tek's rating:

Bates Motel, on A&E
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Caution: spoilers.

After the first season (which is ten episodes long), I was thinking about what category to move my review to (from the "new shows" category). I considered "weird" and "mysterious," but then decided to go with "drama." Then I changed my mind and went with "weird," after all. Mainly because I didn't want to give the review a plain white background color. The show's kind of too dark for that, I think. And I guess it's weird enough. It is, after all, about a psychopath. More or less.

The show is a 2013 sort-of-prequel to the 1960 movie Psycho, which I didn't see until 2018. I expected the show to be set in like the 50s or something, and for the early part of the first episode, I still thought that... until a scene where Norman was listening to an iPod, and after that everything was very clearly the present. (I had probably read in a preview that it was set in the present, but my memory sucks.) Anyway, I was looking forward to the show for awhile, because the cast includes some people I like. There's Vera Farmiga, and Freddie Highmore, and Keegan Connor Tracy, and Nicola Peltz (whom I know from The Last Airbender), and Nestor Carbonell. And there will be some other faces I found familiar.

So anyway, the show starts with 17-year-old Norman Bates (Highmore) finding the dead body of his father, which of course greatly disturbs him. At first it seemed he'd died in an accident in his garage, though even from the first, one couldn't help but wonder if he'd been murdered, either by Norman or by his mother, Norma (Farmiga). (We don't learn the truth until episode 6.) But after the opening scene, the show flashes forward six months. Norman and Norma move to a new town, White Pine Bay (which isn't the name of the town from the movie or the book it's based on, which btw I've never read). Norma has just bought a property including a house and a motel, which had recently been foreclosed on by the bank. Meanwhile, Norman starts attending the local high school, and is quickly befriended by a popular girl named Bradley Martin (Peltz), and a bit later by a girl with cystic fibrosis, named Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke). He also is offered comfort over the loss of his father by a guidance counselor named Miss Watson (Tracy).

Well... Norma seems overprotective of Norman (which is probably why he's a bit shy and naive... qualities which are surely part of what attracts girls to him). Norma and Norman clearly love each other, but she doesn't seem to want to let him have a life of his own. And things get complicated by the fact that a guy named Keith Summers is very angry about them having bought the property, which has been in his family for generations. (Dude's clearly psycho; it's not the Bateses' fault the bank foreclosed, but he acts like it is.) Anyway, one night, when Norman had snuck out to hang with his new friends after his mom forbade it, Summers shows up, attacks Norma, and begins to rape her. Norman gets home and stops him, but subsequently, Norma stabs him to death. (While I do think she's not the most emotionally stable person in the world, I don't really blame her, even if he was already more or less subdued. She probably could have stabbed him a few less times, though.) Um... Norman wants to call the police, since the killing was basically done in self-defense, but Norma wants to just get rid of the body. She already didn't expect people in town to accept them, and having a rape and murder associated with the motel couldn't be good for business. Before long, Sheriff Alex Romero (Carbonell) and Deputy Zack Shelby come poking around, and that scene was pretty tense for the Bateses, but the police weren't actually looking for a dead body, or anything, so... the scene is also rather darkly comical.

Well... a lot happens in the short first season. Romero and Shelby do get suspicious of Norma, but Shelby hides possible evidence to protect her, after starting a relationship with her. (Norman is not happy about this relationship.) Meanwhile, Norman finds a mysterious sketchbook in the motel, which apparently is related to some criminal activity, which he and Emma begin investigating. And before long, Bradley's father has a terrible car accident (which is apparently not an accident), and Norman begins comforting her after his death. Their growing relationship means more to Norman than it does to her, though she hardly makes that clear to him. (Conversely, Norman's friendship with Emma seems to mean more to her than it does to him.) And Norman's half brother, Dylan Massett (who I think is like 22), comes to town in the second episode. He's Norma's son from a marriage prior to the one with Norman's father, and he definitely doesn't get along with his mother. He thinks she's kind of crazy, and he's worried about how close Norman is to her. Anyway... he gets a job guarding a local marijuana field. After awhile, he'll end up being promoted (sort of). He still seems to have the same job, for the most part, though he'll occasionally have some new duties. He's assisted by a guy named Remo, who's been working for their boss, Gil, for 23 years. So of course Remo is annoyed at having to take orders from a kid who has no idea what he's doing.

And it turns out that Deputy Shelby was partners with Keith Summers in the illegal activity from the sketchbook. He then becomes a threat to the Bateses, but is eventually stopped. However, not long after that a mysterious stranger shows up and takes a room at the motel. It turns out Summers and Shelby had worked for him, so now he makes trouble for Norma. Oh, and there's a minor subplot about some bypass that's being built, which will make it practically impossible for the motel to do any business. So that bothers Norma, and it doesn't seem she'll be able to resell the property, either. And there are various even smaller details I'm leaving out, of course. But the season ends with another murder.

Well, the acting is pretty good all around, and the show is well-written. It's a fairly interesting but disturbing story. We do eventually learn that Norman sometimes hallucinates his mother telling him to do things, and sometimes situations just get too intense for him to handle. So he can do things that he doesn't remember later. Norma wants to protect him because of this, which causes her a great deal of stress. And we learn that there are plenty of other reasons she's not quite right in the head. I can't help feeling bad for her, for all she's suffered in her life, but at the same time... I can't help being a bit annoyed that she seems completely unable to trust anyone, and always overreacts to every little thing. To be fair, she has to deal with a lot of very big, out of the ordinary, troubling situations. But she often seems to perceive people who are trying to help her as enemies, even after she herself asks for their help. And... I'm probably forgetting things I wanted to say. But basically, it's a decent show, I guess.

At the time this show aired, I didn't get A&E so I watched the first season on the network's website. I was going to do so with the second season, so I checked the website, saw how long the first episode was supposed to be available, knew I had plenty of time, and kind of let it slide. Then one day in March, when I still had plenty of time left, I went to the site again, and the episode was still there, but it was locked. So I don't know what the site means by "expires April 8," but it sure as hell doesn't mean "available until April 8." So... I can't watch season two. Which is a shame. Maybe I'll see it someday, maybe not.


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