Television: Bates Motel, "First You Dream, Then You Die"

Tense but not (so far anyway) very creepy, Bates Motel seems to aim for the whole Twin Peaks and/or Happy Town vibe.

Here is Norman Bates at age 17, living with his mother Norma (geez, way to lump on the whole tied-to-the-apron themes, there). His older brother is absent, and his father has just died. Norma sees her widowhood as a chance at a fresh start—"second chance" and "fresh start" seem to be her favorite phrases, and here again the writers go a bit far in repeating them—and so buys a rickety motel and its attendant home, made so famous in Hitchcock's Psycho.

But this is not 1960. Despite what seems to be a conscious attempt to evoke that era, such as Norma's Donna Reed-like dresses and a surfeit of cardigans, the kids all have iPhones too. Yet the juxtaposition is not as jarring as one might expect. In fact, the art direction here is quite lovely.

Not so lovely is the previous owner's threats to Norma and her son, and he makes good on them in a somewhat graphic rape scene that leads to murder.

As I said, the tension is thick. Vera Farmiga as Norma does a solid job of emotionally manipulating her son, and Freddie Highmore as Norman hits a nice medium of craving his mother's approval while simultaneously yearning for independence. His is a soft and squishy exterior, as in the kind of kid that might usually get teased or bullied, with a steel rod core.

Meanwhile, the episode also strongly suggests strange things going on in the town, hence the Twin Peaks/Happy Town comparison. (Not quite crazy enough to be David Lynch quality, but it may yet move in that direction.)

While I'm not sold on the high school hijinx plot line in which every girl in town makes nice with Norman, on the whole the premiere makes me willing to give the show another outing.

No comments: