Monday, March 18, 2013

Bates Motel: First Impressions (Spoilers)

So it's finally here, tonight was the premier episode of A&E's Bates Motel which was entitled "First You Dream, Then You Die." Before I even get into the show it should be known that Psycho is one of my all time favorite movies and in my top 5 favorite classic horror films, so this show has a lot to live up to.  I would actually go as far as saying that Anthony Perkins portrayal of Norman Bates is one of my top 10 favorite character portrayals ever.  The first time I ever watched Psycho I was was enraptured by Perkins quiet shyness and social awkwardness.  I sat through the entire movie thinking that there was no way this kind sweet, slightly off man was in fact said psycho.  Here's the other thing, A&E marketed this show specifically toward people of the American Horror Story slant.  The trailers had AHS-esque music, the posters had a very AHS feel and there's a Farmiga in it so.... Basically what I'm saying is that this show has a lot more to live up to than most pilots.

Okay, now for the show.  This pilot episode was all set up so it's always hard to tell.  The show opened with Norman looking rather ill calling for his parents.  He stumbles around the house only to find his father's dead body and his mother casually showering.  We don't find out how the father wound up on a pool of his own blood, but it's already pretty clear that Mrs. Bates is kind of creepy.  We are given a "6 Months Later" prompt and see Norma and Norman driving to their new home... the infamous Bates Motel.  Of course it's not called that yet, but God was it good to see that building again.

 My thoughts in just these few minutes of the show were mixed.  The show keeps the 50s/60s vibe with dress, music and even TV, Norman has an iPhone.  The colorization is also hard for me, as Psycho is a classic black and white, but Bates Motel is filmed with rich saturated colors.  All of that seen here:

As the episode was mostly set up I'm just going to skim through, the plot.  Basically Norma can't stand Norman hanging out with anybody but her.  First he tries to join the track team but she gives him a passive aggressive yes that really means no, than she flips out when she finds out his guidance counselor is a woman (even if Miss Watson does kind of creepily look at Norman) and when a gaggle of girls come to ask Norman to study Norma Bates really has a conniption.  Sick of Mother's bullshit, Norman sneaks out and meets the girls who take him to a high school party the likes of which no high school has ever actually seen.

Now, while Norman is out, things get totally and completely fucked up at the motel.  You see, earlier in the episode, the grandson on the original owner of the property drunkenly yells at the Bates' calling them out on having no idea how to run a hotel.  Norma gives it to him good, basically telling him to fuck off and grow a pair, just because he couldn't pay the mortgage and the bank foreclosed on the property.  Well, while Norman is at the party of the century, drunk grandson ex-owner comes in and fucking rapes Norma. The scene is disturbing and by no means is handled delicately and Norma screams for her son.  Norman walks in mid-rape, and is able to subdue his mother's attacker.  While Norman goes to find the first aid kit to deal with a cut on his mother's hand, the rapist comes too and tells Norma "You liked it," so she stabs him to death.  A proper, Psycho stabbing, multiple times, blood splashing everywhere.  Now of course, this is a pretty reasonable murder... he did just rape her, but Norma wants no police involvement, she very ironically doesn't want the property to be a murder motel.

The rest of the episode deals with how to get rid of the body.  The have to cut out all the carpets in the rooms to make up for the blood stains in one of the rooms.  It would of course look suspicious if they just de-carpeted one room.  The body is stashed in a bathtub (much like the famous Psycho shower) and Norma and Norman get to work on ripping out the carpets.  In one of the most intense moments ever on TV ever, the police pull into the motel.  They don't realize that the property has been bought and want to make sure it's not some punk kids.  The police decided to look around and of course end up in the room Norman is cutting the bloody rug in, not to mention it's the room with a body in the shower.  And then what happens... one of the cops uses the bathroom.  I think I made three or four tiny shrieking noises during those scenes.

While Norman is cutting up the rug, he finds a weird journal full of Anime-like drawings of a girl being tortured .. and he is way more into it than he should be.  At the end of the episode we see said girl getting some sort of drug injected into her vein but we have no idea who or where she is.  It should also be noted that during the episode it is mentioned that Norman has a brother.  We also meet a character named Emma who has Cystic Fibrosis and is kind to Norman when he pukes after he finds some blood on his shoe.  This is a paragraph of all the things that were only just barely hinted had but peaked my interest.

All and all I wasn't overly wowed by the show, but as it was just the first episode I think I just have to give it time.  I do have to commend two excellent performances by Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore.
Now, Farmiga has a bit of an easier task as her character is nothing more than a rotting body in Psycho she doesn't have much to live up to.  She has the luxury of creating Norma's character and going a big as she wants too without crossing any lines.  Highmore has to contend with Perkins brilliance  but I have to say I was quite impressed.  He definitely bears a resemblance to Perkins which helps, but he also has the Perkins vacant stare and creepy smile down.  Now if only Highmore could really wrangle in his American accent.  But seeing how the whole episode revolved almost entirely around only these two characters they not only kept me entertained, but they kept the tension at a peak the entire time which must have been exhausting for them.  The real problem with the show is that it has to live up to Hitchcock whether it wants to or not, but I have faith and am willing to keep watching.