Checking Out Bates Motel

When someone says the name Alfred Hitchcock, it immediately signals a barrage of visuals and memories for me. One of the first is the familiar bass tones of the haunting opening theme to his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962). Another is those ominous black birds swarming overhead, lunging down to peck at people as they frantically fight to get away, their fears plucked to the surface along with mine. Concerning the former, as a kid I delighted in pooching my belly out and artfully stepping from the darkness to stand in the middle of a doorway as I sang that song. It usually garnered a few chuckles to my satisfaction.

Now A&E has released a new television show based on the popular Alfred Hitchcock film, Psycho. This franchise has been done… I would say to death, but that wouldn’t be very nice, now would it? There have been good films and there have been bad, so I was curious to see how Bates Motel would ultimately stack up.

With a modern retelling applied to the prequel of the original film, at times iPhones stand out like sore thumbs, and a Swiffer is the choice for a kitchen murder clean-up, but these things work to keep the audience feeling as if they were there, not flung back in time so that they cannot relate. These elements also add to the spooky feel of the show.

The writers are giving us a young Norman Bates and quite the character study of his lesser-known mother, Norma. Hitchcock based Psycho on the fact that Norman was cracker jack crazy, of this there’s no doubt, but A&E is going to attempt to broach the subject of why he became that way. Obviously his mother is a huge component in this, so it was very important to cast someone with the chops and ability to pull off such a feat.

Enter Vera Farmiga. Her beauty and graceful manner fit perfectly in the mold of dear mother. She brings both cunning and manipulative qualities while walking the line between losing her mind, as we see in the murder during episode 1, and remaining cool and distanced the majority of the time to the

Norma and Norman: New American Gothic?
chaos surrounding her. Add some passive-aggressive tendencies and borderline incestual suggestions toward Norman and it all starts to get very interesting.

Norman is played by a young and fresh Freddie Highmore, who has the talent necessary to take the character from quiet and reserved one minute to hallucinating and fainting in class the next. We are literally watching his fragile psyche shatter, splintering apart with each episode, however, it is mentioned that he’s been seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there since before the show takes place. His developing psychiatric problem is intriguing and masked with enough mystery to keep us wondering just what is wrong with young Norman. I have been wondering if Norman killed his father in the beginning when he seems to have been coming back from another one of his trances. Maybe time will tell.

Even though we all know how this tale turns out, I find myself rooting for Norman, hoping that he can get better, that things won’t really turn out that way. The show’s creators are constructing rich characters with both Norman and Norma, which is necessary to keep the audience engaging and interested.

It may look like a case study in psychology, pot fields and manga, but I believe the story goes deeper than that. The not-so-sleepy town of White Pine Bay is pretty on the surface, all white picket fences and blue skies, but it feels like there’s more hiding under the surface. Will we ever get to see the black, murky depths of the quaint town? Considering it was Norma who chose this place to live, one has to ask, does Mother really know what’s best?

Bates Motel has already been renewed for a second season. Have you been checking it out? Tell us what you think!

Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter at @akeller9.

Read all posts by Amber Keller for Criminal Element.

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