Airtime: Mondays at 9PM on A&E
Episode: Season 4, Episode 10 (S04E10)
Tweetable Takeaway: Norman deals with his grief in the #BatesMotel finale as the show heads into “Psycho” territory
In BATES MOTEL’s fourth season finale, the show took another major step toward its endgame, as it finally entered the familiar status quo audiences will recognize from Alfred Hitchcock’s original Psycho film. The finale was appropriately titled “Norman,” because after years of seeing a young boy who didn’t quite resemble the character Anthony Perkins once made famous, we finally got to see him assume that mantle following his failed murder-suicide attempt last week that ended with only his mother being killed. After four seasons of watching Norman strive for something resembling normalcy, as he navigated his awkward high school years and tried in vain to formulate relationships outside of his mother’s influence, there’s very little separating the Norman we see now from the Norman that audiences were introduced to fifty-six years ago. When the fifth and final season eventually begins, Norman will be alone, acting as the sole proprietor of the Bates Motel, still believing his mother to be a presence in his life even as her corpse rots away, hidden in the house up the hill. Whether an unsuspecting Marion Crane will happen upon him, unaware of the horrors that have occurred there in the past, remains to be seen. But what is abundantly clear now is that this fourth season was the show’s best yet and that Bates Motel has put itself in position to live up to the legacy of the original Psycho in a way that none of its sequels were able to do.
Now that this season has wrapped up, I do feel quite safe in proclaiming it as the show’s best yet, and I don’t think it’s even particularly close. While the first two seasons showed potential, mostly stemming from the wonderful performances by the show’s leads, and the third season took a big leap forward in quality, this season was the most ambitious, tense, and entertaining yet. The writing was more confident and focused, without the meandering subplots that hampered previous seasons, and the supporting characters were all tied more closely into the central story than in years past. After both seemed to have outlived their usefulness to the plot last season, I appreciated seeing the increased relevance of Alex and Emma this year, as both became major players in the narrative, entering into relationships with Bates family members and helping to illuminate aspects of Norma’s and Dylan’s characters that we hadn’t previously seen.
The most commendable aspect of the season was, of course, the great performances by Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore. Splitting up Norman and Norma for the majority of the season proved to be a boon, as their absence from each other’s lives allowed their characters to interface with new characters and dynamics, and in this we were able to witness a depth and range to their performances that had not yet been explored. It was great to see Norma embracing the possibilities of a happier life with Alex while Norman was away, even as we knew it was ultimately doomed to fail. And I thought Highmore was excellent throughout but especially shined in his sessions with Dr. Edwards at Pineview, as we saw Norman become more conscious of the psychosis that had taken over his brain, and later he was forced to come to grips with the uncomfortable truth that either he or Norma had murdered Emma’s mother.
I do have some complaints about the season that emerged from this episode, but none of them are major, mainly because I expect a lot of what I found problematic to be addressed next season. One thing I’m curious to see is whether Dr. Edwards will play a prominent role next season. It felt like he was gaining an understanding about Norman that no one else was capable of, but the expected epiphany about how dangerous Norman truly was never materialized. If, when it’s all said and done, Dr. Edwards’ function in the narrative was only to briefly hold a mirror up to Norman so he could take a quick gander at the monster that lay within him, I think that’ll be fine, but I was surprised at how his presence in the show petered out after he had became such a worthy antagonist for Norman.
There was another odd choice in this episode made regarding Dylan and Emma and their lack of involvement in the episode’s story. I understood why Emma wasn’t featured in the episode at all, because her presence had been marginalized all season after playing a much more prominent role in previous seasons. This was a strange but not totally unexpected development, likely due as much to Olivia Cooke’s burgeoning film career as the fact that she was no longer a real part of Norman’s life. But I found it more curious that Dylan played such a cursory role in the episode, given that it centered around his mother’s death. Of course, it makes sense after the developments of last week, when he made it plain that he was done with the Bates family, but I did think it strained credulity just a bit that no one had been in contact with him regarding his mother’s death. The writers tried to explain this away with his line about getting a new cell phone number, which was a valiant enough attempt, but it was still the weakest aspect of a strong episode. Having said that, it’s a minor quibble, and one that I believe is a fair trade off because I have confidence that the writers will mine a good deal of satisfying conflict from the brothers Bates next season once Dylan learns of Norma’s death and realizes that Norman deliberately kept it from him.
After a season in which the relationship between Norma and Alex may have been its strongest asset, I thought his reaction to her death and his subsequent suspicion about Norman’s involvement was all handled very well. The scene in which he said goodbye to her in the morgue and placed his mother’s ring back on her finger was touching, and his attacking Norman at Norma’s funeral was immensely satisfying. His storyline is another one that I’ll be very interested in seeing unfold next season. Though I thought it was a little too neat for him to get arrested by the DEA just as he was about to bring down Norman, I do like the idea that his chickens have finally come home to roost after years of existing above the law. After several seasons of Alex’s shady dealings in White Pine Bay’s illegal marijuana industry, which felt incredibly tedious at the time, I do appreciate the irony that despite him being the only person fully cognizant of what Norman has done and is capable of doing in the future, his credibility is now shot to such an extent that no one will take his protestations seriously.
If the show does choose to go the Psycho route next season, I will be curious to see if it’s an established character from Norman’s life who ends up bringing him down, such as Alex, Dylan, or even Emma, or if they’ll follow the film’s script and have his downfall be precipitated by characters from Marion Crane’s life. But regardless of how it unfolds, this season of Bates Motel proved to me that Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin have a smart vision for the story, and that aspects of the plot I previously considered to be hindrances, like Alex’s criminal dealings, are proving instead to be effective seeds planted long ago that are finally bearing fruit. And if, as the case seems to be, next season will essentially be their version of Psycho, I couldn’t be more excited to see the proceedings of that film from Norman’s perspective, something that would have been unimaginable for me before I began watching the series and came to believe in their vision.
Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Eric Colasante | Contributor