Alfred Hitchcock’s film masterpieces thrilled audiences with imagination and suspense, but if Hitchcock focused the cameras instead on graphic violence and rape, “Psycho” might resemble today’s “Bates Motel” series. And throw in some implied incest just because it’s TV.
The A&E show provided a modern-day prequel to Hitchcock’s horror film, “Psycho.” The “Bates Motel” series illuminated the twisted relationship between 17-year-old Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga), which later transformed Norman into the infamous “Psycho” killer.
The graphic rape in the show’s debut, “First You Dream, Then You Die,” among other scenes, abused the TV-14 rating of the show. When a town local, Keith Summers (W. Earl Brown) barged in to revenge Norma Bates for buying the hotel his family once owned, he knocked her to the floor and slashed her with a knife, before sitting on her. He proceeded to duct tape her mouth, carry her in his arms screaming and kicking to bend her over a table and chain her via handcuffs. Because she continued to struggle, he banged her head on the table, before forcing himself on her.
That’s A&E’s version of television meant for 14-year-old viewers.
Soon after the rape, Norman rushed in intervene – but the violence didn’t end there. When Summers later sneered, “You liked it,” to Norma, she stabbed him repeatedly until he lay motionless in a pool of blood.
Unlike the TV-MA rating which deems programs unsuitable for children under 17 years for crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, or graphic violence, the “Bates Motel” was given a TV-14 rating. That meant certain scenes appeared inappropriate for children under 14 years due to intensely suggestive dialogue, strong coarse language, intense sexual situations, or intense violence.
Executive producer Kerry Ehrin explained the reasoning for the rape scene to the liberal site BuzzFeed: "From the beginning, it was something we wanted to be real. That you would feel for her what she was going through. We didn't want to gloss over it, and be, like, oh, and she gets raped.”
Concerning violence in general, Ehrin expressed that, “if you're going to do ‘Bates Motel,’ you have to accept it's going to have violence in it,” and continued, “The goal of writing these characters was to express them in a fully rounded, human way. And that was also the joy of writing them, I have to say."
When the violence concluded, Norma and Norman spoke in a language that hinted towards an incestuous future in the series, which other critics have already noted. Norma smothered her son, from saying things like, “Everyone I have ever known has sucked – except you” to “As long as we’re together, then nothing bad can really happen” while nestling her head between his shoulder and chin.
Norman reciprocated, relaying sentiments such as, “Mom, you’re everything to me, and I don’t want to live in a world without you” and “You’re my family – my whole family – my whole life, my whole self.” The two characters may have illustrated a permissible relationship between a protective mother and dependent son – except for the fact that he’s 17-years-old. In modern day.
Reviewers agreed that graphic content oozed from the show, like The New York Daily News: “’Bates Motel’ contains some raw and graphic violence.” The article also added, “But like its ancestor [“Psycho”], it understands that we are most disturbed by what’s seeded in our imagination.”