Its not easy trying to redo Psycho. Gus Van Sant tried in the late 90’s and was mocked and slaughtered by critics and fans, despite it being a virtual shot for shot remake, with just the added colour and Norman Bates masturbating.
Psycho is quite rightly defined as a horror masterpiece, many would argue that its Alfred Hitchcock’s most cherished film, but with his backlog of high quality films, that is an argument for another time. What we all can agree on is that Psycho is a horror film that many inspire to. One of the first slasher films to make its mark in the genre and when it was announced that a TV Show was going to be made that would show Norman Bates as a young man, we all including myself, laughed and scoffed at the notion.
Why try to tell a story that does not need to be told?
This week, Bates Motel finished its 4th season and having watched the final episode last night, I am deeply in shock and quite confused and what I have witnessed. If you have not seen the finale yet then please look away now as, yes you have guessed it:
SPOILERS ALERT……..SPOILERS ALERT….SPOILERS ALERT……SPOILERS ALERT…….SPOILERS ALERT….
Bates Motel has never been afraid to jig around with what we know of the Psycho backstory. Right from the very beginning we have been shocked by the notion that Norman has a brother, that Bates Motel is set around present time and not in the 60’s and most importantly, Norman started killing at such a young age, even before he set his eyes on his dear “mother”.
For some Psycho fans, the changes were too much! How dare they introduce Dylan as a sibling? Any Psycho adaption should not have mobile phones? And some have probably given up on the show even before the second episode, simply because there is only one Norman Bates and he goes by the name of Anthony Perkins….and not Freddie Highmore.
I can understand the arguments, and why fans may be upset, but this week and in particular the entire Season 4 of Bates Motel has demonstrated one thing, that the writers of the show know what they are doing and they deeply respect the material and the franchise they are working within.
There has never been no messing about on their part. Even before the titles in the very episode of Season One, we saw a death and then Norma and Norman buying that famous hotel. which after the shocking events this week, the image of them two back then, looking up to that iconic building is haunting and tinted with sadness when you ever re-watch the show.
All Psycho fans going into Bates Motel will know that the show is building up to one thing, the moment Norman goes psycho and of course the murder of Norma Bates. While Norman’s mind has been deteriorating since the end of Season One, with the killing of his teacher, the journey of Norma has been more of an interesting one.
Apart from a decent Psycho IV which more or less was Bates Motel but starring Perkins himself, not much is known of Norma and her mind, but with Vera Farmiga just outstanding in the role, her character has been the biggest highlight of the entire TV Show and her character arc has been more interesting than Norman himself.
From the beginning we thought she was this deranged mother whose love for her son was unhealthy, sharing a bed, cooking a dinner that came across more romantic than Mum and Son. But as each episode came and went, we began to realise why Norma wanted Norman kept close to her. The “death” of her husband was at first something we thought Norma herself had done, but when the truth came out that it was in fact Norman who killed his Dad, everything changed and us viewers began to sympathise with the dilemma Norma was in.
It was her blinded love that was the driving point of the entire Season Four as while Bates Motel’s previous seasons had some silly sub-plots, this year, the writers delivered what we all knew was coming. The moment that Norman Bates became a fully fledged Psycho.
Back to the those sub plots first. Its well known that Season Three has been the weakest of the series but it ended with Norman finally becoming “Mother” and it was the climax that made the wait to see what happened next, unbearable for fans of the show.
Brilliantly, apart from one murder in the first episode of this run, Season Four was breath-taking in the way it was written. There was no stupidity involved. Norma knew Norman may have murdered someone and decided he needed help, and it was her actions and the need to do “right” that delivered quite possibly the finest three episodes of TV in 2016.
By marrying Sheriff Romero to get health insurance so Norman could have all the care he needed, actually resulted in making things worse. For the past few weeks, we have seen Norman improving while in care, and Norma finally finding peace and a life she always wanted and just seeing her happy and her life fulfilled made this Bates Motel fan very happy indeed.
Unlike the movies where Norma was portrayed as a “mad woman”, here, our Norma for this generation was a good mum, who just wanted to do the right thing, but it was that need and love for her child that made her blinded and resulted in the scene we all knew what was going to happen, the very moment we sat down and watched this show.
Like most fans, I thought that it would occur in the very last episodes of the show, a final shot of Norman standing outside the hotel at night, with his mother’s corpse placed in the top window of the hotel, looking down on us, has always been etched into my mind. But the writers fooled us all and our expectancy by killing off Norma when there is sill one more season (and the last) to go.
It was a shocking moment for this fan, that bended all the rules of Psycho that we know. Was it a murder caused by jealous and rage? a bloodbath that we just could not bare to look at? No! What we had was more of a Shakespearian tragedy that has been stuck in my mind ever since I watched it!
With everyone around her, trying to warn her of the danger she was in, Norma as always refused to believe and sent everyone away. With just them both left in the house and Norman finding the suitcase of Emma’s mum and inside, discovering the bloody “Mother’s Dress” – great homage for Psycho fans- his fragile mind convinced him that he had to do one thing and one thing only……kill them both! Someone was out there murdering and he had to stop it.
With the tune of “Mr Sandman” eerily playing out, Norman decided to gas them while they slept and it was a tension soaked moment that probably had every Psycho fan like myself screaming for someone to help poor Norma.
But it was too late! Despite the best intentions of her husband Sheriff Romero.
Norman of course survived and the last episode we saw him, refuse to believe she was dead and throw all his medication away. With that his warped mind began to deteriorate further, we can see this happening when his dead dog Juno appears all alive and well, Norman digs up up the body of Norma and in quite possibly the most creepiest moment ever in Bates Motel, gluing her eyes open so her corpse would look alive.
By the end of the episode, Norma was back playing the piano and singing and telling her son she never would have left him! It was a haunting moment, a freaky surreal scene, because it showed just how ill Norman is. We know she is dead on the settee, but to Norman she is now alive and well, haunting his every move. After four seasons he got what he wanted, a love off his mother that no one can ever spoil.
This could easily have wrapped up the show there and then, in fact it felt like a final ever episode, what with his brother Dylan now gone for good and Sheriff Romero all but locked up for being a crooked cop. All plot threads, character arcs ended right there and Norman was free to become Anthony Perkins, but like from the very beginning, the writers are not doing things the easy way.
Instead we have a final season to come, another 10 episodes to surprise us. Vera Farmiga’s Norma, the one character we all love and who has won critical acclaim now gone for good, we have been told the actress will still be pivotal next year, but Bates Motel has now gone in Psycho material and this Norma is not going to blinded by anything. Instead she is going to wear that dress and pick up that knife and its going to be quite a ride.
The writers have taken a huge risk in doing Psycho for next year but then they have been taking risks ever since they decided to revisit the world on Norman Bates and so far, it has paid off handsomely. Farmiga and Highmore are sensational in the iconic roles and the show has gone from a decent to a must watch TV event!
With Marion Crane checking in next year, even those who thought Bates Motel would not work are on-board and excited by what is to come. We all know the story and how its going to end, but what experience tells us is that we are still going to be shocked and surprised at what is coming, and its that reason why Bates Motel should be watched by the masses and be fully appreciated by all Psycho fans….
Alfred Hitchcock would be proud!