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‘Bates Motel’ gives viewers new reasons to stay up at night

(Cate Cameron/A&E Networks/IMDb)

Since its inception, “Bates Motel” has been nothing short of a blockbuster hit, especially since the series was made available on Netflix. Every season of this pot-boiling, binge-worthy horror series has hit it out of the park. The show, which recently continued with its fifth season, is itself a remodeled prequel to the 1960s film “Psycho.” In “Bates Motel,” the main protagonists of the film ­- Norman and Norma Bates – live their lives before the events of “Psycho.”

The “Bates Motel” series has been a huge commercial hit, averaging just north of 1.4 million viewers per episode last year. Without a doubt, this is due to the thrilling, downright creepy moments the directors of the show, with their pitch-perfect homages to Alfred Hitchcock, unleash upon the audience. Almost every scene drips with seat-clenching tension.

The fifth season starts off fully loaded, with Norman Bates trapped in a constant blackout-loop, hallucinating that his deceased mother is in fact alive, and trapped inside their house. The director does an impeccable job creating the illusion that she is, in fact, alive, at least for the first five minutes of the episode. When we do find out she’s dead, it feels almost as if we’re just as ill as Norman.

Norman’s older brother, Dylan Massett, is seen as grown and married to Emma Decody with a newborn baby. Dylan admits in the first episode that he no longer speaks to his younger brother or mother, and further states that he doesn’t want to be connected to that part of his past anymore. The couple seems to have an extremely happy life, until they are forced to face the reality that they cannot ignore their past. Norman’s father appears at their doorstep, asking to come back into the picture, but Emma steps in and asks for him to leave, as she thinks it might affect their daughter’s relationship with Dylan in the future.

Norman remains in a constant battle between pleasing his departed mother and moving on with his life. He meets potential friends, such as Ms. Loomis, but the disapproval from his mother pushes him further and further away from the ideal life of a normal adult.

One remarkable aspect of this particular show is its use of lighting and set design. The dimly lit motel and house would make anyone feel claustrophobic. Long dead, Norma’s presence continues to haunt the motel, and we feel that presence even when her physical body is absent. Each aspect of the house in which Norma is trapped proves to create the notion that beneath the shadows, more secrets may be revealed about the dark pair.

On top of this paranormal psycho-terror, the shrine in the basement just makes the audience’s goose bump-factor kick in further – we get a first-hand look in the season’s first episode that Norman really is past the point of no return.

Meanwhile, Rihanna’s character, Marion Crane, is introduced in the episode “Dreams Die First.” Crane traveled from San Diego with a large amount of cash for Sam Loomis, the same man from the first episode who bought one night at the Bates Motel under the fake name of “David Davidson.” Not only is Rihanna a superb musician, but she proves here that she has the acting chops to back it up. Apparently being a wildly-talented pop superstar was not enough.

Needless to say, I’m itching to see more. “Bates Motel” constantly plays with reality and fantasy. More than anything, the show makes the audience fall into the trap that Hitchcock set up for us in 1960 – most of the scariest things are the things that we never see.

Cassidy Kotyla can be reached at ckotyla@umass.edu and follow her on Twitter @CassidyKotyla.

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