Bates Motel Season 5 premieres Monday night with Freddie Highmore delivering career-best work as the troubled Norman Bates.
Bates Motel closed its fourth season by delivering the highly anticipated death of Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga). Over time, this moment evolved into one I’d personally both dreaded and hotly anticipated. It did not disappoint. Instead of Norma falling to a violent end (as originally imagined in Psycho IV: The Beginning), Norman (Freddie Highmore) treated her to a swift and painless gassing. Ultimately, Norman put Norma to sleep as best he could. He offered her a way to live in an idyllic state in which she could never leave him. Bates Motel Season 5 returns us to the Bates Motel two years after Norma’s death, and she lingers still. We’ve had time to grieve, but now it’s time for closure. Judging from the pilot, an excellent closure it will be.
Bates Motel reigns as one of the most underrated television series of all time. With Season 5, the stakes appear as high for the series as they’ve ever been. The modern-set story finally evolves into Psycho-familiar territory. Norman Bates lives alone, managing the motel and catering to the needs of his deceased mother. Most hauntingly, the episode immediately shows Norman living between two worlds. The idyllic world where Norma cooks and cleans for her son dominates his fantasy world, yet we see the sad squalor in which Norman truly resides. Over the two episodes provided for review, Norman interacts fairly well with the residents of White Pine Bay, even if nearby lakes seem to be filling up with bodies.
We’re moving closer to the events of the original film. But now we have the special spin brilliantly re-imagined by producer/writer Kerry Ehrin and team. The Season 5 premiere introduces the iconic character of Sam Loomis, played by Austin Nichols. However, this take somewhat serves as the flip side to the original iconic material. Sam comes across as a bit of a cad, and we meet his wife, Madeline (Isabelle McNally), of course a dead ringer for Norma Bates. You may know Psycho, but you don’t know this side of it.
I’m hesitant to delve too far into the details of the pilot. Given we know (theoretically) how this ends, any surprises should be nurtured. It’s no surprise, however, that Freddie Highmore continues to deliver an astonishingly frank portrayal of Norman Bates. His performance echoes the nebbish subtleties of Anthony Perkins’s original work. Yet, he layers the take with the frank sexuality that torments Norman. Highmore provides fearless moments throughout both episodes, unafraid to commit to the role. Farmiga remains as great as ever, even if we no longer have her wonderful real-world Norma Bates. I do love, though, the amazing moments of pitch black humor she sprinkles in her line readings. Wait for the moment they open the freezer in the basement. Yup, you know what’s in it. It’s not like they haven’t been here before.
When Bates Motel Season 5 finally closes its doors, it will be a bittersweet moment. But, until then, the show walks a tightrope act as it winds its way through the Psycho lore. We’ve yet to see what Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) will do once he gets out of prison where he’s been working out with rage for two years. Or Rihanna’s take on Janet Leigh’s iconic Marion Crane. Or that infamous moment she steps in the Bates Motel shower. We’ll all be holding our breath until that happens, but the fun lies in the surprise and anticipation until that moment. Welcome back, Bates Motel. You have been and will be sorely missed.