“Mother! Mother!” is a common cry being heard throughout Season 4 of A&E’s “Bates Motel” as Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) begins his descent into madness that will someday transform his currently vibrant mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) into the skeleton well-remembered from the classic Hitchcock film “Psycho.” If only we could go back to chants of “Mother! Mother!” (or “Vera! Vera!”) on Emmy announcement morning on July 14.
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Farmiga received a Best Drama Actress nomination for the first season of the series in 2013, losing to Claire Danes (“Homeland”), but has been MIA for the past two years. The biggest reason for her absence could stem from the lack of respect for the horror genre. But “Bates Motel” is much more than just a simple horror show. It is one of the most sophisticated and psychologically complex shows currently airing on television and Farmiga is the leader of this excellent team.
If Emmy voters were to check in with the show this season, they would find that Farmiga is doing some of the best acting currently on television. Her character has been pushed to her limits in her quest to save her son. In just the first few episodes of the season we have seen Norma convince the increasingly unstable Norman to commit himself to a psychiatric facility, try to flirt with a psychiatrist in order to get help and lock her son in his room while she tried to convince Sheriff Romero (played by the always reliable Nestor Carbonell) to pretend to marry her to pay for medical care since she lacked insurance.
Farmiga has been pitch perfect in her portrayal of Norma’s growing terror about Norman’s mental state and fears he may hurt her or others. She has also shown tremendous vulnerability in her relationship with Romero. The recent episode where Norma reluctantly tries to put her constant focus on Norman aside and allow herself to admit she may actually have feelings for Romero were extremely poignant. If all that wasn’t enough, Farmiga has been gifted this season with playing the alter ego “mother” of Norman, the side of his personality that does the killing.
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As fans of the original “Psycho” film will remember, it is not Norman who kills but Norman as mother who slays his victims. As the psychiatrist says at the end of the film, Norman is never all Norman but he was often all mother. To this effect the producers of the series have begun putting Farmiga into the scenes where Norman becomes homicidal, essentially giving Farmiga a dual role. Farmiga plays the new Norma with a strange off-beat quality that perfectly suits this new incarnation. This Norma isn’t really a woman but the imagination of a sick delusional teenager.
Emmy history usually dictates that once a person falls off the nomination list they have a hard time getting back on it. There have been exceptions to this rule, though. In recent years Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”) has fallen in and out of contention and even won one year after being ignored the prior year. Hopefully Farmiga can take Elisabeth Moss‘s vacant slot from last year now that “Mad Men” is no longer on the air.
Hitchcock himself was overlooked by awards in his day which is always considered kind of a blemish on the early Academy Awards and their ability to recognize what would still be talked about and studied in years to come. To quote Norman Bates, maybe we can just say that “we all go a little mad sometimes” as an explanation for why the TV academy has been reluctant to recognize this show.
But they still have a chance. Why not give Norma Bates/Vera Farmiga another look? After all, Mother’s Day is fast approaching and as Norman Bates also said, a person’s best friend (or TV academy member’s in this case) just may be their own mother.
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Photo: James Dittiger/A+E