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Bates Motel: Inside that shocking season 3 finale

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James Dittiger

SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading if you haven’t watched tonight’s Bates Motel finale.

Have you stopped screaming yet? This is a safe space—so if you’re still shrieking after that shock-a-minute Bates Motel finale, please, continue.

As season 3 came to a close, so, too, did the life of Bradley (Nicola Peltz), who appeared to Norman looking like hell—only to be sent directly there when Norman, slipping into the personality of jealous Norma, bashed her head in against some rocks, ending her “sex kitten” scheme to take Norman away from Norma.

This, of course, came after Norma tied Norman up and dragged him down to the basement to keep him at bay (but lo, he escaped). On top of that, Romero finally snapped with Bob Paris, shooting his old friend in cold blood after Bob accused Romero of becoming his father, while on a lighter note, Dylan and Emma finally kissed after he tracked her down to convince her to take a new pair of lungs. It was perhaps the only moment of tenderness in an episode of utter insanity.

We talked to executive producer Kerry Ehrin to break down the night’s proceedings:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When Dylan and Norma went into the basement looking for Norman, I thought, well, they’ve finally done it—Norman could have popped out and killed either of them at that moment, and it would have felt completely acceptable for the character. So, you’ve done it. You’ve turned Norman Bates into a genuinely scary person.

Kerry Ehrin: I know! We’re happy.

Who is Norman now, after this finale? Is Norman-as-Norma a new normal rather than an occasional slip?

Norman is lost. He’s somebody who’s going in and out of a fictional reality in place in his head, which was originally to help him handle stress. The dissociative disorder that he has is something that people develop from being in trauma as children, and it is literally pulling another person out of you to replace you when you feel overwhelmed by circumstances that you can’t handle. So in many ways, “Mother” is that for Norman. It’s somebody that he can call on when he feels out of control. The other side of that is, he has this whole warped, psychosexual, frustrated, messed-up psychology with his mother which also feeds into it. So it’s just created this being that lives in him, and that weirdly is a comfort to him even though she does some really scary shit. [laughs] It’s kind of amazing. The original mythology is one of the things Carlton and I were so drawn to. The actual brick-and-mortar of what this character is made of is so fascinating and so deep. It was hard to not want to do it.

I was convinced Norma would die in the finale. Maybe that’s silly, but—

I don’t think that’s silly at all! I feel like that could happen, honestly, at any point. It could happen in any episode from now until the end of the series! That’s not at all silly.

I have this vague memory of an interview that said Norman killing Norma would basically be the last thing we see in the show. Is that true?

You mean [the last thing we see] in the series? No.

The Norman-Norma relationship always seemed a bit more reciprocal in past seasons, but this year really saw Norman coming on stronger and Norma pulling away. Why the change for her?

She’s starting to be a little bit afraid of him, on some level, and I think she’s just taking a step back and observing more and allowing herself to be less needy when she’s with him. Because that’s always where that came from with her, that bonding and that needing to be close to him all the time. I think she’s more worried about him right now than she is about herself, and it’s causing her to put a little distance between them. And also, the woman has always just had this dream for a normal life, and as she’s starting to develop feelings for someone who isn’t Norman, in a way I think that she has taken a step back because of that as well. Because she’s trying to figure this out, and I think that this person represents normalcy more than Norman, and it may in fact be Norman that’s in the way of her ever having normalcy, and I don’t think she’s ever realized that before.

You’re of course talking about Romero. Do you delight in the slow-burn of that relationship? Why do you think people love Normero?

Carlton and I, we could feel it happening, certainly by the end of the first season, Vera and Nestor [Carbonell] are just so interesting together and every time they were on screen together it was just delicious and fascinating, so we kept wanting to unpeel layers of him and see where that would go. So, a little bit, we share the same enthusiasm as the audience. But he has a huge part in that equation with Norma, because he’s probably the first…certainly the first man, possibly the first person in her life who isn’t her son that she has ever had such a close relationship with, in the sense that she has told him secrets, that he knows things about her, that she has allowed herself to be vulnerable in front of him. Those are huge things for a person like her. So that bond, even if it hasn’t…even if they haven’t kissed, which I know people are freaking out about, is very, very important for her, and it’s very real. And I think pushing it to the next level is a whole path of storytelling.

To the point of normalcy, I love the pairing of Dylan and Emma. It felt like good counter-programming to the rest of this season of crazy. How did that story come about?

When you take on the life of a show, it really does become sort of a real world, and I have to say those two characters just kind of found each other. At the end of last season, it just occurred to us—when Emma was so mad at Norman and just wanted to be part of the family more—it was like, she and Dylan have so much in common because they are so outside of this family fortress that they can’t get into or be part of. And it felt like, God, if those two ever bumped into each other and realized that, it would be incredibly meaningful to both of them. And also, they both have this intense longing for family. They’re both kind of happy people who were never allowed to be happy. It really grew out of the chemistry of the characters, which is the best way. There was honestly no maneuvering in it.

So you were surprised they got together, but do you have an endgame planned for where they’ll end up?

We have a strong feeling about it, yeah.

James Dittiger

Nicola Peltz comes back just to get her head smashed against a rock. Do you tell her, “We want to bring you back! So we can kill you back off!”?

[laughs] The truth is that from the pilot, we always felt like this was going to happen. We didn’t know she was going to have a movie come up in season two and that we would lose her, so it kind of came around to, okay, this is where Norman is, we’re going to rebirth him as this guy in Psycho and it felt poetically correct that it should be Bradley.

You mean you always knew Bradley would be the one to die in this big way?

Yeah. When he saw her at that party and you as an audience are going, “Oh my God, do not make friends with this girl!” [laughs] We put that out there way back then, and it felt like a story that needed to be completed and that it had much more meaning than if it was someone we didn’t know, that we didn’t care about. I mean, we don’t want to completely protect Norman. He’s doing bad things! Part of what we want to do is just kind of put it out there and let people feel a multitude of reactions. Let them feel bad for Norman, let them feel horrible for Bradley. It isn’t like we want to protect him and have him kill only bad guys. And for Bradley, it just seemed like the actual ending of her story, from way back when we introduced her.

Tell me about planting the seeds of so many Psycho references this year, even from the very beginning of the season with Norman spying on Annika in the shower.

I think this is the year that we earned the right to use more of that. If we had come out of the gate doing that, it could have been cheesy. I think it could have turned people off. Also, it felt like the first part of the storytelling was getting people to see that this is a different world than that movie. It isn’t at the movie yet. And [we wanted to] get people to invest in the characters as real people, get them to know and love and connect with Norma, who isn’t alive in the movie. And all of that, I think, would have been compromised if you’re doing a close-up of the shower drain.

That’s very true. It could have felt heavy-handed, even.

I think it would take you out of the reality of the world we were hoping to create. By season 3, I feel like we’ve earned people’s genuine interest in this world and now we can start weaving in a little bit more of that fabric of the movie. And honestly, it’s really rewarding. It’s one of those things that’s worth waiting for because the time is right to do it and it’s going to be richer now than it would have been.

Everything Norma said this season had such gravitas to it. Things like “You’re going to kill me, Norman!” and “You’re going to outlive me.” Is there a piece of dialogue from the season you really want people to have heard?

That’s a great question. I have to say that when those scenes get written, it is more about being inside the character’s head and what she was feeling in that moment, which is just like any mother. [laughs] That’s me with my kids three days a week, screaming at them, “You’re going to kill me!” And I think in the moment, she was just honestly trying to explain to him that he doesn’t understand what she puts him through. But when you step back from the scene and you’re not inside it emotionally, and you look at it and you’re editing, you go okay, well that’s kind of meaningful! So I think we don’t really try to plan the scenes around the line, but they come out of the scene. But lines like that are part of the fabric and texture, so they’re going to appear more and more. It’s going to have more meaning.

Tease up season 4. Will it be about finding help for Norman, a la Norma’s brief exploration into researching health care?

Carlton and I are fascinated by that subject. I think Norma is becoming stronger, and she’s going to want to try to actually help Norman. How that plays out, what that looks like exactly, we don’t know the details of yet, but she’s definitely going to try. And also those places are insanely expensive, and if you don’t have health insurance—and even if you do—they’re crazy expensive. So where that money is going to come from, what Norma Bates will have to do…what pretzel she will tie herself into, I don’t know yet. But she wants, more than anything in the world, to fix things for her son and to be there for him. Also I think given her co-dependency on Norman, her ever getting him help is going to be harder for her than it will be for him.

Does he even recognize that he needs help?

He doesn’t, and it will become more and more cloudy to him. He’s not going to understand everything that she’s trying to do. I think some of it will feel threatening to him. And there’s also “the Romero” of it, and how that’s going to play into all of this, and “the Dylan and Emma” of it. So there’s a lot. I think we’re going to be ratcheting in on the very intense inner workings of this family.

James Dittiger

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