Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
The producers and cast of A&E’s Bates Motel appeared at Comic-Con International in San Diego to show several gag reels and make some news. On hand were executive producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin and stars Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Olivia Cooke, Nestor Carbonell and Kenny Johnson, whose promotion to series regular was announced during the panel.
A reimagining of the Bates family from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, the drama follows Norman Bates and his mother Norma as they negotiate the perils of small-town life, including drug kingpins, nosy sheriffs and high school. The sweet-faced Highmore shows signs of becoming the killer made famous by the film.
The producers were tight-lipped about the incoming third season, but they did give a few clues. The major revelations were that Bradley would return alongside Johnson’s Caleb. Cuse promised other new characters as well, but would not mention names.
Johnson’s Caleb is brother to Farmiga’s Norma Bates. “I think Kenny Johnson is a revelation. There’s so much to be explored,” Farmiga said. The two shared a fractured childhood, but the depth of their neuroses will have to be explored over the course of the season. “He needs to find some answers for himself,” said Johnson of his character.
“There’s a great deal of unfinished business between them [Norma and Caleb],” Ohrin said. But, the show creators haven’t yet figured out how that relationship will evolve and what will become of it in the end. There are still mysteries to be solved in the writer’s room before the relationship can progress on screen.
Viewers can also expect that the third season will delve deeper into the war for Norman’s soul. “There’s also this huge revelation that’s occurred for Norma and Norman,” Cuse said. “Norman most of all is struggling with which side of himself is going to prevail.”
“One side of him is completely innocent and will remain innocent,” Highmore said of his character. But Norman can still easily become evil and dangerous. Highmore didn’t tip his hat to reveal which side would win.
For her part, Norma refuses to relinquish control of Norman and send him elsewhere for help. The two will ride out Norman’s violent streak together. “She genuinely thinks she can glue back the pieces and heal him,” Farmiga said.
The relationship between the two characters bordered on the incestuous in Season 2, when Norma kissed her son. Farmiga explained Norma’s actions. “She’s this broken-down lioness and she’s trying to protect her cub in this life-or-death scenario, and she’s gonna get her licks.”
But now everyone in the series must contend with a new world and a new economy now that the drug trade has been all but wiped out. “So that kinda creates a new order in town. There’s also this huge revelation for Norma and Norman. For Norman it’s the realization that he’s capable of doing these horrible things,” the actress explained.
“The show is a mixture of pulpy storytelling and character work,” Cuse said. “There’ll be some sensational pulpy narratives.” He also said now that the audience has accepted the show’s strange alchemy of story elements, producers are free to try new things and keep pushing the envelope. At first, the writers weren’t sure their strange ideas for the show would work.
The crew unspooled two gag reels to complement the question-and-answer session. The first was a Spanish-language dubbed highlight reel. Because Highmore studies Spanish at Cambridge, the joke was that he could be responsible for correcting the terrible translation that included a deep-voiced man speaking for Farmiga.
The second clip was a fictional audition tape. Carbonell appears for his tryout with a shirt that reads “I was on Lost.” Meanwhile, Highmore makes an angry, perverse killer expression repeatedly. Cooke walks back-and-forth in front of camera testing out her oxygen tank. “How’s anyone gonna see my ass?” Cooke asks. Farmiga begins the audition unable to give a good scream. But after a little practice, she can really wail.