The moment's arrived, folks. We've been waiting 50 years to understand Psycho and now -- thanks to tonight's premiere of Bates Motel -- we're finally clearing out a lot of confusing cobwebs that have been lingering. Let's see what's going on down at the ol' Bates place!
First of all: Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) finds his dad KILLED to death one day while playing with wires in his family's basement. Oh no! He freaks out with grief and runs screaming for his mom, the aptly named Norma (Vera Farmiga! I always want to call her Vera Parmigiana for some reason!). She doesn't seem too upset. It's a little weird. Fast forward six months, and Normie 'n Normie are driving up the Pacific coast like Thelma and Louise, the wind whipping through their matching polyester weaves. They're alive and they don't care who knows it! They're headed for a fresh start! This new clean slate actually involves a rundown haunted shithole, er, a "hotel", that Norma Sr. has purchased. She's going to flip it, guys! Haven't you seen Property Ladder? She watches it all the time!
They settle in and things seem to be going okay, except for a freak encounter with a crazy neighbor who looks like the bloated love child of Ted Nugent and Larry the Cable Guy. He used to own the land before it was repossessed and sold to the Bateses, and damn, is he ever sore about it. What a bad sport! He threatens them horrifically and really, they should be calling the police, no? Correct? Wrong! At any rate, Norman starts school. Now, Norman is handsome, but is dressing all wrong for his type. His wardrobe seems to consist solely of Hardy Boys sweaters and goofy tan pants. He should really be parlaying his unique look into a sort of emo pop charm. He has floppy hair and an anemic physique and his eyes look like two giant black saucers inside two giant sinkholes. He's like catnip for the tween set! He's like Edward Cullen but with no muscle tone! All he needs is some black eyeliner and a pair of women's size 26 jeans and he could rock this town off its feet.
That being said, his Mr. Rogers outfit obviously isn't a dealbreaker because the honeys are still taking notice. He gets cornered by a group of them at the bus stop, and it's not even 9 a.m. Girl #1 is all, "You're new." Is that a clarifying statement or a question or what? Of course he's new. Have you met him before? No. Girl #2: "Do you have a girlfriend?" Girl #2, what are you doing? Be cool. You've obviously not read The Game, or else you'd be negging his outfit.
Norma, on the other hand, dresses like a walking iVillage commercial and seems like the kind of mom who would pack gourmet school lunches and bake quiches for fun. BUT she isn't! Psych! Instead she's a crazy reverse-Oedipus lunatic nutbag who literally will stop at nothing to preserve her obsessive control over her only son. Weird, right? This really becomes apparent when the Bus Stop Girls come waltzing over to Chez Bates to invite Norman to a study party. Norma puts a quick stop to that, which really riles Norman Jr's feathers. He can't believe she's being, like SO UNFAIR! Norma's pissed: "You're turning all teen on me!" Which is of course code for "I have an unhealthy psychosexual attraction to you and I'm mentally ill."
Norman bites back: "That was Girl #1 from the bus stop! Don't you know how popular she is?She's not horrifiic looking and I'm so maladjusted and all you buy me are these dumb sweaters that make me look like a lady! Maybe I could be cool even if I had the chance! You don't know what I can do!" Then he storms upstairs. "Fine! Maybe you'd better just stay up there!" says Norma. "I suck!" whispers Norman to himself, as he flops down on his queen-sized bed beneath his 1990s collage of teen pop stars. Ping! What's this? Girl #1 is paging him! His beeper is going crazy. He pops on his favorite blue Skechers and decides to fly the coop. He beeps her back and is like "I'm coming! Save me some Prosecco! Just straightening my hair! I'll throw down my Trapper Keeper and that'll be the high sign! Wait for me at the corner!"
They bust out and go to a really, REALLY cool teenage party. As in, I've never seen such a cool teen party. There's blacklights and girls in crop tops and a MASON JAR of weed! There are chandeliers with things on them and beers and a whole bowl full of lemons and it's literally right out of Eyes Wide Shut, if that movie took place in a suburban 18-and-under dance club. Norman is too sensitive and can't socialize. He shuts himself in the low-lit kitchen and stares off into space while morosely rubbing his cowl-neck angora sweater. God, he's so different. He probably, like, loves The Smiths and shit. Girl #1 turns up. "You're so weird, Norman. I love a good weirdo. Let's embrace tenderly in this bizarre kitchen that looks like a futuristic Fritzl basement!" They're about to share a sweet, ever so gentle kiss when some idiot in a dumb henley shows up and totally cockblocks. What a dick! Isn't there a Dexter convention that guy should be at right about now? Jeez Louise.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Norma is washing dishes in the skirt she made by scotch-taping together a pair of Isaac Mizrahi curtains. Suddenly there's a sound at the window. Something doesn't smell right! All of a sudden the crazy weird jilted landowner guy comes in and he starts... a knife fight. Well, that accelerated quickly. Norma screams for Norman but obviously he isn't there, because he just had to pick tonight to go to a crazy high school Electric Kool-Aid Acid party. Shit is getting real in the kitchen. This man is not a friendly neighbor at all. He sexually assaults her and it's really darn hard to watch. He's about to go in for the kill. In the nick of time, Norman busts in and together they tear down the weird neighbor guy. They wrestle the guy to the floor and nearly have him beat. But he just has to go the extra mile, so a second later he screams "you liked it!" And then Norma STABS. HIM.
Right on, Norma.
"Mother!" bleats the sweet lamblike Norman. "We need to call the cops." Norma pipes up: "Norman, don't be rash. Now, nobody wants to sleep in a hotel where people get raped and murdered, so let's just keep this our little secret, shall we? Also, I'm hiding a giant sinister secret that's likely to be revealed in subsequent episodes, so please bear with me."
They clean up and dump Overweight Neighbor Rapist in the tub (foreshadowing much?). They pull up the carpeting and pitch it in the outside trash. This attracts the attention of the sheriff, Richard Alpert! Aww man, does this mean Norman has to go back to The Island? But he's trying to put Flight 815 behind him! Queries Alpert: "Why are you ripping up the carpet?" Norma's like "Oh, nothing! Just spring cleaning! As you can see, I scratched my hand! It's just a nick!" To which Richard Alpert says, "Ma'am, I'm a professional sheriff. You are bleeding profusely and ripping up carpet at 2 a.m. I'll need to investigate." He forces his way in, but finds nothing despite taking a leak 3 inches away from a dead body. Probably because this is "Bates Motel, the series," and not "Bates Motel, the 28-minute half-episode that ends in Richard from Lost finding the dead body immediately." Close one.
After this incident Norman is a changed man. At school he sees some blood on his shoe and pukes in a trash can. Mortifiying! He could totally write that one in to the Seventeen Magazine Trauma-rama column. Luckily this sick-looking girl with a breathing tube is right there to offer him a mint. You can see him crumbling. Typical, falling in with the loner girl with an embarrassing disease. That's social suicide, Norman, but have it your way.
Later that night, the Bateses take their old rickety rowboat out for a spooky moonlit romp to dump Fat Rapist Neighbor's body in the duck pond. It's real meta out there. Something about murdering criminals really brings out the existential humility in these two. "People suck!" exclaims Norma. Norman agrees. "You know Mom, we're like two peas in a pod. There's a cord between our hearts. We share the same blood. Literally. And skin. Mmmm, skin! That's a direct quote by Jane Eyre!" And then they sing "Row Your Boat" in a two-person round as they hurl the swollen, blood-soaked body overboard.
The next day it'll probably wash up on shore because that is what happens when a body is dumped 10 feet away from land. But again -- this is "Bates Motel, the series" and not "Bates Motel, celebration of logic". So we'll just have to tune in again next week and see what becomes of Norman and Norma, the kooky new hotel proprietors making a big splash in a little American town.