The all-time mummy’s boy

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

THROUGH­OUT the long and con­vo­luted his­tory of Psy­cho’s main char­ac­ter, the big ques­tion has been: What made Nor­man Bates be­come a knife-wield­ing, mur­der­ous dual per­son­al­ity? New se­ries Bates Mo­tel, which premieres on pay-TV chan­nel FOX8 on Sun­day, is the lat­est at­tempt to an­swer that and to do it in a way that sets this story apart from the orig­i­nal Psy­cho film, three se­quels and re­lated pro­duc­tions. But it also has to deal with the other big is­sue: What ex­actly was the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Nor­man and his mother? Bates Mo­tel be­gins that chron­i­cle be­fore Nor­man (Fred­die High­more) and mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) have even got­ten to the mo­tel, with the death of Nor­man’s fa­ther – and that in­ci­dent’s tight­en­ing the bond be­tween mother and son. Start­ing over, they move to the town of White Pine Bay, where Norma buys the mo­tel and ac­com­pa­ny­ing house, and Nor­man starts at­tend­ing school. In some re­spects, things have got­ten bet­ter. The Psy­cho saga has re­peat­edly sug­gested Nor­man is some­how ap­peal­ing to women. That’s the case here, as the pop­u­lar Bradley Martin (Ni­cola Peltz) and the ail­ing Emma De­cody (Olivia Cooke) are both drawn to the new kid. Of course, that dis­rupts the school’s so­cial struc­ture – and gains Nor­man some at­ten­tion he doesn’t want. At the same time, the mo­tel has a his­tory, and a for­mer owner, who is not pleased that the Bate­ses have moved in. He’s an old-timer in the tight-knit com­mu­nity – and es­pe­cially friendly with lo­cal law­man Alex Romero (Nestor Car­bonell), who casts a wary eye on Nor­man and Norma. In­deed, as the show moves along, it may not be that Bates’ mother and son have brought trou­ble with them (even af­ter Nor­man’s half-brother shows up), but that White Pine Bay, it­self, car­ries some old, nasty bur­dens. Even so, the se­ries is still driven a great deal by the Nor­man/Norma re­la­tion­ship. The show, and Farmiga’s per­for­mance, make Norma a sexy and sex­ual crea­ture, and one who is not afraid to give in to all sorts of im­pulses. Nor­man, well played for vul­ner­a­bil­ity by High­more, tries to fit in with oth­ers, only that means con­trol­ling his own urges even as life around him pushes him in grim­mer di­rec­tions. Bates Mo­tel asks some in­trigu­ing ques­tions, and its tone is full of sus­pense and gloom as we an­tic­i­pate what Nor­man will be­come. At the same time, it takes hor­ror in some ugly di­rec­tions, with a rel­a­tively early, very vi­o­lent scene that will dis­turb many view­ers. At least, it dis­turbed this one – and enough that I ques­tioned whether con­tin­ued watch­ing was in or­der. But that scene added to the un­set­tled feel­ing that Bates Mo­tel wants view­ers to have. Even if we know where this is all lead­ing, it’s not go­ing to be a com­fort­able jour­ney.

– RICH HELDENFELS

Bates Mo­tel se­ries pre­miere: Sun­day, 8.30pm, FOX8

Fred­die High­more

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