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Goodbye Norma Bates: Letting go of the past

Goodbye Norma Bates: Letting go of the past

Can we ever escape the past? Maybe it isn’t about escaping the past but rather, letting go of the past.  When we’re trying to escape the past, aren’t we really just fighting an insane battle to cover it up and avoid the inevitability of letting it go?


I suppose, for Netflix viewers, I should include a spoiler alert(!)


I’ve been a somewhat skeptical viewer of Bates Motel since the show’s first episode. Both Vera Farmigia and Freddie Highmore have given the given the show some moments worth watching but from the very first episode, my jaw has dropped every time the production has juxtaposed the show’s early 1960’s roots with current markers such as texting on smartphones and high-tech, marijuana grow ops. The original “Psycho” House and Motel are jammed into the modern landscape with such jarring insistence, I kept asking “What’s going on!?”

The show is relocated from the movie’s Fairvale, California location to somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon — home, apparently, these days for much weirdness — and, being an Oregon resident, I’m always interested in seeing the purported local landscape (the show is actually filmed in British Columbia) on network television. I’ve also been fascinated by the fact that there are so many elements from the original movie that have been encased in amber and presented as though no time has passed. The house is jammed with antique furniture. Norma drives a wonderful 1968 Mercedes (I have a 1982 204d!). The motel’s neon sign would have long ago been replaced but there it is, just down the hill from the Victorian Gothic house looking exactly like the house in the 1960 movie.

I’ve watched the show’s progress for four seasons, often wondering how (or if) they were going to connect the TV show with the climactic scene in the movie when it is suddenly revealed that Norman Bates’ mother has already been dead for years.

Watching the final episode of season 4, I was impressed by Freddie Highmore’s excellent performance as he displayed Norman’s insistence on holding on to his Mother and — my ah-hah moment — the past. I suddenly began to see the arc of the show as a commentary about holding onto the past. While many elements of the show have suggested the theme that ‘You can’t the escape the past“, it suddenly seemed clear to me that, in fact, the point is actually about how destructive it is to hold on to the past and refuse to let it go. Norman goes to the point of actually gluing poor dead Norma’s eyes open — talk about not letting go!

In fact, by seeking to escape our past and struggling so hard to cover it up, we hold on more and more tightly to those things that we’re refusing to just let go of.  Letting go is resolving to accept the past, just the way it is, and moving forward. Otherwise, we hold on to the past as it festers into ever more grotesque echoes of exactly the things that we’re trying to escape.


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