White Pine Bay appears to be a pleasant and beautiful coastal town, but looks can be deceiving. Before the end of the first episode, we understand that the people who own the Bates Motel might not be the only dangerous thing in this town.
Bates Motel is the modern-day origin story of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga). The two move to White Pine Bay to rebuild their life after the death of Norman's father. Their new home is quickly disturbed by the appearance of an angry rapist. The Bates make quick haste to dispose of the man and in so doing demonstrate the lengths they will go to keep up the illusion of their new life.
The relationship between Norman and his mother is the backbone of this gripping series. At times, the relationship is typical, but usually it feels Oedipal. Highmore depicts Norman as an earnest and forthright boy. He desires to challenge his mother, yet his utter devotion compels him to follow her lead. Farmiga is the star of the show and easily steals every scene she is in. Within the first episode, she manages to depict at least 100 different emotions. It's a delight to see Farmiga really sink her teeth into a role like this. It will be interesting to see how she scars Norman into one of cinemas most well-known serial killers.
My only quibbles with the pilot episode were the scenes with Norman and the other high school students. As a high school teacher, the dialogue between the teenagers and even the discussion he has with the teacher felt impossibly fake. I have a hard time believing this awkward 17-year-old would be a source of legitimate fascination with a gaggle of gorgeous teenage girls. Perhaps in future episodes they will show the girls turn on him, but this episode did not give me that impression.
I wasn’t totally sold on the first half of the episode, but the second half was so tense and suspenseful I will have to tune in for the next episode to see what happens. I give it a strong B+ mostly due to the stellar performance from Farmiga.