By Adam Carlson
May 21, 2013 at 05:00 AM EDT
Joseph Lederer

Spoiler alert! Don’t keep reading unless you’ve seen the season finale of Bates Motel.

So that’s what Norman’s first kill looks like. Not his first first kill, mind you. That happened before the pilot — as far as we know, Norman attacking his father was his first homicidal break. But this was different: This was Norman being comforted by an older woman and then coerced by his “mother” into slashing her throat. That’s right: Our budding psycho offed sweet, pre-pedophiliac Miss Watson in Monday’s finale, which also included a shooting and a high school dance. We didn’t see Norman pull out a large, sharp butcher knife. But you can imagine.

That moment, the finale’s last, completes the closed circuit that has been the first season of Bates Motel: Accessorized alternately with retro-period detail and many talented, fog-streaked faces, the show succeeded in its explicit thesis — How Norman Bates Went Bad. How? An overbearing mother. Sexually mature and emotionally generous women. Sexually generous and emotionally mature teenage girls. Fussiness. Rain.

I’m pretty sure the show has come close to greatness — somewhere between its fourth and seventh episodes, I’d say. But the finale, “Midnight,” was more diligent than anything else. After 10 episodes, there are a lot of pieces to move around. It moved them. Dylan drew closer to Bradley and then Norma; Norman drew away from Dylan. Romero revealed more about himself, as did Norma, who we found out was continually raped by her brother growing up. There was a wonderful, room-temperature scene at a shrink’s office. The lines that weren’t portentous were leaden with a peeling irony, as when the shrink asked Norma, “When you were little, is this what you thought being a parent would be like?”

Least of all was most everything to do with Norman and Miss Watson, whose interaction has been pointing toward a bad end. Did she deserve to have her throat slashed? She was trying something weird, undressing caddy-corner to Norman after cleaning him up from a fight with Bradley’s boyfriend. Even the camera thought so, or why else would it shoot her at breast-level? But maybe that’s just “mother” talking…

Their relationship betrays a possibly essential weakness in the show: Just because Bates Motel follows the mental and spiritual disintegration of the Bates family does not mean that it must only be about that. But especially in these last few weeks, it could feel like the show was mostly interested in pissing Norman off. Bates is better when compared to prequel cousin Hannibal — it’s less poetic but more humane, with an investment in its characters that exceeds the morbid. That’s given us characters like Dylan and Emma Decody, who may be the show’s secret grace — its greatest sufferer (she’ll be dead of a chronic illness before anyone can kill her) whose soul isn’t being flattened by suffering. By contrast, Norman can seem like a Sisyphean cipher. (Highmore has the freakouts down pat, but each one has less effect the easier it comes on.)

The season’s second major arc was wrapped up almost as neatly as its first, and in the same basic pattern: Norma is near her tormentor being shot. Here, it was “Jake”/Joe, who faced off against Sheriff Romero before being baited into bending down to scoop up a bag full of money and then bam-bam! Romero filled him with lead. As he reminded Norma, “When I say trust me, trust me.”

In my dream vision for season 2, Norman’s mental and emotional instability takes a backseat to his family’s slow rebuilding in White Pine Bay. He and Dylan are already closer than they were before the pilot (though less close now that Bradley is between them, sigh), and Dylan is calling Norma “mom” again (at least as long as she’s holding a gun). Imagine it: The three Bates plotting out a way to survive in the sprawling, secret, marijuana-filled town, especially since Norman just killed the woman we now know was Bradley’s father’s secret lover? It’d be like Breaking Bad meets Twin Peaks, with each season turning up the pressure cooker on Norman’s psyche while burying him beneath a narrative mountain of family, adolescence, and criminals doing criminal things.

What I don’t want is many more scenes of Norman being introduced to women and then being dismantled by them because Norman Bates Doesn’t Like Women. It’s a rejection of some of the very notions put forth by the show — including the spooky-spectacular sequence from episode 7, when Bradley rejected Norman, which almost drove him to a breakdown until she broke the spell of his psychosis with a hug. There’s time for all that, of course. Tonight ended with Norman blameless and back at the motel, soaking wet (blood washes out in the rain), his only memory of running home to his mother, alone.

What did you think of the finale? What are you hoping to see next season? And how delicious were those très-Hitchcockian shots?

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Read more:

‘Bates Motel’ renewed for second season

‘Bates Motel’ star Freddie Highmore teases tonight’s season finale, takes the EW Pop Culture Personality Test — VIDEO

‘Bates Motel’: EP Carlton Cuse talks the shocker for [SPOILER] and what’s next

  • TV Show
  • 5
  • TV-MA
run date
  • 03/18/13
  • In Season
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