Ah, Bates Motel - you pulpy, creepy, hilariously over-the-top gem of impossibly entertaining pop culture revisionism, you. It’s only your sophomore season and already you’ve taken one of our most ghoulish mythologies and piled on sex trafficking rings, drug cartels, murdered sexy schoolmarms, and enough GIFable Vera Farmiga histrionics to last a lifetime.
But this week the show gave us something entirely new: it introduced a gay teen character (or maybe even two) and addressed one of the Bates Motel’s many elephants: Norman’s sexuality.
Ever since the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, casual viewers have been confused about what makes Norman Bates tick. Hey, the guy dresses up as a woman and kills people – he’s some kinda killer homo, right?
Norman Bates is straight. In fact, internalized shame about his intense sexual attraction to women is a huuuuge part of his psychosis – something that the original film goes to great lengths to make clear in its final scene – though, unfortunately, the audience at that point is so freaked out that no one is paying attention. (The fact that Anthony Perkins, who originally played Norman, was a closeted gay man also may contribute a bit to the confusion.)
So it was fascinating to see Bates Motel - which imagines young Norman’s life long before he stopped buying Mother’s Day gifts – raise the topic of sexuality. In last week’s episode, Norman (Freddie Highmore, who is totally, uh, killing it this season) and his mom, Norma, auditioned for a community theater production of South Pacific. Naturally, this led a pretty young stagehand named Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski) to assume that this slim young budding chorus boy was gay, and to try to set Norman up with her gay friend, Patrick. (The hilarious scene had Patrick repeatedly putting his hand on Norman’s thigh while he and Cody made out at a bonfire.)
Cody tells a slightly freaked-out Norman that she thought he was gay, and Norman emphatically says that he isn’t. I also got the sense that Cody might be queer herself, and that she struck up a friendship with Norman thinking that she had clocked a fellow cardmember.
That Bates is adding actual gay characters to its mix is no big surprise, because the show is already as camp as a Pride Parade at Jellystone Park. Heck – just last week, Norma delivered an a capella rendition of
“It’s Gonna Happen” “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret at the South Pacific auditions. But it will be interesting to see how Norman’s introduction to queer teen culture fits into the longer arc of his character’s journey, especially considering that we all know where it ultimately takes him. We are just three episodes into this season has already given us several graphic murders, the revelation that a central character is the product of incestuous rape, and Michael Vartan, so I’m optimistic that wherever we’re going, it will at least be a hell of a ride.
Are any of you folks watching Bates? Any thoughts on Season 2 thus far?