If there was any lingering confusion over the fate of Norma Bates, presumed dead at the end of last week’s episode thanks to Norman’s attempted murder-suicide, this week’s finale put any speculation to rest: Norma is dead. Very dead. So dead she’s in a morgue. And Norman? Well, he’s dealing with this about as well as anyone who is obsessed with his mother would be… which is to say, not that well.
The paramedics arrive to take Norman away as he slips in and out of a dream of a happy, young Norma and her loving son. Romero is being questioned by a woman named Detective Chambers (Alison Matthews), who asks if he’s seen “the note.” Romero is confused until he reads the letter Norma wrote, along with the ring she’s left: a coincidental perfect suicide note. But Romero, bless him, is smarter than this. He still knows Norman’s somewhat insane, and knows that Norma would never leave like that.
At the hospital, Norman is trying to process his acceptance of Norma’s death (“grieving is a complicated process” they tell him, but no one’s really met Norman Bates). He’s got no one to call or to take him home, but that’s just fine, because Norman can take care of himself. Romero shows up anyway, and he’s the last person Norman wants to see. He lashes out, blaming him for Norma’s death, telling him he tried to warn him. He then tells Romero he doesn’t want to see him anywhere, and that’s when Romero completely loses it. Norma’s dead, right? So why does it matter so much if Romero stays away? I’m glad Romero realizes Norman’s unhinged, but sadly, that doesn’t help much. The relationship between Norman and Romero is so interesting to me because on one hand, it could be completely creepy and uncomfortable — after all, Norman is just a kid who is unhealthily obsessed with his mother. But Nestor Carbonell and Freddie Highmore are so dangerously good at drawing a line between being two people who love Norma and are fighting for her affection, even in death, that it works. Bates never gets enough credit for its creative direction, and it’s one more reason why this show is so damn good.
Norman comes home and calls out for his mother… who isn’t there. He eats by himself (a plate set for Norma, obviously) and goes to her room and sleeps alone, pretending that she’s there. When he wakes up, he throws all his meds away before being interrupted by a phone call from Mr. Willcock (Jay Brazeau). The funeral home director wants to speak to Romero about arrangements, but no, Norman will take care of it. (He plays it off as his mom is just out, but changes his tune once he realizes who is on the phone.) Romero, meanwhile, goes to the morgue. They’re reluctant to let him see his wife, but eventually Romero gets his way, and gets one last moment with her where he kisses her and puts the wedding ring back on her finger. It’s so unbelievably sad because you know Romero loves this woman, and that he did everything in his power to save her… and it still wasn’t ever going to be enough.
While Norman is taking his rage out on a piece of property (“I just dropped it”), Detective Chambers arrives, wanting to talk. Norman tells his version of the story, how Norma was upset the night that she went to bed, and then starts talking about Romero. He talks about Norma protectively and bad mouths his step-father, using everything from their short marriage to his drug trade past to prove that he only married Norma so he could have her to herself and get Norman locked up. “I love my mother more than anything else in the world but she did not have stellar taste in men,” he declares. Clearly, this isn’t taken seriously because Norman is picking out Norma’s funeral dress and is in distress, because hey, the kid just lost his mom.
At the funeral home, Norman meets with Willcock and his son. (Norman knows what embalming is, so anyone that says taxidermy doesn’t come in handy can use this as proof.) He asks to see her and is allowed, on the promise he won’t get upset. We all know where this is going, right? Protective, creepy Norman touches his mother tenderly and then takes Romero’s ring off, though I have a hard time believing no one actually saw him do it. Norman’s smooth, but he’s not that smooth.
NEXT: I imagine death so much it feels just like a memory
Romero visits the man who fixed the furnace for Norma and who also told her that it was leaking. Romero wants to know if Norman was there when he told her that and he can’t seem to remember, until Romero starts assaulting him, and then he admits it’s possible he could have heard it. A distraught Norman comes home and hears the piano playing and runs up the stairs excitedly. But there’s no Norma and no piano, just a dark and empty house. Dylan calls from Seattle to offer condolences, telling his brother he’s there if he needs him. And whaddya know, Norman has a heart — he’s actually affected by Dylan’s words. I cannot express enough admiration for Freddie Highmore’s acting in general but in particular his work on these past few episodes. “I doubt she’ll ever reach out to me,” says Dylan about Norma, and I am now going to spend the next few months screaming about how Dylan has NO IDEA his mother is actually dead. (Of the things I can’t wait to see in season 5, that resulting story line and Dylan’s response is one of them.) Norman tells his brother they shouldn’t talk anymore, effectively cutting off their relationship as much as he can. One thing I particularly loved about the storytelling of this season is that for four years, we’ve seen Dylan and Norma’s relationship grow and change from people who didn’t want to be around each other to people who found their way back to each other as family. Leaving Dylan where he started at the beginning of the series: With Norma “dead” to him, on the outskirts of the family — is a strangely smart bookend, considering Norma is dead for real.
And if we needed any idea of how much Norman (and consequently Norma) has been isolated, consider Norma’s funeral: a lavish, beautiful affair attended by only her son. It’s both sad and haunting at the same time. Norman gives his speech alone to a mostly empty room, though he loses it at one point when he yells at her for leaving him, causing the priest to become concerned. Romero shows up soon after and Norman, already volatile, tells him he needs to leave. That’s bad, but then he gives him back the ring he took from Norma — and Romero’s had enough. Norma would be so proud of your rage, Romero! (Just throw in a few expletives and you’ll carry on her tradition wonderfully.) But we all know that because Norman is a grieving kid and Romero is an adult, Norman will probably walk away from this with only sympathy. An angry Romero goes to the office where he takes out a gun, with the intent (I’ll believe) to kill Norman. (And don’t think that won’t be on his mind next season. Romero’s going on a murder revenge rampage for sure.) Before he can get anywhere, however, he’s cornered and charged for perjury. This is not a good day for Romero. This hasn’t been a good few weeks for Romero. Someone give Romero a hug.
Norman, predictably, is not doing well with his acceptance of Norma’s death. “You can’t just leave me here alone in this abyss where I can’t find you!” he yells out before taking matters into his own hands: And yes, those matters involve going to the cemetery and digging up his mother, who looks beautiful, even in death. After getting her out of the coffin, he hugs her and kisses her, and even makes sure to cover the grave when he’s done. What a kind serial killer Norman is! Norman drives her home, a little taken aback when Norma doesn’t respond to him and acts, well… dead. He puts her on the couch and demands she opens her eyes because after all, she’s home now, and they’re safe. But when he finally gets her eyes open, they’re lifeless and glassy, and it freaks Norman out. The moment is interrupted by Chick, who comes by with food and to offer his condolences. A panicked Norman doesn’t let him past the front door, but Chick manages to get under his skin anyway by telling him, in his trademark creepy way, “You understand that she’s dead, right?”
No. Norman does not understand that because he breaks down after Chick leaves and finally seems to realize what the situation is. Out of options and out of sanity, he runs upstairs and prepares to commit suicide by shooting himself in the mouth… only to be distracted by the piano again. And when he gets downstairs, he’s relieved to find his dreams and hopes have come true. Norma is sitting at the piano playing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” amidst colored lights and a tree and a warm, happy house. “I’d never leave you, you know that,” Norma says as Norman hugs his mother, because everything now feels so right. And as the camera pans away and the lights of Bates Motel are twinkling, we’re left with a feeling very, very reminiscent of how we’d feel when LOST ended each season. Namely… WHAT?
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So begins the questions. Is Norman dead? Is that final scene merely a dream brought on by Norman’s blackouts, or did Norman really kill himself without knowing it, thus allowing himself to be reunited with Norma? Would the show really kill its two main characters? (It could absolutely be done, we know Farmiga will have a presence on the show and appear in flashbacks and we could absolutely have a show that focused on Norma and Norman in some sort of afterlife.) Will Romero’s new goal be killing Norman? (I vote yes.) Will anyone ever wise up to Norman’s actions? Will Dylan ever find out about Norma’s death?
I know it’s the finale, but I’ve got no Bates Bits except to say that I hope Emmy voters are watching. Excellent programming aside (Bates is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated shows on the air aside from The Americans), Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore have done exceptional work this season. These story lines wouldn’t work without them, and I hope their talent continues to be recognized.