This post contains affiliate links.
Years ago I would not believe that in the future a horror series about “Psycho” would exist. This series is 50 delights for “Psycho” fans. Unlike the case of “Twin Peaks”, I have seen next to nothing on the web about “Bates Motel” that tries to peek beyond the bare facts of the series. Strange, because it’s a series that lends itself to study, especially by psychology scholars and such.
The only paper on the series I found was “The Personality Disorders of Norma Bates in Psycho and Bates Motel”. It’s no biggie, just below 1000 words, still, it’s a pity that’s behind a paywall.
I’m sure there has to be more paper-like content on the web about “Bates Motel” but that’s the only one I could find. I did my best to add to the pile of essay pieces this horror series deserves.
What is this Personal Essay About?
First, there’s an abridged review of the series, after that, I’ll focus on the entertainment value of the series.
“Bates Motel” is a horror-drama series that ran, originally, from 2013 to 2017. It was made by American Genre, Carlton Cuse Productions, Cuse Productions, and Kerry Ehrin Productions. It was distributed by A&E (where it had its original run) and by NBCUniversal.
It’s a prequel to the canon “Psycho” story, but it has several points of departure that don’t connect seamlessly with the series of “Psycho” motion pictures; or the novel, for that matter.
For instance, in “Bates Motel”, Norman Bates is a teenager but its time-frame is present day, instead of happening in the fifties, when the original Norman would have been in his teenage years. The developers, Cuse and Ehrin said that they didn’t want to make a homage to Hitchcock that was by the numbers*1. Nevertheless, the bottom line, to me, is that the discrepancies with the canon were a non-issue.
A&E is not a network I know, and I guess Bates Motel is the first of their original programming I watched. Owning rights to the series media, they created 28 different galleries. It’s the place to go if you want to see screen stills of “Bates Motel”. Just scroll the page down if you want to see any other of the 28.
Plot & Abridged Review of the Series
Norma Bates and her son Norman (17), move to the town of White Pine Bay, Oregon. They open the Bates Motel and start to manage it. Bad luck strikes the Bateses from episode one and launches them on a downward spiral of horror that takes five seasons of ten episodes each to resolve.
I’d say this is a dual-protagonist series, and the rest of the characters entering and exiting Norma’s and Norman’s reality on a, practically, daily basis has also well developed personal story-lines that sooner or later merge with the main plot.
When I was younger, and already a fan of “Psycho” for many years, I sometimes wondered how a teenage Norman Bates would have been.
Well, Freddie Highmore’s performance in this series has answered that question, and I think he aced the job of impersonating such a complex character.
I loved his rendition of Norman. It’s believable, and I felt connected to the character at a very deep level. I thought the same about Vera Farmiga as Norma Louise. I was watching the real Norman Bates and his mother, that’s what I thought while watching it.
The secondary characters, the same. The actors did a good job to match the grade of development the writers of the series gave to the characters.
I’d say, of the entire cast, the most memorable thing was the weight of their parts. To me, 99% of actors (even the extras) that appear on any given scene of this series have a feel of truth and logic that isn’t that easy to find on any average TV series.
You only achieve that illusion of real persons if you develop the setting and the characters in an exhaustive, multi-dimensional way. Something I see as very, very hard to achieve in feature-length movies, but that’s possible to nail down in series.
“Bates Motel” takes full advantage of that, to create characters that feel eerily real. And don’t get me started on how they developed the setting. I’ll just say that I also believed that White Pine Bay existed and was as shown on the series.
The cinematography is another thing that makes this series great. This is where the makers of this series saw an opportunity for creating a lot of variety and value for cheap and exploited it to the greatest extent.
I mean by this that, even if for fans of horror the classic view of the motel and that creepy Gothic/Victorian mansion is an aesthetic orgasm, we can’t deny that there isn’t much to the set of the series. In the previous “Psycho” audiovisual media we got a few very precious, very atmospheric shots of that exterior location, but I always wanted more, and many will concur.
That’s where I think cinematography kicked in and rewarded those that love how the set looks again and again during the series.
When you watch “Bates Motel” you get to see the outside of the house, the stairs leading to it, and the motel, those most beloved exterior spots of the world of horror movies, in all their different shades. Night, day, sunset, dawn, rainy days, summer days, winter days. That a lot of the scenes that happen in that set makes “Bates Motel” very enjoyable.
Goes pretty much without saying, that this series is unmissable for fans of any of the Psycho media that came before it. If only for the fact I exposed in the previous paragraph.
I think that the pacing is okay, but others have a different opinion. I saw people complaining that the series has a substantial portion that occupies itself with slice-of-life events and tangential plot lines. I don’t agree, I think that every scene counts.
I saw some writing that “Bates Motel” has lulls that work against the dynamism of the story. I disagree, because if you feel there are lulls in “Bates Motel” then you are either not paying attention, or you aren’t a hardcore fan of the story from before, that enjoys every second, and has the time of his or her life for getting that kind of microscopic view into the life of Norman Bates.
Besides, a series is not a movie, I think that those who can overlook the (supposed) meandering of the story and enjoy each minute of it, as I did, are those that get its message and purpose.
Which, I think, is that while watching “Bates Motel” the viewer gets to see the events that maimed Norman’s psyche.
Spectators, through rooting for this or that character, get a level of immersion that makes it possible to experience the universe of “Psycho” in a much more immersive way than any of the movies could ever expect to offer.
I’m sure this series must have more than several visual effects, but they aren’t noticeable in the least, and I can’t say I remember any scene that, when watching it, that I thought visual effects were noticeable and its CGI obvious. Similarly, the special effects are believable and rather shocking when they happen.
My Thesis on “Bates Motel” Entertainment Value
Because of its entertainment value, “Bates Motel” is a dream come true for horror-heads in general and “Psycho” fans in particular.
It is well known that the Bates mansion and the motel are themes for amusement park rides in multiple locations. I guess there have to be a lot more other places that offer both licensed and unlicensed “Psycho” Experiences as a horror attraction. Like this one.
Thus, I’m not going to say anything else about the entertainment value of “Bates Motel”, other than it may feel like a vacation of more or less fifty hours in a theme park’s horror attraction with Norman and Norma Bates as your hosts.
It should all be very evident once you watch the series. I wrote in the last paragraph I won’t say anything else, well scratch that. I can’t prove to you why I think it’s a dream of a horror series if I don’t add enough detail to prove the idea, right?
As a lover of horror diversions, I have a long laundry list of things that could be made to improve the rides of that genre that you find in theme parks.
The list is long, so much, so that I rather let the subject for a separate article. I think it’s important for you to know who is this essay coming. I’ve been always an enthusiast of immersive horror diversions.
It’s an industry that I see as both rare and elusive. The odds of having a horror ride nearby your home are extremely slim considering they are usually found in theme parks, and I guess there aren’t many cities with more than one or two of them in the whole world.
I think I didn’t have much luck during a lifetime of visiting horror diversions. My experience was half okay ones and the other half scams.
I mean, you get what you pay for, and some I visited were infuriatingly deceiving. What matters is that even if the ride is good, the thing that for me all of them have in common is that they last less than what I think would be required to satisfy an enthusiast.
I’m not saying the developers of this show aimed at giving an immersive experience of around fifty hours in what is a synonym with a theme park’s ride, to cater to the need of persons like me, but in my case they certainly did.
We can say that media that focuses on entertainment value is nothing new, but this show is one of the most extreme examples along with things like, for instance, the “Pirates of The Caribbean” movies.
Even without previously visiting any attraction related to “Psycho” I certainly felt that I always lacked more media of the franchise than what I was willing to assimilate. Add to that my obsession with the tantalizing short time that most horror rides last. This series satisfied me in both of those two senses.
With this odd relationship, that I based this essay on, I don’t mean to disrespect the dramatic, artistic, and genre dimensions of the show. Because to me they are also satisfying and effective, it was an experience like never before, something much more intense than something that exploits just one or two of any of those dimensions.
I’m quite detached from TV shows, but I have the capacity to binge on those that I think are a good fit for me. This one was one of those that made me want to invest my leisure time in it instead of doing any other recreative or restful thing.
To enjoy a retconned version of “Psycho” as a TV series was one of those coolest things that were lying dormant until somebody decided to make them a reality. I think it succeeded in being what a series about Norman Bates had to be.
Don’t read beyond this point if you haven’t finished watching the series.
If you search for the information and learn about the technicalities of the set, it may make you feel deception to find out that the house is just a facade built for the exterior shots. Still, the scenes are so well edited that this fact never, ever insinuates itself, not even slightly.
I won’t recommend this series to those that have recently lost a pet. It has a dramatic, depressing event that can wreak havoc with the emotions of those going through a period of grief due to the departure of any kind of friend from the animal kingdom.
When I watched “Bates Motel” it had been three months since I lost a pet of twelve years that I loved. She was increasingly mutilated by cancer for two years and I thought that going through her mutilation while she was still alive for two years would make the separation more bearable, but it didn’t work that way.
I’m still in grief, fourteen months after she passed on. Imagine three months after, like it was when I watched “Bates Motel” and the subplot about Juno came.
This may be the only thing I didn’t like about the series. The story about Juno lasts for only one episode, and I would have liked for it to last longer than that. I felt despondent already and when the episode begins, I should have skipped to the next.
Still, seeing Norman bonding with Juno made me feel somewhat better about my grief. Only to be triggered unexpectedly at the end of the episode. The ending of the Juno episode let me feeling very sad and back to square one, feeling paroxysms of grief.
BATES MOTEL, Its place Among Other Horror Series
Personally I think this is one of the great ones. Especially considering it did set itself out to be a series and not a mini-series. It is a pity that it did not continue longer, but I think that while the closure for what it is was well executed, we should not forget there is place for another one narrating the evens of what happens to Norman Bates after the ending.
© Bholenath Valsan 2021 — Personal Horror Series Essay: BATES MOTEL is most PSYCHO fans’ Dream come true – Horror Series