Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE SEASON FINALE OF BATES MOTEL!
Wow, they did it. I knew it was coming eventually, but I had no idea Bates Motel would dispose of its co-lead character when there is an entire season of the series remaining. It’s true: Norma Bates is dead, asphyxiated by her son’s tampering with a lethal furnace in the basement in his half-successful murder/suicide attempt. She didn’t sit up choking and coughing after last week’s episode when Alex Romero held her in his arms weeping. She’s dead. She’s buried… that is, until Norman exhumes her.
This is dark, dark stuff unfolding on the fourth season finale of Bates Motel, entitled Norman. Entirely missing, both from the last episode and this one, is the signature sense of humor that often underlies the drama on the show. The tone deftly takes the show in a new direction and readies it for the inevitable finale. After this shock, though, I’m not as certain as I used to be that the series finale is going to be as inevitable as I once thought. I feel like anything is possible now and it’s very exciting to be a fan.
What worked for me so well in the episode is the places the characters now find themselves… what the turn of events reveals about them and how it changes them. There’s been a cumulative understanding of the characters as they’ve grown from day one, so their reactions to Norma’s death are real and impactful. However, I don’t think I realized how strong their reactions would resonate. Sure, they would with Norman; you expect big things there. But it’s Romero and actor Nestor Carbonell who truly surprises.
Sheriff Alex Romero has always been somewhat of an enigma who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. In recent episodes, though, his feelings toward Norma have become less ambiguous and his scenes with Vera Farmiga have been extremely touching. I didn’t fully realize how much he loved her until I saw her taken away from him. Not only does he exhibit a deep sadness, but he later explodes with rage, and the psychological confrontations he’s had with Norman become violently physical.
Poor, naïve Norman (Freddie Highmore) seems dumbfounded by what has happened, even though he caused it. He sincerely believed he and his mother would be together forever. Therefore, he feels abandoned by her when she dies, which generates some rage of his own. For much of the episode, he feels like he’s been excluded from some master plan that she orchestrated. At the morgue, he even whispers in her ear, “Mother, I just wish you’d told me the plan.”
He arranges her funeral, but invites no one. Speaking to an audience of zero, Norman talks about how his mother was the most wonderful person who ever lived. “She was like a miracle.” But he soon becomes emotional, “I miss her so terribly. I can’t believe she left. She wasn’t supposed to leave me. Nobody told me what the plan is. I guess I have to figure out this shit myself.” He lives and waits for her to return to him, thinking he hears her playing the piano in the other room. “I’ll be patient, Mother,” he claims.
Which Mother is he waiting to return, though? He seems to also be encouraging his inner, split-personality Norma to return, flushing all his pills down the toilet and staring into the mirror where she sometimes appears to him. He’s victim to a double-vacuum, externally and internally. Throughout the episode, little things happen to indicate the internal Norma will re-emerge. Baby steps first, though, as Juno, his stuffed dog, returns to life and yips around the house.
Detective Chambers (Molly Price) from the Oregon State Police appears to investigate the incident and she holds her cards pretty close to her chest. It’s natural to think Romero would be accused of the crime, but she witnesses some violent behavior from Norman and seems to consider it. Any wrong-doing by Romero is going to relate to the ongoing investigation of the murder of Bob Paris and his relationship with Rebecca Hamilton (Jaime Ray Newman), and that storyline does reach a climax.
What’s missing is Romero making his case to Chambers, or anyone else, that Norman is the villain. Instead, he goes vigilante, collecting evidence himself. Dylan (Max Thieriot) is mostly missing, too, except for one phone call that reveals Norman isn’t going to share the news of their mother’s death with his brother. These two loose ends may help establish how the next season of the show begins more than the character-driven evolutions that are so rich in this episode.
Bates Motel also crosses a line into full-fledged horror in this episode. Not only does Norman rescue his mother from her freshly-dug grave, but, because she won’t look at him, he also superglues her eyelids open. He then shouts at her, commanding her to look at him. I don’t know if it’s Farmiga playing dead or a dummy, but her-already changing body is a terrifying sight. I keep thinking of Psycho’s mummified mother in her rocking chair at the end of the classic Hitchcock film. This is that Norma’s origin story.
I won’t say specifically what happens at the end, but I’ll say that Norman finally crosses over into a complete fantasy world. It’s a new perspective from what we’ve seen, where only his mother lives in his mind. Perhaps it’s a glimpse into the psychology of an adult Norman Bates, representing how he sees the world. It’s creepy, it’s puzzling, it’s sad… yet hopeful. And that is what has become of Bates Motel, a show that is part creepy, part puzzling, sad and hopeful… yet 100% fantastic!