Everything Happens at Midnight: A Review of Bates Motel

I have been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho for a great majority of my life. As such, I was intrigued when I learned that A&E was releasing a television series that would supposedly prequel Norman Bates' descent into madness. I just finished watching the season finale of Bates Motel, and the show, as a whole, did not disappoint. Though the very premise of this show could have easily taken a nosedive early on, my experience is that every major aspect -- the characters, the plots, the actors, the writing, the pacing, etc. -- has been spot on, leaving me wanting more after each episode, and certainly after the series' completion.

I want to take a moment to review the final episode and offer a few thoughts about it, and the series in general. I honestly don't want to spend a lot of time here summarizing the show or this episode, so it suffices to say that if you haven't been watching the show, then you won't have a clue as to what I'm talking about. And if you have been watching the show but haven't seen the final episode(s), remember that spoilers are a thing. ;) If you want a quick summary and expose from the writers, directors, and actors, watch this short video clip from A&E about the final episode.

There is an aspect about this episode that I both loved and hated. I guess it's virtually present in all cliffhanger television shows -- the capacity to answer questions and tie up loose ends while, at the same time, opening up so many more. It leaves us, the audience, somewhat satisfied and wanting more all at once, which is the foundation for keeping a television audience entertained. The game, however, is arguably different with a story as iconic as Psycho. There needed to be, I think, a delicate balance between keeping fans satisfied with the direction of the series and still keeping them guessing. So when it came to the looming question about this series, how did the writers choose to play it out?

The question I'm speaking of was whether Norman was going to go full-on Psycho by the end of the season. We were all wondering. And most of us were left feeling pretty sure that he did (and I emphasize most ... more on that in a moment). We as an audience have seen this coming, and not just because we've seen Psycho; to the contrary, this series has created a psychological descent that stands on its own. We've seen it coming because we know Norman has a tendency to black out and see strange visions of his mother. We know that, during one of these blackouts, Norman killed his father. We know that Norman witnessed his mother being abused by his father, and that he walked in while Keith Summers was raping his mother. We know that Norma, while simultaneously controlling Norman the child, places her own heavy emotional burdens on Norman the person. We know that Norman uncovered the diary of a sex slave, and found the sex slave herself chained up in his mother's lover's basement. And we know that Norman's heart was shattered when he lost his virginity to an evening of comfort sex with someone who wasn't actually interested in him, something he was not emotionally prepared to take on. We know Norman's not mentally stable, and we know that he had a dream about killing Bradley, the girl who instigated the casual sex. All of these things present a recipe for disaster, and so we know, even beyond the Psycho that's in Norman's future, that something dire is due to happen with him.

What is interesting is how Bates Motel has begun to characterize the development of "Mother". Each time Norman blacks out and attacks someone (and keep in mind that we've only seen this happen with his father, with Dylan, and, presumably, with Miss Watson), it's been either in protection of his mother, or due to uncomfortable sexual tension that he doesn't know what to do with. Even though the sexual aspect of Norman's psychosis is only beginning to rear its ugly head, I don't think its significance should be underestimated. We have to remember what this kid's experience with sex actually is -- seeing his mother raped, hearing about his mother raped, coming across visual evidence of sex slaves, and being invited into the kind of casual sex that he was not emotionally ready for. And then his English teacher invited him over to her house and proceeded to undress within full view of her underage student (directly, I might add, before her grisly death). When Norman could see Miss Watson begin to remove her clothing, you could see the tension building within him. You could just feel it (kudos to Freddie Highmore for such an excellent acting job here and throughout the series). His arousal was, by this time, a negative experience for him. And that is when "Mother" appeared for the second time in the series -- telling Norman, ultimately, what he "ha[d] to do" to the woman causing his arousal. And Norman's expression of discomfort began to morph into an eerie, sadistic smile.

So Norman's disturbing, intertwined vine of feelings involving his mother and sex are beginning to take root. And the final episode of the season has led us to believe that this has already resulted in a murder. After learning that he blacked out and can't remember anything, and after seeing the final screen shot of her dead in her home, what other conclusion could we come to?

Weeeellll ... if there is one thing this show does well, it's teach us to expect the unexpected. In other words, this almost seems too easy, and almost too early for Norman to be committing the crimes we know that Norman Bates the adult is capable of. The series has, thus far, portrayed him as an ultimately good kid in a really bad situation, and with just the right amount of mental instability to eventually become a killer. And we kind of expected this to be dragged over a few seasons before actually seeing a Psycho-esque murder. Also, those of us who are writers understand that you simply do not write something that doesn't actually play a part in the overall story -- and yet, what other role could "Eric," the man Miss Watson was arguing on the phone with, play other than her murderer (when we were expecting it was Norman)? Sure, he could turn out to be nothing more than a useful scapegoat to keep Norman out of trouble, but I honestly suspect him playing more of a role in Miss Watson's death than that.

Further, Miss Watson's corpse shot revealed that she wore a necklace of the letter "B." If you haven't been watching the series, you don't know why this is significant, but if you have been watching, you'll remember the letter that Bradley found in her father's office. "B". This will certainly come into play in season two.

So what does all of this mean? In my opinion, it means that Miss Watson was murdered, but not by Norman. I would love to see the show take him there, as it was a very chilling way to end the season, but I honestly don't think that's how this is going to play out. Personally, I think that Norman may have witnessed the murder, and is storing that awful scene in his subconscious mind alongside the other traumas he's witnessed throughout his life. Remember, Norman has killed only once before (by hitting his father over the head), and attempted to kill one other time (by trying to hit his brother over the head). Even though we can easily see how mentally disturbed he is, it seems a bit much to expect that he's going to automatically, suddenly launch himself into a bloody, throat-slashing serial killer. But time will tell on this one.

Another new question that this final episode raised concerned Dylan. He's always been different than his mother and brother (more down-to-earth, certainly), though his own capacity to take a life makes you wonder just how "different" he really is. Dylan, though, is a bit inconsistent, and difficult to keep up with. In only ten episodes, he's gone from jobless moocher to solemn hard worker; from apathetic about his strange brother to concerned about said brother (he even wanted at one point to move Norman out of Norma's house), and then back to apathy when he begins moving in on the young woman he knows his brother is still obsessed with (though I do think Dylan is becoming very aware that Norman is mentally disturbed, hence the shift in the type of concern he's showing). He has moved from complete and utter distaste for his mother into very mild respect and trust for her. Learning what Norma has gone through recently probably affected his views on her, but his acquiescence in acquiring her a gun, teaching her how to shoot, and his slip up in calling her "Mom" instead of "Norma" all point to a possible closer bonding experience between them.

However. We learned in this episode that Norma's brother raped her growing up, leading us to wonder whether Dylan might be a product of incest. After all, we knew that Dylan and Norman were not fathered by the same man, but we were never given any information whatsoever about Dylan's father. I think there's a possibility it could have been Norma's brother, which would partly explain the dynamic between them, and also raises questions about the future of their relationship.

In terms of Norma herself, I also found her small, solo scene with the gun to be interesting. She seemed to be pondering the idea of suicide -- not necessarily considering it, but considering the idea of it. I wondered if that was foreshadowing how she'll wind up dying later in the series. I have assumed, up until this point, that she'll wind up murdered by Norman, but it would be an interesting turn of events if she decides to end things herself once it becomes impossible to continue living in denial about Norman. Although Norma comes off on the surface as overly dramatic and mentally unstable, the writers (and actor Vera Farmiga) have done a wonderful job showing that there is more depth to her character. She has become at least somewhat relatable, albeit unreliable. I wonder how much of what she says is true (which includes the story about Norman killing his father, which only came from her), and how many of her untruths she actually believes (such as the discrepancy between the all-loving, smelling-like-cookies description of her parents she gave to her therapist, and the abusive, neglectful one she gave to Norman). In many ways, Norma isn't a likeable person, but it's precisely because of her frailty and inner demons that we care for her as a character, and continue to root for her despite watching her live in a denial that will likely cost many people their lives.

A few other things I'm left wondering:

1) What's up with Sheriff Romero? It's looking like he's going to play the hero role for now, but there are still a few things I don't understand about him. Or trust. For example, if he wasn't involved in the sex ring, why did he so readily believe Norma (in all her drama) about the Abernathy situation, with enough time to take care of things himself? And why did he know just where to find Shelby's money? And why, for the love of everything holy, would he throw that money into the sea after killing Abernathy (if, indeed, there was money in the suitcase, and he wasn't just putting on a show for Norma)? There is something off about Romero.

2) What is actually happening now with the sex slave ring? What happened to the girl that Norman rescued?

3) What's going to happen between Bradley and Dylan? Something tells me they're going to get closer and that Norman isn't going to be happy about it. I'm wondering, too, how this is going to affect Norman's friendship with Emma (assuming they still have a friendship after his display of assholery at the dance and her subsequent departure). I have been assuming that Bradley would be Norman's first kill, but now I'm not so sure ... like everything else, we'll see how this plays out.

All in all, this was a fantastic season that allowed us to explore who Norman Bates might have been as a young person, and just what circumstances drove him into his dual-personality, serial-killing destiny. Some have speculated that this series probably won't last long, due to the fact that we know how this whole thing ends. I, however, disagree. I think that the very fact that we know how this ends is what keeps us engaged. This show is an exploration of the human mind, the human experience, and the types of human interactions that carve out paths in our day to day lives. We as viewers are often fascinated by stories such as Norman Bates', but what makes it ultimately chilling is the realization that, as we delve further behind the scenes of Psycho, he is still a human being with very human experiences. And we relate.

As I Am: Putting Perspective on "Summer" Bodies

It's that time of the year again -- that time when the pressure to get ourselves "ready" for summer through dieting, tanning, highlighting, and a variety of other activities becomes pretty intense. It's the time of year when advertisements, the media, friends, and family remind us on a daily basis that if we're planning on wearing bathing suits, we'd better be thin enough to do so; that if we're going to be showing any skin, our body had better be tan enough to do so; that if we plan on having any fun whatsoever during the summer months, we'd better make sure that our bodies are ready to take on the physical role of "summer."

So here's the thing. This year, for the first time in my life, I've made a conscious decision not to buy into it. It's not easy -- not by a long shot. But this year, I am not dieting. I am not tanning. I am not bleaching my hair. I am ready to experiment with the idea of proudly displaying myself in whatever bathing suit or clothing I want to, in all of my imperfection. This is me:

While I am not overweight, per say, I am curvy (especially according to society's standards). My skin is very fair (often referred to as "pasty" by the loving members of the society to which I belong). My hair is very dark and pretty long -- not often styled well (mostly because I choose to sleep longer or whatever instead of spending an hour on it). I've got lots of freckles all over my body, which stand out starkly against my white skin. My breasts are a B-cup. But, see, I've decided not to care anymore that I don't meet society's standards for summer beautiful.

This isn't because I think that my natural self at all embodies the epitome of what we have culturally been led to believe is "beautiful," but because I've decided it's a good idea to embrace the deep philosophical practice of not giving a shit.

Golda Poretsky covers this at her blog. This is not about apathy, per say, but about making a conscious decision to not allow others' opinions of you (particularly about your physical appearance) control any aspect of your life.

This is difficult because we are taught from a very young age that we should care very much about what other people think. As a woman, I know that the pressure to shape one's self into the generic notion of "beautiful" can be intense. Crushingly intense.

Those who know me deeply know that I used to shape my life around making myself "beautiful." I thought that happiness could be found in being physically perfect. I used to put off things I wanted to do because I wasn't thin enough yet, and once I was thin enough or whatever enough, life could finally begin. I spiraled through eleven years of eating disorders (which almost killed me when I decided it was acceptable to withhold my necessary insulin injections because, hey, I'd be thin). I laid in tanning beds and covered my body with staining lotions so that my naturally fair skin would become darker. I bleached my hair, subsequently damaging it beyond repair. I used under-eye concealer on my freckles to make them less noticeable. In short, I went to great lengths in the name of physical perfection ... and I know that many other girls and women do, too.

But the burning question, always, is why. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we buy into the notion that our physical appearance is more important than our health, or our very lives? Why do we allow ourselves to accept the notion that we're not "good enough" unless we're thin enough, tan enough, blond enough, etc.? I am a huge advocate of health and taking care of one's self, but the fact of the matter is that not all of us (not even close to all of us) are born with the capacity to be ultra-skinny, large-breasted "bombshells". And the message that our society sends to us is that we are, therefore, lesser people than those who were born with said capacity. That we should feel ashamed about the ways in which our bodies deviate from society's beauty standard.

That we should do everything in our power to change ourselves, mold ourselves, until we meet the expectation.

But beyond the fact that this leaves millions of women (and men -- yes, I know you suffer from this, too) feeling inadequate for simply being themselves, it also sends the message that the main point of wearing a bikini (or short shorts, or a tank top) is to turn ourselves into ornaments that are attractive to other people. That the main point of vacationing is to be physically appealing. That the main point of visiting public pools or parks or cookouts or camping trips is to be physically appealing. As if we don't do these things simply because we enjoy doing them.

As if we don't deserve to enjoy our summers if we're not thin, tanned, and blond.

I've come to a few realizations in recent years, including that I've got quite a few things going on that require a lot from me -- my child, writing, teaching, and everything involved in getting the most out of the human experience that I can, while I'm here. And I'm tired of sacrificing so much time and money, and devoting so much emotional effort, into an impossible ideal that does not represent who I really am. So I'm not going to do it anymore.

Don't get me wrong here. Societal pressure, and the not-so-subtle messages that it sends to us about the way we look, still gets to me. It's not easy to dismiss it. I'm not going to lie and say that I love my body, or that I'm proud of it. I'm not there yet.

But what I can say is that I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of the fact that, despite society and all of the anxiety I feel about how I currently look, I'm just not going to waste any time on it anymore. I will do what I can to be healthy (like, you know, take my insulin). And beyond that, I will spend my extra money on making memories with my son and with my friends, rather than on tanning lotions and expensive highlights. I will spend my time making memories rather than on excessively exercising and obsessively dieting.

I'm not trying to denounce anyone who does feel the need to spend time and money shaping themselves. Do what you feel you need to.

But as for me, I am proud of myself this year -- proud beyond anything that my body and physical appearance represents. I'm simply proud of the woman I am. And when I show up at the beach, or the theme park, or the barbecue, or wherever this summer, I will not be there to prove that I can meet anyone else's expectations of "beauty." I will be there to have fun.

As I am.