Technical aspects: B
Particular trigger warnings: rape, family being manipulative, creepy incest vibes
Passes the Bechdel test? no
After the death of her husband, Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) decides to move from Arizona to Oregon with her son, Norman (Freddie Highmore), to purchase a motel. They arrive in Oregon and begin to fix the place up, but the previous owner of the property, Keith Summers (W. Earl Brown), begins harassing them. Spoilers follow: Norma tries to keep Norman from going out, especially once it’s clear that some of the popular girls of the town are befriending him, but he sneaks out to party with them anyway. While he’s gone, Summers breaks into the house and rapes Norma, though Norman arrives in time to rescue her. She kills Summers, and convinces Norman to help her hide his body.
All right, I have my reservations about this show, which is an absolutely TERRIBLE pun that I didn’t intend at all, but now I can't bear to remove it. I’m sorry. It’s a contemporary prequel to Psycho, which is... meh. I’d prefer it be set in the correct time period to fit with the original story, and it’s odd because parts of it feel like they are. It’s not until the girls whip out their cell phones that it really feels like a modern piece. It comes across almost as if it was originally intended to be set decades ago, and then they just decided that was too hard to maintain. So hey, iPhones for everyone! BUT, since that’s personal preference, I’ll try not to let it cloud too much of my opinion.
It doesn’t quite feel like the same sort of horror as Psycho, though I can see it setting it up… maybe. I will say that Norma is written pretty well, alternating between almost girlish, giggly, creepily girlfriend-ish behavior toward Norman, and her controlling and manipulative side. It’s seriously creepy (and I think Vera Farmiga pulls it off very well.) The manipulation and guilting is very “real” feeling, to the point of almost being upsetting (especially the scene at the dinner table where she tells him that of course he can join track; she’ll just do everything herself, like she always does.) Plus, of course, the immensely creepy, obsessive, pseudo-incest vibes.
I’m not very impressed with their decision to include a pretty graphic (for something airing on a basic cable channel) rape scene. (Not that it really would have been any better if it’d been less graphic.) Yes, it’s a subject I’m touchy about, but it’s the kind of thing that it just shitty to throw in as “motivation” for something else. (In this case for Norman to stay closer to his mother and to help her hide the body.) It’s not a topic that should be used purely as a plot device, and it’s used that way far too often across just about every kind of media. That shit is not cool.
The episode also felt a bit rushed, which is maybe unavoidable. The series didn’t get a true pilot, but this was still the episode intended to establish the characters and setting. It does that, but it has to do so and have a self-contained story in 45 minutes or so. As a consequence, the development isn’t especially subtle.
The tech is fine, though not especially revolutionary. I did like the overhead shot of the officer in the bathroom. The set design is very good, especially with the house. It very much looks like the original house from the Psycho film, even if it’s been transplanted in time.
There isn’t much in the way of effects, so that’s hard to judge. There’s some blood and it didn’t look bad.
So yeah. It was… okay. It’s probably worth it to me to stick through a couple more episodes, at least. I am curious to see where it goes, and there’s enough done right that I want to see how it progresses. But I won’t say that I’m amazingly impressed or that I’d be heartbroken to miss an episode and catch it later. I do hope some of the issues improve when they have a little more room to devote to development rather than just establishment.