Norman Bates and his mother Norma move to a small town six months after the death of Norman’s father. Purchasing a motel, Norma is determined that the move will be a complete fresh start for them. But things won’t be easy, especially when the former owner turns up and attacks Norma while Norman is out with his new ‘friends’.
Bates Motel takes the character of Norman Bates and turns him into someone, well, likable and relatable. It’s not an easy task, but Freddie Highmore does an excellent job of balancing a socially awkward, sweet kid with a creepy, obsessive psycho. Speaking of which, when the hell did Freddie Highmore grow up? It took me until about halfway through the first episode to actually realise who he was, and even then I had to double-check that it was the same kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland. Christ, he makes me feel old.
Of course, you couldn’t have a TV show with just two characters, fascinating though the messed up relationship between them is. On Norman’s first day of school he meets Bradley, who tries to convince Norma to let her son out to ‘study at the library’. He also meets Emma, a sweet girl with cystic fibrosis. Norma becomes friendly with Deputy Zach Shelby, while hounded by his partner Sheriff Alex Romero for the death of the previous owner. And Norman’s half-brother, Norma’s son, Dylan turns up to live with his family, despite his hatred for Norma.
There’s a lot going on in the show and throughout the ten episodes it keeps the tension up and remains highly entertaining. Watching it, you find yourself constantly questioning the characters, their motives, what they’re doing and who they’re lying to. Bradley is portrayed as this sweet, nice girl who everyone totally likes and is, like, so popular. But in truth she’s manipulative and doesn’t care who she hurts to get her way. And honestly, I’m not completely sure that’s how she was meant to come across, but that’s how it seemed to me. And actress Nicola Peltz does a brilliant job of it.
Emma, on the other hand, is a genuinely sweet girl who likes Norman. Suffering from cystic fibrosis, she has to carry around an oxygen tank with her, which comes in handy breaking into dead men’s boats. Emma is one of the really ‘good’ characters in the show, and it’s clear she does care for Norman. Although at times her infatuation with him borders on annoying, she still remains likable and strong, telling Norman point-blank that what he had with Bradley was just a hook up, before turning back to the task at hand of trying to rescue a Chinese sex slave.
Deputy Zach Shelby seems like one of the good guys, as he rides in and saves the day for Norma and Norman. He’s handsome and kind, the poster boy for too good to be true. As viewers, we kind of know this, yet the first half of the series is spent almost praying he turns out to be separate from the darker elements of the town. Then we have Alex Romero, the sheriff. He seems to really have it out for Norma, and makes us constantly question whether he’s out for himself and his buddies, or if he actually has the best interests of the town at heart, even if the town’s main economy comes from growing and selling pot, providing most guys with a job.
Out of all these characters with hidden depths and motivations, there’s one character who stands out as being honest and good, even if at first we’re led to believe he’s a no good lay about. Dylan is Norman’s half-brother, bitter because his mother left his father for Norman’s dad, and probably because she always treated the two boys differently. She still does. She smothers Norman, talks about how they’re best friends, while putting Dylan down. She doesn’t even tell him when they move away. But Dylan becomes the voice of reason, spotting instantly how Norma’s influence is affecting his brother. And despite everything, he really does care for Norman. He clearly wants him to just be a teenager, to have a normal life, and tries to get him away from their odd, crazy mother. There’s nothing to hate about the guy, and there’s no hidden motivations or secrets guiding him. He just does what he thinks is right, even when it means he could get in trouble.
Norma and Norman, of course, take the main centre stage throughout the ten episodes. This is, after all, sort of a ‘prequel’ to Psycho. And both actors hit their parts spot on. Norma has a strange charm about her, as she leaps from loving to crazy mother. Even in her relationship with Deputy Shelby, it’s hard to tell if she’s acting or being sincere. There are subtle movements on her hands, subtle expressions, that look like they could be fake. And she’s like that with everyone. Yet every so often, we get clear views of the genuine Norma, especially when she’s frightened or confused.
And then, there’s Norman. I cannot stress how good Freddie Highmore is in the role. There’s so much sympathy for the character as he tries to work through high school, as he tries to fit in and tries to make his mother happy. Yet like with Norma, we get moments of creepiness. There are moments where we’re reminded of the Hitchcock film, especially when Norman hears his mother insulted, or feels wounded. There’s also a very specific way in which he says ‘mother’ that can really cause chills to run down your spine.
Overall, Bates Motel is a brilliant, tense drama, with fantastic characters and a cast that really pulls it off. Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
Always looking for new things to read and watch. So if you have any recommendations for books, films or TV shows, let me know in the comments below.