Monday, December 26, 2016

Bates Motel Season Four: An Overview




BATES MOTEL: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON

We are coming close to the end of Bates Motel, the Psycho prequel.  In the four years the show has been on, it's built on strength to strength, creating how Norman Bates will become the murderous figure he will become.

In the ten episodes of Season Four, it maintains a strong average of 8 (well, 7.9, but why quibble).  It's a pretty strong level of quality, due to many factors.

The first factor is in the acting.  The double-act of Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore as Norma and Norman Bates continues to astonish.  Farmiga makes Norma what she is: a woman who is well-meaning but who also keeps making things worse for herself.  She didn't mean to shape her son into someone who is an extension of herself, but she did.  She didn't mean to cause problems, but she also fails when she does try for good intentions.  Norma is either willfully blind to the danger Norman is or genuinely does not see it.  Either way, this inability to deal rationally with her Achilles heel has damned her to a shocking end.

Farmiga has softened the view of Mother Bates from what most of us who have seen Psycho or any of its sequels (especially Part IV, subtitled The Beginning).  Instead of a horrible person who abused and tortured her son, Farmiga's Norma Bates was a rational woman who had been herself tortured, from the rapes she endured from her own brother Caleb (resulting in her other son, Dylan) to her second husband, Sam Bates. 

Farmiga, I think, was always best when she was playing vulnerable, wounded, a woman on edge fighting to stay ahead and sane in a world that constantly pushed her down.  Granted, Norma herself made ghastly mistakes (she at times did put Norman in difficult positions, such as occasionally slipping into bed with him when he was technically an adult), but behind her at times stupid actions lay the heart of a good woman. 

She was matched by Highmore, who broke free from that troubled young man into being a thoroughly reprehensible person.  At times, he was clearly insane (such as when he close to losing control with his new stepfather).  Other times, Norman was just horrible: when he confronted his mother about her new marriage to Nestor Carbonell's Sheriff Alex Romero.

Highmore no longer made Norman a sympathetic figure.  He was selfish, arrogant, self-centered.  If anything, it was Norman who clung on to Norma rather than the other way around.  The season marked that evolution in his cruelty, and again, it makes one wonder why the Television Academy chose to ignore him and Farmiga.

Carbonell was equally complex as Sheriff Romero, someone who was a good man but also not above committing murders and hiding his own past sins.  Max Thieriot had some wonderful moments as Dylan, the only sane person in the whole series.

I've drifted to not mention another aspect of what made Season Four so successful: the scripts.  By and large Season Four kept building things slowly but to some shocking conclusions.  It was not perfect: poor Olivia Cooke as Emma Decody sometimes was shifted off, and the murder of Audrey Decody hopefully won't be forgotten.

Still, Season Four of Bates Motel was chilling, tragic, and leads up to its final season, one where we know where it will end: with Marion Crane taking her last shower.  Pop singer Rihanna will guest star in the role originated by the late Janet Leigh.  I'm not particularly sold on this casting, though RiRi was one of the better parts of the abysmal Battleship.  Will it be similar to the film or will they try for something else?

Season Four is another success for this Psycho-prequel, and while it's sad to see it go, the show was a great success.  At least it knows when to quit while it's ahead.



Next Episode:  Dark Paradise

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