Farewell and Thank You to the Makers of “Bates Motel” (Expect Spoilers)

Published on May 5th, 2017 in: Horror, Reviews, TV, TV Reviews |

By Tim Murr

This week marked the series finale of A&E’s Bates Motel, a show that many people, myself included, was suspicious of as soon as the series was announced. However, I was won over within the first couple of episodes. I enjoyed the numerous subplots that ran through the five seasons, none of which related back to the original film or book, namely the marijuana and sex slave trades. I also liked the change of setting to Oregon (remember, Hitchcock changed the setting from the novel as well), and nearly all the characters invented for the show and the changes made to the original characters. Yes, at times it was hard to reconcile the show with the film and novel, but when I was able to let go and just enjoy the show as its own thing, that’s when watching Bates Motel became one of the most engrossing and rewarding shows on TV, something it had no reason to be.

Even people who were somewhat cold to the show can’t deny the powerful performances given by Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore as Norma and Norman. While there’s almost no connection to the film or novel in Farmiga’s performance, she did the fans one better and made Norma her own, crafting a character we weren’t as familiar with and continually surprising viewers season after season. Why she didn’t win an Emmy five years in a row, I’ll never know.

Highmore had some incredibly big shoes to fill in taking on the role of Norman. Regardless of how different Norman was written in the book, it’s Anthony Perkins we all associate with the character. At 19 years old, Highmore had to take over for Perkins, give us something new, and still give us a bit of that Perkins magic, like those looks and the delivery of certain lines. And he did it. That kid nailed the character and gave one powerful performance after another.

That this is all over and we won’t see this version of Norma and Norman together again is bittersweet. It had to end before it, like nearly all shows, overstayed its welcome, became redundant, or jumped the shark.

Like Hannibal, Bates Motel brought cinematic quality storytelling to television, with high production value, strong writing and direction, and a cast you couldn’t take your eyes off of. They created a whole new world in White Pine Bay for the Bates family to exist in. The quaint little town with the violent and seedy underbelly was a wonderful backdrop to allow Norma and Norman’s lives play out and bleed into the story of Psycho, which we all know and love so much. The criticisms leveled at the show concerning the sub plots, the changes to characters, and even the casting of a (GASP!) black Marion Crane are nothing but the ludicrous rantings of fandom gatekeepers. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but at some point we have to decide to ride with the artist or get off.

Of the new characters, the two actors that I appreciate the most were Olivia Cooke (who played Norman’s friend Emma DeCody) and Max Thieriot (who played Norman’s brother from a different father, Dylan Massett). From the moment Emma was introduced on the show I’ve worried about her. Cooke’s character was instantly likable, relatable, and lovable. She spent most of the series with a serious illness and seriously close to the deranged and violent psyches of the Bates. I probably would have lost interest in the show if they killed her off.

With Dylan, I didn’t get it at first. Why complicate the story? Why introduce a character that didn’t serve the main story, but instead was a vehicle for unrelated sub plots to fill the season run time? But he worked. His story worked. The sub plots worked. He wasn’t like Norma and Norman; he was an outsider to their relationship, and sometimes he seemed like an intruder (to them). He was an unwelcome reminder to Norma of a very dark past, one which came to light when her brother, Caleb Calhoun. He was played by Kenny Johnson who, almost more than anyone else, gave a portrayal of just how messy, confused, sad, and awful life and people in it can be, people who can still find redemption and forgiveness. Dylan arrived in town to reconnect with Norma and when he learned that his uncle was his father and had an incestuous relationship with Norma and that he, Dylan, was a product of rape, Thieriot really shined. He became one of the more interesting characters on the show and along with Emma, a source of light in an ever darkening world.

On a personal note, I was emotionally invested in Dylan’s character because I related to him so closely. I’m an older brother who for years had to watch helplessly while my mother and younger brothers laid waste to the world around them: broken homes, fleeing suddenly, lies, secrets, anger, verbal and psychological abuse. Dylan’s story was an extreme and distorted version of my own and I began to worry about him as much as I did Emma. In the final moments of the series finale, my heart was breaking and it wasn’t for Norman, as sad and moving as his death was, but for Dylan, who had done everything right. He stood by and stood up for his family in the face of total horror, even to the point of being in a position he may not survive. It was a beautiful moment seeing a sane and well Norman being reunited with a sane and happy Norma, but Thieriot carried the heaviest emotional baggage in that scene.

Dylan was forced into a no-win situation after he and Emma left White Pine Bay and got married and started a family. Emma’s estranged mother, Audrey Ellis (played by Karina Logue) had showed up briefly and then made the fatal error of staying at the Bates Motel. Norman, as Norma, murders her. Though he had no real proof, Dylan always suspected that she had died there, but kept it to himself to protect Emma’s heart and Norman’s freedom. This all becomes the car crash we all saw coming when Audrey’s body is pulled from the lake and Norman is formally charged with her murder.

Dylan knows Norman is a good and sweet person, who is very sick and needs help, but mid-way through season five, no one cares anymore, not even Emma. The world has turned on Norman and Dylan is the only thing standing between Norman and oblivion. He risked his marriage and his life just to see Norman treated humanely. His mother was dead, his father was dead, he’d gone through hell and got to a healthy place, only to see it all slipping through his fingers, like every other good thing in his life.

Thieriot had some emotionally draining scenes in season five, in particular,as he sat in his truck outside the motel talking to Emma on the phone, telling her he’s about to go get Norman. Their marriage is shattered after Dylan chose to come home and try to get Norman into a hospital instead of going to prison. With the revelation of her mother’s murder, Emma no longer has an ounce of empathy for Norman and she’s angry Dylan kept it from her. Still, she tells him, “You have a child,” while he responds, “I know I have a child. Do I have a wife?” I’ve stood in that spot where you have to choose between your family and your wife in a very abnormal circumstance and you have to choose one and lose the other. It shakes you to your core and you will give up a piece of your heart that will never come back.

The irrational and destructive behavior of my mother and brothers forced me to choose my wife and I never spoke to my mother again. When Dylan didn’t turn his truck around and drive straight to his wife and daughter my stomach dropped. In the final confrontation between Norman and Dylan, with Norma’s body propped up at the head of the dinner table, Dylan kept pleading with Norman to stop and let Dylan help him. He wished none of this was happening or happened, and he wished he and Norma could meet his daughter and they could have Christmas together. At this point, he was not being delusional, but mourning a future that was stillborn and placed in his arms. But Norman was on a trajectory of self destruction and I was on the verge of tears.

When Norman threatened Dylan with a knife and Dylan produced his pistol, you knew where this was going. You could see the world crumbling beneath Dylan’s feet. You could see the sad desperation in Norman’s eyes. He wasn’t “mother” and he wasn’t hallucinating, he was facing a reality that he was not strong enough to survive. Even with Dylan reaching out to him, he was alone, he was destroyed, he had gone out to a point where death was the only reprieve from the hurt. It showed what a destructive force physical abuse and mental illness could be on a family.

Additionally, I’ve got to give it up for Nestor Carbonell, who played Sheriff Alex Romero. He became as integral a part of the show as the Bates were. Romero was damaged from the get go, a law man compromised by the greater powers behind the scenes. He was a good man made dirty, he had blood on his hands, and he found redemption in the one woman he should have run from at a thousand miles an hour: Norma Bates. Romero’s tragedy was Shakespearian. Carbonell was given a role that from season one looked like it would end with his body being dumped in a lake or a shallow grave, but in the end he was a fallen hero who had been engulfed in hate, rage, and revenge.

The season five cast additions of Brooke Smith (Silence Of The Lambs) as Sheriff Greene, Isabelle McNally as Madeleine Loomis, Austin Nichols as Sam Loomis, and Rihanna (GASP!) as Marion Crane were all worthy additions to the cast, adding great layers to the show. Rihanna was unsurprisingly good. I mean, come on, if she wasn’t would she have been cast? All the online freakouts were just thinly veiled (if at all) racism. She was only on two episodes and she was great; get over it. And though he was introduced much earlier in the show, I want to give a shout out to Ryan Hurst who played Chick Hogan and wound up being another one of my favorite characters.

The shower scene twist was also another big point of controversy, and as someone who owns all the Psycho films and books and has watched the shower scene countless times, I ADORE the show for surprising me. Thank you to which ever brilliant writer it was that put Sam Loomis in that shower.

In the end, for any missteps the show may have taken there was still plenty of sure-footed story telling to carry it through. Add to that the sensitive and compassionate portrayals of mental illness and the show’s ability to tread respectfully on sacred ground and still blaze its own path really made Bates Motel a special show that will be dearly missed.

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