Hey everyone! Feeling blue with the still-lingering winter outside? Hoping for chills of a different kind? How about we recap the new A&E prequel, Bates Motel? This one does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, folks – it’s a retelling of the early years of Norman Bates, cinemas most famous psycho, and his dear Mother. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Shower first, anyone?
We begin our series with a teenage Norman in the modern day discovering his father dead in the garage. Panicked, he runs for his mother, Norma, finding her putting on a bathrobe and coming out of the shower. Heh. The Shower. I see what you did there, show! Norman brings Mother to his father’s body. Norma doesn’t seem that put out by all this, but comforts Norman, holding him to her. Six months later, the two have relocated to the Oregon coast having just purchased the Seafarer Inn, a curiously familiar motel with a rambling, gothic house on the hill behind it. Mother is terribly pleased with this decision, telling Norman they’ll run the motel together. Inside the house, the place is a dump, but Mother has visions of elegant surroundings. She grabs Norman by the hand, giggling and dragging him upstairs to show him his bedroom, which will be right next to hers. And yes, between the casual flirting and Norman seeing mother in her lacy underwear, the creepy matrophilia IS SO HAPPENING ALL OVER THIS SHOW!
Norman begins school by immediately getting picked up by five of the local high school’s hottest teenage super models. They give him their phone numbers take him to school in their new BMW. At home, Mother is chopping ribs with a meat cleaver (heh) when she gets a call from Norman’s older brother, who is clearly not on good terms with the family and wants money. In school, Norman meets with his guidance counselor who remarks on his father’s death says she’s here for him before commenting on his physique and suggesting he go out for track. Because Norman possesses heretofore unknown powers to make women fawn over him.
Norman got game.
When Norman arrives home from school, Mother has prepared a romantic dinner for two. Seriously. There are flowers on the table and everything. She upset that he’s late and what is this track that he’s going out for? She wants him home to help run the motel, but it’s okay, he can go out for sports. She’ll just do it herself. Alone. In the dark. What kind of mother is she? Jewish? The next morning, the two are confronted by Keith Summers, a local who knows way too much about them and belligerently tells them they should leave the house which is rightfully his on account of his grandparents building the place. Mother tells him that’s the way the foreclosure cookie crumbles and when he tries to tell her she has no idea about “the secrets in this town” she shoos him away.
That night, the Bates listen to the Rolling Stones together when the super models show up at the door wanting to know if Norman can come out to play. Mother is not pleased by all this nubile flesh suddenly darkening her doorway and says Norman needs to stay in and help her. Norman doesn’t take this well and storms off to his room before texting the super models and telling them to wait up for him while he sneaks out his window. The models take Norman to what teenagers probably think is a rave. Kids roll joints, drink, smoke, be malcontent. Norman hides in another room while emo music plays and spies on the pretty girls. Early precedent for yourself, Norman. Yet another model (seriously, what is in the water in this town?) comes onto him, saying he’s different and “a beautiful still lake in the middle of a concrete world.” Full confession: I have no idea what that means. They are interrupted by Richard, another student who has no purpose here other than to introduce what will surely be an eventual plot point.
Back home, Mother is doing the dishes and regretting yelling at Norman when a noise from outside the house scares her. She goes to investigate and who should push through the door but Keith Summers, the belligerent wacko from earlier. Mother screams for Norman to help her, but Summers is too quick. He has a pair of handcuffs and a knife and after kicking and punching Mother for a while, cuffs her to the kitchen table before using the knife to cut her skirt up the middle. Thereafter follows what is honestly one of the more uncomfortable rape scenes I’ve seen on TV in a long time (and I watched American Horror Story) but she’s “saved” by Norman who suddenly arrives home and knocks Summers away. They use the cuffs to restrain Summers and Mother sends Norman to fetch a first aid kit. Summers leers at her, telling her she liked it. Mother responds by plunging Summers’ own knife into him many, many times. Norman returns to see the dead body on the floor, looking suspiciously like how his father did.
Amazingly, one day Norman will look back on this as "the good old days."
Norman wants to call the cops, but Mother says it will ruin their new businesses to have a rape/murder on their first week. Always business-minded, that Mother. They decide to use the motel linens to soak up the blood and then hide Summers’ body in one of the motel bathtubs. Wonder if it’s the bathtub that Janet Leigh will eventually use? In the process they spill blood onto one of the carpets, meaning they now have to pull up carpet in several rooms to hide the their tracks under the guise of renovations to the motel. Underneath the carpet in one of the rooms, Norman discovers a book of sketches and notes. And that’s when the motel’s first guests arrive. It’s the cops, natch.
Turns out the Sheriff and his deputy are investigating only because they didn’t know anyone had bought the place. Mother says they’ve just been working and gosh, is it 2am already? How careless of me. My son will totes be going to bed now so he can attend school tomorrow. The sheriff wants to take a look around and goes into the room with the dead body in the tub. He says he needs to use the bathroom and isn’t put off by Mother’s excuse that the toilet is broke. “You just have to jiggle the handle,” he tells her and goes into the room, not realizing what’s sitting right behind the drawn shower curtain. Tension! But it’s only the first episode, so the cops leave without discovering anything.
The next day at school, guilt is getting the better of Norman, causing him to throw up in the hallway. A helpful girl, Emma, offers him a mint, saying that she’s familiar with being sick due to all the medications she has to take for her cystic fibrosis. She’s kind and is clearly another plot point in development. Back home that night, Mother and Norman row Summers’ body out into a nearby lake. Mother tells Norman that she’s an idiot because she noticed in town today that there’s a proposal to build a new highway bypass on the opposite side of town, effectively killing her business model. She laments that all she wants is to give Norman a better life and she’s the worst mother ever, but Norman won’t hear of it. He says she’s everything to him and he never wants to be without her and then quotes Jane Eyre to her. Touched, Mother suggests they get rid of the body now. They tie it to heavy chains and toss it overboard to sleep with the fishes. Never mind Jewish, is Mother a mafia donna?
Later, Norman flips through the book he found in his room, which features drawings of women tied up and gagged in sexual positions. Mother interrupts him to show him how they’ve taken down the old Seafarer Inn sign and replaced it with the iconic Bates Motel one. She insists everything’s going to be okay – she’ll think of something to stop the bypass plan from happening. Elsewhere, in a dingy basement, lights flicker on to reveal a woman lying on the floor. There are needle marks on her arm. Someone approaches her and begins to inject her with something as her eyes slowly open.
That’s the first episode, kids. It’s definitely a mixed bag, but we’ll see how the season progresses. Initially, I like that they’re not staying away from the uncomfortable creepiness of Norman and Mother’s relationship, but some of the plotting and the dialogue has definitely got to be fixed. That said, plenty of movies have seen subsequent TV series made out of them that outpaced their original source content. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, to name a few.) There’s certainly a lot of material to work with here. Time will tell how well they do.
Sweet, crippling emotional enmeshment.