Monday, May 29, 2017

Checking Out of "Bates Motel"

When this first came out, I was intrigued and excited to check it out (no pun intended). I'd never seen Psycho and since scary movies aren't my thing, I thought this was worth a shot. Especially since it was a limited series so there wasn't going to be a big commitment.
I remember also voicing outrage when they said it was going to be more than the 13 or so episodes originally aired. Surely, this whole prequel to this classic movie could be done in a couple months.
But in the end, everything worked out just as it should. The ending especially. It was looking dodgy a couple times in the final few shows, but once the ultimate resolution was revealed, it all made sense. And all things considered, it did the best possible by all the characters involved. Although Chick and Romero both got the short end of the stick I think... that's what was so great about the series. Weirdoes and bad guys made you root for them (not that I ever saw Romero as a bad guy).
In the beginning... 
This is going to sound so cliché but it's true.
At the start of the series, it was just Norman and his mother Norma Bates. She buys a motel and large house on a hill in the small Oregon town of Pine Creek Bay. This is something she does completely on a whim and doesn't even consult Norman about until they are there. As is the case with any teenager, Norman is not happy about these circumstances. And of course, Norma finds out rather quickly that she got a lot more than she bargained for.
I saw the pilot, I think, on the following weekend- not the day it actually aired. Knowing my Mondays, schedule conflicts most likely came into play.
I think one time I saw 2 or 3 back to back. It's seriously addicting once you start watching. I'm not a binge-watching person typically (I don't have Netflix- yeah shock/horror- and it's exhausting and time consuming) but this series is ABSOLUTELY binge-worthy if there was ever a candidate.
Ironically, the only other show I've binged... it's the one I'm covering in my next post.
Back to our characters though... Norma is so high maintenance and prone to overreaction, you want to kill her yourself. 
But she finds herself in trouble with the former owner of the motel (I think he lost it to bankruptcy which is why it was a bargain that Norma couldn't resist). What happens and how it resolves... there's a reason why it's on at 10pm. It was kinda startling at first. But that became part of the show's unusual charm. Barring any nudity and f-bombs, they're not afraid to "go there". [One episode later on had a "viewer discretion is advised" disclaimer and it was in reference to a final scene where a teenage girl attempts to seduce an older man... this, however, did not carry over to a 2-3 other episodes where sex or rape scenes occurred].
And drawing reference to the other series I will cover in a future post: it pushed the envelope of explicit content in the comedic department.

Also in the show we get to know Norman's friend Emma who has cystic fibrosis (she always had an oxygen tube around her nose and her tank was extremely portable-- her character lived with the disease, but never let it damper her demeanor), the town sheriff Alex Romero and Norman's half-brother Dylan. All things considered (Norma being Norma, Norman being more than a little off and the fact his father is Norma's brother) Dylan's surprisingly the most normal person in the family. I didn't like him when he was first introduced (can't remember why- it was so long ago) but it got to the point with him where I just hoped to God he survived to the end of the series. After all, Norman didn't have any siblings in Psycho.
The Psycho Connection 

**This is where the spoilers begin to pop up, but the biggest one is to the movie itself. For the series itself, I gave away nothing major**
Of course the house is practically a replica of the original.
But knowing what I knew about the movie (and then finally seeing it- what I know about that world) one thing was obviously going to happen. In the end, one or another, Norma wasn't going to be alive to see it. Heck, there was a preview to a finale where it looked like she might not make it... but she lived for another season and that particular finale was kinda effed up. Not going to sugarcoat it. But that's the thing about the series- you spend enough time with these people and you start to feel disoriented yourself. That's just how good it is.
The biggest love letter to the movie itself was in the final season where Norman runs the business as if nothing was wrong. But then Marion Crane comes to town and the shower scene happens... but it's not how you expect it. Norman did rack up a lot of casualties (I never counted but I think it's 10 or slightly less) and romance was never in the cards for him because of his mental issues. But the shower murder had a motive behind it which made him somewhat redeemable. Let's just say the person actually deserved it opposed to just being unlucky to cross paths with him.
Descent into Madness
The acting is amazing and so is the fact that Max Thierot, Nestor Carnobell, and Freddie Highmore each had a few turns in the director's chair (Freddie even wrote one of the last episodes- the acting was even more exceptional).
But the best thing about the series was how Norman's character was slowly developed over time. At first, you're led to believe- you know, his mother is a nut job and insane control freak, how can anyone turn out remotely functional living with her?  But as you spend more time with Norman, all those little things about how he was raised and how he reacts to certain situations, they all begin to add up. 
He has blackouts that grow steadily worse and it isn't until the final 2 seasons you see what happens to him during those times. 
Over time, Norma becomes more aware of these blackouts and that things aren't quite right with Norman. But in doing so, she pulls the apron strings even tighter and Norman never fully gets the help he needs until it's the last resort. Like when Norman goes to get his drivers license but Norma stops the driving test by telling the instructor about it and the whole thing gets derailed. Norman rebels but he never gets fully away from his mother and his home. It's comparable to a ghost that can't leave a house and is left to haunt it because that's where they died and it's impossible to solve their unfinished business. Except Norman is alive and the manifestation keeping him bound to his mother and the Bates Motel is in his mind.

On the other side of the coin-- Norma is certifiable in her own right, but aside from racking up dead bodies, Norman shows how unstable he really is when he agrees to check into a mental hospital for one of the later seasons. The reason he ultimately works to break out is discovering Norma got married. Granted, her past relationships have always ended in disaster and none of those men were particularly nice to her (although there was one to a very nice man that she broke off because... well, she found an excuse somewhere, I'll just say that cuz I don't remember)... but Norman is under the impression no man is good enough for his mother other than him, so he does everything to maintain the dynamic the two of them always had. Needless to say, it has some deadly consequences. I had a feeling that Norma would end up with another main character and it wouldn't end well for either of them... just based on the end of the Psycho script where it said Norman killed his mother and her lover.
However, I thought it was a tad unbelievable that White Pine Bay was led to believe Norma committed suicide... but we were there to witness the whole thing as the audience and the only other person to know the truth was conveniently thrown in jail to atone for various crimes he committed in his own career. I guess they needed to have that final season and that was the only way to assure it.
Perhaps the craziest part was how it took so long for most of the corpses to be discovered. Never mind that Norma (and Norman under the influence of "Mother") is so good at sterilizing the crime scene and how Norman's taxidermy hobby comes in handy. Or they just happened to be located near this big deep lake.
Season two, I believe, his favorite teacher wound up dead. He could be placed at the scene of the crime but he's cleared by DNA evidence that somehow doesn't match his. I'm still not entirely sure if she seduced Norman or it's all in our heads (his and the audience) but that was one of the bigger breaking points in the series. One of those no-point-of-return moments for Norman. He's so upset about the situation he can't go to school anymore and Norma homeschools him until he can get his GED. His illness is exacerbated because he never leaves the house or the motel he now plays concierge to.
Final Thoughts
Other than that I don't have much to add without spoiling the ending of the series. 
Even for those who'd seen the movie there are some surprises in store. In the end it all makes sense and it was the best resolution for everyone. Doesn't mean it wasn't sad though.
I have to get up at 5:30am to go to work, but I had to stay after the show for a cast discussion. You really get to know and love these characters, it's hard to leave, even if it's the best thing for all of us.
The part that's always trippy to me... hearing Freddie Highmore being interviewed. He is so good in this role, you forget that he's British and that he got his start in movies like "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory" and "Finding Neverland."
I also found out that Olivia Cooke, who played Emma, was English. That really threw me for a loop. Both of these actors are so good, you'd never guess they were putting on American accents.
Also need to give it up for Vera Farmiga- not just for being crazy good at being this nutjob of a woman :P but she's the one who recommended Freddie Highmore for the role. Not just great judgment on her part, but certainly a testament to his talent. This is going to be a tough role to top, that's for sure.

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