Bates Motel

TV Series Review

We're all about family togetherness here at Plugged In. But there are times when even we think it can go too far.

Exhibit A: Norma and Norman Bates. Oh, the two love each other … in their own dysfunctional, sometimes (potentially) incestuous way. Norma loves 18-year-old Norman so much she'd rather not let him spend time with anyone else. And Norman responds to his mom with, "It's you and me. It's always been you and me. We belong to each other."

It hasn't always been just Norman and Norma, of course. A husband and father was in the picture at one point, but he died (under somewhat mysterious circumstances). And so the depleted Bates clan left for Oregon. Their new home: a grim gothic house that looms over a rundown motel. Norma hopes to make a go of the motel and make a fresh start of things.

But fresh starts are hard to find when you're dealing with the same spoiled goods.

Bates Motel is a tragedy—the making of a madman. We know where the story winds up: Jennifer Leigh bleeding out in Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror flick Psycho. And so in A&E's very loose prequel (set in more contemporary times, complete with iPhones), we see the seeds of Norman Bates' madness take root. His sheltered (smothered) childhood. His controlling mother. Their shared secrets. His hidden notebooks. Dark histories. Incestuous desire. A newfound fondness for taxidermy. His growing propensity, perhaps, to kill. And the fact that Norman's half-brother, Dylan—the product of an incestuous rape perpetrated on Norma by her brother, Caleb—has come to town to grow medicinal marijuana, adds another disturbing wrinkle into an already disturbing story.

It's hard to say that this series is darker than Hitchcock's black-and-white slasher (which, despite its lack of overt nudity or obscenity, was retroactively rated R by the MPAA). At times, it strives to be a Twin Peaks-like romp. But those campy moments are rare, and the blood we see is never something to laugh at. In Psycho's infamous shower scene (as harrowing and horrible as it feels), we never see that sharp knife make contact with skin. We see no stab wounds. Bates Motel exercises no such restraint. Explicit sex, rape and "submission" mingle with gratuitous killings and torture not just on an emotional level, but a physical one—often shown in horrifying detail. It's a messy, disturbing show, the likes of which Mr. Hitchcock himself would not have concocted.

It could be said that Bates Motel molds itself to our modern times as we puzzle over the devastating real-life deeds of today's most notorious killers. It could be said that A&E is merely plumbing the depths of the beginnings of a psychopath. But as it opens up the door to the Bates' forbidding home, what it's really doing is asking us to dwell in the darkness—night after night, week after week—to love it, to embrace it, to never let it go. Then, when it unveils its horrors, we won't want to, won't dare to or perhaps won't be able to leave.

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Episode Reviews

Bates-Motel: 3-16-2014
Bates-Motel: 3-18-2013



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Vera Farmiga as Norma Louise Bates; Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates; Nestor Carbonell as Sheriff Alex Romero; Max Thieriot as Dylan Massett; Olivia Cooke as Emma Decody; Kenny Johnson as Caleb






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Paul Asay

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