Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Are You a Christian Scientist, or Thoughts on Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel Season 4

Vera Farmiga is brilliant in her performance as the paranoid and possessive Norma Bates, but she’s also an exasperated, overworked and struggling single mom.  She’s great at first impressions, but that veneer cracks under the slightest pressure.  Her breathless maniac depressive struggle is balanced against a sensitive and tormented beauty that she’s never able to use as effectively as she would like.  She lives in a world of toxic denial, where only she can control Norman because she is the only one who truly understands and loves him.  Norma is obviously crazy, but my question is exactly how crazy?
We accept that Norman is murderous; we’ve witnessed his murders, but what if Norma’s murders were actually imagined by Norman, along with his revisionist fantasies of his own crimes?  We as an audience share Norman’s visions and fantasies, we see Vera Farmiga portraying two characters, the real world Norma and Norman’s Mother.  But it’s intriguing to wonder how much is much is actually real, how often have we seen Norma in the real world when we were actually observing Mother. 
Freddy Highmore’s performance blossoms in Season 4 as he envelops Norman Bates, incorporating Anthony Perkins’, lanky nervous tics, and yet expanding the character and truly making it his own.  Much like Mads Mikkelsen’s excellent portrayal of Hannibal in the TV series, he has succeeded in taking an iconic role and transforming it into a fully developed and unique portrayal.  His Norman is manipulative, devious yet not fully in control because he shares half his personality with Norma.  Freddy Highmore’s exaggerated mannerisms as Norma, echoing Vera Farmiga’s body language, are a treat to watch.  His full-blown delusion emerges in Season 4, or becomes more obvious to other people.
Norman is implied to have poisoned his mother and her unspecified boyfriend in the original movie; an offhand comment made by the psychiatrist as he wraps up the movie.  This one idea has been expanded into an entire TV series.  The original Psycho (1960) was 109 minutes long, compare that to 4 seasons of plot, character development and stories.  At this point it’s no longer a remake, it’s taken on a life of it’s own with an entire town full of plotlines to juggle and resolve.
Norma’s practical yet crazy idea to marry Sheriff Romero for the insurance, for example.  What’s surprising to me is that Sheriff Romero really came to love Norma and felt some kind of redemption, which I honestly did not see coming.  Nestor Carbonell, who I have followed since Lost, is one of the most interesting new characters in the series.  A marginally corrupt small town sheriff caught between upholding the law in a lawless town and trying to do the right thing, though that moral line keeps eluding him.
Emma’s lung transplant offers the viewers a glimpse of hope but I’m paranoid in this Game of Thrones/Walking Dead world of killing off beloved characters for shock value.  Dylan and Emma finally leave town and break ties with Norman and Norma, but there no such thing as a happy ending, not in White Pine Bay, not at Bates Motel.
Norman’s eulogy in Episode 10 “Norman” offers insights into his idealized vision of Norma while allowing him to go off the rails and show his violent side just under the surface.  There was an underlying fear of abandonment on both sides of that relationship, and the only way for Norman to truly possess his mother was to murder her.  And can we take a moment to discuss the logistics of digging up a grave, removing a body and not being discovered?  Every TV show and movie just glosses over the difficulty of digging with a shovel, by hand, with no light other than headlights, picking up a body, rolling it in a carpet, shoving it in a trunk and getting it back home in maybe 4 hours?  That always bothers me.  And Norman looks too scrawny to be able to carry his mother up all those stairs.
Season 5 is a 10-hour remake of Psycho, and Vera Farmiga will be back.  Her character may be dead, but she exists in Norman's mind as Mother, and Norman's version of her is more confident, more maternal and definitely more murderous.