Bates Motel (2013) / Thriller-Horror
Season 1: Episode 1: First You Dream, Then You Die

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Nicola Peltz, Nestor Carbonell, Richard Harmon, W. Earl Brown, Max Theriot, Olivia Cooke, Keegan Connor-Tracy, Mike Vogel
Director: Tucker Gates

Screenplay: Kerry Ehren, Anthony Cipriano

1.1 - "First You Dream, Then You Die"

Bates Motel 2013 Vera Farmiga Freddie Highmore "First You Dream, Then You Die", a title which seems to be taken from a biography on mystery writer Cornell Woolrich's works, is the pilot episode of the 2013 A&E TV series, "Bates Motel". 

The storyline opens with the discovery of the bloody death of Norman's father in the garage of their home.  Six months later, the Bates' matriarch, Norma (Farmiga, Safe House), and 17-year-old son, Norman (Highmore, The Spiderwick Chronicles), have decided to have a fresh start using the life insurance money, uprooting and moving to White Pine Bay, Oregon, and have taken to a large home overlooking a motel that is also theirs - the result of a bank foreclosure on the previous family who had many secrets there (we get introduced to one member of the family named Keith Summers (Brown, The Master), who makes a bunch of not-so-idle threats to Norma regarding what he feels is her theft of the Summers' family property that they maintained for about a century).   Norman enrolls in school and makes fast friends with some of the cute and flirty girls there.   Norman is encouraged by one of his teachers (Connor-Tracy, The Net 2.0) to try some extracurricular activities to fit in fast, and he aims to join the track team, much to his busy mother's chagrin, as she needs him to do work on the motel rather than spend every day after school running.

There are subplots that emerge that are sure to be addressed in future episodes.  One of the main being the proposal to change the location of the main artery of a highway to the other side of town, which would adversely affect the prospects of the Bates Motel being a mainstay along the freeway, which is something that is alluded to in Hitchcock's Psycho as to the reason why the motel is so out of the way.  Another involves Norma's older son, Dylan (Theriot, Jumper), who appears quite livid that she has up and moved without so much as telling him, though one gathers it is mostly due to wanting to hit up mom for money.  And finally, there is the "Twin Peaks"-ish sordid small town backplot involving some odd looking homemade manga that Norman finds underneath one of the carpets depicting quite a few S&M-tinged drawings of girls in frilly outfits and bondage.

The best thing about "Bates Motel" comes from the casting of the two leads, particularly Vera Farmiga as the strong and ambitious mother, Norma.  Highmore is appealing in the role, though not quite the studly kind of guy that would catch the eye of the hottest girls in school (Peltz, The Last Airbender), as he does in this storyline.  The supporting cast only has a few lines and therefore it is premature to say with much certainty their worthiness in terms of screen time.

Most everything else is substandard and a bit of a disappointment for fans of the Hitchcock work, or any of the sequels.  The tone of the show plays out more like a typical teen drama than it does a thriller or horror genre excursion, and outside of one murder and a rather graphic (for TV anyway) rape scene, it's fairly standard stuff thus far.  The only Hitchcockian moment in this first show comes when the Bates' are visited during a particularly tense, wry moment by a couple of suspicious police officers who walk right by incriminating evidence completely covered up by a shower curtain.

Interestingly, the character of Norma, only shown in the Psycho series in the fourth (and final) entry in the series, isn't as shrill or domineering as we've been previously led to believe, but actually quite reasonable in wanting not to appear like the mother who wants to take away her son's childhood or to keep him from talking to attractive members of the opposite sex.  As such, Norman isn't as maladjusted a lad as he plays in the movies, seeming like a typical teenage kid who is needed a little more than he should be due to the loss of his father by a mother who needs his help keeping her new business afloat.

Unfortunately for the series, this first episode is not a good one.  The character of Norma Bates is perhaps its only saving grace, as the momentum dips whenever Farmiga is off of the screen.  Highmore is fine when playing off of her, but the scenes of typical teenage interplay are laughable at best, and unrealistically presented at the worst, as the hot girl in school named Bradley thinks Norman is quite deep for standing in a kitchen at a party just watching like a wallflower, spinning off dialogue that sounds like what much older adults must think kids talk like these days.  The rape scene seems seedy and gratuitous, though it does explain the sudden turn to murder.  The reason behind cover-up of the murder is awfully silly, and the relatively calm way that the perpetrators react to some rather traumatic experiences just can't pass the giggle test.

Nevertheless, it is a first episode, and while the plausibility of the show's premise is weak and full of motivations that strain credibility, there is potential there to dig a little deeper and (hopefully) pull out some interesting storylines so long as Norma is the main character and the back story of the motel begins to unfold.  Sadly, it appears that Norman's high school life is going to dominate a good part of his scenes, which may be the show's ultimate undoing, as they barely deviate from dozens of other shows aimed at a young demographic strictly for ratings' sake.

For other episode reviews, check the Bates Motel page.

Qwipster's episode rating:

2013 Vince Leo