‘Bates Motel’ ran for five seasons from 2013 to 2017, and centred around the trials and tribulations of Norma and Norman Bates. Both characters appear in Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel ‘Psycho,’ and Hitchock’s acclaimed horror film of the same name the following year. The series starts with Norma and Norman moving to White Pine Bay, and buying their infamous hotel. Throughout the fifty episodes the two become embroiled in the politics of the Bay, and leave a string of corpses behind them.
It is clear from the beginning of the show that Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) are very close. His name is literally an extension of hers, as he is a physical extension of her, as her son. She does not act like a mature woman in the opening scenes, as she runs around the new motel, and jumps on the bed. She wears pretty clothes, mainly dresses with floral prints. The flowers emphasise her femininity, as does her girlish behaviour. Her blonde bob and pretty face, which is usually done up, make her appear more like a pretty dolly than a human woman. This of course foreshadows Norman’s cross dressing as his mother, and his digging up of her corpse in the fourth season. His preservation of her body is also flagged by his unnerving interest in taxidermy.
In the first episode, he witnesses her being raped by an intruder. After breaking free, Norma straddles him and repeatedly stabs him. This scenario already creates an unhealthy relationship between sex, violence and death, a trio that Norman carries with him. Bodies with multiple stab wounds are usually suggestive of a ‘crime of passion,’ and it is this passion that is simulated when Norma kills her assailant. Her repeated stabbing, and the spurting of blood, acts as some kind of release and carries sexual undertones. Although Norman is not physically involved in this act, seeing his mother kill somebody, and witnessing the act of sex for the first time in this way effectively ends his innocent childhood, and forces him into the reality of adulthood… suffice to say, this is no normal adulthood. It is here where he enters Norma’s world – she had to cover up Norman’s father’s death, and also suffered abuse at his hand. This is Norman’s first glimpse into his mother’s world and it is this world, specifically his mother’s persona, that he will totally adopt.
Throughout the series, the lines between sex and authority are regularly blurred. Although Norma tries to stop Norman having sex with other girls, and describes other women as whores, she has several sexual relationships throughout the series. One of these is with Sheriff Romero, which blurs the lines between sex and authority. Blaire Watson only complicates Norma and Norman’s relationship. She acts as a pseudo-mother to him, but also tries to seduce him. This blurs the relationship between sex and authority, and only intensifies Norman’s attraction to his mother. Norman adopts the mother personality and kills the women that Norman is sexually attracted to. Because of this, Norman is continually abandoned by women who he likes and who he thinks care for him, like teacher Blaire Watson and schoolmates Bradley Martin and Emma Decody. Norma is the only woman that does not reject Norman, which only intensifies their bond.
Norma and Norman also act like a couple. They share intimate moments, he zips up her dress, they sleep in the same bed. They have numerous shared experiences. In the fourth season, Norman remembers Norma being raped as a child. Norman hides under the bed, and takes Norma’s hand. He jolts as she does, making her rape by her husband an almost shared experience. This idea of shared experience goes further, as Norman later becomes Norma and dresses up in her clothes.
On the night of Norma’s death, weirdly their roles switch. Norman sings Norma a lullaby as she drifts to sleep, which ultimately infantilises her. She is infantilised just like she has infantilised Norman, and it is this that kills her. Norma’s death has a tragic element, as Norman is now alone in the world. His plan has massively backfired. Norma had to die in season four, to ensure that season five could sufficiently delve deep into Norman’s downward spiral.
The following events have a ‘Wuthering Heights’ vibe, as he begs his mother not to stay in ‘the abyss where I cannot find you.’ Heathcliff says a similar thing when Cathy dies, and at one point digs up her corpse just to feel close to her. Norman does this same, meaning that the writers are intentionally, or unintentionally, comparing the mother and son to Heathcliff and Catherine. Both couples have a doomed, destructive love, and both couples never enter into a sexual relationship. It is more a relationship of the mind. Heathcliff and Catherine speak as if they are two halves of the same soul, and Norman and Norma are the same. Like Norman, Heathcliff dreams that Catherine is still alive.
When Norman dreams about Norma, he dreams that she stays at home and does the housework, while he goes out as the breadwinner. The two sound like a traditional 50s couple. Norman seeks to recreate his mother by dressing up as her, and then by having Madeleine Loomis dress up on her. It saddens him that her dresses will go ‘unanimated.’ The use of the term is strange. He does not say that he does not want the dresses to be wasted, he is saying that he does not want them to be stationary. He wants to see them inhabited and moving, and wants the dresses to be inhabited in front of him – by Madeleine. He wants the dresses to come alive again, because he wants his mother to be alive again.
One of the bigger shocks of the series is seeing Rihanna rock up to the motel as Marion Crane. Her characterization, and survival, allows the show to remake Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ with a feminist lens. Marion is trying to survive in a male dominated world, and finds herself belittled by her male peers at work and manipulated by Sam Loomis, who has not told her that he is married. Norma manipulates Norman into killing Sam Loomis in the shower, instead of Marion. Norma tells Norman that Sam was like his father, blaming him for their misfortune.
Norman and Marion’s story converges at this point, as in killing Sam, Norman is killing someone who is representative of his own father, who was abusive to his mother, Norma. It is from his father that Norma and Norman’s problems both started, as he was abusive towards Norma. Norman was subjected to the effects of this trauma. Sam dies for the sins of man, and effectively, Norman is taking a stab at the corrupt patriarchy that abused his mother and abused Marion. Sam’s death is Norman’s attempt to retcon his previous trauma, and undo his and Norma’s crimes. Unfortunately, it is too late for that.
It is here that Norman finally realises what HE has done. The killing of Sam Loomis is the first killing committed by Norman, not Norma. While Norman is questioned about the death of Sam, in place of Norman we see Norma. Several shots show Norman staring at his reflection, that reflection being his mother. Norman has now stopped dressing up as his mother, or in other words, stopped pretending to be her. He now IS her. By having them both in shot as the same person, the idea is reinforced that they are two halves of the same person, like Heathcliff and Cathy. They both are fully amalgamated, and therefore cannot escape each other. It is here that the five year story arc reaches its completion. Norman and Norma cannot be separated. If you put their two names together it is ‘Norman’ they both converge inside Norman’s physical body, where Norman and Norma both reside. This is why Norman has to die, as he cannot survive any longer without Norma. Norman’s death affords him some sort of redemption, as he realises that what he has done is wrong.
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