Episode 2.10 of Bates Motel was the culmination of a season-long quest for Norman to find out the truth about himself. And despite his mother’s attempts to squelch that truth, it finally came out during a finale that was action packed, suspenseful, tense, and deeply emotional.
The episode opens with Norman still in the box, weak and quietly begging for help. Sheriff Romero is driving to Nick Ford’s compound, having just been told by Norma that the drug boss took her son. Romero spots Dylan, who comes running up the road and tells Romero (in an oddly casual way) that he just killed Ford. Romero tells Dylan to get in the car, and the two set off to find Norman together.
They arrive at Ford’s compound, and while Dylan waits by the car, Romero, with gun drawn, goes into the house. He finds Ben, the security guy, looting Ford’s safe, aware that his boss is dead and the game is over. When Romero asks where Norman is and Ben won’t confess, Romero just punches the guy in the head and threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t give up the information. That’s the great thing about Romero. He doesn’t waste time messing around, he just gets straight to his point.
With the knowledge of Norman’s general location, Romero and Dylan rush through the woods looking for the box. When they find all the trailers empty, Romero surmises Ford’s guys must have found out he was dead and cleared out. It’s to the writers’ credit that they respect their audience’s intelligence enough to at least address certain scenarios – such as Ford’s guys all disappearing, allowing Romero and Dylan to more easily find Norman – that are written for the sake of story convenience.
In the box, Norman hears Dylan calling out to him, so he musters up his remaining strength and starts screaming in order to lead his big brother to him. Romero and Dylan head toward Norman’s voice, and we get an impressive overhead shot juxtaposing the enormous, picturesque woods with the smallness of the determined pair sprinting up a grassy path.
Romero and Dylan find the box, and as they open it we see Norman’s shocked face, so disbelieving of his rescue that he asks Dylan and Romero if it’s really them. Of course, his question may also be a result of his new awareness that he can distort reality when he’s traumatized.
Dylan assures Norman it is really them, and then he pulls Norman into a hug, providing a long- awaited brotherly moment. Dylan is so relieved to have his brother back that he doesn’t want to let him go, but Romero finally pulls them apart, and they help Norman to the car so he can get medical attention. And all of that happened before the opening title sequence!
Norma arrives at the hospital, desperate to see Norman. When she gets to his bed in the ER, she sees Dylan and asks how “they” found Norman. Norma is surprised to learn Dylan actually found him with Romero. As she sits beside an injured Norman, Norma turns around, and with an outpouring of emotion, declares her love for her oldest son. Now, some may say she was just grateful to Dylan for finding Norman, but there has been ample evidence all along that Norma cares deeply for Dylan. Yes, she was grateful to him, but in that moment her emotions overwhelmed her, and she didn’t hold back like she usually does with him. After all this time, Norma finally told Dylan how she really feels about him. Dylan was so shocked, however, that his only response was to make a hasty exit under the guise of finding Norman’s doctor.
When Norman wakes up momentarily and sees his mother, he’s very anxious to tell her something. He knows it was Ms. Watson’s father who was behind his abduction. He also had memories while in the box – but Norma won’t let him go down that path. After all, she just got him back. She tells him he just needs to rest for now.
As Norma and Norman arrive home, they’re greeted by Emma, who wants to know what happened to Norman. Norma engineers a quick lie, albeit a poor one – saying Norman went to the ER with the stomach flu (With both his hands bandaged and visibly injured? Really?). Norma fills Norman in on Emma’s decision to quit because of always feeling left out, and some subtle humor is injected in the scene, which is a common thing for this show to do during dramatic moments, often utilizing Vera Farmiga or Nestor Carbonell’s sharp comedic timing.
Norma tucks Norman into bed and heads to the market to get something for dinner. This seemed mildly out of character for Norma, who is normally so overprotective of Norman. He just got home from the ER, having been kidnapped and mentally and physically traumatized, and Norma’s leaving him alone? What if he starts to feel sick or has another blackout? But, it’s obvious the writers needed Norma to be at a place where she could run into Christine. When she does, Norma apologizes for the things she said to George, but Christine is furious, calling Norma a train wreck and stating she can undo Norma’s city council seat in a heartbeat, as the mayor will be over her house soon.
In the evening, over dinner, Norman attempts to tell Norma about the memories he had while in the box, but Norma stops him, saying Romero already told her about the semen sample found in Ms. Watson. When she tells Norman that he only slept with his teacher – he didn’t kill her, Norman tearfully suggests that he actually may have. And here, Freddie Highmore’s uncanny ability to change demeanors from nonchalant to distraught in an instant lends credence to the current fragility of Norman’s mental state.
Norman is adamant about the realness of what he remembers, connecting the gruesome memory of killing Ms. Watson with the nostalgic recollection of the taste of gingerbread at Christmas. He tells his mother that it “makes everything else make sense,” and that he now realizes he does things when he blacks out.
But Norma won’t hear anymore. She yells, banging on the table, screaming for Norman to stop. Then, as if her son didn’t just have a revelation about killing another human being, she sweetly tells Norman to eat his pot roast. Vera Farmiga, just like Highmore, also has the ability to change her character’s manner instantaneously. In this case, she moves from an unhinged mother in denial, to a sickly sweet June Cleaver clone in a few words and facial expressions.
The next day, Norman goes into his mother’s room, and takes a (not so well hidden) gun out of her drawer. In the motel office, Norma is looking online for plane tickets out of the country. Romero comes in with the address and date of the polygraph, and tells a reluctant Norma he may have sent the wrong guy to prison and he can’t live with that. He won’t reopen the Watson case if Norman passes the test.
Later, Norman calls Emma at the motel office and asks her to run a book up to his room. Once she’s there, he confronts her about quitting, but Emma reiterates that it’s too hard for her to be always on the outside looking in regarding Norman and his family. Norman then agrees to tell Emma about what happened with Dylan. He explains how Norma was raped by her brother as a teenager, and how Dylan is his mother and uncle’s child. Emma is tearful, and Norman tells her that Norma loves her, and asks her to consider staying on. This conversation with Emma was one of the things on Norman’s to-do list – a list that Norman made in order to get his affairs in order before taking any action with that gun.
Meanwhile, some loose ends regarding the drug war have to be tied up. Jodi Morgan calls her brother Zane, explaining that Dylan killed Nick Ford and everything has changed. Now that Ford is out of the picture, Zane is free to do whatever he sees fit with Dylan. She asks him to come over, and as the siblings hang up, we get a shot of Romero and Dylan, standing behind Jodi – and we realize it’s Zane that will be dealt with as soon as he arrives.
Next we see Norman in the basement, organizing his taxidermy, another thing on his final to-do list. He also has dinner with his mom, including homemade apple pie for dessert – one of the final items on his list – driving home this poignant narrative of a distraught kid who would rather spend time on his hobbies and indulging his sweet tooth, but who has come to the end of his rope. By the time Norman and his mother are in the living room dancing together, it’s clear he feels it’s the last time he will ever feel his mother’s touch.
Back at Jodi’s, Romero, Dylan, and Jodi are all in the bedroom waiting for Zane to arrive so Romero could kill him. Zane turns the tables on them, shutting down the lights, which causes them to separate in order to investigate and find more weapons (breaking the cardinal rule in horror genres of never separating). Zane confronts Jodi, who slices his arm with a knife. It’s not enough to stop him, though, and Zane retaliates by murdering his sister. He then points the gun at Dylan, but Romero walks in just in time to stop him.
Romero reminds Zane of his promise to take Zane down, then proceeds to blow him away. This is another example of Romero not wasting anyone’s time and getting right to the point, even if he’s about to kill a guy. When the dust settles, Romero explains what the story will be (and this isn’t the first time he concocted a story involving the Bates family) that will explain the dead bodies to the authorities.
Now there’s a power vacuum, and Romero has Dylan pegged to fill it. Dylan tells him he’s not that guy, but Romero knows that Dylan plays by the rules that allow everyone to live in the town peacefully. Romero is willing to look the other way (at unlawful activities) to an extent, and he trusts Dylan not to take things too far.
With the drug war neatly tied up, the focus shifts back to Norma, as she meets Dylan and fills him in on Norman’s self-professed murderous activities and upcoming polygraph test. She has tickets to Montreal – three of them – and she wants Dylan to leave the country with her and Norman. She then apologizes profusely for the many years she shut Dylan out, tearfully telling him how much she loves him, and how she wouldn’t trade him for anything. Afterward, Dylan is so stunned by his mother’s declarations that he could only respond by pulling her to him and holding on tightly.
This moment was two seasons in the making. There was always underlying care when Dylan and Norma interacted, but their volatile relationship made them distance themselves from one another. To have Norma profess how special and loved Dylan is represented a true breakthrough in their connection with one another.
Dylan persuades Norma to let Norman take the polygraph test so they could at least know the truth. Dylan assures her they will deal with what comes, even if that means institutionalizing Norman for his own safety and the safety of others.
With a new perspective, Norma goes back to the house to speak with Norman, but she can’t find him. Instead, she finds a stuffed bird on her bed, with a note from Norman saying he and his mom will always be a part of each other. Norma’s immediate realization of what this means makes her bolt out the door to find her son before it’s too late.
Norma runs to the motel office, and Emma tells her that Norman just headed into the woods. Norma quickly catches up, but when Norman sees her, he takes off running. Norman falls and injures his ankle, which allows Norma to get close enough to tackle Norman to the ground. Norman is determined to do what he went in the woods to do, though, so he actually kicks his mother in the chest. He doesn’t want to hurt her, but he has to follow through with his plan – he doesn’t want to be who he is. He knows the blackouts make him do bad things. When he finally asks his mother about what happened the day his father died, Norma makes a deal with him – the gun for the truth.
Norma reveals how Norman’s father was abusing Norma and Norman stepped in to protect his mother. From the trauma of seeing his mom hurt, Norman went into a fugue state, killing his father, but was unable to recall any memories of his act. This is another startling revelation that was two seasons in the making (That is, the audience knew, but Norman didn’t). But now Norman finally knows the truth about what he’s capable of when he blacks out.
Norma pleads with Norman to take the polygraph test and face whatever comes from the results together. She throws the responsibility for her own life onto Norman, saying she would die shortly after him if he were to commit suicide. She begs Norman, and then kisses him – an odd, way-too intimate kiss. In the end, Norman concedes to take the test: His mother has won.
The next morning, Norman, Norma, and Dylan all ride down to the location of the polygraph test, with Romero waiting as they drive up to a warehouse. It’s worth noting that in the car scene, Norman was clutching the straps of his mother’s purse. It was a brilliant yet subtle piece of foreshadowing to the last scene of the finale.
With Norma, Dylan and Romero waiting outside, Declan (Romero’s dad’s old partner) hooks Norman up to the polygraph test. Norman truthfully answers all the questions, leading to the final one: Did he kill Ms. Watson? Just then, “Norma” shows up and reveals to Norman that he wasn’t the one who killed his teacher – but she did. The hint of a smile from both Norman and “Norma” as she tells Norman they must keep her act a secret made the scene all the more fascinatingly disturbing.
Declan comes out and in a very Hitchcock-type scene, says “In my opinion, Norman Bates did not kill Blair Watson.” Well, he’s right technically. As Dylan and Norma celebrate with hugs, the last scene of the finale shows Norman with his head down, still strapped to the machine. It’s a lengthy shot, and the camera never strays from Norman, but pans around him. With (the real) Norma entering the room and just barely visible in the background, we get the moment. Norman slowly, ominously, looks straight at the camera – his alter ego having just made its first real appearance. It was priceless.
And so ends a season of Bates Motel that was all about breaking points: For Emma to tolerate being an outsider; for the rival drug bosses to share territory; for Romero’s ability to look the other way; for Dylan to live without his family in his life: for Norma to bury the truth about both her sons: and for Norman to accept the devastating reality about himself.
The revelations of this season may be a game changer for Bates Motel. We’ve known since last season that Norman killed his father, but that was in defense of his mother’s life. Up to this point, we could still root for Norman, and Freddie Highmore is so good at playing up Norman’s earnestness to do right by others and find the truth, that he always had our empathy. Now that we have confirmation that Norman actually committed murder, will the character still retain our sympathy?
We can only speculate where all this will lead. If the drug storyline (this season’s only weak link) continues to play a part next season, Dylan can now at least become the center of that narrative. Emma’s story can go anywhere, and hopefully the writers utilize Olivia Cooke’s likable character more often next season. Ironically, despite Norman and Norma’s suffocating relationship that contributed to Norman’s beginning descent into psychosis, Dylan and Norma now actually have a real chance at a normal mother/son relationship.
Bates Motel’s main strength lies in crafting fascinating, multi-layered characters who, despite their bad choices and aberrant behavior, make us care about them. We hope there’s a chance for Dylan, Norma – and even Norman. And since the show is more a reboot than a true prequel, we don’t really know how it will all end. There may still be a possibility that Norman Bates escapes becoming Psycho. Even if he doesn’t, the story of how he gets there will be worth watching.