Bates Motel’s season finale “Unconscious,” brilliantly written by executive producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin, saw Norman commit murder in the full persona of “mother,” leading us to what will most likely be the final act of this thrilling story. Now there really is no turning back for The Bates family, as their doomed fate is agonizingly sealed.
The episode opens with Norma on her way to Pineview, a mental health facility that she wants to learn more about in the hope of getting Norman some help. Norma has always been in denial with regard to Norman’s psychological state, so her decision to actually take action by visiting such a place is a testament to how far gone she thinks Norman really is. Pineview seems like a nice enough place, but the price to restore mental health is astronomical, and Norma doesn’t have the means to pay for it. It’s all too much, and as the facility director drones on about family visits and insurance, Norma’s expression tells us exactly how overwhelmed she is facing this reality.
Meanwhile, Emma’s dad gets a call from the hospital about a set of lungs for Emma, but ironically she is less than thrilled. She takes off, and Emma’s dad calls Dylan, who tracks Emma down on his farm. Dylan and Emma have a heart to heart, where she reveals all her fears about what could happen before, during and after surgery. It’s a very real moment, and Olivia Cooke was excellent in the scene, allowing viewers a rare opportunity into Emma’s mindset. Dylan gives Emma more courage by pointing out the depth of her own, saying “You’re a fricking warrior,” and the two share a kiss.
At this point, Dylan and Emma seem perfect for each other. They’re both inextricably linked to Norma and Norman and all of that dysfunction, yet they both yearn for something stable and safe. Because of that dichotomy, they understand one another’s hearts. It’s easy to root for the pair, but with Norman lurking in the shadows, Emma and Dylan may not get the happy ending they deserve.
Bradley is still holed up in the motel in this episode, devising her get out of town quick scheme. She breaks into her mother’s house, taking some jewelry and money. Of course her getaway plan involves Norman by her side. Bradley pleads with him to go with her. It’s interesting (if we take Bradley’s word for it) that Norman had previously said that he was afraid of Norma. Considering everything, that’s more than just a little ironic.
Back at home, Norma makes the fateful decision to tell Norman about her trip to Pineview. But to give her credit, Norma does approach Norman gently, voicing her concerns that Norman needs help that she can’t give him. “I’m not always going to be in this world, Norman. You’re going to outlive me.” Yes, Norma, you don’t realize how right you are.
In the past, Norma’s judgment has been very questionable, especially when dealing with Norman, but this time she really was trying to do what would be best for him. If Norman were to have any hope of getting healthy, an inpatient facility under the supervision of medical professionals would be his best bet. And because Norman himself has long felt there is something seriously wrong with him, he must know, deep down, that this would be the right move. But instead, he sees his mother’s sincere attempt at trying to help him as an act of betrayal, telling her “I’m glad we had this talk. I see where we stand. You’ve given up on me.”
Meanwhile at police headquarters, The DEA is closing in on Bob Paris and his illegal operation. In the interim, Sheriff Romero takes the time to go and see Norma. He tells her he stands by his decision to turn over the flash drive, but he’s sorry he couldn’t protect her. Norma, knowing there’s a chance one of her secrets will come out, confides to Romero that it will kill her if Norman goes to prison for killing his father. But her usual fiery aggression isn’t present here. This time, she seems almost resigned to her possible fate. She forebodingly tells Romero “We’re all doomed in the end, right?” This show’s subtle use of foreshadowing never gets old, and still manages to lend an eerie quality to a scene where it’s used.
But Norma’s words haunt Romero. Despite their volatile and contentious relationship, they still love each other (even though neither one will act on it). So as the DEA makes their move, Romero calls Paris and tells him to pack a bag and get out of town. When the DEA descends on Paris’ house, he’s already gone. Paris goes to the dock to flee on his fishing boat, but Romero is already there, waiting. It’s pretty predictable from the outset that Paris won’t ever get the chance to leave town. Romero just can’t take the risk that Norma’s secrets will come out.
Knowing what’s about to go down, Paris takes one last opportunity to taunt Romero, telling the sheriff he bends the law to suit himself, making him just like his father. Then Paris seals his own doom, telling Romero “How does that feel? To have spent your whole life trying to get away from someone you hate, only to turn into them? But Romero has heard enough, so he pumps Paris full of bullet holes, killing him at point blank range. Now, Paris was never more than a side story, and he was a murderer, so it was inevitable that he would get taken down. But it’s notable that this marks yet another time that Romero took the law into his own hands for Norma Bates and her family.
Feeling like his mother has totally given up on him, Norman decides to leave town with Bradley. When Norma goes to her son’s room, Norman goes into an endless rant, telling Norma how awful she is, saying how unhealthy the two are for one another. Norman reveals he’s leaving with Bradley, so naturally Norma thinks he has gone insane. But even though Bradley is alive, Norman is still mixing fantasy with reality; he thinks he was talking to his mother outside the motel (in a scene from the previous episode), and that she already knows about Bradley.
Norma and Norman move their argument to the staircase, where Norma gets knocked down the steps. Uninjured but completely panicked (as she sees Norman rushing out the front door), Norma knocks Norman over the head, drags him to the basement, and ties him up. She calls Dylan, her go-to person when things spin out of control, saying Norman has completely lost his mind. Well, he’s not the only one Norma. It’s so strange that Norma can be rational one moment, realizing she’s ill-equipped to deal with Norman’s issues, then turn around the next moment and do something impulsive and ineffectual like hit her son over the head to try and stop him (or steal a flash drive, or run away from her own home, or sleep with her therapist – yes, it’s an endless pattern). She should definitely know by now that sometimes she just needs to stop herself and get out of her own way.
Dylan rushes to the house and goes to the basement (and I always fear for anybody who goes down there, especially the way scenes are shot as characters slowly descend the steps). But Norman has already escaped. When Norma tells Dylan about Norman’s declaration of running away with Bradley, Dylan tells his mother that Bradley is in fact, alive. And I always appreciate that no matter what the scenario, this show can inject dry humor into it, adding often needed levity. This scene was no exception, because when Norma asks if it’s possible Norman did run away with Bradley, Dylan states “Yeah, I mean it’s possible, but it’s also true that he sees shit that isn’t really there.” As they begin to search for Norman, Bradley pulls up outside and picks Norman up, and they flee the area.
And for one moment, Norman is free. Not from his shattered psyche, of course – but at least from the toxic relationship that is the catalyst for his deviant acts. But ultimately, Norman can’t leave his mother. Especially now, when his own mind is merging with his perspective of his mother’s. When hallucination Norma shows up in the back seat of the car, we know what’s most likely coming. Norman’s previous – and only momentary – transformations into his mom have all been leading up to this. And though it was expected, when Norman slowly turns to Bradley and says “Mother would like to talk to you,” it was utterly spine-tingling. And as Norman forces the car to a stop and goes around to the driver’s side, dragging Bradley out, and we actually see Norma – it was chilling. This is all “mother,” of course, because Norman is innocent; Norman is a good boy; Norman can’t commit these heinous acts. So Norma does the deed, bashing Bradley’s head against the rocks, murdering her. But then we switch back to Norman, kneeling over Bradley’s lifeless body, his hands covered in her blood, and he snaps back to himself, yelling “Mother what you have done?”
But he has to protect his mother, so he puts Bradley’s body in the trunk and pushes the car out into the water, in a scene right out of the movie Psycho. Then “Mother” shows up once more, telling her son she could never let anyone take Norman from her. She promises to take care of everything, just as long as Norman stays silent. And so hallucination Norma snuggles Norman saying “then we’ll always be together. Won’t that be nice?” as “Be my little Baby” plays in the background, the creepiest use ever of such an innocuous song.
This was a satisfying conclusion to a season that has slowly upped the ante on Norma and Norman’s claustrophobic, inappropriate relationship while steadily progressing Norman’s psychosis, culminating in the murder of another woman. But the difference this time was the staggering transformation that occurred – three seasons in the making – while Norman committed the act. In addition, this year provided more depth to all its supporting characters: Romero, Dylan, Emma, and even Caleb (Chick ended up as a one dimensional minor character). We’ve now seen the climax to this story, while all the while knowing the ending (though nothing is certain). But the anticipation lies in observing all the varied ramifications of Norman’s descent into true madness – and after confirmation of at least two more seasons, it’s safe to say we’ll get to see those ramifications, and ultimately that inevitable ending as well.