Sometimes, there are characters in genre pictures (or in TV!) that are so darned righteous and awesome, you can’t stop thinking about them or their amazing feats long after the movie (or show) is over. This column is dedicated to those bad-asses that keep us coming back for more. And it’s about time that we turned to the small screen for this #RESPECT column and give it up for Freddie Highmore and his portrayal of the extremely fragile and tormented Norman Bates.
I’ve already been enjoying the hell out of the work both Highmore and his television “Mother” Vera Farmiga have been doing. For the last 4 years, they’ve been building the foundation for a character that we’ll inevitably meet in the movie PSYCHO. For Highmore, it was no doubt an overwhelming and intimidating prospect stepping into the impossible-to-fill shoes of Anthony Perkins who simply is Norman Bates.
Others have tried but not been successful. Had Vince Vaughn been left to his own devices and was able to approach the role of Norman from his own perspective in Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake rather than trying to mimic and time out exactly what had been done in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, maybe he could have done something interesting. And although Bud Cort wasn’t playing Norman in the failed 1987 TV pilot/movie BATES MOTEL, he was doing his best to emulate his late mentor. Henry Thomas did a terrific job in the Showtime original PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING, but he also had Anthony Perkins in that movie to balance out the present day story with the flashbacks.
When BATES MOTEL debuted on A&E for its first season back in 2013, the showrunners decided to set it in modern day and so, by default, we’re now in completely new territory. Highmore had the task of embodying the things that Perkins brought to the role of Norman, while simultaneously doing things to make it his own. In the original film series, and even with the prequel movie, there was never a clear explanation of what made Norman do what he did. Was it a matter of nature? Or nurture? Was the evil within him the product of his upbringing? Or was it there all along?
The fun of the movies is debating that. The show however very clearly in the first season shows us first hand that Norman is mentally ill and what he does is inevitable. So the real horror (or curiosity) is watching his mental deterioration and wondering how Norma is going to hide it from the rest of the world and from Norman himself! (And for how long?)
Season 4 just kicked off, and the inspiration for this piece was the 2nd episode of this new season titled “Goodbye, Mother.” It’s not only a tour de force for the acting that both Farmiga and Highmore bring to this particular episode, but it’s easily the best episode of the series thus far. And Freddie has managed to do something that only Perkins was previously able to pull off. He’s able to both capture our hearts and break them at the same time.
Mild spoilers ahead – in the show, Norman has already killed. Several times. And during those episodes, he’s done it as Mother. When he flashes back and remembers glimpses of these incidents, he sees Mother performing the deed and covering it up. In actuality, Norma is terrified of her son and what he’s becoming. At the top of Season 4, she is desperate to have him sent to a mental facility that can help him. However, Norman is terrified of what he believes his Mother has been doing behind his back. He is absolutely convinced that she’s a murderer and doing it for the sole purpose of sheer jealousy over him. In one emotional moment when Norman thinks he’s confronting Mother about what she’s done, while in actuality he’s confessing to what he has done, he says, “I’m afraid of you and I love you, and that’s a bad combination.”
Watch the following scene to see what I mean:
A few moments later, Norman has a gun. He tells Mother “We’re broken. We’ve tried. We want peace and happiness but the world just won’t allow it.” And even though we know how things are going to eventually have to turn out for this to all line up with PSYCHO, I found myself terrified by this proposed suicide pact. And then Sheriff Romero shows up to take Norman away. And a single tear falls down his face, because he absolutely believes that his Mother is responsible for murder and has betrayed him and placed all the blame on him.
If Freddie Highmore doesn’t get an Emmy for his work this season, then I don’t know what to tell you.
At the very least, we can give him this hashtag.
Seriously, Mister Highmore… thank you for doing Norman Bates justice with your portrayal.