‘Bates Hotel’ covers hard-hitting topics

By Kevin Bartelt

Remember “Psycho,” probably the scariest film produced in the 1960’s? Well, it’s back with a new modern spin in “Bates Motel.”

This contemporary thriller shows viewers how Norman Bates became the killer we all know and love–or maybe hate. “Bates Motel” has a complex plot and great actors, but the overly dramatic dialogue hurts the show’s credibility.

The episode begins with Norman seeing his father lying dead on the ground. When Norman’s mother, Norma (that got annoying quick), sees her dead husband on the floor, her first reaction is to see if Norman is OK. This clear focus on her son over her dead husband foreshadows her later obsession with controlling Norman. The death of Norman’s father leads him and his mother to move away to buy a motel (see title).

The first three minutes of “Bates Motel” illustrates what life was like in the 1960s. The attire, Norma’s car and the dialogue all exemplify a life obviously not in the 21st century. However, after the opening credits begin, Norman is listening to music on his iPhone. Then he meets five attractive high school girls, and they drive away in their brand new convertible. “Bates Motel” is trying to combine characteristics from the film “Psycho” with today’s times. Unfortunately, the distinctions between the “Psycho” inspired scenes and the newer scenes are overexaggerated.

Another uncomfortable distinction between these two times is Miss Watson, Norman’s language arts teacher. The teacher has an old-fashioned haircut, she is dressed in clothing straight out of “Mad Men” and the formality of her voice is a little uneasy. Keep in mind she’s teaching students who are probably tweeting on their iPhone 5, yet she looks like she’s from a decade long before the invention of the iPhone.

I really like how Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga portray the characters of Norman and Norma. Both actors articulately created different vulnerabilities in their characters. Norman seems gentle, withdrawn and limited by his mother.

In one scene, the girls Norman befriended ask him if he can go to the library. Norma tells the girls that he cannot before Norman can even utter a word. Since that would be on my top five “guess what my mom did” moments, I felt embarrassed for Norman. The isolation from reality Norman endures due to his mother’s lack of trust in herself will have some bad outcomes later on–like sneaking out to party with the girls.

Viewers do not need to read between the lines to observe Norma has pent-up anger. Without ruining the climax of the episode, she lets some of it out. The pilot episode did not cover what happened to her husband but due to her lack of emotion, I am going to assume she may have had something to do with his death–although, there hasn’t been any evidence of this yet. In addition, Norma has another son who is also out of the picture. Norma shows her anger towards him in a very dramatic phone call. Clearly, Norma does not like being alone as we can see by her controlling personality. After the death of her husband and her oldest son, Dylan, leaving the family, Norman is all she has left. Norma believes she is helping him by being overprotective.

The first episode of “Bates Motel” was interesting, to say the least. The dialogue was overly dramatic when topics like rape and death are covered like it’s commonplace. Even though we should recognize this show derives from “Psycho” so those topics will probably be everyday conversation, it was a little much for the first 20 minutes of the show. With so much drama, the episode started to plateau about halfway through. However, do not look past the beauty of Norma’s and Norman’s characters and the acting ability of Highmore and Farmiga. I know it sounds creepy, but trust me it’s definitely worth trying to watch.

“Bates Motel” airs 9 p.m. Mondays on A&E.