Norma Bates

Written by @EllieDangerous
Everyone’s heard of ‘Psycho’, and if not you can guess enough from its title. ‘Bates Motel’ is its prequel. The series is defined by chillingly anticipant moments and stars a very close mother and son who open a motel together in a little town reminiscent of Twin Peaks. Vera Farmiga plays the mother, Norma Bates, who at first seems like a champion of Hitchcock’s vile quote: “Blondes make the best victims.” But will she be a hero or a villain before she becomes Norman’s “best victim”?

Spoiler Alert
The answer is both, but not at the same time. Norma is a realistic, changeable person who is sometimes likeable, sometimes hateable, and driven either by whims or principles. (Like mother like son.)

It’s the whims that make her a villain. Norma is very possessive of her teenage son Norman, and jealous of anyone else in his life — especially girls. Although she loves him, often she doesn’t think about what’s best for him: she’d rather just do whatever it takes to have her creepy chap all to herself. This has damaged him irreparably, but he’s unaware of it. She’s a master manipulator, and can’t resist exploiting the inappropriate but genuine bond between her and Norman.

It’s this version of his mother — audacious, possessive, and destructive — that Norman begins to hallucinate. Hallucinations of Norma are controlling and seductive, and sometimes result in a corpse at the boy’s feet. Norma in true villain form is in her son's imagination, but his hallucinations of her are based on aspects of her real life personality that have effected him deeply and dangerously.

At other times, Norma is a true Hitchcockian victim. She’s fragile, frightened, and it helps that Vera Farmiga has the same name and looks as ‘Psycho’ actress Vera Miles. Norma’s suffered a history of horrific abuse, and Norman’s busy growing up with a delirious instinct to protect her. This is an instinct shared by other men in her life (including her other son Dylan and her love interest Sheriff Romero), to the point at which they all want to protect her from each other.

When these men have killed for her she’s a victim; but when they kill because of her there are more manipulative forces at play. Norma is not unintelligent.

Most of her intelligence goes into protecting her son and nurturing his denial about his mental state. In the second and especially third season of ‘Bates Motel’, Norman becomes less relatable, Norma becomes more so. We fear him and fear for her.

Norman was once a sweet slice of fruitcake, but now he’s just nutty. Actor Freddie Highmore is great with those flashes of rage. The character is sometimes aggressive even with his mother, and has become strong-willed in a manner for which the people around him are totally unprepared. He’s becoming more and more influenced by the hallucinatory villain version of Norma and less and less by the cautious, well-intentioned real life woman.

Season three recently ended, and Norman’s descent continues. We root for Norma and twitch every time she almost gets professional help for her son (good luck, professionals!). We foolishly hope that in the end she’ll live a nice small-town life with a bustling road running past Bates Motel.

But we know that whether her ultimate role is that of hero or villain or both, she will eventually become the most fateful victim of her little psycho’s life.
You've got to stand up for yourself in life. You can't let the world run over you.
Parents do not have needs. You ever read the book "The Giving Tree"? It's about a tree, and this kid keeps coming and taking stuff from it his whole life, until there's nothing left but a stump. And then the kid sits on the stump. That's being a parent.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 21 May 2015

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