Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bates Motel Season 4 Review (SPOILERS)

If you ask me what my favorite movie of all time is, I usually have a hard time answering that. It's hard to go through every movie I've ever watched and pick just one as my personal favorite. Favorite genre is an easier question. While I like a wide variety of genres, I love myself a good thriller. Make it a psychological thriller and I'm even more sold because I love diving into the human mind. Of course you know where I'm going with this because you've clicked on this review, but the best psychological thriller that I've ever seen is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Hitchcock was a master with thrillers and there's no question in my mind that Psycho is his greatest work. That's some high praise, too, because he made a lot of phenomenal films. If you haven't seen Psycho, then turn away now because I'll be diving into some 56-year-old spoilers with this Bates Motel season 4 review. One of the reasons why I love Bates Motel is that I think they've done justice to Psycho as I've loved seeing their take on this Psycho mythology. And, of course, if you've read the title of this review, you'll know that there will also be spoilers for this season of Bates Motel. This season kicked this show into high gear and it's time to discuss in detail why that is. Consider yourself warned.

Personally I've always referred to Bates Motel as a prequel to Psycho. I've seen people on the internet arguing against that, but I think they're just arguing a silly game of semantics. Yes, this is a prequel to Psycho set in the modern day. The Psycho mythology itself is fascinating. In the original movie, all we know for most of the movie is that Norman Bates is a nice hotel manager, but his mom is a crazy, jealous, killer who kills all the girls that Norman ends up fancying. As it turns out, his mother is actually a dead, rotting corpse in the basement, which means Norman is really messed up in the brain. At the very end we have a psychiatrist explain that Norman killed his mother and her lover 10 years prior out of jealousy, which then caused him to go crazy and turn into the person he is in the film. But that's all we're told. Logically you could argue that if he made the decision to kill his mother, he was probably already crazy, but it's open to interpretation. After Hitchcock's death, Universal made three sequels to Psycho and those movies weren't even consistent with themselves in telling Norman's backstory. This means Bates Motel had the liberty of doing whatever the heck they wanted without offending Psycho fans such as myself.

This made for a really interesting series for me. We knew what the end game was going to be, but we had no idea how they were going to get there. I mean, Norman had to kill his mother as some point. But when was that going to happen and how? And with all these random side characters the show has created, how is Norman going to get away with this? In the beginning, the show did a great job of making the audience feel bad for Norman and not like his crazy mother Norma. She was all kinds of messed up, but Norman was this nice kid who was really just stuck in a horrible situation. Then Norman's blackouts start to happen and suddenly your loyalties to this kid start to become questioned, especially after he kills his teacher at the end of the first season. But even then you still feel bad for him because he's still a great kid and honestly has no idea what has happened. The jealous Norma part of Norman's brain completely took over when his teacher invited him into his home and started stripping down. He had no recollection of any of it. Then when Norman starts to realize that he may have been the one killing people, those are some really emotional moments. The fact that he has a very emotionally unstable mother doesn't help things at all.

Season 4, though, is where the tables are completely flipped compared to what they were in season 1. Norman is fresh off killing Bradley in the season 3 finale and any semblance of this nice, innocent kid that you were rooting for is gone. Norman has completely gone off the cliff mentally as he literally can't tell the difference between the Norma that is taking over his brain and the Norma in real life. The first time we see him in this season, he is arguing with the Norma inside his head, which creeps a bystander out. That bystander brings him back to town and pretty early on Norman brutally murders Emma's mother who is just in town because she wants to get a message to her daughter. But that's not all. Norman is completely convinced that it was his mother who killed Emma's mother and he gets into this argument with the real Norma where he acts in a completely dominate way towards her, which is honestly extremely terrifying. Yeah, no more innocent little teenager. Norman is an all out terrifying psychopath and you fear for the lives of everyone around him this season. A huge round of applause goes out to Freddie Highmore as Norman because he does complete justice to this iconic serial killer. Norma makes the tough decision to send him to the mental institution, which is where you really hope he stays.

Speaking of a huge round of applause, one of those definitely has to go out to Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates. Her and Freddie Highmore have totally made this show work as they have portrayed Norman and Norma. As I said, at the beginning of this show I was on team Norman. Norma was the crazy one, but as this show progresses, you start feeling bad for Norma. As we've unfolded this story, we've learned that she had an awkward romance with her brother growing up, which ended with him raping her. Then she went through two marriages. The first one didn't work out and the second one ended up being a really abusive relationship where she was also essentially raped by her husband who ended up getting killed by her psychopath son. Now she has to figure out how to properly deal with this psychopath son who is getting worse and worse as the days progress and months progress and has now killed several people. Can you blame her for being mentally unstable? Absolutely freaking not. This season you are 100 percent on team Norma and deep down you want things to work out for her, but since you know what show this is, you know this is going to end in a tragic way and you are trying to emotionally embrace yourself for what is going to happen, but you know it's going to completely wreck you.

Then Norma falls in love. And it's a beautiful romance. But a doomed romance. Throughout the first three seasons, there is some definite romantic chemistry between Sheriff Alex Romero and Norma Bates. Then in this season she completely drops a bombshell on him by asking him to marry her. This is done for completely selfish reasons as the aforementioned argument between her and Norman causes her to be scared out of her mind. She knows she needs to get him into this mental institution, but she doesn't have the means or the insurance to do so. But if she were to marry Sheriff Romero, they could use his insurance and since he is Sheriff, he could pull some strings and get Norman in, which is exactly what happens. They get married and even though it wasn't a true marriage, he moves in with her in order for the town to believe it's real and in a very backwards sort of way they end up falling in love after getting married. For the first time in Norma's life, everything seems good. Norman is gone and getting help. She has a husband who loves her and treats her well. She's able to tell him the complete truth about her past and he's able to be with her to help her through it. Speaking of a round of applause, can we give a third one to Nestor Carbonell as Alex? This is his best season yet.

When this romance happened in Norman's absence, it did two things. First, it made me really happy to see something go right for Norma. Second, it made my heart sink. By falling in love with Alex in Norman's absence, she sealed her fate. This is how she dies. Everything from here on out is all downhill. Granted, we all knew she was doomed from the start, but this is the turning point. Why does Norman kill his mother in Psycho? Because she falls in love with someone else. Regardless of which version of Psycho we're going by, whether it be the movies, the books, or the TV shows, romance is bad because romance equals death. If Norman falls in love, the Norma part of Norman's brain takes over and kills the girl. If Norma falls in love, then Norman kills her. With this Norma/Alex romance, all is going fine and dandy... until Norman finds out. Granted, him finding out via the newspaper shreddings while making his papier-mâché dog in the mental institution was a bit cheesy, but his reaction to this finding was perfect. The look of betrayal and determination was terrifying. "This isn't going to end well," was my exact reaction to his reaction. Norman said he was getting out and going home. And I panicked just as much as Norma did. We were in for a wild ride.

Before we talk about the finale of this season, I want to go on an important tangent. In the movie Psycho, the most iconic scene of the movie is the infamous shower scene. In fact, it's seen as one of the greatest scenes of all time and it's certainly one of my all time favorite scenes in any movie. I could spend a long time on my reasons for this, but for the sake of this review, I will be simple. Psycho is a story about Marion Crane, who is a very troubled female. We won't dive into why at this point, but she is. She ends up stealing $40,000 and running away. A series of events leads her to the Bates Motel where she meets Norman. Alone in her hotel room, she continues this inner struggle and finally makes the decision that she's going to clean up her act and go back. The fact that she's at her lowest low is at least part of the reason why she makes this decision. Her decision to clean up her act is then symbolized by her taking a shower, so she's literally and figuratively becoming clean. And that's when Normal kills her. Not only is she at rock bottom when she is killed, but being naked in a shower is one of the most vulnerable places that a woman could be attacked by a man. So in summary, Marion is killed at the very moment when she is both physically and emotionally most vulnerable.

Tragic. Devastating. Heart-breaking. Thematically it's one of the most emotionally jarring scenes. That alone is enough to make this scene amazing and I haven't even talked about the filming of that scene or the iconic score during that has been used or mimicked hundreds of times in cinema since. And I won't go into those other elements right now because they aren't relevant to this Bates Motel review. But those thematic elements are relevant here because this season does a tragically beautiful job in paralleling that iconic moment with Norma Bates. As I've detailed, Norma's arc in this series is depressing and tragic. We spend four seasons telling her backstory and when we have the full picture, you really feel for this woman. Then in this season, she has finally found happiness and finally found someone who can help her through all this and love her for who she really is. Then Norman gets himself out of the mental institution and shatters that fairy tale ending into a thousand pieces because him and Alex do not get along at all. Norma is forced to choose between Norman and Alex and she goes with Norman, but it literally destroys her inside. She is more of an emotional wreck than she's ever been. She's hit absolute rock bottom. And can you think of another place where a woman would be extremely vulnerable? How about asleep in her bed?

First though, I want to talk about the sequences leading up to this tragic ending? Norman is home and he is absolutely furious at the fact that his mother decided to get married. The tension between him and Alex is incredible and it leads to some extremely emotional, fiery scenes between the two. Norma's reaction to all of this and her futile attempts to make the three of them work as a happy family are also extremely emotional. I talked about giving all three actors a round of applause for their performances in this season. The interactions between the three of them in these final few episodes was the peak of each of their performances and was absolutely incredible. But even at this point, I had no idea that Norma was about to die. I thought they were going to build on this more throughout the next season and have the finale of the show be the moment where Norman finally kills his mother. But here I was watching Norman and Norma talk about going and starting over one final time and Norma falls asleep. Then Norman gets out bed, turns up the dangerous furnace, and closes all of the vents in the house except for the one in his mother's room and then gets back in the bed with her. It's an attempted murder suicide that partially fails because Norman survives. But Norma doesn't. Norman has killed his mother via carbon monoxide poisoning.

Pure shock. I knew this season was going to end with a major death, but I thought it was going to be Dylan and Emma because Dylan dating the girl that Norman almost started dating seemed like bad news for both of them. But I guess we're saving that one for next season. Seeing Vera Farmiga get killed a season early was a total blind-side hit for me. But as I think about it, it's another genius parallel to Psycho. I'm sure few people in 1960 predicted that Marion Crane would be killed super early, especially since movies back in the day had more of a tendency to be nicely wrapped in a bow. Hitchcock was definitely way ahead of his time. I can't say my shock factor was equivalent to that of people in the 1960's watching Psycho, but the fact that there was an early death of our main female lead that I didn't see coming is genius. And the final episode with Norman and dead Norma was haunting. And freaky when Norma opened her eyes. This could've been the series finale the way they did this, but we left some loose threads with Alex, Dylan and Emma, Chick Hogan, Dr. Edwards, and a few others. I don't expect any of them to make it out of next season alive, but we'll see how Norman ends up completely getting away with all of this. And having a full season of Norman in full psycho mode after killing his mother is really exciting!

I don't think next season can top this season. And I don't think it needs to. This is the season where we built up to Norman finally killing his mother and it was tragic. I believe this was a five-season plan for this show and if that's true, we have one final season to wrap up all the loose ends and I'm excited to see how they finish this up. I actually didn't watch this season live on TV because I had so many other shows that I was trying to keep up with. But once those shows ended, I quickly jumped into this season of Bates Motel and was planning on spending a few weeks binge watching it at my desired pace, but it totally sucked me in and I ended up watching all 10 episodes over the course of two or three days. I'm glad I was able to do that because watching one week at a time might've been really tough. After finishing the season, I've given it a week or two of thought before diving into this and I can honestly say that this was one of the best seasons of a TV show that I have ever watched and the second to last episode, titled "Forever," where Norman kills his mother might be one of the best TV episodes that I have ever watched. When I sit and ponder the events of this season, I get emotionally distraught and it almost ruins my day. That's how you know you've successfully written a beautiful tragedy, which is what Psycho is. Well done, Bates Motel!

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