Op-Ed: How BATES MOTEL Saved My Life

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While the fourth season of BATES MOTEL stalks small screens, SHOCK’s Amy Seidman reflects on how important the show is to her.

Looking back to 2013, a dark time in my life. I would describe my physical and emotional state as overworked, overwhelmed, and extremely fragile. I was on the wrong side of 100 pounds, and my sleeping and eating was to put it mildly, limited. I needed “something” to lose myself in, a starting point to rebuild. In an odd twist of fate that “something” was BATES MOTEL and I found comfort, bizarre though it may be, in a kinship with the underdog and train wreck Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga).

Despite my condition at the time,  I found a new lease on life through the series.

I know that sounds strange, so let me expound on that by stepping way out of my comfort zone and sharing a personal moment in time and its subsequent redemption.

The days bled into each other and I couldn’t even recall the last time I turned the lights on or looked at my phone. I finally mustered up the courage to return a call from a good friend and fellow film lover. And now, the odd segue. In the course of our conversation, he advised me to check out BATES MOTEL, a new series that was designed as the “prequel” to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. At first, he was thrown off because the show was set in contemporary times an I was fairly certain his initial disdain had something to do with what felt like a cellphone sponsorship in the first episode. That threw me off as well, but he added the fact that while PSYCHO was filmed in black and white, it doesn’t take place in any particular time. So this “new” color version with modern technology was completely plausible…

Then we started talking about all the cool things you could do with a prequel like this…all the possible and seemingly endless storylines that could combine together to give you a deeper understanding of the motivating events in the lives of the Bates family that both set up and came to a halt in the movie.

One of the opening scenes in the pilot episode kicks off with a beautiful, sweeping beachy mountainside shot that highlights the show’s most underrated “character”, White Pine Bay aka British Columbia, Canada. After I saw that scene I immediately hopped on the internet to find out if a place as stunning as White Pine Bay actually existed. It did and in my country. The scenery is so breathtaking it made it hard for me to focus on the other characters.

The beautiful dichotomy of White Pine Bay is that while on the one hand, it is a town built on drugs, human trafficking, death and destruction and yet on the other, it looks like a heaven on earth.

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After follow-up searches for more and more B.C. scenery, it was 2 AM, and I was both tired and happy and felt like I needed to immerse myself in the real thing, instead of images on a laptop screen. It gave me a long term goal to spend some time there with a high probability of not leaving. My long term goal was a far cry from the prior day’s humble goal of simply turning on the lights.

I was on the road to something better now and there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t a train coming toward me.

This is where it’s gonna get really weird if you are familiar at all with Vera Farmiga’s Norma Bates because I can say wholeheartedly that I identified with Norma Bates and her “craziness” made me feel less crazy.

Norma is unhinged and has many unhealthy traits, such as her inability to “cut the cord” that binds her relationship with her son. She feels like she can’t win and has been dealt a bad hand that she can’t overcome. Each passing day solidifies the scary feeling that it will not get any better.  We want to see Norma succeed, but for those that have seen PSYCHO, we all know that it’s not how the story pans out, making it all the more tragic. It is similar to finding out that a relative has a terminal illness, and we are hit with the notion that every minute we have with them may be the last so we need to make it count.

The realization that I found solace and understanding in this manic character who I would ultimately lose in such a tragic manner made me wonder who the world actually looks out for.

Norma Bates was my voice when I was too overwhelmed and burnt out to be able to verbalize my feelings. I was watching someone live out my struggle, and react with the frustration and anger that I felt but wasn’t able to emote at that given time. In the context of my behavior, it made me feel like I was living vicariously through her and it took away a lot of the isolation and hopelessness that I was feeling. Norma brought me one step closer to righting myself because Norma never gave up. Norma may fall down but she always picks herself up again and hits the ground running.

The shows 4th season is in full swing and the line between Norman and Norma blurs even more. We don’t know where Norman stops and Norma begins,  tell-tale signs of what is yet to come. I dread the moment when the series comes to an end and the demise of the characters and the settings within it that I have grown a new life with.

The fact of the matter is, that while all this seemed like a cruel twist of fate, it was making me think. I started writing again, returned the calls of concerned family and  friends, and regularized my diet and sleep. Most importantly it made me turn on the lights.

Thank you, Norma. Thank you BATES MOTEL.