one gets the sense that the shows’ creators are making it up as they go along.  Most of these shows, howsoever good the initial premise, do not get renewed for a second season, if they even get through the first.  (See Flash Forward, Alcatraz, several others.)

Is there a chance that Bates Motel could succumb to the same fate as the many Lost wannabees that have come and gone?  The Lost  comparison is certainly apt here in one respect;  many of Bates Motel‘s producers, directors, and writers worked on Lost.   This show is different from all those shows that have failed to recapture the success of Lost, namely in the connection to the Psycho storyline.  And there are no worries about a second season, because it has already been renewed for next year.  But the thing which I find the most exciting about this show is also the thing that most worries me:  it’s ambition.  So far it has exceeded expectations.  Let’s hope it can maintain its momentum.

So what’s new in White Pine Bay?  Without giving everything away, we have Norman passing out at school, and ending up in the hospital for several tests.    Norman is clearly attracted to Bradley, whose flambe’d father dies in this episode.  And Bradley likes Norman, although it’s a little unclear if her feelings run to the romantic.   There is no question that Emma is attracted to Norman, but he is uncomfortable with her because of the the secret they share, namely the kinky hand drawn journal which Norman found in the first episode, and which now appears to be reality, not fiction.

The sheriff, increasingly suspicious of Norma and her possible involvement in the disappearance of Keith (the asshole she stabbed to death), obtains a search warrant for the house and motel.   It turns out that Norman kept Keith’s utility belt, under his bed of all places.   Yes it is a little cliched, the blossoming killer keeping his first trophy item from a victim.  But it is made all the creepier in this instance by the simple fact that Norman is still an endearing character, and he can’t even explain himself why he kept the belt.  Needless to say Momma Bates is not happy that he kept it.  She stages an early release from the hospital for Norman, and freaks when Norman discovers the belt is gone from under his bed.  Why didn’t the police arrest Norma if they have the belt?

Because the deputy sheriff found it, and kept it himself.  Of course, he offers to “protect” Norma, and we all know that kind of protection comes with a price.  A price it would seem Norma is more than willing to pay!    It is a kind of twisted  mutual seduction,  each person using the other, recognizing that they are being used, and enjoying it all the same.


Meanwhile Dylan has begun his new job, which consists of guarding the massive pot fields outside of town.  And somehow Dylan now seems to be the most normal, balanced member of the family.  He has a bonding moment with his half-brother Norman, even joking about the fight between them in episode two, a fight that Norman doesn’t seem to remember.

Norma has already exhibited a very clingy, protective attitude towards Norman, which certainly fits in with the psychological profile of Psycho.  She definitely does not like Norman spending time with his new female friends.    And the most cringe-worthy moment of the entire series to date (which actually occured in episode two) had Norma changing her shirt in front of her son, and when he appeared uncomfortable she said “I’m your mother.  It’s not like it’s weird.”   Ewwww! A great line for all the fans of Psycho, because we all know  this is the most messed-up mother-son relationship since Oedipus jumped on Jocasta.

The episode ends with Norman being told by his mom (or a hallucination of his mom) that he needs to retrieve the belt from deputy sleazeball’s house.  So Norman breaks into the house, and he doesn’t find a belt, but he does find out just what inspired the drawings in that journal of asian women in bondage.  This town gets creepier by the episode.

Bates Motel – Episode 2: “Nice Town You Picked, Norma”

Nice Town You Picked, Norma – Episode 2 – Original Airdate 3/25/2013

Episode One ended with Bates mother and son bound together in the cover-up of a crime.  All-in-all the episode was quite good, but I was already asking the question, how will the mother/son dynamic sustain itself for an entire season, let alone multiple seasons?    To borrow a cliche, for this show to succeed it will have to be about the journey not the destination, because we more-or-less know the destination, and it ain’t pretty.

Welcome to episode two, where this show takes a sudden left turn into Twin Peaks territory, and now seems to have enough material to last quite awhile.   This episode introduces us to Dylan Massett, Norma Bates oldest son from a previous relationship.  Dylan, played by Max Thieriot, arrives on the doorstep of the Bates new home, unannounced and unwelcome.  He is introduced as the typical bitter, brooding young man desperately waiting for someone to notice how angry he is.

Meanwhile Norman has become friendly with not one, but two attractive girls from school.  There is Bradley (played by Nicola Peltz), who met Norman at the bus stop in the first episode.   In this episode, while waiting at the bus stop a car crashes nearby!  It is Bradley’s father’s car!   He was driving the car after being set on fire!  He is burned to a crisp!  (Sorry for the unnecessary exclamation points, I just couldn’t help it.)  If you’re saying WTF, don’t worry, it gets weirder.   Norman has also met Emma, played by Olivia Cooke.  Emma has cystic fybrosis,  and totes an oxygen tank in every scene to remind us of her condition, even though she never appears to be out of breath.   Remember that twisted notebook that Norman found in episode one?   Emma discovers it while studying with Norman, and suggests the images may be real, and they should investigate.


Their investigation turns up more than they bargained for,  namely a gigantic pot field.  Could Bradley’s extra-crispy father have had something to do with this field, is that why he was burned?  This town gets stranger by the minute.  Meanwhile the sheriff is beginning to suspect Norma’s involvement in the disappearance of the dude she wasted in the first episode.  And Dylan finds a new job, through a contact he meets at a strip club.  Yup, a strip club.  All you job hunters out there,  I’ll bet you never even considered the employment networking possibilities at your local strip club.  Give it a try!   Dylan was only asked one question at his job interview:  “Do you know how to use a gun?”   OK, so it’s that kind of job, but the pay is good I’m sure.

Meanwhile, there is a body hanging upside down, in the middle of town!  On fire!  In broad daylight!  Surrounded by onlookers!  On second thought, this town is starting to make Twin Peaks look like Mayberry.  Stay tuned…

Bates Motel: The Psycho legacy lives on.

batesmotel1 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.