What a ride, wasn’t it? This season of Bates Motel delved deeper into each character, their relationships to each other and the past that has led them to the present they are currently living. More importantly, this season paved the way for the beginning of the end, for the inevitable, for what we know will be the end of Norman Bates, as we witnessed in Psycho more than five decades ago.
If you remember, season three of the show ended with one of the biggest homages to the original film by showing Norman killing his former love interest and submerging her body (in the trunk of her car) into a river; all instructions received from his beloved “Mother”. The end of this season formed the path that eventually leads to the events of the classic film. Season four has done the same in developing the characters and showing what has led them to their inevitable fate.
Season four began right where three ended, Norman’s disappearance leads a desperate Norma to seek out the treatment Norman so gravely needs, his volatile state instilling more fear in her. Norma’s devotion to her son really blinds her to the emotions of anyone else, as is clear when she asks Sheriff Romero to marry her to get Norman the health insurance he needs for treatment, which he justly refuses. Norman’s increasing mental instability creates, in his mind, a universe which he cannot differentiate from the real world. Norman’s “Mother” persona, when he killed Bradley Martin and Emma’s mother Audrey, confuse him and the memories he fabricates lead him to believe that Norma is the one committing the murders. Norman has given up at this point and believes that the only way he and his mother will be happy is being gone from this world: at which point Romero has agreed to help Norma and they get Norman to agree to volunteer himself into treatment.
I cannot continue without noting the incredible cast of this show. Freddie Highmore’s performance has been incredibly nuanced and multilayered over the last four seasons. His range is evident in how he has portrayed Norman’s slow and painful downfall; his confusion and fear lead to distrust toward his mother and brings the relationship the closest it has ever been to its breaking point, when Norma is actually fearful of what her son is capable of doing. Vera Farmiga has created a character out of, literally, a corpse. Her portrayal shows the broken but strong and resilient woman who has clung to the only person that has been with her through the pain. Bates Motel has brilliantly shed light on the past of the characters created so long ago but has also given them a space to exist outside of the Psycho world.
Norma’s relationships with men have always been unhealthy and dangerous, the show explored how these relationships affected her relationship with both her sons; Dylan managed to stay away from the violence and abuse inflicted by Norman’s father but Norman was there to witness it all. Including Norma’s incestuous and troublesome past with her brother, Norma’s life has been a battle she has fought each day. This season saw Norma’s relationship with Romero flourish, even if in the most unusual of circumstances. The buildup to the relationship between Norma and Romero (over the last four seasons really) was incredibly satisfying, their attraction to one another slowly growing into passionate love, the chemistry between the actors (Farmiga and Nestor Carbonell) palpable.
The thing that I love so much about this couple is how their guarded sense of self, a result of the wounds life has given them, eventually allowed them to be each other’s rocks and accept one another with all the baggage. The love that grew between the two might have been the only time where Norma was ever truly happy, I’m glad she was able to have those moments, even if they were as she called them “in a bubble,” before reality took away her only chance of surviving. One of the most touching scenes between them was when Norma was forced to confess to Romero the secret about her relationship with her brother Caleb and how it resulted in rape, Norma expected rejection and expected to lose Romero, but it only made him love and embrace her more.
In contrast to Norman’s impending doom, we got to see Dylan and Emma’s relationship grow stronger this season. Dylan has always been estranged from his family and envisioning and actually creating a life with Emma will probably be what saves him from the darkness that can’t seem to escape the Bates family. Dylan stays with Emma through every step of her lung transplant and leaves the drug business all to have a future with her. It was saddening to see that no matter how much Norma and Dylan tried, they would never be able to fully be in each other’s lives. Norma would never be a mother to Dylan, blinded to his feelings in her complete devotion to Norman. The season also sees Dylan investigating Audrey’s disappearance and realizing what Norman has done to her. Despite his efforts, he just isn’t able to get Norma to face the reality of Norman’s illness. Dylan’s last conversation with his family seems to be a final goodbye and as the finale sets up, he will escape the inevitable fate of Norma and Norman because he realizes that there is nothing he can do to fix all the damage inside of them.
The most compelling part of this season was to witness the distance between Norma and Norman and how that space allowed them to actually improve, if only for some time. Norman’s stay at Pineview, an adjustment at first, allowed us a glimpse into what created the man whom we’d come to know in Psycho. Norman’s first few sessions in therapy were a difficult step for him because of the events that had occurred in the past. Norman was not only confused about the truth behind the murders but also feared exposing any secrets that could get his mother in trouble. Once Norman begins to open up to his doctor, Dr. Edwards, he realizes that most of his pain leads back to his father. When “Mother” appears in one of the sessions to keep Norman from remembering the abuse, the violence, and the fear his father inflicted on the family; Dr. Edwards tells Norman about dissociative identity disorder and how the persona that shows up during his blackouts is a way for Norman to hide the memories that are too painful.
One of the most revealing scenes, and one that revealed another layer of why Norman Bates becomes that haunting person, is when Dr. Edwards is able to extract a memory from Norman’s childhood. Norman, in a trance-like state, tells him about a time when his mother was going to leave his father but while they were out looking for Dylan, he found them and forced back to the house. The memory ends with Norman hiding under the bed where his father begins to rape his mother. This horrible memory really solidifies that unbreakable, boundary-crossing bond between Norman and Norma, they really have been each other’s only hope through all the horrible things life has thrown at them.
Everything seems to be improving for the Bates family until Norman figures out, by seeing a newspaper clipping of Norma and Romero, about his mother’s marriage. Norman, despite not being ready to be released from Pineview, is able to manipulate his doctor into signing his release. Upon realizing that the marriage between his mother and Romero is real, Norman is fuming with anger. He blames his mother for never allowing him to live his own life and creating a world in which only the two of them exist, now wanting to bring someone else into it. These sentiments reveal so much about the complicated and more-than-often toxic relationship that Norma and Norman share. The isolation in which we first meet the adult Norman is something that was built up by his mother, his physical and emotional restriction to the motel a reflection of his life with Norma.
Romero and Dylan’s pleas to put Norman back into Pineview are unsuccessful and despite fearing the violent side they have seen in him, Norma refuses to listen. Romero’s attempts at getting Norman recommitted behind Norma’s back break her trust and she ends their relationship. A broken Norma turns to the only person who has been there to pick her up, as Norman said this is the way things have always played out. Norman and his mother have a beautiful final moment together where they talk about starting over once again, living by the ocean. Norman’s decision to commit a murder-suicide might seem villainous, but at the same time it seems to be made out of love. After realizing that one of them has in fact killed Audrey, Norman feels that the only way they will escape the pain will be by dying.
In an eerily crafted scene, set against a softer rendition of Mr. Sandman, we see Norman turning on the lethal furnace and closing all the vents except the one in his mother’s room before crawling into bed with her. The last scene shows Romero arriving and attempting to save them. As he desperately tries performing CPR on Norma, his failed attempts seem to breathe the air back into Norman’s lungs. The scene showing Norman’s complete transformation into “Mother.”
In the finale episode, Romero attempts to prove that Norman was the one that ignited the furnace and wanted to kill Norma, not the other way around, as detectives believe. Norman’s transition into the character in Psycho is established in this episode as we see Romero being arrested because of the investigation into Bob Paris’ murder and Norman cutting Dylan off, not telling him about their mother. Norman has completely isolated himself from the world, believing that his mother will come back for him. We even see the exhumation of Norma’s body, only talked about at the end of Psycho. When Norman realizes that his mother is actually dead, he tries to commit suicide but is stopped by the sound of “Mother,” the one he has created in his mind, playing the piano. Now we have seen the story of the mother and son that will be together forever.
Bates Motel has stayed true to the events of the original film but has also created an entirely separate and compelling story for the Bates family. The circumstances around Norma’s death have changed, in the show, so I am really interested in seeing how the creators will bring the story full circle and present Norman Bates’ inevitable fate.
This season of Bates Motel has been one of the greatest. Aside from the beautiful cinematography and incredible acting, the character and plot development has been so captivating to experience. This show has really proven to be one of the greatest prequels to an already great story, not an easy task to accomplish. The exploration into the lives of these characters has shown that our stories are never black and white and that life can take anyone to their breaking point, testing their strength and morality along the way. I can’t wait to see what the writers have in store next season!
Season Overview: 10/10