‘Bates Motel’ season premiere is off-the-rails

Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 7:51pm

NOSELL

A&E

 

The season four premiere of “Bates Motel” leads the show from a slow-burning thriller to the unavoidable trainwreck it was always meant to be. Freddie Highmore (“August Rush”) portrays the young Norman Bates in the series, who, in the span of a season, has gone from the creepy kid down the street to the psychotic killer and motel manager in Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller “Psycho.” From the beginning, fans have always known what to expect out of “Bates Motel,” as the concrete five-year track the showrunners established at the start will lead up to Marion Crane’s doomed check-in to the motel. Norman Bates, previously only psychologically unbalanced, is about one grain of sand away from becoming the infamous son-turned-psychotic serial killer.

Season three was arguably the most thrilling season, starting with a funeral and ending with a bang — and by “bang” I mean another murder. We (almost) saw Norman escape his mother for good, despite her restraining attempts to keep him home, and finally run away into the theoretical sunset with Bradley (Nicola Peltz, “Transformers: Age of Extinction”). Even though Norman, during this time, is psychologically unstable, maybe some time away from his mother (Vera Farmiga, “The Conjuring”) would help him work out those incestual desires he’s been having? Well, we were wrong. So, so wrong. It only took an exit sign at the city’s borders before Norman ultimately became “Mother.” He’s no longer hallucinating his mother; he actually thinks that he’s Norma Bates. So “Mother” bashed Bradley’s head against some rocks, and season three ended with a loving embrace between mother and son. All of this chaos just makes up the precursor to season four’s premiere.

After killing Bradley, Norman has been missing for a few days. While Norma is out of her mind with worry, Norman is just out of his mind. He’s found in a field, seemingly yelling at nobody, but we all know he’s talking to “Mother.” This scene is important because before it, we didn’t really have any idea just how far Norman had gone. Highmore’s performance is out of this world and believably psychotic. Not shortly after, Norman is admitted into a psychiatric hospital (at which point I’m certain there was a chorus of “finally!” among fans) and we once again get to see Highmore creepily staring at the ceiling with a blank, expressionless face. I don’t think Norman is all right. But apparently Norma does, as she discharges him and takes him back home ASAP.

Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Cooke, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) is receiving the lung transplant that could save her life. Amid all of the drama and lies … more drama. But this is a different kind of drama. Whereas the “Norman drama” of the show leads to a skin-crawling feeling that leaves you thinking that he’s finally lost all touch with humanity, the “Emma drama” focuses more on the emotional, heart-wrenching aspect of the series. Who wouldn’t be scared to get a transplant? We get to see Dylan’s (Max Thieriot, “Point Break”) love for Emma, which really adds an emotional relief to the darkness that’s been falling on the Bates family recently. Especially now that Emma is out of the woods, we can focus more on what we’re going to do about Norman, who just spontaneously murdered Emma’s absentee mother in the psyche of none other than “Mother.” The murders are coming quicker now, and Norman’s mannerisms are shifting to become more feminine. Highmore is becoming completely invested in his character’s transition from the son to the mother — all it would take is a wig and the audience could become thoroughly convinced that Highmore is a woman.

Yup, Norman has finally lost it. And Norma is thinking that she should have gotten him help a lot sooner. From there, we get to see Norma’s poor care, or lack thereof, of Norman’s psychiatric issues. During the episode, multiple psychiatrists get to call her out for abuse, so maybe Norma is finally coming to the realization that blackouts that lead to murderous rampages is something she should look into. Overall, it’s ultimately unclear the direction the show will be taking for the season. To keep Norman out of state care, she has to find him a doctor and obtain a diagnosis. Especially since Norman can no longer distinguish dreaming from blacking out, a wedge in their relationship will surely form over who is actually committing the murders — Norma or “Mother”? However, it won’t be too long until something sets him off again, leading to the final murder of Norma Bates and the ultimate climax in the birth of Norman’s persona as “Mother.” Although Hitchcock coined “we all go a little mad sometimes” from an older Norman Bates, our Norman is too far gone for “sometimes.”