The ongoing television series, A&E’s “Bates Motel” is a prequel to “Psycho”, the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie (1960). In “Bates Motel” we see the backstory of Norman Bates and the unfolding of his relationship with his mother, Norma, and half brother during his adolescence.
The first season received critical praise, especially for Vera Farmiga who plays the mother, Norma Bates, who was nominated for a 2013 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The series continues to be A&E’s number one drama series of all time among adults in the 18–49 demographic. Season 3 which premiered in March 2015 is perhaps the best season yet, pushing boundaries of what constitutes a dysfunctional, hypersexualized relationship between mother and son. The writers (Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin) have announced they will end the series after five seasons, the fourth just concluded last month. In April 2015, Cuse said, “I defy anyone to watch this show and not really be completely connected to Norma and Norman. And now that bond you have with these characters is going to completely inform the rollercoaster ride of the last two seasons.”
For those who have seen the Hitchcock film, Bates Motel does not have the same sort of horror (i.e. gore fest) that the “Psycho” film is famous for (at least, not up until the finale of Season 3, the only seasons I’ve seen so far). There are some bloody and violent scenes (nothing like “American Horror Story”) but what really gripped me was the family dynamics. Norman Bates ( extraordinary young actor Freddie Highmore, who played Peter Pan in “Finding Neverland”) is so astonishing in this role, I wondered how he could retain his sanity. No other film or television series I have seen so far unveils the darkest side imaginable of a mother-son relationship gone berserk, familiarity dissolving into psychosis. No spoiler alerts here.
I touched upon obsessive love and fear between parent and child in my first novel, Things Unsaid, but what we see in “Bates Motel” is that the twisted relationship between Norma and her son –the heart of the narrative—drives the narrative to an end we expect but nonetheless gasp at. “Bates Motel” dares to touch this subject matter in such a brilliant and fearless manner. A tour-de-force like no other!