Norma and Norman Bates are arguably the most complicated mother-son duo on television. They’ve got enough secrets to last a lifetime. And with that in mind, Bates Motel showrunner Kerry Ehrin is blogging some of the show’s most pivotal episodes, breaking down exactly what’s happening and why.
Today we are welcoming the multi-talented Freddie Highmore (Norman Bates) to the blog, which we are writing from a conference room on the Universal lot. We have crashed it, as I can’t find the key to my proper office, just FYI.
KERRY: Why did you initially have a desire to participate in writing for Bates Motel?
FREDDIE: I wanted to be involved in the wider process of doing the show. It seemed odd to me to put so much energy into shooting the season over a period of five months in Vancouver and then just pack it all up and leave the show behind in the hiatus. And then come back at the beginning of the next season and just discover how Norman had been getting along and what he’d been up to in the minds of the writers. Maybe I just missed Norman, but I felt like I had ideas that I wanted to contribute in terms of how he developed.
In a collaborative world of TV I feel like it would be rather egotistical to assume you have or to seek out complete creative control over one character. But I had ideas I wanted to bring to the table, in a merely suggestive way. So I think that’s where I first had a burning desire to write.
KERRY: It’s a funny thing about writing that it’s not necessarily something you think you can do, or should do, or that it makes any logical sense to do. But it’s like, there you were in the middle of Bates, and you always wanted to talk about the scripts with me, go through them, not in an actor-y way, but in an almost purely academic way. It has always been great fun to talk about writing with you. And you always had good ideas.
FREDDIE: Why, thank you. One of the things that I loved about spending time in the writers’ room was discovering what a truly collaborative space that you and Carlton (Cuse) have fostered. A space where anything goes: there’s no judgment and you don’t have to hold back. And what’s fun is that at the end — even though individual writers names are on each script — everyone knows that they each played a part in shaping every story. At the end of the season you honestly don’t remember who pitched what idea.
KERRY: I personally keep a log of everything I have contributed. (SILENCE) . This is a joke by the way, but moving on… let’s talk about your episode, “Unfaithful.” The thing I love about this episode is that it is a story of three people who are all trying to control the truth as they have convinced themselves it exists. Norma believes herself to be in love with Romero, Romero believes that Norma is in love with him and that they can have a life together. Norman believes that his mother and Romero are deluding themselves because she will never be able to love someone separately from him.
FREDDIE: And Norman’s right…
KERRY: Well, yes of course you think he is! But he’s not right in a universal sense, meaning there’s literally no way in God’s universe Norma could have figured out how to be with Romero and not have dissolved from the absence of her co-dependent relationship with Norman. There’s this thing called therapy. But since that isn’t an option for her, because she is literally incapable of stepping away from the co-dependence she herself created with Norman, it is in fact correct that Norman is right. Although I personally think Nestor thinks Romero is more right.
FREDDIE: Norman is certainly “wrong” in the sense that he misjudges Romero’s intentions; [Romero] does have sincere feelings for Norma. But Norman’s right when he says in the climactic scene that this is “their world,” that she’s “hypocritical” and that the idea that they could ever be separated and still be happy is nothing more than an illusion. That’s the tragedy of the entire show. And of course if Romero had never come along, then perhaps they could have lived blissfully in “their world,” happily ever after.
KERRY: That’s a very interesting perspective, Norman.
FREDDIE: It’s all Romero’s fault. He’s got it coming for him. Ten cuidado, Nestor.
KERRY: So in that last scene with the axe, why doesn’t Norman just take his head off?
FREDDIE: Because Norman has a genuine moral compass…
KERRY: He knows his mother loves this guy, and he loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her…
FREDDIE: I don’t think it’s that. I think he honestly does not want to be a killer, even though he hates Romero in that moment. He fights hard to control that part of him. Even so, it’s perhaps not that he knows she loves Romero, more that while he recognizes she thinks she feels that way, he knows that she’s actually deluded about her love for him, that she’s being tricked and manipulated by him. The other interesting thing here is that Norman isn’t acting out of purely selfish reasons: It’s not just that he hates Romero on a personal level, it’s that he genuinely believes the best thing for Norma would be for her to recognize her delusion and leave him. He’s trying to look after her. Both Norma and Norman always try to care for each other in the best way possible. They just get it so wrong.
KERRY: Well said. What scene were you most anxious about writing?
FREDDIE: There was a part of me that felt like whatever I ended up writing, I was going to be in safe hands. Both with you and Carlton, who always provide such support, but also in terms of the actors who were going to be performing these scenes. I mean, I think whatever script you placed in front of Vera, she could find a way to turn it into something incredibly memorable. She’s a genius, and elevates everything to a whole new level.
KERRY: Yes, she is. She does. And she always imbues everything with a very specific truth. It’s fascinating to watch her do different takes — all so different but all so utterly right and real. But don’t use Vera’s awesomeness as an excuse to avoid my question! If you had to pick a scene…
FREDDIE: Hmmm. I think it would be the scene in the dining room where the fight breaks out. That’s where everything needed to be wrapped up and brought together./p>
KERRY: Yes — it’s where all the threads converge. The heart of the episode. The explosion —
FREDDIE: — and where the characters reveal their true emotions. It’s also one of those scenes you can’t “pre-plan” on paper. I remember feeling a little anxious when we were getting bogged down in the specific emotional mechanics in the writers’ room and then the chatter died down and I was told, “Meh, you just have to find it in the writing.”
KERRY: I don’t remember the “meh.” We were reassuring you. It was more like, “We know you will find it in the writing!”
FREDDIE: From what I recall the sense was more, “We’ve mapped this out as much as we are going to but now it’s up to you…” And underneath that, “You BETTER find it in the writing. Don’t f— it up!”
KERRY: Wow, this doesn’t sound like the happiest place on earth at all. But seriously that is just a huge part of being a writer — that at the end of the day you are left with the responsibility of “finding” a scene in world of infinite possibilities. And you did find it. It’s a wonderful scene. Well done.
Freddie: Thank you.
Kerry: You didn’t f— it up. (Smiles.)
P.S.:We are now going to try to kidnap a golf cart on the lot.