Series / Bates Motel

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Bates Motel is an American drama television series on A&E starring Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. The series is a spiritual prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's iconic Psycho, and depicts the early years of Norman Bates whilst set in modern times.

The series kicks off with the sudden death of Norman's father, prompting Norman and his beloved mother Norma to set up a new life in the coastal town of White Pine Bay as owners of the eponymous motel. However, their relationship is far from stable and the town is hiding secrets of its own...

This show contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adorkable: Norman and Emma. They don't have many friends, but they're both endearing people.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Norma is not the abusive, sadistic monster she was portrayed as in the original film, but instead a well-meaning person struggling with selfish neediness and sheltered naiveté. She is trying to raise her son as best she can but her flaws lead to disappointment for herself and others.
    • Romero, Norman's stepfather, is also not an abusive bastard like his original counterpart, but The Sheriff trying to protect his town.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Gender Inverted as Norman and Dylan are more attracted to morally ambiguous girls.
  • Altar Diplomacy: Norma, lacking the funds or the insurance required to send Norman to the Pineview mental institution, Norma offers to marry Romero in exchange for his insurance. While Romero refuses at first, he reconsiders, decides to marry Norma, and uses Bob Paris's money to pay for the treatment.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Anyone who stays alone with Norman doesn't fare well.
  • Arc Villain: The show gets a new Big Bad every season.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Keith Sommers, the former owner of Bates Motel, rapes Norma before she stabs him to death.
    • Deputy Zack Shelby keeps a sex slave in his basement, kills her, then is killed by Dylan while he's trying to kill the Bates family.
    • Jake Abernathy a.k.a. Joe Fioretti, who runs a sex slave ring in four ports along the Oregon coast gets shot four times by Sheriff Romero.
    • Gil, who was killed by Bradley in the second season's premiere. She was hunting for her father's killer.
    • The guy who Dylan ran over for killing his friend, Ethan Chang.
    • Cody's father, who was pushed down the stairs by Norman after abusing Cody in front of Norman.
  • Becoming the Mask: Sheriff Romero and Norma fake a marriage together in order to get insurance for Norman's mental hospital payments, but eventually find themselves falling in love with each other for real.
  • Bedlam House: The fourth season begins with Norman being sent to the county psych ward. As the hospital has suffered from budget cuts, it is in such poor condition that it becomes a modern version of this trope.
    • In contrast, Norma goes to great lengths to get Norman into a much more ethical, realistic, and expensive facility with genuinely helpful professionals.
  • Berserk Button: Insult Norma in front of Norman, just try it.
  • Betty and Veronica: Emma, openly smitten but ignored, is Betty to Norman's Archie, while popular, unattainable Bradley is his Veronica.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Keeping with the movie, Norman is nice and quiet. He doesn't look like he'd put up much of a fight but he becomes quite scary when he sees his mother in trouble.
  • Big Bad: Each season has one.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In the first three season finales, Romero guns down that season's Big Bad. He's on his way to do this again in the Season 4 finale, but his plans are foiled when he is arrested.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Norman's family, naturally.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Though Norman's illness has resulted in him murdering multiple people, an argument can be made that if he had help, he could have turned out differently. The same cannot be said of White Pine Bay's numerous crime-lords, all of whom are in complete control of their decisions; decisions that have resulted in a kill-count that would put Norman's to shame.
  • Blatant Lies
  • Break-In Threat: After Norma kicks Jake Abernathy out of the motel, Abernathy breaks into her house when she's out and leaves Shelby's corpse on her bed.
  • Break the Cutie: Norman, Emma, Dylan.
  • Break the Haughty: Norma.
  • Broad Strokes: Putting the issues of technology aside, the show seems to be heading for the same general destination as the movie, but taking a different route to get there. While some of the incongruities with the backstory could be explained as Norman being delusional in the movie, this show gives Norman and Norma active social lives, while the movie did not.
    • On the other hand, by the time of the film, Norma is dead and Norman himself has several very good reasons for having become a recluse. Additionally, the film never really explores the Bates' early social lives, allowing the show to fill in the gaps.
  • Call Back: When Dylan was abrupt with him, Tom rebuked him, saying that small talk is how people find common ground. When Caleb returns, Dylan is quick to tell him he's not interested in small talk—even more of a callback when you consider that won him over twice before.
  • Character Death: Norma eventually dies by her own son's hands.
  • Chick Magnet: Norman. Seriously. Every teenage girl seems to want a piece of him for some reason.
  • Christmas Episode: The ironically named episode "Unfaithful" features our main characters going out for a Christmas tree.
  • Composite Character: In Psycho IV, Norman's stepfather was an abusive Jerk Ass who hated him named Chet. In the show, Romero takes the role as Norman's stepfather and his rival, but he's more likable.
  • Creepy Basement: Shelby has one in his house where he has imprisoned a young girl as his sex slave. The basement ticks many of the creepy basement expectations such as the flickering lights, dimly lit rooms, and shadows all around.
    • The fruit cellar from Psycho appears in the season 2 premiere. Norma even comments about how Norman spends a lot of time working on taxidermy down there.
  • Crapsaccharine World: At first sight, White Pine Bay seems like a prosperous little town, however…
    • The town’s economy, ostensibly based on light industries like organic pig farms and artisanal cheese; is in reality based on the distribution of illegally farmed marijuana.
    • Disputes related to the drug trade are dealt with brutally and publicly.
    • Some of the residents, including deputy Shelby, are involved in human trafficking.
    • The sheriff covers up and commits multiple murders.
  • Cute and Psycho: Norman. Cute as a button and twice as crazy.
  • Daydream Surprise: Occasionally, Norman's hallucinations mostly happen at day.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Norma and Norman.
  • Dirty Cop: Considering how many illegal activities are going on in White Pine Bay, it would be more surprising if there weren't any.
    • The main culprit in the first season was Deputy Zack Shelby.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Keith Sommers harassing Norman and Norma because the motel and house they bought was his. It's stated outright that it wasn't even their fault, the bank was the one that foreclosed on his family's house and motel.
    • With a possible helping of Never My Fault - between the day-to-day earnings of the motel and the ostensibly lucrative slave trade just how did he lose it to the bank? He can't have been a very good businessman, and it seemed to take a lot of work to get the place presentable after the Bates moved in...
  • Doomed by Canon: Norma, and whichever man she eventually ends up with, were doomed from the start. While Norma does meet her end, her new husband does not perish alongside her.
  • Dr. Jerk: In Season 4, Norma encounters a therapist who outright calls her a bad parent and threatens to take away her son.
  • Dull Surprise: Nicola Peltz as Bradley Martin. The show seems to try to get around it by having her wear dark sunglasses at all times when she's supposed to be mourning her father's death, and then by turning her into an emotionless head case- before finally putting her on a bus.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Most everyone in the cast seems to have some kind of emotional problem or the like. The Bates family takes the cake, however, in White Pines.
  • Evil Cripple: Chick, a morally ambiguous gun runner, ends up crippled for life by Caleb.
  • Evil Matriarch: Norma is an incredibly unstable, overly-emotional and psychologically abusive mother, but she may not be evil, just incredibly toxic.
  • Failure Hero: All of Norma's attempts to help her son were All for Nothing due to her death.
  • Faking the Dead: Bradley. At least at first...
  • Family Business: The Bates Motel.
  • Foreshadowing: Unsurprising, what with it being a prequel.
    • For example, a member of Emma's family owns a taxidermy shop. There are some significant shots of the stuffed animals and Norman can't help but eye them which foreshadows how Norman will eventually get into taxidermy as an adult because he's lonely and needs a hobby.
    • Emma straight up states how traumatizing it must be "to be totally into a guy who turns out to be a monster." to Norman.
    • At the end of the final episode of the first season, we see Miss Watson is wearing a necklace that says 'B'—which is the initial of the woman Bradley's father was having an affair with.
    • "This road will ruin our lives!" Said by Norma in the second season's premiere.
    • When Remo and Dylan discuss why Gil hates Jerry Martin so much in the second season's premiere, Remo claims that Miss 'Blair' Watson is the daughter of the drug family - which becomes a key storyline as the second season progresses.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Any fan of the original series knows that eventually Norman will kill Norma once she finds a lover. Along with the fact that Norman will never be caught, and will wind up alone with the motel, with Dylan and everyone else in his life out of the picture.
  • Freudian Excuse: And how. Turns out, however, Norman isn't the only one to have them. Despite the distance he tries to create with Norma, Dylan can't get past his issues with his mother either.
  • Greater Scope Villain: Norman's Split Personality Mother is treated as the overarching villain of the series.
  • Gut Punch: The rape scene in the first episode.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Norman thinks his mother is really doing "bad things."
  • Heel–Face Turn: Chick was previously a villain against Dylan and his family, but ends up realizing the error of his ways and becomes a nice guy.
  • Hell Hotel: Even before the Bates family's arrival, their motel still fit this trope as it was used by the previous owner to imprison sex slaves.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Nick Ford attempts to convince Dylan to kill Zane Morgan by kidnapping Norman.
  • Hysterical Woman: Norma.
  • Idiot Ball: Thinking that Shelby had leverage against Norma because he discovered Keith Summers' belt. Even if he'd kept it in his house, it would be hard for him to convincingly explain why he had it in his possession. But the truly idiotic part happens when it comes to the boat. How hard could it be to discredit the value of it as evidence? The boat it was being kept on belonged to the victim! Just leave it there.
  • I Have Many Names: Occurs during Romero's meeting with Jake Abernathy in the first season finale:
    Alex Romero: What do I call you? Abernathy? Fioretti?
    Jake Abernathy: I go by a lot of different names. Why don't you call me Joe?
  • Incest Subtext: If one were not aware of the premise of the show, he or she might think Norman and Norma are lovers from some of the commercials. This is not unintentional.
  • Irony: Norman is worried about his mother's mental state.
  • It's All About Me: Norma tends to think this way.
  • Love Hurts
  • Love Martyr: Norma and Norman.
  • Kill the Cutie: Mother murders Bradley.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Norman's Mother personality is a darker reflection of Norma.
  • Mama Bear: Norma Bates is fiercely protective of Norman. Overprotective.
  • Man Hug: Norman and Dylan have done this a few times, notably after Norma runs off in Season Three. Dylan and Caleb, too.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Though the Bates family isn't exactly defenseless, White Pine Bay's many crime families are much more dangerous. However, as soon as Norma, Norman, and (especially) Dylan move into town, their very presence starts a chain reaction that...
    • Begins with Norma and Romero killing Jake Abernathy, the leader of a criminal syndicate that dealt in sex slaves.
    • Results in Dylan assassinating Nick Ford — the kingpin of the second marijuana cartel in White Pine Bay — in his own home. With a fire poker.
    • A civil war between the opposing Morgan cartel that ends in the deaths of its sibling leadership, Zane and Jodi.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Cody's friends assume Norman is gay.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Norman takes his mother's corpse home and acts as if she's still alive.
  • My Beloved Smother: You only get one guess at who is the biggest perpetrator of this trope. Norma will do anything to keep Norman by her side. She gets angry whenever she believes Norman has abandoned her and continually tells Norman that it's just the two of them against the world.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Norma has gone through absolute hell trying to protect Norman and help him conquer his Sanity Slippage, but ends up murdered by his hand in the end.
  • Oedipus Complex
  • Origins Episode: The series is this for Psycho.
  • Parents Walk In at the Worst Time: Subverted in "The Man in Number 9," in which Norman is in bed with Bradley, then Norma walks in and cheerfully asks him how he's doing. Only then is it shown that the whole sex scene was a fantasy sequence and Norman's been alone in bed the whole time.
  • The Password is Always "Swordfish": In "The Deal," Emma mentions that the password to the Wi Fi at the Bates Motel is "MOTHER, all caps."
  • Prequel: Well, sort of. The series is a contemporary account of teenage Norman's troubled relationship with Norma and its eventual downward spiral, while Psycho, to which this show is supposedly a prequel to, was released and set in 1960. So it seems more like a Continuity Reboot or, at least, a major Retcon, that is unless the series, characters and events that follow somewhat operate on Comic-Book Time.
  • Present Day: The biggest update.
  • Psychotic Love Triangle: Norma finds herself caught between choosing her love for Sheriff Romero or her own son Norman.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Literally, two episodes or so after she had sworn revenge to her father's death, Bradley found and kill the responsible, taking a bus in order to escape. It is done so quickly, ending what looked like a season-wide plot because the actress who played her was cast to star in a big budget action film.
    • Cody also ends up moving away after the death of her abusive father.
  • Rape as Drama: The show seems "fond" of this trope. Between the sex slave trafficking and Norma's numerous sexual assaults.
  • Really Gets Around: Miss Watson before her death. She had slept with Gil, Jerry Martin, a stoner named Kyle, and quite possibly another unidentified person who may have killed her.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Happens quite a few times between the main characters.
  • The Reveal: In episode six, Norma reveals that she didn't kill her husband like Dylan and some of the audience have assumed. Turns out Norman killed his father while he was in a trance and doesn't remember any of it. Norma made the death look like an accident so Norman wouldn't have to face what he'd done and moved them away to start over and officially leave his death behind them.
    • Viewers of the first season are left to wonder who this mysterious "B" is, who wrote to Bradley's father while they were having an affair. The second season's premiere does not hold back, immediately revealing that it's Miss Watson, whose first name is Blair. She was also sleeping with Gil, which could motivate him to kill Bradley's father.
  • Retro Universe: While the show is set in modern times (an early shot of Norman has him listening to an iPod), it does have some nuances, characteristics and feel of the 1950s and 60s, particularly the fashion and cars. If it weren't for the technology, it could almost be any time in the last 50 years.
  • Right Through His Pants: when Norman walks in on Keith Summers raping Norma, he knocks him out. Summers collapses with his jeans around his ankles, but his boxer-briefs pulled up.
  • Saved by Canon: Norman is the least likely character to die due to being present in the main film and its sequels.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Norman kills his mother in the fourth season finale.
  • The Sheriff: Alex Romero.
  • The Shrink: Dr. Edwards.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: The main reason Norman's a Clueless Chick Magnet to the girls of White Pine Bay. He stands out for being a nice guy who's appealingly innocent about sex. If only they knew...
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Sheriff Romero, who become Norman's stepfather, does not get killed alongside Norma like his counterpart in the original source material and lives on to become Norman's Archnemesis Dad.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Psycho was so groundbreaking and iconic because of its unprecedented Halfway Plot Switches that viewers would never see coming. Bates Motel, on the other hand, is a Tragedy precisely because viewers know exactly what's going to happen.
  • Split Personality: Just like in the original movie, Norman seems to be developing a split personality that takes over whenever Norma is in trouble. Afterwards, Norman can't remember what he did but when he gets into these states he's always violent, refuses to talk to anyone, and very, very dangerous. As of late, his split personality seems to have the persona of a more vicious version of Norma.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: Mother's ultimate evil plan is to have total control over Norman.
  • Start of Darkness: For Norman, of course.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Though updated to fit into a modern setting, White Pine Bay fits the bill as it is a seemingly quiet, little seaside village that just so happens to have a local economy dependent on manufacturing marijuana.
  • Straight Gay: Dr. Edwards.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Norma talks Norman down from committing suicide in the Season 2 finale.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: As of Season 2, Norman has begun to kill random animals and turn them into creepy figures.
  • There Are No Therapists: If there were then the series would never start. The closest thing to an actual acting therapist in the series was James Finnigan, but his selfish actions and romantic pursuits towards Norma only made things worse.
    • Averted in Season 4 where Norman is admitted into a mental facility and undergoes therapy sessions with Dr. Edwards.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Bradley's death is shown through Norman's perspective. Specifically, the audience sees "Mother" killing her, not him. Word of God says this was done to keep the audience sympathetic towards Norman, showing he's not in control of his actions and trying to keep his mother safe.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Taken to absurd levels with Emma's mother. She attempts to speak with Norman while he's alone about her daughter. However, she completely disregards the fact that he's wearing a dress and acting like a woman. An obvious sign that he's not well and undergoing a Split Personality. Unsurprisingly, she dies.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Bradley shows she's quite competent with a gun and more than willing to use it.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: White Pine Bay apparently has several, even before the Bates Family moves in. There's certainly a reason why everyone is so well off in the small town. From what the audience sees, many people in the town seem to be in some illegal business ranging from drug trafficking, selling young girls as sex slaves, or running guns across the border to Canada.
  • Trailers Always Lie: Most of the show's promotional commercials portray Norman as outright evil and unsympathetic instead of the Tragic Villain he really is.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Both Norman and Dylan qualify for Mr.Fanservice, but they also have lots of emotional issues.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Norman is this. His mother is doing everything in her power to prevent him from becoming a psycho and he is getting upset at her. In his defense, he assumes that she is trying to ruin his life.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The show has the effect of applying this trope to the original film. A lot of the events shown make sense only if you assume that the psychiatrist who gave the summation of Norman's condition in the original got all of his information about Norman's history directly from Norman without bothering to fact-check anything with anyone else, and a great deal of it was distorted by Norman's delusional mind. The two main points are Norman apparently imagined his mother as abusively controlling, when she was actually a woman desperate to control her unstable son, and Norman and Norma living in isolation, when they actually had active social lives.
  • Unrequited Tragic Maiden: Emma. So far.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: We get to see Norman vomit in school in all its glory. He later vomits again when Norm tells him that she's in love with Romero.
  • Wham Episode:
    • At the end of "Unconscious," "Mother" takes over Norman and kills Bradley.
    • The fourth season premiere, "A Danger to Himself and Others" lives up to its name when Norman strangles Emma's estranged mother.
    • Season 4's penultimate episode, "Forever", has Norman attempt a murder/suicide with his mother by carbon monoxide poisoning, only to have Romero come and attempt to save them both while only Norman comes to, having killed Norma.
  • Wham Line: Dr. Edwards tells Norman that his mother has never visited him at all in the hospital while the audience clearly saw him interacting with her multiple times, which was actually all in his head.
  • Will Theyor Wont They: Norma and Alex, Norman and Emma, Dylan and Emma.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The story follows our Tragic Villain protagonist Norman Bates and his depressing struggle with his insanity.
  • Yandere: Norman's split personality Mother. She murdered Bradley to remove her as a rival for Norman's affection.

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