Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bates Motel (A Review)

Bates Motel is slick, entertaining and addictive. The name of the series naturally drew my attention with all the memories of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller and I just HAD to watch. One always wonders about Norman Bates’ past and this series does a bang up job of presenting an amazingly well thought out perspective and context.

Before your very eyes, you see Norman evolve (not sure if that’s the right word here) from a gawky, innocent and shy teenager to a young adult with psychological problems due to his mother’s difficult childhood, his own encounters with the opposite sex and his coming to terms with his mental condition.

Without giving too much away, a quick summary/review of the series.

Set in modern day Oregon (though shot in British Columbia), the story is developed subtly and with extreme intelligence. 

The fact that murders are commonplace in the small town Norman (Freddie Highmore) moves to and lives in is explained well with the town’s own issues, problems and generally weird goings-on.  

Norma Bates’ personality spanning multicolor hues is richly portrayed by Vera Farmiga as you end up sympathizing with her in one scene to feeling she’s a real bitch in another. The conflict and anguish within her are evident as she realizes her son is not all there and she becomes the controlling mother in Hitchcock’s narrative. The subtlety of the series shows up in a few ways here. Her hair which is initially blond and wavy in Season 1 slowly makes way to the silver colored bun that is a hallmark of the movie. In another scene, Norman is sleeping in his bed and she’s rocking back and forth on the chair that is unmistakably reminiscent of the movie.

The relationship between Norman and his mother also slowly changes as he starts realizing what he’s becoming and Norma’s helplessness as she attempts to cope with her own life and his. Shades of the Oedipus complex show up in flashes providing some explanations to his eventual persona.

The show is far from one dimensional with Norman’s elder brother thrown in the mix. Relatively more normal than his sibling and mother, the brother’s character only evokes empathy as he’s a man with a good heart and readily bails out his family from trouble which Norma and Norman keep getting into. As the town sheriff says in one scene to Norma ‘You seem to always attract trouble’ or something to that effect.  There’s also the girl who helps out at the motel and always wants to help but feels excluded from the psychotic whirlpool that is the Bates family.  Other characters include the town’s enigmatic sherif and the shifty uncle from the past.

Every aspect of the Norman Bates character is explained down to the tiniest detail including the reason that the Bates house is full of stuffed dead animals and his voyeurism.

The series has you on the edge every minute of every episode. One cannot do justice to it in a write-up. Scary, thoughtful, provocative and intensely brilliant and definitely worth a view.

Just make sure it’s not the last thing you watch before you switch off the lights to go to sleep at night.

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