The Bates Motel on A & E is one creepy show. It has all the things a good thriller needs: the possibility of a crazy, unhinged protagonist, a menacing town, and suspense galore. This is the second season of the thrilling reimagining of the Hitchcock classic and it is a sexy, modern update on an old favorite. Starring Vera Farmiga as the infamous mother, Norma, to Norman Bates, played by Freddie Highmore, this show has an undeniable creep-factor that makes it irresistible to watch.
Set as a prequel to the 1960 movie, the show features Norman and his mother Norma (of course that is her name) when they buy a run-down motel in a new town far away following an “accident” with Norman’s father. Season one introduced us to Norman, a shy, introverted, sensitive mama’s boy who has trouble making friends and finds himself at the heart of a lot of sinister situations. The priority of last season was to introduce us to Norman and his mother and explore the relationship between the two, establishing their codependence through a series of insane, violent plot twists that are simultaneously outrageous and terribly scary. Proof of this exists in episode one from the first season in which Norma is raped by a drunken townie and subsequently murders him. Norma enlists Normans help to cover up of the crime, and this leads to a weird and squirm-worthy relationship between Norma and the county’s dreamy Sherriff’s deputy; which then leads to Norman and his Girl Friday, Emma, uncovering a sex-trafficking ring, led by said Deputy. From there, Norman’s brother begins to work for his crush, Bradley’s, father, which is a sort-of gangster and runs the town’s illegal marijuana trade that funds the town’s economy. Bradley is the popular beauty that is way out of Norman’s league, yet she still sleeps with him in an attempt to find solace after her father dies in front of them in a fiery car crash (she is an emotional train wreck of a character and has all the requisite traits of such: drug addiction, reckless behavior, no sexual boundaries, and instability). Her rejection devastates Norman, leading him to find comfort with a pretty English teacher that sees more in him that a just a weird loner. She tutors him, fosters his writing talent and even acknowledges and appreciates his oddness. She winds up dead.
Some of this finds resolution by the end of the first season, but some of it carries over to this season, and the premiere picks up four months later after Norman lies about being in Mrs. Watson’s house, and can’t really remember much of the night she was murdered. Did he do it? (Maybe. Probably.) Raising these kinds of questions about Norman and his mental state is pretty typical for The Bates Motel, and is one of the things I love this show. It requires quite a bit of patience and trust to watch this show because the writers don’t give anything away right away. There is seldom some big reveal in a dramatic moment. They plant seeds, drop hints, and give clues, but never fully answer any questions outright. Such is the case with the weirdly romantic relationship between Norma and Norman, which drives the show’s slow burn and gives rhythm to its methodical pacing.
Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore are doing great work with this kind of subtlety and I tune in to see their relationship work its way through the story arc. This show succeeds on the work of the actors performing these characters and all the suspense and thrills become just icing on the cake as you invest in the characters; even the possibly incestuous relationship between mother and son, the possibly homicidal weirdo; the possibly corrupt police force; and the possibly evil town are treasures because they are so well executed. It works because the characters are rounded, plausible characters and I am invested in everyone, and I am really looking forward to this season. You can catch up on the complete season one on the A & E website . Tweet me what you think @srhoseholt.