Prequels are always a little iffy. For every The Godfather 2, there are at least a couple of Dumb and Dumberers. Couple the difficult feat of pulling off a decent prequel with the near-impossible task of pleasing a bunch of avid Hitchcock fans, and you start to understand the challenges Carlton Cuse and Co. face with Bates Motel. Luckily, they seem to be up for it. Hopefully you are too: I’m going to start recapping the show as it airs while giving you a little history of the original Psycho as we go. Here goes!
"Norman. Honey, I'm So Sorry."
“Oh, you’re gonna live with your mother?”
“Well, just for the first year...”
Appropriately, that’s the first bit of dialogue we hear on Bates Motel. Then the camera pans away from the Cary Grant movie and zooms in on an eyeball. Meet Norman Bates, who will one day stab Marion Crane to death in a shower and leave her similarly staring off into space.
But for now, he’s just a teenager - a teenager who senses a disturbance in the Force. After leaving his room and finding picture frames awry, an iron puffing steam and a pot boiling over on the stove, young Norman searches the house and discovers his father lying in a puddle of blood in the garage.
Back to the bathroom, which will be a recurring theme. Norman pounds on the door and begs his mother to open it, which she eventually does, looking totally unruffled by her son’s panic. “It’s dad. He’s - Hurry,” Norman implores her, but she does nothing of the sort. Instead, Mrs. Bates smirks slightly and wanders out of the bathroom with all the urgency of a hungover DMV employee.
Norma Bates doesn’t seem even remotely surprised to find her husband leaking vital fluids all over the garage floor. “Honey, I’m so sorry,” she says, and then rocks her nearly adult son like a baby. I mean... maybe at least pretend to check for a pulse??
"We Own a Motel, Norman Bates!"
Six months later, the Bates family of two pulls up to the retro-looking “Seafairer Motel." Welcome to the Bates' fresh start. Norma grabs her son by the hand and takes him on a tour of the iconic house that came with the motel, skipping around and flopping down on a bed, swinging her legs girlishly. While nothing inappropriate is actually happening, something just feels amiss.
The next morning, Norman, ear buds firmly in place, is waiting at the bus stop when a gaggle of girls clad in leggings and short skirts approach him. Scriiiiiitch. That’s the sound of a record coming to an abrupt halt. This is a modern day tale? This feels a little disorienting, which I suspect is by design. Norman and his mother are living in a world that doesn’t feel quite right to the rest of us, from the ramshackle house to their retro way of dressing. Even the car is straight out of 1960 Psycho.
They coax Norman into a friend’s car; a girl named Bradley grabs Norman’s iPhone and programs her number into it. “If you have any questions at school, you call me,” she says, because that’s totally how your first day at a new school works. As the BMW drives off, the license plate reveals that Norma and Norman have moved to Oregon, just a bit up the coast from the novel’s fictional location of Fairvale, California.
Back at home, Mrs. Bates stops hacking at raw meat to answer her cell phone. It's Dylan, the black sheep Bates. “So you thought it was OK not to tell your own son that you moved?" he asks. "What if I was hurt? What if I was in the hospital? What if I needed you?" After he requests some cash, Norma hangs up on him.
"My Mom's Just a Little Impulsive."
At school, Norman’s teacher-slash-adviser wonders why he does well on tests but not in class. “Is something wrong at home?” she asks. “My mom’s just a little... impulsive,” Norman says, then rushes to explain that he adores his mom's rash decisions. Miss Watson advises Norman to become part of the community by trying out for a sport. “What about track? You look like a runner,” she says, eyeing him up and down. He decides to attend tryouts after school, which means he incurs the wrath of his slightly slurring mother when he gets home.
As Norman gives Mrs. Bates the parental permission slip for track, she whips out her RSVP to the pity party. “We just bought a motel. How do you expect me to get it up and running without your help? You’re putting me in a tough spot here.” As Norman starts to backpedal, she lays it on thicker: “It’s fine. It’s OK! I’ll just do everything myself the way I always do.” She scribbles her name on the slip, declares herself not hungry, then slinks out of the room to lick her wounds.
"Everything in This House is Mine."
Daylight. While Norman is beating a rug (that’s not a euphemism), Keith Summers, housing market victim, wanders up and starts loudly lamenting how he lost the property. His great-grandfather built the house and his grandfather added the hotel in the ‘50s. “And that’s my grandmother’s rug,” he adds, emotionally. It is a nice rug.
Though Norma tries to sympathize with his misfortune, the convo doesn’t go well. She ends up threatening to call the police (or shoot him) if he returns. “Go ahead, call the police. I go fishing with half of them,” Summers spits, then tears off in his dented truck. “He’s just some pathetic drunk loser slob, honey," Norma tells her son. "He’s not going to bother us anymore.” That knock on the door you just heard is foreshadowing. It wants to be the first to book a room at the Bates Motel.
As mother and son listen to the Rolling Stones on a record player, the doorbell rings. It’s the gaggle of girls, and they want to know if Norman is available for a study session. Mrs. Bates shuts it down, citing lots of unpacking and “things” to do. Norman's none too happy about this and storms upstairs to immediately sneak out.
While the girls take him to a party that involves black lights, awkward teenage flirting (”You’re kinda weird. Weird-good.”) and a whole bunch of sticky icky, Summers returns to his family’s homestead. Norma screams for Norman, who isn't there, of course. It should be noted that Vera Farmiga, as Norma, has an amazing “Normaaaaaaaan” scream. Summers sees that no help is coming and handcuffs Norma to the kitchen table. “This house is mine, and everything in this house is mine,” he says, and rips her underwear off. Enter Norman, who clocks the rapist on the back of the head with an old fashioned iron, knocking him out cold.
As Norman goes to get a medical kit, Summers comes to and starts lurching back toward his victim. “You liked it,” he says with a sloppy grin, and that’s all the motivation Norma needs to slice him up like a side of beef. She stabs him over and over and over, the same technique her son will use a few years down the road.
"Norma and Norman... That's Unusual."
Although it was self defense, Norma refuses to let Norman call the police, fearing that their “fresh start” will suffer. “Who is gonna book a room in the rape-slash-murder motel?” she wisely points out. They decide to temporarily dump the body in one of the motel bathtubs until they figure out how to dispose of it, but leave a conspicuous bloody stain on the carpet as they're doing it. The only thing to do, Norma decides, is to rip up the carpet in several of the rooms and pretend they’re renovating. Right now. Even though it’s midnight. As Norman rips up the carpet, he discovers a little black book hidden beneath. He flips through it and sees some sketches of naked girls, and, as most 17-year-old boys would do, tucks it away for later perusal.
The motel lights attract the attention of the town deputy and the sheriff, who is - surprise! - Nestor Carbonell, AKA the ageless Richard Alpert from Lost. This gives me hope that other Losties will pop up. Waaaaaaaaalt as Norman’s new BFF? Anyone?
Norma is mostly convincing when she explains that she and her 17-year-old son Norman are just remodeling. “Norma and Norman...” the sheriff notes with a bit of a smirk. “That’s unusual.” Norma shrugs and says that boys often take their fathers' names, then turns to leave. That’s when Richard Alpert notices the bandage on her hand. Suspicious, he asks to look around, then comes dangerously close to discovering the corpse in the tub when he goes to take a leak. Having satisfied both urges, the sheriff and his deputy leave.
"I'm the Worst Mother in the World."
In the school cafeteria the next day, Norman looks down and notices a splotch of blood on his Chuck Taylors. He runs off to puke, and when he pulls his head out of the trash can, a girl hauling an oxygen tank is staring at him. She offers him a mint, explaining that the meds she takes for her cystic fibrosis make her a vomiting expert. “Do you have some sort of chronic illness?” she asks hopefully. Norman says no, and, looking a little disappointed, the girl introduces herself as Emma.
The Bateses head out on a rowboat to dispose of Keith Summers, whose corpse has been weighed down with chains. Also weighing the rowboat down: Norma’s recent discovery that the city is building a new bypass on the far side of town, rendering her real estate investment worthless. “I bought a motel that no one is ever gonna know is even there,” she pouts. “I’m the worst mother in the world.”
Norman plays right into her wallowing. “Mom, you’re everything. Everything to me," he says. "I don’t ever want to live in a world without you. You’re my family. My whole family, my whole life, my whole self. You always have been. It’s like there’s a cord between our hearts.” She calls him out on quoting Jane Eyre, but the lovefest continues. “It’s you and me. It’s always been you and me. We belong to each other,” he says, and then the duo celebrates their totally platonic love for one another by pitching a bloated corpse over the side of the boat.
Alone in his room, Norman takes a closer look at that sketchbook. The drawings are pretty twisted, including girls chained up in bathrooms and one victim receiving an injection in her arm. He quickly stuffs the book under his pillow when his mother opens the door to announce that she has a surprise for him: the new Bates Motel sign is up, and so is her outlook. “As long as we’re together, then nothing bad can really happen. Right Norman?” “Right, mother,” he responds, and that slightly creepy look on his face is nothing compared to the next disturbing scene: A real-life version of one of the drawings from the sketchbook. It would seem that Norma and Norman Bates aren’t the weirdest people in White Pine Bay.
Quotes of the Episode:
“I think people who are different don’t know they’re different because they have nothing to compare it to.” - Norman
“What are we supposed to do, clean this up with paper towels and spray cleaner?!” - Norman