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?