Quinn Banford ’15/ Emertainment Monthly Staff
After his father dies in a strange accident, Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) ditch their past for a fresh start in small town middle America. Their new home doubles as the Seafairer motel, soon to be renamed Bates Motel. Moving into an entirely different living situation is exciting for the mother-son combo. As they walk through their house, Norma says it has “simple, elegant furnishings [and] the space is beautiful!” But if viewers are aware of this family’s history, they’ll expect anything but simplicity, elegance, and beauty in the Bates Motel.
As Norman waits for his school bus a blonde girl, Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), approaches with a group of her high school friends in order to flirt with “the new kid”. Norman is a shy guy, and later when he goes to a party, he confirms his social awkwardness, failing to talk to anybody. This character development follows the typical “shy kid” stereotype. At this drunken rager, Norman fits in with the melancholy Radiohead music drifting in the background rather than the neon dubstep high school noise surrounding him. We’ve seen him in the form of Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Cera, and that one guy in your high school. It’s a fairly common stereotype but in this episode it doesn’t get drawn out to the point of exhaustion. It’s a necessary contrast that illuminates his position as “awkward new kid”, placing him as an outsider in Norman’s new environment.
Along with his social discomforts, Norman has a bizarre affectation toward motherly figures in his life. At his new high school, Norman stays after class to talk to his teacher, a seemingly innocent meeting. The teacher exerts a flirtatious tone and suggests Norman to join the track team, Norman freezes up, she puts her hand on his, and he bolts for home. Maybe she was welcoming Norman with kind intentions and he had just reacted too shy and jumpy. Or maybe she’s a cougar with a Master’s degree. I’ll go ahead and assume the “hot for student” idea makes the most logical sense at this point in the show.
Norman’s reaction to the teacher incident can be supported by his odd relationship with his mother. One instance of this occurs before Norman heads off to sleep. He is moving some boxes into the house when, through a thinly veiled window, he catches his mother undressing. He continues to stare for a moment in which millions of viewers are screaming at their television sets, hoping the creep factor will end. Nobody wants him to keep staring. Nobody. Instances like this are woven into the narrative for the sake of creating discomfort. That way, when this relationship gets stranger, the audience will be less horrified than they probably should be.
One scene breaches unnecessary extremes and has been receiving flack for its graphic portrayal of a rape. This scene shows Norma being attacked by the ex-homeowner of the Seafairer motel. After Norman appears out of nowhere and knocks the man unconscious, Norma composes herself. She then grabs a knife, straddles the attacker, and proceeds to stab him seven times. This scene can be too shocking, painful and/or exploitative for viewers to watch. For a television show making its debut, such a graphic scene appears more offensive than plot driven. This scene garners resistance from viewers who may find violence against women to be distasteful, especially when the show uses it as a form of shock value.
While I walked into this show expecting a renewal of Hitchcock’s genius, I have to admit it was less than I hoped for. For one, the unnecessary and graphic rape scene caught me off guard and was, in its nature, forceful and shocking. Secondly, the writing and acting suffered from high school clichés; boy meets girl, boy sneaks off to party, boy doesn’t fit in at party, girl approaches boy, boy meets girl’s boyfriend. These have been seen repeatedly, and do not add all that much dimension to Norman or any of the other characters. For these two reasons, Bates Motel seems like it’s aiming to sweep up media attention. Aside from the controversy and cliché, the show is gripping. Fans of Psycho are definitely going to want to watch this show. Since it is only episode one, the overarching plot is looming above us viewers, and all we want is more background to bite at. Bates Motel has more to offer, and if you have tough skin, you’re going to want to run through it with the rest of us.