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.