Monday, May 11, 2015


Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore as Norma and Norman Bates in BATES MOTEL.
“Bates Motel” ended its third season May 11 and the show inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film has brilliantly forged its own take on Norman Bates’ backstory, yet it’s also moved closer and closer to its source material with each subsequent season. In fact, this year’s 10 episodes riffed on a number of visual ideas and motifs that any fan of “Psycho” would recognize, and it did so with great wit and finesse. Here are the eight eeriest ways A & E’s hit show inched closer to the 1960 horror classic:

Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) either dresses like a mom or a tramp.
Norman has started channeling his mother’s voice

In the past seasons of the TV show, Norman (Freddie Highmore) has experienced fantasies of his mother scolding him, usually when he was about to have sex. In the movie “Psycho” Norman does as well, but he also imitates his mother’s voice talking to him. Now, that’s happened on “Bates Motel” as well.  This season, Norman truly found his voice, er, her voice. And he’s been caught doing it by everyone from his sensitive brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) to his wayward uncle Caleb (Kenny Johnson).

Norman played the mother role this season. He even wore her housecoat while making breakfast.

Norman is starting to dress like his mom too

Vera Farmiga’s Norman Bates is a walking contradiction. Sometimes she’s the conservatively dressed mother hen, lording her maternal instincts over everyone from her brood to the Sheriff (an often flummoxed Nestor Carbonell). And other times, she dresses to seduce. This season she ran away in a snit and dressed like a floozy, hoping to bed a stranger. Norman was so upset with her exit, he lost his marbles and started channeling her whole cloth, right down to wearing her housecoat. 

Mrs. Bates is starting to sit at the bedroom window

The show has sometimes been hesitant to rely on visuals that clearly come from the movie, but this season a number of shots echoed the film blatantly. Norman observed his mother watching him from her upstairs bedroom window. That is a direct lift from the film, and it added even more chills to the show, as we know that Norman will eventually prop his mother’s corpse in a chair by the window to continue the illusion that she’s alive.

The show frequently employed overhead shots

“Bates Motel” has also started to employ the overhead POV shots to make everything in the hotel more macabre, from shots of the ominous staircase to Norman’s time in the tub. Unusual camera angles like that added to the oddity of the Bates world in the movie, and they did so in the TV series as well.

Good girls are starting to disturb Norman’s libido

Did Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) trigger her own death by mildly flirting with Norman in the movie? Yes, as any stirring of his sex drive triggers his Mother’s jealous mindset. That’s been happening all season long this year, first with the prostitute Annika (Tracy Spiridakos) openly propositioning Norman. He didn't kill her, but he easily could have. And sadly, in the season finale, the forlorn Bradley (Nikola Peltz) made a fatal mistake when she tried to pull Norma away from his home. How will Norman/Norma react when he realizes his old flame Emma (Olivia Cooke) is falling hard for Dylan? The likely outcome is not a pleasant prospect.

Is Emma (Olivia Cole) doomed as a good girl in Norman's world?

The show's tracking shots looked like Hitchcock's

The Master of Suspense loved tracking shots, especially those going up or down stairs, and this season “Bate Motel” added more and more of them to its visual vocabulary. Such shots add urgency and tension to the storytelling as the camera moves us closer into the action. And getting up close and personal with this cast of characters is very frightening indeed.

Norman’s obsession with taxidermy has become prevalent

The show established Norman’s strange hobby in season one, but it’s even more of a recurring visual motif now. It shows he’s becoming more and more comfortable with death. And it's a place he has a sense of control as he seldom does anywhere else in his world. How much longer until he starts preserving some human subjects?

Dylan (Max Theriot) and Emma follow Norman up those famous stairs.

 The soundtrack is starting to echo Bernard Herrmann

As shocking as it is, the show has never vamped on the well-known movie score by master composer Bernard Herrmann. And while the show hasn’t employed the shrieking strings outright, the melodramatic orchestrations are inching closer and closer to it. When Norman goes full psycho in the coming season, as everything is pointing to, can the shrieking strings be far away? Doubtful.

Whether or not A & E renews BATES MOTEL for a fourth season remains to be seen. But if it does, rich story opportunities await as the show inches closer and closer to the movie, and Norman inches closer and closer to his mother and a truly horrible killer. 

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