Season 1 of Bates Motel ended with a shocker, the murder of young Norman Bates’ (Freddie Highmore) caring teacher, Miss Watson. The implication was that Norman had offed her during one of his creepy blackouts, and while that very well may prove true, audiences have seen with this twisty Psycho prequel — returning for Season 2 on A&E March 3 — that what sometimes seems certain may not be the case at all.
“What I like about the show is that it’s suggestive as opposed to conclusive,” Highmore says. “I think that intrigue keeps it interesting. People aren’t too sure who they should be trusting, or who’s lying or not lying, or who’s the stable character to follow.”
Highmore is speaking not only of Norman’s actions, but also about the cast of characters the show has built up around the sullen teenager that make viewers care about more than watching the setup for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film. There’s his older brother Dylan (Max Thieriot), who makes his living in the city’s illicit marijuana trade, and has cozied up to Bradley (Nicola Peltz), Norman’s troubled dream girl. And then there’s Norma.
While the Psycho setup may have been what brought viewers to Bates Motel initially, what got them hooked was Vera Farmiga’s powerhouse performance as Norman’s mother. The Emmy-nominated actress has breathed unforgettable life into a character best known as a decomposed corpse in a chair.
“She comes with a lot of projections onto what she may have been, and assumptions,” Farmiga says. “[In the movie] we hear the sound of her voice in the way that Norman’s psyche interprets her, which is bitchy and nagging and controlling. But that’s a mentally ill adult son who is in the throes of psychosis interpreting her, so my approach is … presenting a defense to the jury of an audience a completely different notion of who she is.”
Norma is known for her sudden and prolonged outbursts, which tread the line expertly between gut-wrenching and hilarious. It’s a “real roll-up-your-sleeves job,” Farmiga says, and she gets disappointed when people simply write Norma off as controlling or crazy.
“She’s holding back this floodgate of a lifetime of horrific events, that pain and guilt and anxiety,” she says. “Any little fissure just lets loose a deluge of [emotion]. What I love about her is that it comes out and then she has this attitude of, ‘Even if I’m falling on my face, I’m moving forward.’ That yearning for happiness and contentment is so beautiful for me. She gets it out, she purges, and then says, ‘Let’s go find normalcy.’”
Bates Motel Season 2 premieres March 3 at 9pm ET on A&E.
(l-r) Max Thieriot, Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel Season 2 — © 2014 A&E. Credit: Joseph Lederer