Norma's parenting skills take a toll, Romero takes care of business, and Norman's mental state reaches a new level in the season finale.

By Andrea Towers
May 13, 2015 at 02:40 PM EDT
James Dittiger/A&E

I’m going to call this season of Bates Motel “the one where everything that you thought would happen didn’t happen.” That’s not to say this run of episodes was unsatisfying, but any means—what Bates lacked in its “shock value” was made up in its nuanced storytelling, character moments, and overall creepiness.

Here’s the thing: Despite predicting it at certain points throughout the season, I didn’t think Norma would really die. Not because the show would be afraid to kill off Vera Farmiga, who remains its strongest asset, but because there’s still so much story left between Norma and Norma in the slow burn toward Norman’s descent into becoming a full-fledged serial killer. Sure, Norma could have shown up regularly in Norman’s visions or in flashbacks. But we’ve supposedly got at least another two seasons of Bates and I’d see that as something that might happen next year, if the show really does commit to its rumored five season run.

Anyway, let’s dig into our finale, which starts with Dylan noticing that Caleb’s left the guitar for him. This is really Caleb coming full circle from the season premiere: He didn’t want anything to do with his dad, and he wanted him out of his life as quickly as possible. Now, he’s upset and frustrated at the realization that Caleb’s left without so much as saying goodbye.

Norma, meanwhile, is finally (finally!) taking the steps toward getting Norman some much needed help. She visits a pretty nice mental institution, though it’s clear from all of Norma’s reactions that she’s still uncertain about doing this. And it’s understandable. For all her crazy, it’s not easy to consider shipping your child away, not to mention she’s well aware of how Norman will most likely react. Thankfully, the facility has a very liberal limitation policy, so Norma can continue to nurture the “very close” bond that her and Norman have. The downside to all of this? Hospitals and help cost money and insurance—two things Norma doesn’t have. She basically forces the woman into telling her how much money she’d need to pony up for Norman’s stay, and interestingly enough, it’s roughly in the ballpark of what Dylan just gave to Emma for her lung transplant. I’m wondering if this tidbit is going to come back around in a big way next season, especially if Norma finds out that there was available money that could have been used to get Norman help. It could definitely make for some fun character conflict.

Emma’s dad tells her the news about the transplant, but Emma isn’t so celebratory. She’s wary of how she got to the top of the list that fast, and her dad is too excited to notice her hesitancy—at least, until he realizes Emma’s gone missing. He calls Dylan because he thinks he might know where she is. Naturally, Emma’s at the cabin, contemplating life (literally) while freaking out about her procedure. She knows the risks involved of undergoing a surgery like this, and honestly, she doesn’t want to die. Dylan tries to tell her how brave he thinks she is, and attempts to talk her out of living in denial. “You’re a freaking warrior,” he declares as Emma breaks down, overwhelmed by her fear of what this transplant means and the possible effect it could have on her life. Naturally, this is the perfect moment for the two finally share a long overdue kiss. (Hey, at least someone besides Norman got some this season.) I admit that watching Dylan and Emma’s relationship evolve has been interesting, and I wasn’t sure for a while if I wanted them to reach this stage. I liked them as friends, but then again, I also liked that they started out there. And I never felt like it was intentional to try to push them together, even though they had so much in their lives that made them a similar match for each other. But this scene was incredibly well done, and it really showed how Emma was finding her comfort level with Dylan (especially after a failed relationship with Norman), who in turn was finding comfort in Emma, feeling abandoned after Caleb’s departure.

NEXT: The Undoing Of Norman Bates

Can we talk about Romero and Norma for a second? This will they/won’t they relationship has become one of my favorite things about the show, even though I feel sufficiently frustrated that we’ve gotten next to no actual affection between the two. (Aside from a brief kiss on the cheek and a lot of emotional hugs.) And when Romero comes to finally see her, he doesn’t want to apologize for the way he acted. He does, however, want to apologize for not protecting her. Norma admits that it’s her fault that things have gone badly, and breaks down over being scared for Norman, and what will happen if Bob Paris really does take him away.

And no, they don’t kiss. But I don’t for one second buy that this conversation and Norma’s fear isn’t the reason behind why Romero takes care of Bob himself, going so far as to warn him about the DEA coming to arrest him, just so he can corner him on the dock and confront him on his own. He earlier had apologized for not being able to protect Norma, and, well, here’s his opportunity—by killing Bob Paris, he ensures that (despite the man’s promises) Norma’s son will be safe from harm. It’s also a bit of personal closure for him as well, especially since Bob makes the mistake of telling Romero that he’s more like his dad than he’s ever been. I have a feeling that’s gonna sit well with Romero and play into what we might see of his story line next season.

Back at the motel, Norman brings Bradley food, only to find her missing from her room. Where did she go? Back to her parents’ house, where she looted all the money and jewelry and then did some major damage so that it looked like a decent robbery. Hey, that’s one way to get your anger out. When Bradley returns, she tells Norman that she can trade in all the stolen goods for money so that they can run away together. Because yes, she’s still into the idea of running away with him. (That theme is overt in this episode, it seems: Caleb running from Norma, Emma trying to run from her surgery, Bradley trying to make Norman run away from Norma.) Bradley seems to be the only person who can push Norman enough to realize how bad it is for him to be around his mom, and Norman is tempted…but as usual, the thought of leaving is not something he can accept. But Bradley has money now! They can do this! Wouldn’t it be nice if money just solved everything? (The sad thing is, in this case, between Bradley’s running and the price for the mental institution, it sort of would.)

Norman meets Norma in the house when she finally returns home. When Norman asks where she went, Norma tells him she was running errands and when Norma asks where Norman was, he answers he was down in the office. Ah, family secrets. Norma doesn’t bother to beat around the bush and tells Norman that she’s worried about him. He needs help, but help that Norma can’t give. Naturally, Norman (who believes he’s getting better) doesn’t take kindly to Norma’s suggestion. I got actual chills when Norma told him, “You’re going to outlive me, and I want you to be safe,” because, well…we know that all of Norma’s well-intentioned “help” will lead to her downfall. And even though I’m used to the show throwing in subtle lines like this that link back to the story we know Bates ultimately is leading up to, I still find myself creeped out.

Norman, naturally, thinks Norma’s attempt to get him help means that she’s given up on him. He’s packing a suitcase when Norma finds him, and starts ranting about how they’re not good for each other because they’re not healthy. (As has been my mantra all season, sometimes, the craziest people are the ones who are the smartest.) He tells her he’s leaving with Bradley, which of course Norma takes to mean he’s had one of his visions because she still thinks Bradley’s dead. But Norman takes it one step further by telling Norma about the conversation they had outside the motel. Spoiler alert! That conversation was the vision. The fight escalates and Norma ends up falling down the stairs, and I really thought this would be the beginning of the end for Norma Bates. But she gets up pretty quickly and grabs Norma as he tries to leave, knocking him out pretty good. The lengths Norma will go to keep her son from leaving, y’all. The intensity is real.

NEXT: Mother Knows Best

Norma drags Norman to the basement and ties his feet and hands together, just as Norman wakes up to see what his mom is doing. (And I shuddered here, too, thinking of what might be going through Norman’s head…because the last thing we need is for Norman to imagine a situation that could turn sexual.) Norma locks him in the basement and calls Dylan for help. Meanwhile, I can’t help but think of the slight parallel between Norman being trapped in the box last season, and the way he’s lying on the floor trapped in what he always saw as one of the places he felt most safe. When Dylan finally makes it over, he’s surprised to find that Norman’s gotten free of his bonds and vacated the basement. Norma tells him how Norman mentioned going off with Bradley Martin, and Dylan breaks the news to her that Bradley’s not really dead after all.

Norman meets Bradley as she’s leaving, and as they drive away together, Bradley mentions how happy she is that Norman is coming with her. If it seems too good to be true, it is: Norman soon sees a vision of Norma in the backseat, although he tries to tell it to leave. When Vision!Norma doesn’t leave, though, Norman asks Bradley to pull over, telling her, “mother would like to talk to you.” It’s fascinating to watch Norman interact with the demons of his mind, especially when you have the juxtaposition of someone else who is outside of the situation. Bradley is sufficiently confused and a bit freaked out because Norman is starting to really lose it.

When Bradley finally pulls over, Norman storms around to the other side of the car…and in the process, he becomes Norma. I mean, we’ve seen him take on Norma’s mannerisms, and we’ve seen him imagine her in various situations. But in this case, Norman literally becomes Norma, down to the fact that Vera Farmiga is interacting with Nicola Peltz. In some sense, it’s really the final push to show us how much Norman believes he’s his mother when he gets into this headspace. Norman-as-Norma chases Bradley and attacks her in a fit of rage (because how dare she try to take her precious son away), ending with Bradley’s head being smashed against a bed of rocks. It’s brutal, it’s unnerving, and it may not be the death we assumed we’d get…but it’s absolutely disturbing enough to make us realize just how far gone Norman is.

If that’s not bad enough, Norman (having changed back into Norman for the time being) asks the question of “mother…what have you done?” He shoves Bradley’s body in the trunk and drives the car to the dock, pushing it into the lake while apologizing to Bradley for Norma’s actions. And then Vision!Norma appears behind him, telling him that she did him a favor. She couldn’t just let Bradley take her son away. They belong together. Vision!Norma promises that just like she did in previous events, she’ll take care of this and no one will ever know. Not that Norman will be telling anyone about his latest episode, since Norma has asked him not to…and we know Norman always does what mother tells him. “You promise?” Norma asks. “I do,” Norman answers, and is it wrong that the whole thing feels like a strange marriage proposal? In a way, Norman sharing the secret of his murder with his vision feels binding and final.

And so we end the season with another parallel: the first episode of season 3 started with Norman getting into a car with a girl (Annika Johnson), who later disappeared. Everyone thought Norman killed her, and for once, Norman was actually not to blame. The last episode of season 3 involves Norman getting into a car with another girl (Bradley), only this time, he is responsible for her death. When we pull away, we’re left with Norman standing by himself, holding the vision of Norma’s arm. It’s fitting: The season started with Norman on the verge of unraveling, and by the end of 10 episodes, we’ve completed the transition of his mental state. There seems to be no distinction between mother and son anymore…and that’s a hell of a way to leave us curious about next year.

Bates Bits:

  • My two favorite moments of wordplay in this episode both came from Norma’s interaction with Romero: “It will kill me” (in response to Norman being potentially taken away) and “We’re all doomed in the end.” Psycho, indeed.
  • I liked that Romero was shown on the outskirts of all the DEA stuff, highlighting the fact that even though he’s still sheriff, he’s not even involved in his own town’s issues anymore. And I loved the twist of him using that to his advantage to lure Bob out of his house, only to take care of things himself. (What a BAMF Romero has been this season! This is the second guy he’s killed.) But I had a hard time believing no one would realize he was there skulking in the background, especially at Bob’s house (he’s not exactly hiding), and especially given the fact that everyone is already suspicious of him.
  • So no one ended up in that big pit? That was honestly what I was waiting for, given it seemed far too random to dig a 23-foot-deep hole in front of the hotel. I’m even surprised Norman didn’t try to dump Bradley in there. But maybe someone will find a home in there next year.

That’s all (Mother) wrote, for now. It’s been a blast recapping Bates for you all this season, and we’ll see you all next year for more creepiness.