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Bates Motel - TV Series Review

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published September 12th 2013
Photo Credits: Joe Lederer/A&E

One of the legends that recurs on our screens is that of Ed Gein, the Wisconsin farmer who cannibalised and slept with the women he killed. Like a recurrent nightmare, Universal's broadcast of "Bates Motel" is like being at home with the Geins. The season opens with the death of Norman Bates's father at the most plastic phase in his life, adolescence. After alluding to this part of Gein's life with a domineering mother, the narrative puts temptation in Norman's way in the form of pretty, over-nubile High School Girls. It is interesting to see how this will pan out and how he will transform from a shy teenager into the addictive murderer and necrophile we know and fear.

One scene has his female colleagues at the door of the house asking whether they want to come to the library to study. Norma, his mother tells him that he is busy. In the argument that ensues, we can see an ambiguity in her character. Is she the domineering mother or overprotective of Norman? As an audience member, you're really put in to Norman's position and made to empathise with him, even though you don't want to. If you know the story of Ed Gein in the 1950's, this show really makes you question whether Norman Bates is mad or bad, along with how events can change a person. How could being attacked change you?

Having acquired the motel by foreclosure from the previous owner, he returns to rape Norma out of anger but Norman hits him with an antique iron. What really was disturbing was that the director has Norma straddling his out cold body in an implicitly sexualised manner while holding a kitchen knife. This disturbed me by being an intimation of the future, where sex and death have become fused In Norman Bates psyche in the same way they were with Gein's. In covering up the death of her attacker, Norma is more concerned about the public relations fall out and the survival of her Motel than her own welfare, or that of Norman's. Norman's isolation is intimated in Norma's line:

"No one's going to help us, Norman. No one's going to help us."

Not only does it intimate Norman's isolation, but Norma's defiance and makes her domineering aspects more overt. The absence of a father figure compounds Norman's isolation, even for the simple reason that most addictive murderers often have absent fathers, which is directly taken from Ed Gein's own life.

Bizarrely, while disposing of Norma's rapist's body, they talk of the most banal thing: the plans to build a bypass that threatens their unopened business. If this scene is the banality of evil dramatised, then it makes it writ large with uncanny accuracy. The idea of killing someone and then talking about the possibility of losing business due to a new road really is downright sinister and almost a sign of detachment that would even make Bertoldt Brecht blanche in terror.

Thus the programme is a powerful portrait of evil in the making, which captures the very ordinary nature of evil itself. It is the characters ordinariness that is the most chilling, from the former Motel owner to Norman Bates himself that is the most terrifying of all. You only have to look at Ariel Castro to realise it could be your neighbour or Dennis Rader to realise it could be your husband or boss at work. If Chris Morris wrote a conventional sit com, I could easily imagine the characters being exactly like these. I can even think of the title: "At Home with The Geins".
Are you afraid yet?

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Your Comment
No mention of Hitchcock?
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (score: 3|6075) 3050 days ago
I'm confused by paragraph 3 where there's both Norman and Norma (his mother?). Who was the rapist?
I reviewed Hitchcock's film and the source novel by Robert Bloch. From your review, it seems like they have changed Norman's character to make the story even darker. I guess they chose to make the story more like the Ed Gein crimes than Bloch's novel.
by TheOnlyFiona (score: 2|423) 2786 days ago
I was referring to what Hitchcock was using as the source material, Psycho was inspired by The Ed Gein story, which this series revisits.
by Chris Henniker (score: 0|4) 3050 days ago
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