The second of three serial killer-related programs beginning this year and the first of two based on previously established stories, Bates Motel is a modern day prequel to the film Psycho. This works because Psycho is a story that ages well. It doesn’t really matter what era Norman Bates grew up in so long as he is terribly screwed up by his mother, they own a otel, and eventually he gets from adolescence to crazy psychopath adulthood. The story is rather timeless in that regard. The original book was written in 1959. The original Hitchcock film was released in 1960 and a remake featuring Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates (I know, Vince Vaughn) was released in 1998.
The remake wasn’t that great but it worked. The core of the story was just as reasonable in 1998 as it had been in 1960.
But can that be said now in 2013?
So far, I’d say the answer is yes. The first episode was pretty good and it apparently did very well in the ratings which can’t be easy on a Monday night. I mean, look at all the other stuff that’s on Monday nights. (It’s Thursday and we’re still catching up on Monday night recaps.) Bates Motel picked a pretty good niche to enter. America is obsessed with serial killers and not just hunting them down and seeing them as bad guys. From Dexter to the Following, we want to really see how our killers develop. We want to see some aspect of their humanity. And picking a character that we already know seems like a safe bet.
We pick up with Norman Bates as a high schooler. His father is dead and his mother has been moving them around the country. The father’s death was clearly not an accident – though we’re not really sure if the mother killed him or perhaps Norman does. Either way, Norma doesn’t really seem to have a problem with killing. She doesn’t really seem connected to people at all. She doesn’t even talk to her older son any more and has moved around repeatedly without him knowing. They move into a new town quite frequently though this time she says they are going to put down roots. This time, they own a motel. This time, they are going to stay.
Norman takes that to heart. He wants to be normal. He starts making friends with some of the girls in town who are quite taken by the fact that there is a new boy moving into their small town. His academic adviser recommends he get involved in clubs. Normal really seems to think this is it. But Norma has other ideas. She keeps him up at all hours working on the motel. She gets angry when he wants to run track and spent time after school with the team. She doesn’t let him have a private room in their massive house – instead she makes him take a room right next to hers. And when those same girls come to see if Norman wants to hang out she refuses to let him even talk to them before saying no.
She’s controlling and manipulative and though Norman seems to understand this to some extent he’s just a child. What can he do?
Sneak out and go to a party with those girls, apparently.
The problem is that not everyone in town is happy Norman and his mother are there. The house and motel they bought had been in the family of the town drunk for generations. He had lost it to the bank and he wasn’t really happy about it. He came to the house to threaten the during the day time and came back at night for something much worse. While Norman was off with his friends, the man broke into the house, caught Norma in the kitchen, and raped her before nearly killing her. Luckily Norman comes in about then and knocks the guy out cold. They get Norma free from the handcuffs he had her in and then cuff him. But while Norman is getting a first aid kit she kills him. Stabs him until he’s dead.
And now we have our first body. The first episode and we have our first body. I suspect that is a sign of things to come.
Instead of calling the police Norma tells Norman they have to get rid of the body. Otherwise no one will want to rent a room from the murder motel. So they drag the body down to the motel to wrap it in carpet and ditch it. Except as they are doing that the cops see the lights on and come to check on them. They stashed the body in the bathtub luckily… but then the cop decides to go to the bathroom and there is a very tense moment with a cop at the toilet and a body in the tub right next to him. But it’s all good. The cops leave, they ditch the body.
No harm done, right?
Ehhhh… so Norman is freaked out. Not too freaked out to take the guy’s notebook of very erotic, torture porn drawings. Which he keeps and reads. The next day at school just seeing sphaghetti and then seeing some blood on his sneakers sets him off to the point of vomitting in school in front of everyone. Which would be pretty traumatic if not for a girl who sees him and comes to talk to him. She’s got cystic fibrosis and offers him a mint.
They are both nerdy and cute but cystic fibrosis? Always fatal. Which probably pretty much foreshadows another one of Norman’s impending breaking points – the day she dies. Norman is a sort of messed up kid. His mother is always telling him to calm down. That he knows how he can get. So I’m already left to wonder if Norman has always been sort of psychotic and just doesn’t remember it and his mother’s not so much controlling or psychotic herself so much as she’s damn determined to protect her son in any way she can.
Food for thought.