'Bates Motel' premiere recap: 'Dark Paradise'

When it comes to a force of nature like Norma Bates… you just knew she couldn’t stay dead for long. Though often controlling, needy, and ripping people out of cars, the Norma Bates of Bates Motel was always a charmer: an eccentric woman who loved too much and spread that love around too little. Even at her worst, she was a far cry from the degrading shrew of a Mother in Pyscho who showed up for butcher knife shower sessions anytime her son so much as shared a sandwich with a woman.

Season 5 of Bates Motel is likely where we bridge that gap. Because if the final two episodes of season 4 made one thing clear, it’s that Norma Bates — superglued eyelids be damned — is quite dead. And what we know from Psycho is that her Mother persona lives on in her tragic son, Norman Bates. The first four seasons of Bates Motel made a meal (a rich, delicious, kitchen-wrecking, home-cooked meal) of laying out how that transition could have happened to a sweet co-sleeping mother/son pair like Norman and Norma Bates. What Monday’s excellent season 5 premiere seeks to explain is why.

To quote the totally credible psychologist from Psycho, “Matricide is probably the most unbearable crime of all — most unbearable to the son who commits it.” Indeed, if you killed your mother and then resurrected her in your mind only to keep her trapped in a Queen Anne prison of your own making, you’d probably need a pretty good explanation as to why you might have done such a thing. And Bates Motel wastes no time explaining how Norman can explain that his Mother is dead to outside world but very much alive to him: She faked her own death to protect her son: “So I could get away from everyone and everything that could distract me from you.”

That’s right: Norman Bates is now living for two. And, shockingly, being together-alone-forever (a Batesian term if ever there was one) isn’t always the paradise Mother and Son predicted…

Season 5 opens with Norman waking up to Bing Cosby’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” playing on the record player: “Does your mother realize / The stork delivered quite a prize.” She must! Because she’s right there in the kitchen cooking Norman a beautiful breakfast. And you know who else is running around? Juno the Dead Dog, that furry little harbinger of CrazyTown. Because you know and I know and everyone but Norman knows that Norma is dead. The woman cooking him breakfast is a psychological split: Mother only exists in Norman’s mind, and there, she can coexist with him, or, when driven to, she can take over him completely.

But typically, when Norman leaves the house to go manage the Bates Motel with his big boy “Manager” pin, he heads outside of this reality of his own making, out to a world where Norma Bates is still dead. The shots of Norman walking away from a beautiful meal cooked by Mother, only to reveal a wrecked kitchen left behind by Norman-acting-as-Norma are chilling, not just because of the mess, but because they’re a visual description of just how deep and false a world Norman has created for himself — er, themselves —  within the confines of the Bates property.

Out in the village of White Pine Bay, however, Norman Bates seems just your average small business owner with an affinity for sports jackets. At the new hardware store, locals greet him by name, and shop owners are charmed by him. Unfortunately, said shop owner Madeline Loomis (Loomis!) bears a striking resemblance to Norma from behind, is a Very Nice Girl, and is therefore likely doomed to meet a gruesome end. But for now, she’s very helpful to Norman in picking out paint samples that his mother would have liked — she passed about a year and a half back, you see — until Norman pulls out his wallet to discover that it’s not his wallet at all.

Back at the house, Norman informs Mother that he has someone else’s wallet and doesn’t know how he got it, and Mother says she doesn’t know either and continues vacuuming sketchily. If you were worried that the death of Norma would mean less of Queen Vera Farmiga and her bar-setting performance, look no further than this exchange:

Norman: “Mother, do you ever have the feeling that you’ve had the same nightmare over and over again? But that you can’t remember it, you just remember the feeling of it?”

Mother: “Nope!”

Norma lives on in Mother; it’s just that Mother lives on in Norman. That means there’s a whole other layer for Vera Farmiga to sing her teeth into, but it will likely also take a few episodes for the show to lay out just who Mother is and how she’s different than Norma now that she exists solely in Norman’s psyche.



After a bit of thumb-twiddling in Seasons 2 and 3, Bates Motel rocketed back with a moving, thrilling fourth season, setting us up for a final endgame season that looks to take us through the entire Norman Bates saga in a really unique and captivating way.

When the show first started, there was an idea floating around that it'd work solely as an origin story. As in, the show was meant to take us right up the front steps of Hitchcock's Psycho and deliver us a neatly wrapped Norman, ready to grow up and become the man who murders Marion Crane in the shower. As the seasons went on though, and Freddie Highmore began crafting a really interesting, and severely damaged, character, it became clear that it would be a disservice to simply treat this show like a prelude. It needed to tell a complete story with very little winking regarding "what's to come" after the final credits roll.

Norman is, already, the "psycho" from the classic movie. As we enter "Dark Paradise," Season 5's premiere, Norman's living in a total fantasy world. One that he, deep down, knows is a lie but has chosen to reside in nonetheless. Even Norma herself, as a figment of/extension of Norman, knows on some levels that she's not real. Sure, there's the narrative that she's really alive but faked her death so that she can devote herself to caring for Norman 24/7, but together the two of them, both sides of Norman's brain, really know it's all a dangerous delusion.

But they shrug it away. They accept that Norma can cook a full, fancy pot roast meal even though no one's gone out to shop for the food (and Norma can't even leave the house anyhow). Norman willingly ignores his medication because he knows it would mean losing the creepy dream life he squats in. In squalor, really. Just a gross, dilapidated house where nothing gets cleaned or tended to because that's Norma's job and she's a non-entity.

The Norman/Norma dynamic is still fascinating. Even with Norma dead, it's still a treat to watch these two bicker and spar over the same things they did when she was among the living. Norman has dark designs for the young woman at the hardware store,  Madeline Loomis, and he knows it, so Norma's there to do what she used to do - make him feel guilty about having friends. Of course, there's the whole added element of the poor woman possibly getting murdered as well, so the warring dynamic Norman has with himself is almost a type of failsafe device.

Norma's also there to pull him away from his lecherous voyeurism. Oh, and to take over when Norman's life is in danger, as was the case with the gun-toting Mr. Blackwell - a man who served as the premiere's little mini-mystery. Norman discovering his Blackwell's wallet led to us discovering some of the specifics about his living arrangement with Norma, including "BLACKOUT!" dates and violent murders. She's not just an illusion he dreams up, she's an active part of this pairing. She has a very specific role and is able to actively keep things from Norman and have her own secrets. It's really well done.

"Dark Paradise" also took us out to Seattle where Dylan and Emma now lead a calm, loving life with a new baby inside a blissful bubble of ignorance about all the horrible stuff that went down at the end of Season 4. Caleb showed up unannounced, like he does, and complicated things, like he does, but this time it was Emma who sent him packing. Will he oblige her request or should we fear for Dylan's new life? Is Caleb so desperate that he'd harm Emma or the baby? It's hard to tell. All we know is that somehow this season, Dylan will have to learn about Norma's fate and return home. The circumstances as to how this will happen are unclear though I can't help but worry for anyone who finds themselves in a peaceful, good place on Bates Motel.

The Verdict
Somehow, the walls are going to start closing in on Norman. Whether it happens due to Romero's hatred, Dylan's snooping, or murderous mishaps along the way, Norman's far too unstable to make it out of Season 5 with his "Dark Paradise" intact. This was a morbidly entertaining premiere that set up the final season nicely.

Bates Motel Boss Dissects Premiere Twists, Confirms [Spoiler] Theory

Norman Bates’ final descent into Psychosis has begun.

The fifth and final season of A&E’s Bates Motel got underway Monday night, and it was completely, utterly, gloriously nuts. It was also heartbreaking. And on at least one occasion, slightly mystifying.

Below, showrunner Kerry Ehrin tackles some of my burning questions about the premiere, while also teasing what craziness awaits in the remaining nine episodes.

TVLINE | The biggest shocker of the episode for me — Norman is a total slob!

KERRY EHRIN | [Laughs] Hilarious. He’s a boy that got left without his mom. And he’s not quite in his right mind; his brain is very cluttered, and [the messy house] is a metaphor for his confusion.

TVLINE | Does he know that Norma is dead? Or does he think her death was faked and she’s just hiding out in the house?

On the surface, he believes that she’s alive and that her death was faked. Obviously, the body is in the house, and he knows the body is in the house, so there’s a part of him that knows the truth. But he’s in denial because it’s so painful. But we deliberately wanted to keep it somewhat murky because insanity is murky. There are not rules to it.

TVLINE | Frozen Norma — prosthetics or Vera Farmiga?

It is sometimes Vera, and it’s sometimes a prosthetic. Vera is an amazing actress, even dead. She plays the best dead person; I don’t know how she does it.

TVLINE | When we meet up with Dylan and Emma, they have a daughter, which suggests a fairly significant time jump. How much time has passed?

About 18 months.

TVLINE | Why give them a child?

We wanted Dylan to have actually succeeded in separating from [Norma and Norman], to have a marriage that’s good, to have a job that he likes, and to have a child. All Dylan’s ever wanted is a family that he belonged to, so it seemed like a beautiful way to [illustrate] that he succeeded 90 percent of the way. But there is 10 percent of him that is still attached to his family of origin, and still has guilt that he left them.

TVLINE | Remind me — how the heck did they never find out Norma had died?

When Dylan left at the end of last season, he changed his number. Also, there’s really no responsibility of anyone to call next of kin as long as one relative knows of the death, which was Norman. And Norman didn’t want to tell him.

TVLINE | How long do they remain blissfully unaware?

It definitely comes into play. I can’t tell you exactly when, but it’s a big part of the story.

TVLINE | In other words, they won’t find out in the final 15 minutes of the series finale.

[Laughs] No. It’s a big part of Dylan’s storyline. And Emma’s.

TVLINE | Norman’s new friend in town, Madelyn Loomis, has a rather spoilery last name. Fair to say her husband Sam Loomis is having an affair with Rihanna?

[Laughs] I think that’s a good suspicion.

TVLINE | While Sam exists in the Psycho world, his wife, Madelyn, does not. Talk to me about the decision to create her.

I always looked at Marion Crane’s situation with Sam [in Psycho] and was like, “What is his issue? Why won’t he just marry her?” I always in the back of my head thought that there has to be some other woman involved. And this was just an opportunity to tell that story.

TVLINE | Side note: I want to move into Sam and Madelyn’s hardware store. It’s gorgeous.

That’s all [production designer] Mark Freeborn’s [handiwork]. I just adore everything he builds.

TVLINE | So the store doesn’t actually exist?

No. He completely designed it and made it, and I want to move in there, too. It’s luscious.

TVLINE | That store needs to exist somewhere.

I know, right? Let’s open it.

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