Thursday, May 04, 2017
R.I.P. Bates Motel (2013-2017)
The initial announcement for Bates Motel made the show seem needless and silly. "See how Norman Bates became the mother-obsessed serial-killer from Psycho." Yet another origin story of a pre-existing property. Whoopie. On top of that, Alfred Hitchcock, who originally brought Psycho to the screen, has been my favorite filmmaker for the majority of my life. The fact that someone would be exploring something he breathed cinematic life into made me even more antagonistic.
A couple of my more persuasive cousins suggested I give the show a chance, shortly before the start of its second season. Finally, finding myself with way more free time than expected in the summer of 2014, I tried out Bates Motel--I had DVR'd the second season, and a marathon of the first that spring. I enjoyed the first season, but I didn't think it was great. While the central performances of Freddie Highmore, as Norman Bates, and Vera Farmiga, as his mother, Norma, were outstanding, Bates Motel surrounded them with needlessly melodramatic sub-plots. The show placed them in a seemingly idyllic town, full of sex slavery, drug trading, and corruption, and I felt like all of this town drama was a needless distraction from the central mother/son relationship. However, as the show filled out its cast, with Max Thierot as Norman's outsider brother, Dylan, Nestor Carbonell as town sheriff, Romero, Olivia Cooke as Norman's terminally ill friend, Emma, and the Shield's Kenny Johnson as Norma's estranged brother, Caleb, something happened. The distractions slowly faded to the background, as the relationship between the characters deepened and found new meanings.
As this occurred, something even stranger happened: in the show's 4th, and penultimate season, when the gulf of silly subplots was drained, the space was filled with a sea of empathy. Suddenly, Bates Motel went from an entertaining, campy way to pass an hour, to great television. In fact, I'll argue that in 2016 and 2017, Bates Motel became one of the best shows on television/online/wherever it is people watch shows now. And thus, in its final two seasons, and particularly in its last five or so hours (the show ended last week), a once silly show about the origins of a monster from a horror movie had me blubbering like a baby, and ugly-face crying.
How did Bates Motel accomplish such a staggering task (going from silly to great, not making me ugly face cry, which admittedly, is not that difficult)? By humanizing its monster, presenting him through the eyes of those who care for him, humanizing his mental struggles, and by widely deviating from the source material in its final story arc. I should hand my bucket of ugly-cry tears to Max Thierot's Dylan in particular, as the compassion he shows for his wayward brother in Season Five has been the cause of most (but not all) of my eye-departed moisture. Having my own mother issues, and also desiring a general happiness in life, in spite of my own, thankfully not murderous mental issues, has always given me a deeper connection to this show, despite its early contrasts in quality. Now, I'll list it as one of my favorites.
Bates Motel, in its final three seasons, has averaged far less than two million viewers. Review aggregate website, Rotten Tomatoes, was able to locate 37 critically written reviews for Bates Motel's first season, 81% of them positive. For the fifth season, it could only find eight to aggregate, all of them positive. I hope, because of the excellence the show has espoused over the last two years, a massive re-evaluation is in order.