Season 5 of Bates Motel recently arrived on Netflix. I had missed its original run last year and I had been eagerly awaiting its arrival on the streaming platform so I could finish up this very surprising, very good show.
I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the fifth season of this show cements it (in my mind, at least) as one of the most important modern TV shows ever created.
For those who are unaware, Bates Motel is a prequel of sorts to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, Psycho. It follows a young Norman Bates as he and his mother, Norma, move to the small town of White Pine Bay and establish the Bates Motel -- a rather seedy motel off the highway.
Hitchcock's original film is incredible for a number of reasons (seriously, if you haven't seen it you need to), but one of its main draws is the huge twist. Marion Crane, the main character for half of the film, is killed off in one of the most memorable sequences of all time (while it seems tame nowadays in terms of violence, this scene caused people to faint in the theater). So, as you can imagine, setting up the characters before this event is like setting a stopwatch and waiting for it to tick down to completion.
To be quite fair, I spent the better part of three seasons waiting to see how the show was going to carefully move its chess pieces to give us this incredibly pivotal scene in the film. But, much like the series itself, it sometimes does what we're expecting it to do, but not exactly how we're expecting it to do it.
This happens mainly in seasons four and five. I won't get into spoilers here, however there are a number of pivotal moments that occur differently than the backstory that was developed. At first I was confused about why these changes were made. And then it made sense.
Bates Motel is important because it isn't connected to the Psycho universe. I mean, sure it shares some of the same characters, similar settings, and even some similar cinematography at times. However, this show is much more inspired by the original film than making a prequel of it.
The difference is important. If this were just a prequel then my stopwatch analogy would be applicable -- we would spend the entire run of the show waiting for the other shoe to drop (the other shoe here being Marion's shower scene). But with Bates Motel the plot, and even some of the characters, aren't that important. It takes its own path, taking inspiration from the source material to create something new and original from it.
Because the writers decided to do this, we got some incredible new characters: Dylan, Sheriff Romero, Emma, Chick, Caleb, etc. Not only that, I had no idea going into this final season who was going to live and who was going to die. I had my suspicions (slight spoilers: this is the season that deals with the aforementioned shower scene), but I was continually surprised again and again until the shocking ending.
Bates Motel is important because it took one of the most iconic pieces of entertainment ever created and put it aside. It took the pieces it wanted from it, but -- at the end of the day -- it became its own entity. This world of White Pine Bay, of Norman and Dylan's sibling relationship, of the Twin Peaks-esque nature of the small town paid homage to the film without dipping overboard into prequel territory. I respect that.
In a decade where producers of film and television are more concerned with creating franchises, prequels, and sequels (and in the age of television where some producers are milking a show for everything it has -- *cough* Walking Dead *cough*) its amazing to see a show that so boldly does its own thing.
Bates Motel isn't perfect. It's first couple seasons are more interested in the town of White Pine Bay than in the Norman Bates story, but this dedication to world building and character development really pays off in the climax of the series in surprising ways. It's for this reason that I confidently say it's one of the most important modern TV shows ever created.