[This is a review of the Bates Motel season 5 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite some moments of splashy melodrama and a few distracting subplots more suited for a daytime soap, A&E's Bates Motel has largely worked as a fresh, creative modern-day take on the Norman Bates story. Its fully fleshed-out world has spawned interesting new characters, while detailed histories of Norman's (Freddie Highmore) psychosis and the complicated, volatile Norman-Norma relationship have added fascinating depth to one of horror's most iconic stories. With what the series has been able to accomplish four seasons in, we'd bet that most Alfred Hitchcock fans would be proud to submit Bates Motel's Psycho-prequel storyline as canon-worthy, even though the series has -- in many ways -- carved out its own path from the original film.
That said, coming into the season 5 premiere, 'Dark Paradise', there was still a sense that the show needed to cross the bridge it had built its source material on while also closing off its own story in compelling and satisfying fashion. That dual set of responsibilities give the series' final season a particularly unique challenge and added pressure, especially considering how unforgiving some Psycho fans would be if the series ended too far off track in one direction or the other.
And while it's still much too early to tell whether or not the show's final season has met that challenge, tonight's premiere certainly laid out some interesting puzzle pieces that the show's narrative will hope to fit neatly together into one clear, cohesive picture as the end of the series draws near. Among those pieces are a mysterious Bates Motel customer (Austin Nichols), who quite obviously uses a fake name upon checking in; Norman's new crush, local hardware shop owner and Norma look-alike Madeline Loomis (Isabelle McNally); and perhaps most notably, a Norman/Norma murder victim linked to an incarcerated Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell).
Given how season 4 ended, the reveal of Romero being behind an attempted hit on Norman is far from shocking. But even though the ending to the episode isn't the dramatic wallop the show was likely going for, it does create some intrigue by setting the stage for an eventual and decisive showdown between Norman and his aggrieved father-in-law toward the end of season 5 -- even if that showdown is a life-or-death chess game played on opposite sides of prison walls.
Picking up two years after the events that led to Norma's (Vera Farmiga) death, the table-setting episode also raises questions about how Dylan (Max Thieriot), Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Caleb (Kenny Johnson) would fit into the larger narrative and Romero's plot. With the young couple and their newborn living away from the danger that lies in White Pine Bay, how will they become imperiled in Norman's world? Will Romero reach out to them in search of an ally?
Of course, for fans of the source material, it's hard not to look ahead and wonder how all of these pieces will lead and connect to the much anticipated Marion Crane storyline set to be introduced in the middle of the season. Bates Motel showrunner Kerry Ehrin has previously discussed that the show's version of Marion (played by pop superstar Rihanna) and her backstory will be different from the film, but how exactly remains to be seen. Considering the original character first brought audiences to Bates Motel in 1960, it's safe to say many are eager to see her arc play out on the show as the stories from both versions begin to overlap.
While season 5 appears poised to tell the story of a schizophrenic killer trying to remain in the shadows, what's even more exciting about the final chapter is that it's clear the exploration of Norman Bates is not yet complete. The first four seasons of Bates Motel have fascinated us with the psychology behind the deteriorating mental state of its main character and tonight's premiere introduced a few more intriguing questions. Why is Norman infatuated with women who resemble his mother? And will Norma act out violently in fear of being replaced? Sure, we can expect much of this season's drama to come from other characters learning Norman's secret, but keeping the psychological piece of this psychological thriller integral to the story will make its emotionally dramatic (and perhaps shocking) conclusion even more thrilling.
Bates Motel season 5 continues with 'The Convergence of the Twain' next Monday @10pm on A&E.