[This is a review of the Bates Motel season 4 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
For fans of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Psycho, the most interesting aspect of Bates Motel's first three seasons has been watching Norman's (Freddie Highmore) gradual descent into true madness. But now that he's already almost completely adopted the alternate personality of his mother -- whom he blames for his own homicidal actions -- it was hard to imagine how much darker and psychologically twisted the series might get when it returned for season 4. After all, the Norman viewers saw in the season 3 finale is pretty much the Norman of Psycho (as far as mental instability goes), even at the young age of 18.
But after watching the show's season 4 premiere, 'A Danger to Himself and Others', it's clear that the series hasn't quite plunged the deepest, darkest recesses of Norman's damaged psyche. Moreover, the series proved that there's still plenty of story left to tell between the show's events and the events of Psycho, as the premiere established some potential dividing lines between Norman and the ones closest to him -- emotional conflicts that we can only assume will become violent ones at some point in season 4.
And even though the season 4 premiere didn't feature any memorable bombshell scenes dripping with the type of melodrama the series is often fond of, it did a terrific job of building tension in more subtle ways -- the kind of tension that takes a little foresight to see and feel. Of course, the biggest and most notable emotional wedge the series is continuing to hammer on here is the one splitting Norman and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) apart, as Norma decides to revisit the expensive caregiving facility, vowing to admit her troubled son as soon as he's released from the psych ward in Willamette County. To Norman, this news should be devastating, and he will likely feel betrayed and abandoned, which will almost certainly set up some major confrontations between he and his poor, desperate mother.
On another front, the premiere also sets in motion the inevitable clash between Norman and his half-brother Dylan (Max Thieriot), who proved he cares very deeply for Norman's ex-girlfriend Emma (Olivia Cooke) -- not just by generously donating $50,000 for her lung transplant surgery, but also by showing moral support at the hospital as she undergoes the potentially life-threatening procedure. Although it seems Norman no longer feels attached to Emma, Dylan's sudden infatuation with her probably won't play well with the younger sibling. And if that doesn't set Norman off, perhaps the discovery of the murder of Emma's estranged mother Audrey (Karina Logue) will put Dylan on the offensive.
Then again, maybe Audrey's murder won't come to Dylan's attention (or anyone else's, for that matter). At first glance, the killing -- which was telegraphed from the moment Audrey showed up alone at the motel -- seems to add more unnecessary complication to the series' storyline by also adding to the body count so quickly. However, just like the show did at the end of season 3 with Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), it's provided Norman with another victim who likely won't have anyone looking for them. In Bradley's case, her fake suicide is only known to the Bates clan; and with Audrey, as far as anyone else knows, she left the motel after being turned away by Norma. Considering multiple ongoing investigations would only have muddied the narrative waters in White Pine Bay, the show's writers' nifty solutions should be applauded.
And while the final murder scene felt a little too contrived -- as if the series brought in a disposable character just for a shocking conclusion to the premiere -- the writers can also applaud themselves for achieving perhaps the biggest goals they set for the season 4 premiere. Not only were they successfully able to give the collective viewing audience tingling chills, but they did so while teasing that the monster inside Norman is only becoming stronger. By having Norman fly off the handle (again, as Norma) to just the slightest agitation, he is now becoming more unpredictable than ever, and certainly more dangerous than the audience has seen before.
Bates Motel's season 4 premiere was certainly an exciting, chilling and ambitious start to the season. We'll just have to wait and see if that new season can manage the story surrounding Norman with a steady hand, while continuing to dig even a bit deeper into what's most intriguing about the series -- the mind of its central character.
What did you think of the Bates Motel season 4 premiere? Let us know in the comments.
Bates Motel season 4 continues with 'Goodnight, Mother' next Monday, March 14 @9pm on A&E.