TV

No One’s Talking About How “Bates Motel” Has (Finally) Become Groundbreakingly Queer

After five seasons of defending his hetero bona fides, Norman Bates is finally confronted with his queer face.

Norman Bates, the troubled main character in A&E’s Bates Motel, has presented as a cisgender straight man for the show’s five seasons: He’s passionate about sex with women, puffs up his chest whenever his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), emasculates him, and aggressively rejected gay advances. Though Norman (as played by Freddie Highmore) has never veered from his hetero identity, we expected the series would eventually touch on the queer climax of its source material, 1960’s Pyscho.

That day has finally come.

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We’ve known since Season 2 that Norman suffers from blackouts. During these splits from reality, Norman enters a queer unconscious, in which he dresses like his mother and has sex with men. Season 4 even introduced a fetish role-playing sequence in a strip club. Norman can never recall these experiences when he’s awake, but enlightenment finally struck in the show’s fifth and finale season, which wraps tonight. When Norman returns to his car after mysteriously abandoning it the night before, he finds a random man inside asking for a morning-after kiss. Suddenly, Norman’s repressed memories are unleashed: Dressed as his mother, he has been having sex with men for years. After this realization, Norman is unable to keep his identities separate and Norman/Norma moves to the fore.

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Even in 2017, gender exploration and passionate (albeit) drunken gay sex are beyond your typical TV protagonist’s journey. Yes, inclusion is aplenty: Homoeroticism is rampant on Teen Wolf and openly gay characters run wild on Riverdale, but Bates Motel has done something different: It’s emerged from straight ashes to be reborn as a full-fledged queer episodic.

In its early seasons, the show was a more conventional drama, featuring violent neighbors and strange relatives and a growing mystery. But that’s why it’s all the more shocking that our lead, now fully cognizant, breaks out his mom’s kimono, downs glasses of wine, and dabbles in same-sex car play. The show is delivering the most explosive modernization of gay horror history to date. Psycho could only slap on a five-minute psychiatrist’s monologue explaining Norman’s sexuality before the credits—Bates Motel, however, is a coming-out story spread out across five seasons and 50 episodes. The reveal in Season 5 proves that the earlier seasons’ slow burn was fully intentional: boy dates girls, boy questions his sexuality and gender expression, boy eventually confronts his true self. Though Norman’s spiral often pains him, it’s a powerful gift to queer viewers like me.

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Did the show’s increasing queerness hurt its ratings? It’s hard to say, but each season the ratings did drop. Still, Psycho can’t be “straightened”: This contemporary take had to go there—exactly how far was a satisfying surprise. Applause to A&E: Just one year before Bates, the network gave a Duck Dynasty’s hideous homophobe a voice.

Now it’s tipping the scales towards representation.

I can only assume Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t have approved of Bates Motel: He wasn’t a fan of other Psycho updates, like Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill. But I do wonder what Anthony Perkins would have thought.

The Bates Motel series finale airs Monday, April 24 at 10/9c on A&E.

Movie eater. Culture-f*cker. Making experiences. Always rewatching "Six Feet Under" and always researching the worst possible films.