‘Bates Motel’ Series Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated May 12th, 2013 at 7:44 am,

bates motel tv show premiere review Bates Motel Series Premiere Review

Alfred Hitchcock’s famous explanation about the real difference between surprise and suspense – a bomb exploding with no warning vs. being forewarned about the bomb in advance – lies at the heart of the difference between his film Psycho (based on the Robert Bloch novel) and the new A&E television series Bates Motel, which examines Norman Bates’ upbringing and the events that will ultimately mold him into a cross-dressing murderer with dual personalities.

The series premiere, in some ways, feels like a darker variation on themes and ideas from executive producers Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin’s (Friday Night Lights) successful television productions. Meanwhile, Hitchcock’s landmark proto-slasher classic casts a shadow over the proceedings, in some ways more subtle than others.

Combine all that with show creator Anthony Cipriano’s attempts to lay the groundwork for later developments, and what you have is a first episode which is much like young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore): aloof, but with potential to develop into something worthwhile – or, rather, go off the rails entirely (of course, we already know which way Norman goes…).

However, Vera Farmiga as Norma Louise “Mother” Bates is the real star of Bates Motel (so far). The first scene quietly suggests that Norman’s well-documented Oedipal complex is something encouraged by his mother, as her initial nonchalance towards Highmore stumbling upon his dead father indicates she may’ve beaten her son to the punch and killed her husband on her own. That writer Ciapriano and director Tucker Gates choose to open on a television playing a scene from His Girl Friday – where Ralph Bellamy discusses his own domineering matriarch to Cary Grant – might be just a bit much on the nose, but it does offer a satirical contrast to what follows.

bates motel series premiere mother Bates Motel Series Premiere Review

Norma’s subsequent actions in the episode – including her observation that “Boys take their father’s name all the time” – further establish that her lack of interest in upholding the patriarchal order has evolved into something malicious. However, as shown during her personal interactions with Norman, she’s more complex than just a victim of general misogyny – though, she has justification for turning violent, after the implied (?) abuse by her husband and being assaulted by Keith Summers (W. Earl Brown).

Not to mention, the chance that she – and all the other women in Norman’s life for that matter – could end up suffering brutality at the hands of suspicious Sheriff Royce Romero (Nester Carbonell) and the misleadingly (?) innocuous Deputy Zach Shelby (Mike Vogel), based on preliminary impressions concerning what Norman uncovered beneath the motel’s cabin carpeting. The officers’ timing may have been perfectly inconvenient for the Bateses, but their worries seemingly extend beyond any possible illicit activities that Norma and her son might be up to.

Speaking of which: Norman’s interest toward the opposite sex is not developing in a healthy manner, between him perusing a newfound book full of sketches which depict women being physically-abused (Norman’s equivalent of “dirty magazines” in his bedroom) and his newly-acquired obsession with Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) – a prospective love interest, whose oh-so forward manner and blonde hair color have probably lead young Mr. Bates to imagine she’s what his mother was like when she was younger (creepy…).

You have to feel all the more pity for Emma DeCody (Olivia Cooke), the briefly-seen high school girl with cystic fibrosis who immediately takes a liking to awkward, yet charming, young Norman (while remaining blissfully unaware of what she’s getting herself into).

olivia cooke bates motel Bates Motel Series Premiere Review

Ciapriano and Gates keep busy in the premiere (titled “First You Dream, Then You Die”), between establishing all of these character dynamics, planting the seeds for a Twin Peaks-esque exploration of small-town America’s dark side AND fitting in pieces of Psycho visual iconography and homages – some of which jump out right away (see: Brown’s corpse in the bathtub/shower), while others are more carefully integrated with the story.

It amounts to a whole lot of psycho-sexual material and Noir genre references in a short period of time, but it remains to be seen if that approach can (or, rather, will) be carried over into later episodes. Of course, Bates Motel has the advantage over something like American Horror Story (should it use a similar kitchen-sink approach, that is) – ultimately, the former has a locked-in destination which it cannot alter course from.

Between an engaging female presence in Farmiga as Norma and the potential for Highmore to bloom as Norman descends further into madness, the journey through an insidious small coastal town’s underbelly (where its corrupt denizens meet their match in the Bateses) could prove to be a ride worth taking.

What remains to be seen is if the show will suffer from the fact that everyone watching is just waiting for the “bomb” (re: Norman) to explode – since it’s clear that the showrunners have a much larger agenda in mind beyond filling in the blanks in terms of how the relationship between Norma and Norman ceases to be mildly disturbing, yet oddly touching (and becomes something far more terrible).

You can watch the first episode online by going HERE.

Stray Observations:

  • The present-day setting hasn’t come into effect much so far, other than as a means to characterize Norman through his iPhone’s musical selections (“Go Outside” by The Cults – appropriate for a budding maniac), versus his mother listening to a crackling record featuring The Rolling Stone’s “Beast of Burden” (again, fitting choice).
  • Nothing like dumping a body in the water to strengthen the bond between mother and son, right?
  • What’s stranger: Norman quoting Jane Eyre to his mother or quoting the Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles film version of that story?
  • That mysterious woman who stops before entering her car to watch Norma – as she crosses the street and discovers the town meeting about the Highway 88 bypass – a Red Herring? Foreshadowing? Or just an extra who couldn’t help but look in the direction of the camera?


Bates Motel continues next Monday with ‘Nice Town You Picked Norma’ @10/9c on A&E.

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  1. I watched this early the other night (On Demand) and I also tuned in tonight because I really liked what I saw. I may be biased towards the whole project though because I just love any, and everything Psycho related. Hitchcock’s Psycho is my favorite horror film and I absolutely love Psycho II. The cops in the pilot episode were pretty much the only thing that bugged me. It felt very unnecessary. Why was he being so rude toward Norma? Didn’t make sense. With that said, Im loving Vera Farmiga’s take on Norma, it’s wonderful. I have always liked Farmiga from The Departed to Up in the Air. Highmore is good too, I liked him in The Art of Getting By with Emma Roberts. I can’t wait to check out next weeks episode. Im sure as is the case with most new shows, this will only get better as it continues.

  2. Oh yeah, that woman who stared at Norma ash she crossed the street. I thought that was weird. What was up with that?

  3. I found it pretty boring for a pilot episode. Hopefully it’ll pick up.

  4. I stopped at the rape scene. There’s enough of that crap happening in real life; I don’t need to see it in TV narratives as well.

    • You realize of course that this series is about an innocent teenage boy becoming an insane serial killer who (at times) thinks he’s his own mother, right?

      • Don’t think he understood.

    • Yes! I stopped watching at that scene—too brutal-it is in today’s news worldwide. Don’t need to see it on tv.

  5. This was not my favourite but I have watched all the parts. It’s quite boring to me.

  6. I love this show.

  7. I gave it a chance, and loved it! I think watching Highmore go from innocent, charming nerd to psychotic madman is going to be cool. Farmiga is lovely and was my favorite part of the pilot too. It’s super creepy, but at the same time you kind of wish she would adopt you…

    Good show!

  8. I’ve been anticipating this show for a while now. Waiting for the the premiere patiently. I love Carlton Cuse and anything he’s attached to, for the most part. Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga were truly awesome as mother and son. I’m not sure the liked the cops either, but from what I’ve read, that storyline should pick up quite nicely. I have plenty of faith in Nestor Carbonell, who played one of favorite roles in TV history as Richard Alpert on LOST. Looking forward to see where it goes and I thought the pilot was quite entertaining in that psycho-way, which is what I believe they were trying to do. If you didn’t watch it, I highly recommend you do.

  9. The premiere was pretty good but I had a hard time watching that rape scene. That is something that I’ve seen on movies and shows more often and I find it disappointing. Although, I understand the importance of it to the story and the motives of the Mama Bates. I want to keep watching this show but if it turns into watching women get tortured and assaulted (like the pictures in that weird book suggests) I may have to bow out. The Following is getting difficult to watch at times and they don’t even go that far. Don’t get me started on American Horror Story: Asylum. (ugh..)

    • I’m just getting to this on my DVR. I’ll give it a chance though I’m WAY off the demographic I’m sure. Totally agree about the Following. Had to jump the shark in spite of being a Kevin Bacon fan. A reviewer of The Americans said The Following needs some lessons about the FBI. That was funny.

  10. Watching the rape scene, it’s easy to see how anyone could become a killer. Some people deserve to die, and since the law is not always there for you, playing executioner yourself is what’s left. I think that was his point, he Bates are outsiders so the law would look the other way even if Mrs Bates reported him.

    This is a very dark show and I don’t mean the house.

  11. I liked the show but thought that the rape scene was incredibly forced. It was probably the biggest turn off especially for a pilot episode. Also the ending scene with the needles was something that I just don’t think was necessary for the first episode. If this show starts to turn into a rape fest then I think i’m going to tune out.

  12. I’m actually kind of surprised by how much I liked the pilot… Vera Farminga was fantastic and I really like the Twin Peaks vibe.
    At first I thought the scene with the Sheriff was a bit forced, it felt like he was acting odd for no reason but after that last scene it seems to me that he may be involved with whatever was going on with the previous owner.
    I don’t want to get to excited because this was just the first episode but so far so good.
    I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

  13. Anyone know when this is gonna air in the UK? Really looking forward to it, especially after reading this article.

  14. the transformation should be interesting. Its ironic we have two iconic villains both have their origin revealed. I’ve never read the book, that Psycho is based off of, is the twist suppose to be who owns the sketch book? And the end scene who is the captor and who is being held captive? Waiting on Hannibal now…

  15. Not good. It was a mistake to set this in modern times, and the majority of the performances are from the CW School of Acting. Highmore’s American accent is unconvincing. Farmiga is a wonderful actress who deserves much better than this. I’m sure this will be a huge hit…

  16. I feel the exact same way!! i feel like it was a HUGE mistake to have the show in present day! I was unaware that norman has the “curious case” syndrome. where he’s a grown man in the 50’s and a child in the 00’s. I’m extremely confused by the hint of the 50’s here and there then BAM Norman pulls out an iPhone! I think if they want this to be really believable they should’ve set it back in the 40’s.

    • Even though I really enjoyed the episode I kind of hoped it would be set in the late 40’s early 50’s. Heck it wasn’t until we saw Norman at the bus stop that I realized that it was set in the present. 😉
      A big reason IMO as to why it wasn’t set in the past is probably the cost. A&E probably couldn’t afford the budget that the show would need to produce a period piece. I’m sure that’s not the only reason but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a factor.

    • You mean the iphone that is held up like we are supposed to be actually be able to read it? LOL

    • U took the words of my mouth. I was so confused with the cell phone . Did you see the t.v in the beginning it throws me off big time.

  17. Well, only on second episode and seems to be a good show. But, if you watched the original and the remade vince vaughn version – – — I think it doesn’t add up. Norman in the show is very opened and in the movie he is socially awkward and has a dying love for his mother. Where did the other son come from and…………….I could go on and on.

  18. My husband and I have been watching this. We love thrillers and this is one of the best we have ever seen.
    It is so amazing, the suspense alone is beyond top notch. Anyone who appreciates Alfred Hitchcock and the old Psycho or whoever just loves a thrillride, I dare to to try it! we are beyond hooked!

  19. So is Norman like a pshycho or something cause I don’t want him to be :(

    • Are you just kidding or do you really not know (maybe you’re too young to recall Pyscho)? If you are, yes is the answer about Norman. He is a cross dressing serial killer. This series is designed to show how this happened which is why you’re reading several posts about the time period.

      I cannot say it is amazing or the best series I’ve ever watched but for me it is definitely good and unless is goes down hill, I’ll keep watching it. Nothing like a great escape from my rather boring life as an IT manager in a government agency ;-0

  20. I like the show too but it seems to be all over the place. Like: What is the big mystery about the guys belt? Since they don’t even know if he’s dead, where does the belt come in.

    Also, how did Norma and Dillon become so estranged from one another? He appears to be the only sane one in the family but now he’s also a killer. But he’s my favorite character in the show.

    And Dillons friend that got shot, is he a drug dealer and Dillon working for him? And, what happened to Bradleys dad? I swear I watched every show but things are jumping all over the place.