Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched Season 4, Episode 9 of “Bates Motel,” titled “Forever.”
With each passing season, the Norman Bates of “Bates Motel” has unravelled further, bringing the character ever closer to the killer of the “Psycho” movies who lives with his mother’s corpse. Now with the May 9 episode, Norman (Freddie Highmore) may have gotten more psychotic: Is Norma (Vera Farmiga) dead?
At the end of the episode, it certainly looked like it: Norma was unconscious on the floor, with Romero’s (Nestor Carbonell) desperate efforts to resuscitate her with CPR seemingly having failed.
Meanwhile, the guilty party, Norman, coughed himself back to consciousness, uttering just one word: “Mother,” when he saw her lying next to him.
His murder/suicide attempt didn’t exactly go as planned. Norman had fired up the faulty water heater to fill the house with gas, closed all the vents, and climbed into bed with his mother, hoping to go gently into the good night (while “Mr. Sandman” played oh-so-creepily in the background). But after an epic fight with Norma, Romero came racing back to the house and found mother and son — just in time to rescue at least one of them.
The suicide attempt was Norman’s insolution to escape what had become an untenable solution. He’d been a downward spiral ever since he checked himself out of Pineview and discovered that his mother’s marriage to Romero was hot-and-heavy, but the real shocker came when he found Emma’s mother’s suitcase in the attic. Suddenly, he realized either he — or his mother — was a murderer.
Norma wasn’t in much better shape. She was heartbroken, having just fought with Romero, furious at him for conspiring behind her back with Dylan (Max Thieriot) to have Norman re-committed. (Her breakup letter to him may turn out to read awfully like a suicide note.)
The foreshadowing had been coming all episode — make that all season — but fans had been suspecting Romero would have been Norman’s target, especially after last week’s attack with the ax. Instead, it was Mother all along.
“I don’t feel safe leaving you alone with him,” Romero tells Norma.
She tries to brush him off, saying he’s overreacting. “No one knows Norman like I do. We are two parts of the same person,” Norma insists. “There’s no possible way he could ever, ever in any way hurt me. Ever. You are just so wrong.”
“I really hope I am,” says Romero reluctantly.
How long have you known you were writing towards this moment?
Cuse: For a long time. Right from the beginning Kerry and I knew, when we first sat down and we were talking about the show, we did conceive it as a five-year journey. And these events of 409 and 410 were very much planned from the get-go. The specifics of them were altered over time as always happens once you learn more about the characters and you’re following the thread of the specific narrative, but the larger events were long planned and really set up the final season where we bring Norman to a place much closer to “Psycho.” We’ll cross through those events but we’re not remaking “Psycho” in any shape or form.
At the top of the episode, where is Norman’s head? Is he self-aware at all? Has therapy helped him?
Ehrin: Yes. He is still not happy about the relationship his mother has with Romero, but I think he’s also a little embarrassed and chagrined that he lost his s–t in front of people. There’s a little of that. And he’s angry at his mom. That plays into the first scene in the therapist’s office, where we see his take on his mom, that is pretty harsh. But also somewhat accurate. It’s a side we don’t normally see from him. He’s trying to process it all.
So what triggers Norman to make this move? Is it jealousy?
Highmore: I think it’s more personal than jealousy. The last scene doesn’t have anything to do with Romero. There’s that moment of self-awareness when he looked at himself in the mirror and puts on the robe and sees how broken they are. He feels this is the only way they can truly be happy together. And I think that’s what Norman was trying to tell her at the end of 408 at the dinner table, and hints to Dr. Edwards at the beginning of 409. He’s more insightful as to their relationship than other people and perhaps Norma herself. And by dint of the foreboding sense of “Psycho” we know that he’s right. It isn’t possible that they will ever be as happy with someone else, the happiness that they’ve had together. I think it’s so sort of heartbreaking when you realize that that’s true. That’s why Norman is doing it. That last moment they have together is so genuine, I feel. And when we see how great they could have been and how they will be together as they move forward into this dream that Norman is trying to create for both of them.
Will we see Norma and Norman together going forward?
Ehrin: Oh, definitely. The obsession with Norma and the relationship with Norma is always going to be the driving force of this show.
You’ve been teasing viewers that Romero was going to be his victim.
Highmore: But Norman couldn’t do it. Norman’s not a killer. (Laughs.) Norman doesn’t want to be a killer. That’s what I meant. Norman has his chance or thinks he has his chance with the ax. He fights all he can to do the right thing at the end of 408 with Romero that leads him into 409. He challenges him, but he doesn’t want to resolve it by killing him. He has more of a moral compass than that. No? (Asking Ehrin and Cuse.)
Ehrin: I agree. I think that’s why you can go on the ride with the character. There’s a part of him that is innocent, that doesn’t understand everything about his mental illness, that truly does love his mother and want the best for her, but doesn’t want to be the guy that puts an ax in Romero’s head. I think that’s all true.
Cuse: He unfortunately has got a flaw in his DNA that he’s tried to fight against. And the moment when he finds the suitcase in the attic and realizes that either he or his mother has done something terrible, that’s the big cathartic moment that leads to the decision at the end. Once he’s made that decision, he’s at peace with it. Which allows him to be genuine. The final scene with him and her in bed is not manipulative. It’s a wonderful, happy, content moment because he’s at peace because he thinks he’s made what is the best possible decision for them and their future.
It is a loving relationship, in its own twisted way.
Ehrin: It definitely is. I don’t think we could have stood to write it for all these years if we didn’t truly believe that they have the best intentions towards each other. It’s a larger than life version of a dysfunctional family but it is a dysfunctional family. And often the heartbreaking thing about them is you actually love the people in it. You just can’t fix it.
Cuse: In a way, there was a spark for that idea in the original movie because when Kerry and I were first talking about “Psycho,” we were remarking on how the audience’s sympathy is remarkably with Norman Bates. And when the detective shows up late in the movie, you as an audience member, you’re really hoping that Norman isn’t caught. That’s a fascinating idea because clearly he’s done something terrible and we felt like it was really important on the journey of our show to try to make the audience care about Norman, not be viewing him clinically or pathologically from a distance, but to be really emotionally invested in him. And to really feel like we really understand why he makes the choices that he makes. And that they come from a good place, even if sometimes they aren’t good decisions.
How did the movie then impact your own storytelling? We know that Norman’s going to survive.
Ehrin: We think of it as a piece of mythology. Like Oedipus. We’re playing with the basic pieces of it. But not redoing the film. We are doing our own version of it.
Cuse: But yeah, we’re probably not killing Norman. That’s exactly the intention. Going into season 5, Norman moves closer to a version of the character that we’re familiar with from the movie and while the show is going to cross through events from the movie, we’re not interested in literally depicting the events from the movie. We’re going to have fun colliding with them, but we’re going to do our own version of the story. And Norman will have his own journey.
How is Dylan going to react to this news?
Ehrin: That remains to be seen. He will have a big reaction. But I can’t tell you more beyond that.
He’s been warning Norma about something like this.
Ehrin: Yes, but at the same time, it’s that perfect storm of not enough tangible, hardcore evidence and a lot of suspicions and feelings and wondering and assuming. We’ve been really careful to construct the storytelling so that everyone within that web can stay reliable. Dylan has never had actual proof that Norman has killed anyone. He has never seen it happen. He just suspects it.
But he has the earring.
Ehrin: But she did stay at the hotel. What Norma said could be true. She could have picked up, put it in her pocket, and forgot to throw it away. It isn’t a tangible proof of a murder.
Norma’s goodbye note to Romero could be viewed as a suicide note.
Ehrin: That could be totally up for interpretation as to what that was and how it was intended. I think Norma could be thinking, you know when you write a letter when you’re pissed at someone and then the next day you get up, and you’re like, that was silly? I think the letter is more about an emotional moment in time than a definitive act on her part.
But Norman’s got a lot of explaining to do.
Ehrin: He’s also a victim. It’s a complicated situation. He inhaled carbon monoxide. That can really mess with your head. It can kill you. The next morning has a lot of surprises.
What can you reveal about the finale?
Cuse: I can reveal that Kerry Ehrin wrote a brilliant script for the finale! I could tell you that it picks up right where episode nine leaves off. It answers a lot of questions that you might have coming out of nine. If you’re coming out of nine wondering, “Oh my God, did I just see that, is that for real, did that just happen,” episode 10 answers those questions.
Highmore: Norman has never met Chick.
Cuse: That’s a great tease!
Highmore: Maybe they could meet in number 10. Who knows? That’s the best sort of tease, because it gives absolutely nothing away related to the main questions people will be having.
Can you describe the tone of the finale?
Ehrin: It’s emotional, it’s cathartic. And I honestly think there’s some fun in it.
Cuse: I think one of the things we always try to do is infuse the show with humor and heart. As dire as the events of the last two episodes are, there is still humor. And a lot of heart.
Will we be seeing Vera?
Ehrin: Oh, yeah.
Cuse: Vera is still going to be No. 1 on the call sheet.
“Bates Motel” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on A&E.