Bates Motel episodes 4.9 (written by Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse) and 4.10 (Kerry Ehrin) played like a two-partner, shocking the audience with the death of Norma Bates and making Norman’s transformation into “Psycho” complete. It was no secret that Norma would ultimately be killed by her son. Though this series has tread new narrative ground, all roads were destined to eventually end where the movie began. So we knew it was coming. We just didn’t know it would come so soon (with a whole season left to go) or with such powerful, poignant finality.
All season long we’ve been building to the final two episodes. Norman is home and very unhinged, and Norma is trying to maintain her marriage while keeping Norman as calm and content as possible. It’s not an easy task, but the bigger problem lies in the fact that Norma doesn’t realize the danger she’s in with Norman back. Romero repeatedly attempts to tell her, saying Norman should still be at Pineview, but Norma won’t hear it. With Norman so close in proximity again, she goes back to her old ways of mother/son co-dependence.
Norman is going through the motions of therapy, but he isn’t in the same place anymore (literally and metaphorically). He no longer wants help, and is convinced he knows what’s best for not only himself, but for his mother as well. At his session with Dr. Edwards, Norman rants about Norma and Romero’s relationship, convinced the sheriff will only hurt Norma. When Norman speaks about his mother, in many ways, it’s like he sees her as the child. His descriptions of her being like a wounded bird were very telling, making sense of why he feels he knows what’s better for her than she does. Even though Norman has always turned to Norma for comfort and safety, he never truly saw the strength she possessed. If he did, maybe he would have wanted to stray outside the bubble they were encased inside together. Maybe he could have seen she would help them get through anything. Only, he couldn’t, and won’t ever see.
Norma shuts Alex down over and over, especially when he suggests Norma talk to Dr. Edwards’ about Norman’s mental state. It’s interesting that Norma was actually trying to prevent Norman from coming home just a very short time ago, but as soon as the two were back together in that house, she placed the blinders on her eyes once again. And this time, they won’t ever be removed.
Romero won’t give up his wife or the life they’re building that easily, but even more importantly, he’s very concerned for Norma’s safety. He goes and enlists the help of Dylan to commit Norman (if he can get the signatures of two family members), and Dylan reluctantly agrees to go and persuade Norma to take some action. When Emma asks Dylan to return Norma’s coat to her, she tells him she found Norma’s earring in a pocket. Only the earring isn’t Norma’s – Dylan remembers seeing it on Audrey Decody. This solidifies Dylan’s suspicions that Norman did something terrible to Audrey, but when Dylan confronts Norma, she again refuses to listen, even telling Dylan he’s inventing stories because he’s always been jealous of her and Norman’s relationship. Norma’s refusal to listen to the cascade of warnings from the people around her (who know Norman very well) stretched the bounds of narrative credibility. But it’s clear the writers wanted us to see how deeply embedded Norma’s denial about Norman’s psyche really is, even to the point of being delusional.
Dylan can’t take any more of the dysfunction, so he leaves the Bates home for the last time, tearfully hugging Norman goodbye and begging him to get professional help. Again, it was very hard to swallow that given what Dylan knows, he wouldn’t tell Romero about Audrey and get the authorities involved, but he does feel protective over Norman, so that could possibly explain his silence. Even so, he would have to realize his mother is in danger with Norman in the house, so his actions still don’t make much sense. Then again, it may all boil down to the fact that nobody is willing to cross Norma Bates, even for her own good.
Rebecca shows up one more time in this episode, cooperating with the DEA by wearing a wire and meeting with Romero. She does a horrible job trying to get him to confess to murdering Bob Paris, and it takes Romero about two seconds to figure out what’s going on and take off. But her decision will come back to haunt the sheriff later on.
Norman has a turning point of his own, when he goes to the basement to get Christmas lights and discovers Audrey Decody’s backpack. He realizes what he (or “Mother”) may have done, and then it’s written all over his face: He knows (in his twisted mind) what he must do.
Norma is devastated about Romero, and writes a note to her new husband, returning her wedding ring and saying she will always love him. Norma’s note was of course, meant as a goodbye to Romero. But unbeknownst to her, she wasn’t just ending their relationship – she was actually saying a final goodbye. Because as Norma lay crying in bed, Norman comes to her, telling her they can leave their life at White Pine Bay behind, move to Hawaii and start over. Norma is comforted by Norman’s words, and as she drifts off to sleep, Norman systematically and calculatedly closes all the vents in the house except the one in Norma’s bedroom (to the tune of a creepy rendition of “Mr. Sandman”). He then goes to lie beside her, content knowing they will be together forever.
A short time later, Romero arrives at the house, giving the audience hope that maybe Norma could survive until the end of season five. He drags Norma and Norman out of the bedroom and into the hallway, but nothing can revive Norma. Romero was heartbreaking as he cradled the lifeless body of his new wife, sobbing with the realization she was gone, just as Norman awakes to watch.
The death of Norma Bates was certainly memorable, and though eventually expected, still shocking in its execution. Even after 4.9, you couldn’t help but hope Norma somehow recovered. But she was indeed dead, setting off the season’s finale, which was the creepiest, oddest, most macabre episode of the entire series.
While Norman is brought to the hospital, Romero, crushed by the loss of his wife, is interviewed by Detective Chambers (in a nod to Al Chambers of Psycho). Alex is certain this was a premeditated act by Norman, but Norma’s words conveniently read like a suicide note, so Norman isn’t looked at as a person of interest.
The problem with this main storyline is (like the episode before it), these characters have knowledge of Norman Bates’ past, but fail miserably in the ability to put two and two together. This detective’s interest isn’t piqued that Norman was investigated in the death of Blair Watson, knew Bradley Cooper (who killed herself under mysterious circumstances), and was just released from Pineview after displaying violent tendencies toward his mother? There were witnesses and documentation for all of this. It was an extremely weak plot point in an otherwise brilliant script, and it was surprising that the writers didn’t even attempt to explain some of it away. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that this episode wasn’t about the truth coming to light; It was about delving into the aftermath of an unthinkable act, revealing the shattered mind of the one who perpetrated it, and laying the groundwork for the final season next year.
After a violent run-in with Romero at the hospital (Romero wastes no time in choking Norman out), Norman is released in good health. He goes home – but he is all alone. He sets a place for Norma at the kitchen table and sleeps in her bed, but that won’t fill the overwhelming emptiness in the house. Later, Romero and Norman have their separate moments with the deceased Norma – and it was hard to see the always vibrant Farmiga made up to look so gray and dead in the morgue and at the funeral home. Romero says a final touching farewell to his wife, but Norman already begins imagining his mother waking up, looking alive as ever.
Meanwhile, Romero is putting the pieces of the puzzle together, going to see the repairman who fixed the furnace, and learning the guy warned Norma that lighting the old furnace could be very dangerous. Romero then – very aggressively – asks the repairman if Norman may have overheard the conversation. Of course Norman heard it. It was the final nail in Norma’s coffin.
Norman is in the cocoon all alone now, and the show does an effectively creepy job of illustrating Norman’s self-imposed isolation. He doesn’t invite anyone to Norma’s funeral, raising the eyebrows of the funeral directors. Romero shows up, though, and again violently lets Norman know that he won’t get away with what he’s done. Later, Dylan calls to say he’s in Seattle and to give Norman a new phone number, but he conveniently doesn’t want to speak to Norma. It’s hard to believe, though, that Romero wouldn’t have called Dylan, Emma, and even Dr. Edwards to let them know what was going on (and it most likely would have been on the news anyway), but the writers want us to forget about all of that until next year, apparently. In any case, Norman tearfully breaks ties with Dylan, saying he will miss his brother, but that they shouldn’t ever speak again.
Romero’s private investigation is stalled when he’s arrested at the police station, just as he’s getting a gun, intent on taking care of Norman himself. This will pave the way for Norman to freely (and irrationally) take matters into his own hands where his mother is concerned.
Norman is quickly breaking, calling out to Norma and yelling at her that she can’t leave him like this. The last act of the episode is where the macabre takes over. Norman frantically drives to the cemetery and digs up Norma’s corpse. He brings her into the house, where we know she will stay permanently. Norman’s futile attempts to wake his mother up, from shaking her to gluing her eyelids open to reveal gray, glassy eyeballs was simultaneously repulsive, tragic, and extremely disturbing.
Chick pays Norman a visit with a casserole (further providing evidence that the news of Norma’s death is getting around), and strangely enough, he’s the one who ends up trying to make Norman face the truth. He looks at Norma’s body on the couch and in the most non-judgmental way ever asks Norman, “You know she’s dead, right?” The scene provided the only light moment in the whole episode.
Chick’s words seem to bring Norman back to reality and, overcome with grief, he runs upstairs to kill himself. But just as he is about to commit the act, he hears festive Christmas music playing. He goes downstairs to see beautiful decorations – and Norma sitting at the piano, smiling. “Mother” cheerfully tells Norman she would never leave him, and with that, Psycho is born.
The last two episodes tied this entire season together beautifully, and the acting from everyone involved was exceptional. Ultimately, Norma and Norman’s story is a heartbreaking one: Norman is smart, creative, and has his whole life ahead of him – and yet his madness will now ruin him. Norma’s story is even more tragic: After a miserable childhood, an abusive marriage, two rapes, and more bad breaks than one person should ever have, Norma found love with a good man, and the beginning of freedom from the co-dependent relationship she had with her son. She finally overcame it all, only to be drawn back into the never-ending dysfunction with Norman, who ended up killing her. Despite the sadness, however, this season provided one of the most compelling narratives in television today. With only 10 episodes left in the entire series, the end of this story (despite being pretty self-evident) should be just as captivating.