S1ep1: “First You Dream, Then You Die”

Original air date: March 18, 2013

The Bates Motel pilot can hardly be called that. It’s so much more. It’s more like this story has been ongoing for a long time, and we’re just now being dropped into it as observers. And I can’t look away for a second. Turns out, I don’t want to.

Norman wakes up on his bed with an old black-and-white movie playing in the background. These movies have a steady background presence throughout the series. We the audience haven’t been front-loaded at all, which is a departure from a lot of pilots I’ve seen. Like Norman, we’re not exactly sure what’s going on, what happened just before or what’s about to happen. It’s a subtle but strong hook the writers have used to pull us in. It works.

Quotes from the movie on Norman’s TV: “All she ever wanted was a home. Well, I’ll certainly try to give her one….Got family up there? No, just my mother….Gonna live with your mother? Well, just for the first year.”

Ironic. If we know anything at all about the “Psycho”story, Norman isn’t going to live with his mother “just for the first year.” Ever. Not in any type of universe. They’re together forever, good or bad, like it or not.

As Norman gets up and stumbles through the hallway, he seems a little out of it (sick, maybe?) until he stops and lingers at Norma and Sam’s wedding portrait. What’re you thinking, Norman? Whatever it is, the image of (I assume) his dad shakes him out of his daze and causes him to spring into action. He’s been out of commission and his dad’s been left alone with Mother. Which is not a good thing.

Norman runs through the house, calling “Mom?” Things are not as they should be. Pots are boiling over on the stove. The clothes iron is still on. A baseball game’s on TV with no one watching it. Although (as of this writing) I haven’t seen it since some time in the mid-90s, I had a brief flashback to “Psycho IV.” The Norma in that movie was (among other things) a control freak, and she would never let her house get into this state of disarray. Not without hell to pay. So something is definitely off.

Sam Bates is dead in the garage, apparently of a falling-shelf accident. Now I don’t have much storage furniture expertise, but to me that four-tiered shelf looks relatively flimsy. It might hurt someone, cause a broken bone or two if it fell on them like that, but not kill them. Especially not kill a fairly large man like Sam. The suspicion grows.

I don’t get the impression at all from the this scene that Norman had anything to do with Sam’s “accident.” Norman’s crying, panicked and genuinely upset. Maybe he and his dad didn’t get along, maybe they fought, maybe Norman gave him grief as teenagers do, but he’s still sobbing now that his dad’s gone.

And now we’re going to meet Mother.

The first look we get at Norma, she’s just out of the shower, with wet hair and having just thrown on a bathrobe. But none of that diminishes how striking she is. Now, I don’t care what your gender or sexual preferences are, there is no denying that fact. It’s those blue eyes. They bore into you like heated laser beams. And into Norman. It’s easy to see now the hold she has on him, just from that moment of opening the bathroom door.

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“What is it Norman?”

Norma is not in a hurry at all following Norman to the garage where Sam’s still pinned under that shelf. My first thought when I first saw this scene: She did it. Or at least had a lot to do with it. I’m not exactly sure if the writers meant this as a red herring, but it got me. Did she have a good reason to kill him? We don’t know at this point, but I’m dying (no pun intended) to find out. And I already like and want to side with Norma, so I want to believe it was justifiable.

“Norman, honey, I’m so sorry.” What makes Norma say that, and why did she not call 911 right away when that shelf fell? Seems to point to more guilt, in my opinion. And I have to point it out: Norman’s a bit old at 17 for her to be cuddling and holding him like that, that much for that long. But as we’ll see, this happens over and over. What’s funny is how used to it I get by the end of the pilot episode. Not funny as in humorous but funny as in strange.

Cut to the gorgeous scenery of the Oregon coastline as they drive to White Pine Bay. I’ve been to that coastal area of Oregon, in and around Newport, in the summer. It really is that breathtakingly beautiful.

I think the first truly funny moment in this episode is Norman’s sarcastic response of “Mother, this is so beautiful. You’re so smart to force me to do things I have no say in.” I half-expect Norma to get mad and tell him off, but she just laughs it off with “You’re an ass.” And they both laugh, breaking up the tension for a moment at least. Call me crazy if you will, but I think it’s sweet.

Now we’re at one of the most iconic and oft-screen-grabbed scenes of Season 1. Our (and Norman’s) first look and the motel and the gothic house on the hill behind it. But it takes him a second to notice it, thanks to that pin-up pose Norma’s doing on the car hood. Why does this make me vaguely uncomfortable? But at the same time, I’m really wanting these two to have a new start and for things to be good for them. That’s the genius of these two characters and how they’re written and portrayed: they can get under your skin in a way that makes you squirm slightly, but at the same time you like them. At least that’s how I feel about Norman and Norma.

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“I brought you down here, closer to me.”

And the way Norma’s pulling him by the hand and racing through their new house-they almost seem the same age, in a way. She’s almost like a teenage girl; she’s that excited. I don’t know exactly why, but it also seems…sweet.

Another famous scene that brings back imagery from the original: Norman seeing Norma in a state of partial undress through the sheer curtains of her bedroom window. I love how the show writers put these tie-ins together.

Norma’s not the only one with a certain magnetism. At the school bus stop, Norman isn’t alone for long before he’s surrounded by a group of pretty, popular high school girls. Yeah, I thought it too: his mother is not going to like this. Not at all.

The classical music Norman’s listening to on his earphones is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 Op. 55 “Eroica” IV Finale: Allegro Molto. For many years, I always misread the name of that piece as “Erotica.” *shrugs & smiles

The song playing on Bradley’s friend’s car stereo is “Wham Bam” by Clooney.

The girl he takes a liking to is blonde Bradley Martin. In my opinion, she bears at least a passing resemblance to a teenage version of Norma. Coincidence? I highly doubt it.

Someone else also seems to take a liking to Norman: Ms. Watson. I’ll tell you this kind of intense eye/hand contact between her and her student is already skating toward thin ice marked with “Trouble Ahead”

And how about how Norma’s dressed at dinner when Norman finally gets home? She’s got a very similar dress on and her hair pulled back like the Mother in “Psycho” ends up. Plus a good pair of Come-Fuck-Me heels. Very nice touch.

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The track team is out of the question for Norman, and this is a first major example we see of how Norma can guilt him into things. But the two of them have a much worse problem to worry about the next day, in the form of the inebriate former owner: Keith Summers.

“Because I can. Now get the hell off my property.”

Now, the rape scene with Keith Summers is probably one of the toughest parts of this series for me to blog about. I’ll be as brutal as that scene: I have ZERO tolerance for rape. I believe any man who commits this violence against women simply needs to be taken out and shot. Preferably with a very large shotgun. If I’d been there, Norma-and had my .38 Special revolver, I’d have taken care of the problem for you myself, as soon as he broke through the front door. I cheered openly at the revenge-for-rape scene in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” And I’ll do the same here.

I know that this scene is controversial and some people believe it was too much for TV, but…I think it was necessary. The violence and brutality were needed to make us hate Keith Summers and want him dead. It worked for me. Seeing Norma cuffed and brutalized like that still angers me, and the basest part of me wants to murder the bastard myself. Another uber-genius piece of the show writing; it digs into that dark reptilian part of our brains (we all have that whether we realize/acknowledge it or not) and makes us out for blood when it comes to Keith Summers.

Unfortunately Norman’s a little too late by the time he knocks Summers out with the doorstop. What soon follows is a (however justifiable) bloodbath that now binds Norma and Norman together with this horrible secret they need to keep. Even more so than they already are. Relatively few people experience something like this, and most hope we never have to.

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If we thought Norma was possibly a killer before, she’s most definitely one now. It’s the last time I’ll reiterate it: he deserved it. If I’d have been there, I think the odds are good I’ve have done the same.

“We came here to start over. I am starting over!!!”

I think this quote gives some great character insight into Norma. She’s far from perfect, she’s suffered some horrific things but she’s got ironclad determination to put them behind her and move on. It’s already hinted at that those awful things she’s gone through go back way before Summers. I think a lot of us can take a life lesson from that determination, myself included.

“I thought I was going to study with them, but they took me to a party. I didn’t know.”

Even in the midst of this horrible rape/murder, I can’t help but smile at that quote from Norman. He’s just so unbelievably, endearingly sweet and naive here!! Especially today when teenagers seem to be such jaded, cynical nilists who see and do it all before they reach 18. I just want to give him a hug too, though I’d be too scared of Norma to do that :)

This also brings in more of how complex and even twisted Norma and Norman’s relationship can be. One minute they’re bordering on a little too-close-for-comfort sweetness, the next they’re fighting like a normal teenager and mother because she won’t let him go out with some new friends.  We don’t know which one of these sides of their relationship is going to come next, and they can turn on a dime. It keeps us on edge, which I enjoy.

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We also get a hint here that something bad might happen if Norman gets too upset. Norma has to get him to calm down as fast as possible, as much as possible. We’ll see this again.

Stashing Summers’ corpse proves to be quite a workload. Unfortunately Norman and Norma have the inopportune chance to meet Deputy Shelby and Sheriff Romero soon after having stashed the body in Room #4’s bathtub.

The motel itself appears to have a dark history as well. By the way, you can read Jaio’s journal in its entirety on iBooks.

Exhausted and traumatized as she is, Norma seems to enjoy the attention from Deputy Shelby. Whether she’s just pretending or genuinely does, we’ll find out in due time. During the small talk they’re having about Arizona, she and Norman keep throwing brief glances at each other that say, “These two have GOT to get out of here five minutes ago!”

Poor Norman gets sick at school the next day after seeing a spot of blood still on his shoe. Indirectly, this introduces us to the much-loved character Emma Decody.

Finally we come to my favorite scene in “First You Dream, Then You Die”: Norman and Norma in the rowboat at night, dropping the corpse into the water. It’s like the writers took a romantic rowboat scene straight out of one of Norman and Norma’s favorite 1940s movies, turned it inside out and added very dark, twisted, incest-hinting elements to it. As I’m sure this blog will reveal, I can have a rather dark twisted side myself…because I love this scene!

Favorite quote from the whole episode: “Mom, you’re everything. Everything to me. You’re my family. My whole family, my whole life, my whole self. You always have been. It’s like there’s a chord between our hearts.”

There goes Norman’s sweet naïveté again, not immediately or completely realizing that Jane Eyre quote applies much more to a lover than to his (or anyone’s) mother. But the way Norma smiles, she still definitely appreciates it.

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Blue’s Norman’s favorite color, as we learn from the new motel sign delivery. It’s also one of mine. So for this reason, I’m giving each episode an out-of-five blue heart rating. Hearts because this blog is a labor of love for Bates Motel and its fandom.

“First You Dream, Then You Die” gets 5 out of 5 blue hearts from me: 5hearts

 

Only one other pilot episode ever has gotten this high a rating from me, and it’s from a show that premiered over 20 years ago.

In an era of TV where most pilot episodes are vanilla crap that just introduces character backgrounds with mostly thin, uninteresting plot points, the Bates Motel pilot goes for your jugular immediately. And it doesn’t let go. It leaves you engaged with and caring about these two main characters long before the credits roll. It also leaves you counting the days and hours before you get to see what happens in the next episode. To me, that’s a big part of what makes this show so amazing.

Next time: We meet Norman’s brother in “Nice Town You Picked, Norma.”

Listen to my podcast review of “First You Dream, Then You Die”

Music: “View to a Kill (That Fatal Kiss)” Instrumental – Duran Duran
“Can’t Let Go” – Mark Snow
“A Unique Perspective” – Mark Snow
“Crazy Eyes for You” – Bobby Hamilton

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