In Defense of Bates Motel

Okay, so here’s the thing. I usually am not a fan of trends. But there is one trend that I am most definitely a huge fan of: horror, thriller, and mystery classics finding their way to the small screen as television shows. It’s been happening more and more lately, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Among these, one of my favorites that stands out for me personally is Bates Motel.

Let’s start with the casting on the show, which is excellent. Freddie Highmore is perfection as a young Norman—he strikes just the right balance between being impressionable/ vulnerable, and being on the brink of turning psychotic. He and Vera Farmiga not only have chemistry together, but they’re so talented, they successfully walk the fine line between close mother-and-son and inappropriate sexual tension. Then there’s the inspired addition of a created brother in Dylan. Not only was it a cool way to take creative license and add another layer of intrigue to something so classic and well-known; the whole of Dylan’s character (considering that he serves as the only sane one in the family) just illustrates the dysfunctional nature of Norman’s life that leads him to become the person he eventually does. Some find the added-out-of-nowhere brother distracting: I call it genius.

I’d be willing to bet that the first question that pops into mind when one hears about a movie being turned into a television show is, “how much story could they possibly have to tell?” It’s definitely the question that pops into my mind. Bates Motel wasted no time in answering this question. From the very first episode on, things were super intense. There is no easing into things: Norman’s dad dies and we know that there is more to the story of his death than we are seeing initially. The first episode sent the message: “by watching this show, you are in for a long, hectic ride that will completely captivate you.” Every episode just piles on the drama and suspense. We gradually learn more and more about how horrible a parent Mrs. Bates really was, why Norman turned out so strange and psychotic, and where his misogynistic view of women stems from.

If you’re going to spending an hour each week with characters, they surely need to have some layers that keep you coming back. They don’t have to be likable, but they definitely need to be interesting. At the very bare minimum they need to make you feel something. And whatever else we can accuse the Bates family and the other residents of White Pine of, they definitely make you feel things. I may not like Norma at all, but I keep coming back because I love to hate her. I wouldn’t want to be friends with Norman, but I do feel for him and root for him, despite already knowing how he turns out. And Dylan definitely stirs emotions of compassion as the hot, dark, misunderstood guy that every girl loves deep down.

But with all of this said, there’s one thing in particular that makes Bates Motel so worth defending. Shows based on horror/thriller/suspense classics always seem to lose their scary roots at some point and become just basically a drama that belongs on one of those networks with all the shows teenagers love. They stop trying to scare you and thrill you and turn into just really, really dark primetime soap operas. Bates Motel doesn’t seem to have this problem. So far, it hasn’t lost sight of its horror roots. Every week when I watch the show, I always feel like I’m watching a mini horror movie. And for a show that has to live up to the name of the horror classic it’s based upon, I don’t think I can ask more than that from it.