Alice Rush reviews episode 4 of the Psycho prequel series Bates Motel….
So far A&E’s modern treatment of the life of Norma and Nora Bates pre Pyscho has proved to be a mammoth hit for the network. Drawing in millions of viewers each week the story of the Bates’ eventful past has been just that; eventful. After last week’s revelation of a young girl being kept prisoner in Detective Shelby’s house, the very same girl from the diary Norman and Emma have been investigating, viewers were left on tenterhooks as the girl woke up and Shelby returned home.
The opening of this week’s episode Trust Me shows that Dylan followed Norman to Shelby’s house, saving him from discovery as he distracts Shelby from finding Norman in his basement. Though Dylan confronts Norman later about the incident, Norman denies everything and rushes into the house with Dylan professing he will not tell Norma. The development of the relationship between these two warring brothers is proving to be an interesting story arc to follow, as fans of the original film and book were denied any other view in Norman’s family. Dylan, almost the antithesis of Norman’s straight laced and polite character is allowed more room to breathe in this episode thus allowing the audience to connect with him and see past his original two dimensional “bad boy” image.
As Dylan and Norman bond, Norma and Shelby bond in an altogether different manner, sneaking off to her motel for a private liaison. The sense of skewed justice and exploitation for personal gain is rife throughout Bates Motel and is personified exactly in this seedy relationship. What started as harmless flirting starts to tread the boundaries of uncomfortable, as the audience has learned of Shelby’s little secret. With the discovery of the chained up girl in his basement, Shelby’s image of a golden and gallant knight rushing to Norma’s rescue is tainted and questioned for the audience, who are beginning to experience the dark underbelly of this quaint town. Though Norma herself investigates after Norman insists he is telling the truth, she finds the basement empty, confirming her suspicions that Norman is suffering from hallucinations which he vehemently denies. Being allowed into the past of such an infamous character is extremely entertaining for the audience, who are able to begin to trace the beginnings of madness in Norman Bates’ character, as well as his deteriorating relationship with his mother. Freddy Highmore and Vera Farmiga have an extremely tangible onscreen chemistry, treading the lines between love, lust, hate and obsession quite delicately.
The end of the episode sees Norma being carted away by police and Norman growing ever closer to his romantic interest Bradley and further away from his controlling mother, setting up the conflict for the next few episodes nicely.
It’s taken a few episodes but Bates Motel seems to have grasped the generic and narrative direction it wishes to head in, proving to be a tense and gripping thriller. The relationship between Norman and Norma continues to entertain, especially as the plot begins to explain Norman Bates’ own future psychotic state. Whilst at times the characters own motivations seem blurred, the plot is interesting and meaty enough for it not to matter. In an age where the word “prequel” is often greeted with moans and groans Bates Motel is proving that using a renowned story as a stimulus can indeed yield creative and interesting television.