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posted: 4/21/2017 6:00 AM

'Bates Motel' will go out on top

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  • Freddie Highmore does it all -- he writes, directs and acts for "Bates Motel," the A&E adaptation of "Psycho" that ends its fifth and final season at 9 p.m. Monday.

    Freddie Highmore does it all -- he writes, directs and acts for "Bates Motel," the A&E adaptation of "Psycho" that ends its fifth and final season at 9 p.m. Monday.

 
 

It doesn't have Bernard Herrmann's piercing violins or Alfred Hitchcock's mastery of the camera, but A&E's television series based upon "Psycho" has carved out its own place in the horror pantheon -- and may even enrich the legacy of the classic film.

"Bates Motel" ends its five-season run at 9 p.m. Monday at the height of its powers. Showrunners Kerry Ehrin ("Parenthood") and Carlton Cuse ("Lost") used their final 10 hours to re-imagine the events of "Psycho" after a four-season buildup that rewrote the histories of its main characters, the young murderer Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga), and the results have been surprising and emotional. Some may consider it blasphemy to change what happens when Marion Crane (Rihanna, acquitting herself nicely) takes a shower in Cabin No. 1, but the show's subversion of our expectations works within its contemporary narrative.

That narrative did not begin promisingly in 2013; the first episode instantly resorted to rape as a plot device, and things like teen parties and the local pot trade didn't pass muster. In Season 4, with Norman's deepening psychological problems in the forefront, "Bates Motel" hit its stride -- and killed off mom in a haunting finale.

But mom is still around in Season 5, and Farmiga is having a ball playing a specter of Norman's fractured imagination. But just as Anthony Perkins was the magnetic center of "Psycho," Highmore is the main attraction of this final season. Norman's rage and confusion bubble up behind a baby face that contradicts Highmore's maturity as a performer. Now 25, the British actor we first saw in "Finding Neverland" and Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is giving perhaps television's best performance, one that requires him to be the friendly face of his business, a deceptive criminal and, in those moments when Norman's reality blurs, a devoted mother.

Highmore, who has written two "Bates" episodes and directed another, will keep busy after Monday's finale. Fittingly, he will play Chicago gangster George "Baby Face" Nelson in a new A&E pilot he co-wrote with Ehrin; he'll also top line a new ABC medical drama, "The Good Doctor," from "House" showrunner David Shore.

But his performance in "Bates Motel" will be hard to top. Catch up with the most recent episodes -- including the revised take on Marion Crane's fateful night at the motel -- at aetv.com, stream the first four seasons on Netflix or buy them on DVD, or check out the entire series on digital platforms like iTunes and vudu.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor whose favorite Hitchcock movie is "Rear Window." You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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