Bates Motel Season 1, Episode 1 Review: “First You Dream, Then You Die”

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Bates Motel is a modern-day prequel to the original movie, Psycho.  It features a teenage Norman Bates and his still-alive mother, and will give us an idea of how Norman became the gawky stab-meister we all know and love.  Unlike the terrible Bates Motel series from the 80’s (Bud Cort and Lori “Tank Girl” Petty in probably the worst pilot movie I’ve ever seen), this one features Vera Farmiga as Norma, and Freddie Highmore as our hero, Norman Bates.

I should probably tell you upfront that Psycho is my favorite non-zombie horror franchise.  I’ve owned all the movies, and have read Bloch’s book until it fell apart and I had to get another, then another…until I finally got a Kindle.  Robert Bloch wrote adult Norman as a pudgy, bald, spotty uggo.  Ergo, every guy who’s ever been cast as Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins, Vince Vaughn, and Henry Thomas) has been entirely too good-looking.  Freddie Highmore is no exception.  He’s adorable.  Yet, hearing Norman call his mother “Mom,” hits the ear wrong.  And what a mom she is!  Vera Farmiga is spot-on as the manipulative, passive-aggressive widow who is starting her life again in a new town, after the untimely death of her husband.

The episode opens with Norman hysterically discovering his father’s dead body.  He screams for his mother, who is in the shower.  It seems obvious that Norma killed her husband.  Norman sobs in her arms as she consoles him, apologizing.  Yet—neither Norman nor Mother actually state who did the killing; neither of them accuses the other.  According to canon, Norman’s father died of natural causes in that big house—the one Norman grew up in.  Norma was left with money so she didn’t have to * gasp * go to work.  Norma built the motel years later at the behest of her lover at the time.  So, the father being murdered and the motel being bought along with the house is already a departure from established canon.

Bates 1.1 Norm Mother

The next departure from canon is enormous.  Norman has a brother.  His name is Dylan.  He is older, not too successful, and thinks Norma is a bitch who can drop dead.  I’ve just met Norma and I can see how he got there.  Norma doesn’t tell Dylan that she’s moved, and hangs up on him when he asks her for money.  A brother is an interesting choice, and I’m curious to see what they do with it.

Shortly after the move-in, a guy named Summers shows up at the Bates place.  Apparently his family owned the house and motel for over a hundred years.  He got foreclosed on, and is totally bummed.  Norma is nice enough, but when the guy gets attitude, she attitudes him back.  He does not take it well, and lets her know that he’s buddies with the cops.  Norman is worried, but Mother dismisses Summers as a drunken loser.  Norman meets a few people at school, including Norman’s advisor: Ms Watson, cute chick Bradley Martin, and Emma, a chronically ill girl in Norman’s language arts class.

I’m digging how the show goes out of its way to look antiquated.  The costumes are intentionally timeless, the furnishings are understandably old, everything has the look of another era.  It’s not until the teenagers show up with their technology that it’s clear we’re in the present day.  A gang of girls shows up at Chez Bates to see if Norman wants to go to the library and study with them.  Mother steps over Norman to give the girls a firm No.  Norman and Mother argue, and he sneaks out—honestly thinking they’re going to study.  The Norman played by Anthony Perkins would never have defied Mother so openly.

Bates 1.1 Norm Watson

But wait.  These girls are naughty, and didn’t want to study at all.  They take Norman to a naughty party with mattress dancing and reefer and dubstep and assorted pills.  He tries to flirt with someone, but no dice.  Back at home, Norma is hearing strange noises like someone might be lurking around outside.  I admit, I wasn’t too scared here because I was pretty sure it was Norman sneaking back in.  But no.  Summers is back, and we get still more evidence that Rape needs to be a standard TV warning.  It’s worth noting that Bates Motel carries a strong rating, but did not begin with the kind of violence warning you’d get in a show like American Horror Story, or even Breaking Bad.

The scene with Summers is disturbing and violent.  We keep hoping that Norman will bust in with the assist, and he does–but not before the deed is done.  Summers commits the act he set out to commit, in the manner of a typical power excitation rapist (Yeah, I watch Criminal Minds).  Summers drunken growling gives us all the evidence we need:

This house is mine.  And everything in this house is mine.

Ew.  The rapist is handcuffed after Norman comes in and clunks him on the head with an iron.  We saw a similar iron in the opening scenes, making me wonder if perhaps Norman did not kill is own father.  When the rapist gets up and makes a horrible remark, Norma stabs him up good.  She keeps stabbing long after he’s dead.  Norman walks in and says…wait for it…Mother! 

Bates 1.1 Romero

Later, we meet the local fuzz as they pop over to check out the motel, saying they didn’t know anyone had moved in.  I doubt this.  I actually think that Summers was shooting his mouth off at the local tavern about the “bitch” who bought his family’s property.  So when he didn’t come home, the cops thought they’d better check out the Bates’ place first.  As for the cops, we’ve got Deputy Zack Shelby.  He’s blonde, strapping, and already making eyes at Mrs. Bates.  Shelby’s boss is Sherriff Alex Romero (all horror shows should have a guy named Romero) who is played by Nestor Carbonell, who you probably recognize from LOST, or the most recent crop of Batman movies.  The cops look around, but don’t find anything.  I find it a little dubious that he didn’t smell the body in the tub.  Sure, it was a fresh body.  But Summers didn’t look especially clean, or sober.  Plus, people crap themselves when they die.  I say, he’s probably pretty ripe.

Between the murder and moving the body Norman bloodies up most of the kitchen, his shoes, the trunk of the car, and the carpeting in Room #4.  No, #4 is not the traditional murder cabin.  But that’s what happened.  While tearing up the carpet, Norman finds a handwritten book full of writing and pictures of scantily clad chicks chained up and doing needle drugs.  WTF?

Norma makes a trip downtown and discovers that they are moving away the highway.  Her motel will no longer be on a main road, so no one will drive by it unintentionally.  Bad tidings.  It also means that Summers would have been ruined even without the Bates’ buying their property.  While dumping Summer’s body, Norman compares his love for Mother to Edward Rochester’s love for Jane Eyre.  If they weren’t mother and son, that would have been terribly romantic.  As the episode ends, we get an unexpected scene of a dark room where a scantily clad girl is chained to something, and is being given needle drugs.  Curious…

BatesMotelVeraFarmiga

After one episode, I am very impressed.  They’ve made some interesting choices and have clearly assembled an awesome cast.  I’m stoked to see where they go next, what they will do with the existing story, and what the hell is going on with the chained-up girl.  We’re getting ten episodes, and I’ll be here to give you my thoughts on every one of them.

See you’s next week!

–Wednes

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  • tom robinson

    no show or movie ever refers to people defecating on themselves at the time of their demise. and for good reason, how many love stories have shown the guy kissing his dead beloved who actually smells like shit. for all of the blood and gore in movies, no one really wants to remind the audience how urine soaked and shit-stained death really is.