Norman fights to be his own man, and 'Bates Motel' continues to set itself apart
“Oh Mother, what have I done?”
Oh Bates Motel — what have you done? Marion Crane… lives! Norman Bates doesn’t kill her, going full stabby-Mother-stab-stab on Sam Loomis instead. He manages to tamp down Mother long enough to let an innocent woman (save for that duffel fulla Gs) leave Bates Motel in a Miata rather than a shower curtain, followed by a relatively level-headed (all things considered) conversation with Mother regarding why she exists at all. She gives a little history/psychiatry lesson about dissociative identities before explaining what we’ve always known: “We are two parts of the same person.” And then… she convinces him to kill.
In the shift from the season 3 finale’s “Mother, what have you done,” to Monday’s “Mother what have I done,” Norman finally catches up with his other half, much as Bates Motel has been catching up with the film upon which it was built. But while it has seemed all along that Bates and Psycho were running along a perpendicular track, destined to meet at the intersection of Marion Crane and a butcher knife, Monday’s history-altering episode proves that much like Norman and Mother, they’re running something more akin to a parallel path: two parts of the same whole, existing side-by-side rather than barreling toward each other. All tracks lead to the same finish line, but the courses play out in oh-such-different ways.
Now that the two stories have met, Bates Motel is using its source material to jarring narrative perfection by taking the most Psycho sequences possible and pulling a quintessential Bates Motel move on them: circumventing what we think are narrative certainties nearly 50 years in the making, luring us into a false sense of security with those altered outcomes, and finally reminding us when we’re least expecting it of the single thing we’ve known all along: Norman Bates is a killer. The moment Marion Crane leaves the Bates Motel un-stabbed because Norman seems to have truly conquered Mother in the battle for his mind, he gets a call from Dylan to remind us exactly of how Norman handled his mother last season.
Norman has killed before… and if Sam’s demise proves anything, he’ll kill again. Norman Bates can’t outrun his past, nor can Bates Motel outrun Psycho. But it’s sure making a wild ride of the race.
So let the games begin, with Marion pulling up under the blue lights of the Bates Motel and Norman up at the house having one hell of an identity crisis. But that can be set aside momentarily for some professional hospitality. Norman scurries to the front office to find beautiful Marion Crane (still played by Rihanna, still crazy) waiting to check in. Never has Freddie Highmore looked more like Anthony Perkins than as he scuttles around that front office battling his desire to be a good host with his desire not to let Mother — who he now knows is a creation of his own mind — make him pay for his real desire: to look at Marion’s cleavage as she signs “Marie Samuels” in the guest book.
Marion tells Norman she’s in town to meet her boyfriend: “Y’know, the things we do for love.” “Yes I do indeed,” says Norman, thinking of his mother rather than his girlfriend. I wasn’t bowled over by Rihanna’s first dip into the Bates Motel pool (nor was I offended by it, just happily neutral), but her chemistry with Highmore is strong in this front office scene, and it marks a subtle difference between the Marion of Psycho and the Marion of Bates Motel that grows throughout the hour. The modern Marion is more jaded by the bad hands she’s been dealt: perhaps a little more vulnerable to a man who lies about being married, and a little less vulnerable to a man who might want to murder her when possessed by the identity of his dead mother.
And speaking of Mother… though Norman has now accepted that she doesn’t really exist, he still runs into her in the kitchen when he goes to make Marion a sandwich. Was Psycho’s Norman dealing with the same crisis of clarity when Marion came into his life that Bates’ Norman is? This is the kind of trivia that arises as Bates fills in the missing pieces of a two-hour film using its full small-screen episodic glory. For example, you might not know that Mother immediately recommends sourdough for a ham sandwich rather than wheat. Norman says he’s using wheat; Mother tells him she tidied up the mess he’d left in the kitchen; Norman says, “I must have cleaned it up and forgotten.”
“What kind of game are we playing tonight, Norman?” Mother asks in an echo of Norman’s own game play questions from earlier in the series. But this isn’t so much a game as it is a battle for Norman’s sanity, and he knows it: “The world is full of mad people who function, many of them heads of state. So I think I can manage running a hotel.” Oh Norman — how simultaneously right and wrong you are. And though Mother keeps pushing through Norman’s defenses, he’s standing his ground, saying like a mantra, “You don’t exist. I made you up. My mother is not here.” Mother says he can’t outmaneuver her, and Norman replies that he’ll prove she has no power over him. And then he heads to see Marion Crane about a sandwich.
Oh, and was this slight variant on the parlor scene from Psycho an ever-unfolding delight. Marion says she’s heard women should eat like birds, then adds while looking at all of Norman’s taxidermy: “Good think I’m not a bird.” (And boy does she not know how narrowly she’s avoiding bird status.) Norman explains his love of “stuffing things” for a while because the man has always been a charmer, then adds on that he has “no wife, but I do have a mother.” A weird thing to say, bro! But kind of an important one for Marion, who is unknowingly dating a fully married man in Sam Loomis. As they talk about their lives and what’s led them to eating ham sandwiches in this motel office, Norman says, “It’s hard to be lonely. But it’s also hard to love people, and I think that’s the trap — the little private trap that everyone lives in … Once you care about someone it rules you.”
Take a moment and imagine the last hotel attendant you encountered talking to you about the private little trap of life…
NEXT: Through the looking flower…
What fun we have at the Bates Motel! Now it’s off to bed with Marion in lucky Room No. 1. But first she calls Sam and tells him to get his ass over there while she combs through the $400,000 she stole to get him out of debt so they could be together. She can hear something going on in the background, and though she seems suspicious, she certainly doesn’t realize it’s Sam’s wife Madeleine banging on the bathroom door as she weeps from the realization that her husband is not only cheating on her, but dumb enough to go call his mistress in the bathroom. Marion calls back and gets his voicemail: “Sam, cut the s—! Call me — right now.” No, this is not your 1960 Marion Crane.
But this is Bates Motel. When Marion angrily hangs up, the camera begins zooming in on the flower painting on the wall; it zooms and it zooms until it feels like the orange flower it’s closing in on is pulsing with life until we’ve traveled through the wall straight into the watching eye of Norman Bates. BLINK.
Much like in the film, Norman watches Marion undress. He watches as she goes to the shower and turns on the water. He turns away, and almost looks like he’s smiling. He hears Mother: “I’m with you Norman, don’t forget that. This is why you need me.” Suddenly, we’re watching Marion showering from overhead. She’s facing up into the water! There’s the swirling drain shot! The music is swelling! She hears the door! We know what’s coming! We see her silhouette through the curtain and then…
It doesn’t happen. Marion cuts her shower short, rips back the curtain and says, “Screw this s—!” Bold defiance looks good on Marion Crane. She marches into the front office, narrowly misses seeing Norman standing near a gaping hole in the wall, and asks if she might see his guestbook. See, she’s been to this hotel before with man — her boyfriend, Sam Loomis — and she needs that Sam’s address to go check on him because she’s worried.
Norman stress eats some candy corn and then tells her the address isn’t in the book, so maybe she should just keep calling But then he reconsiders: “I can give you his address… I know his wife.” Oh, Marion does not like that. As much as she knows something’s up, she tells Norman she knows he’s wrong. But still, she goes to the address he gives her… and as soon as she arrives, she hears a man and a woman yelling. And then she sees them — Sam hugging Madeleine, his wife, trying to calm her down. So do you know what this Marion does? She takes a tire iron out of the back of her Miata and smashes the window of his car. Then she smashes another window. Then the hood. Then the headlight. And another window. Then the hood again. She smashes every damn bit of that car she can smash until Sam comes outside yelling, “What the hell are you doing?”
What the hell do you think she’s doing, man?! Marion drop-mics the tire iron and sashays back into her convertible like a woman who’s filmed a dramatic music video or two. Sam has the nerve to shout after her, like he doesn’t understand why she’s driving away, and then dejectedly walk back up to the home of his wife, where he acts like he can’t understand why she just doused him in red wine and locked him out of the house. Has Sam been huffing every single can of paint in the hardware store? This guy is a stone cold dumb-dumb.
Riding high off the fact that Marion seems to have escaped death, escaped Sam, and left him in literal wreckage, and off the indication that Norman has managed to resist Mother’s temptation to overtake him during his little voyeurism sesh, Bates Motel hits us with a nice dose of homicidal reality: Dylan calls. Emma stumbled upon an article explaining Norma’s suicide and by this point has told her husband, and Dylan is furious. He feels certain Norma wouldn’t kill herself, and he tells Norman as much when Norman tries to say he didn’t tell Dylan because it was too painful: “Bulls—! I know her and she wouldn’t do that!” But Norman, for all his recent transparency, can’t quite face up to the truth that Dylan is implying here. He insists that there was a darkness inside Norma…
And right on cue, the moment he hangs up on Dylan, the darkness inside Norman shows up, and she is sounding sweet as maternal pie: “Hi honey. Come and eat.” You can practically hear the cutest smiling emoji in Vera Farmiga’s voice, and though I’m (fruitlessly) rooting against Mother so hard, it is so good to have Farmiga back onscreen. And just as I’m thinking that, Norman squints his eyes closed, turns back around, and she’s no longer there.
Oh no, she’s back! “I’m completely losing my mind,” says Norman, who perhaps has been only partially losing his mind for the other four seasons of Bates Motel. Mother calls to Norman again, and he goes in the kitchen to find the table laden with home-cooked food. So he heads straight for the refrigerator and says he’s making his own dinner. Mother says that’s stupid. “No, what’s stupid is eating pretend food!” Mother tells him he’s not making any sense, and Norman spits back, “No, I think for the first time in a long while I’m starting to have some clarity.” Now let’s cue up for the line of the night from Mother…
“Nothing like a crazy person announcing their own clarity.”
ZING! Also — TRUE! For as much understanding as Norman has gained in the last two episodes, he’s still standing in the kitchen arguing with this dead Mother about the fact that she does not exist, that he created her in his head. He’s still physically feeling it as Mother grabs his head and pries his eyes open to try to force him to look at her. Norman screams at her and suddenly she’s smiling (sickly) sweet, pouting, “Norman, what’s wrong, why are you being mean to me?” That really sets Norman off; he tells Mother not to “act like her.”
NEXT: Once a Sam, always a Sam
Norman knows the difference now between Mother and his mother, but he doesn’t know how to keep her from smashing everything in the kitchen, screaming at him to “Say it! I’m real!” Norman repeats “I made you up!” over and over until he can’t take it anymore: “You’re real, Mother, you’re real, you’re real!” And just like his mother would, Mother hugs him and says she’s there to take care of him. The camera zooms out to show Norman standing in a destroyed kitchen, hugging thin air. Yikes-a.
With that, Norman heads back down to the front office and finds the red Miata in the Bates Motel parking lot once more. He hears a smash, and walks to Room 1 to find Marion packing cash into a duffle bag next to a broken lamp. She tell him he was right and that she’s an idiot: “All my life, I’ve played by the rules. I’ve been a good person. And where has it gotten me?” Well, Marion, it’s gotten you here, standing on the precipice of being brutally murdered. But despite the breakdown in the kitchen, Norman is trying his damnedest not to let that happen.
Marion cries on Norman’s shoulder and says part of her doesn’t even want to leave in case Sam comes looking for her with an explanation. Oh, and that sets Norman just a-twitching. He’s smelling her hair? He’s aroused? He’s fighting off turning into his homicidal mother personality? There’s a lot going on here, and Freddie Highmore plays every layer of it beautifully, but the bottom line is that Norman tells Marion she has to go. He tell her she “can’t be that person.” Unspoken, is that Norman is terrified of the person he’ll be if she doesn’t go. She says she’s scared, and Norman tells her, “You know what’s scarier? Being trapped inside yourself, a private trap, and never getting what you want.” He packs her stuff up, tells her to get rid of her car, pay everything in cash and begs her to just leave, leave, leave as fast as she can.
So she does. With a hug and a thank you, Marion Crane walks away from Norman Bates alive. But it was not without great effort, and now its time to pay the piper. Mother meets Norman down at the office to talk about how he let Marion get away, and for a moment it seems like Marion is pulling back in the lot to reseal her freshly unsealed fate. But it’s Sam, arriving at the hotel to wait for Marion’s return…
And you likely know where this is headed. But not without one doozy of a Norman/Mother/Freddie/Vera scene first. Mother tells Norman that Sam is just like his father: “selfish, self-centered asshole” (also conveniently named Sam!). She starts talking about when he was little, and Norman repeats his admonishment to stop acting “like her — we both know you’re not.” And Mother listens. She steps out of the Norma role and to into the role as co-timeshare holder of Norman’s brain: “Okay, you’re a big boy now… one adult to another: Your mother suffered.” Norma lived in fear of Norman’s father, and Norman lived in fear of that fear, so Norman made Her — he made Mother. “Over and over and you were so afraid that you sent me out to handle things for you that you couldn’t stand to feel because they were so painful,” Mother explains.
Mother is the creation of a little boy’s mind that has grown with him into a young man. “We are two parts of the same person, both very real,” she tells him. But the part he still doesn’t understand is how she protects him from the pain, how as his “partner,” she shoulders what he can’t handle in his stead. “There’s one thing that stops you from feeling it,” she explains,”it’s what I’ve always done for you. It’s what you wanted to do to your father.” Of course, it’s what Mother ultimately did do to his father because Norman couldn’t. And now it’s what Mother wants Norman to do to Sam in the other room. “He’s a bad man like your father was,” Mother says. “He’s hurting innocent women like your mother… you’re not too little now, Norman.”
That’s how we find Norman — not Mother — standing outside of the shower of Sam — not Marion — stabbing the ever-loving s— out of him, not in shadow with cutaways, but in full technicolor, blood-spattered, knife-to-skin Bates Motel reality. Sam falls halfway over the tub, head lying on the tile like the Marion Crane who came before him. Because the Sams and the Marions may change, but the story of a boy and his mother… that’s eternal.
And in this case, it is an utter tragedy: “Oh, Mother—what have I done?”
Bates & Pieces
- So that’s a no on this all ending in Norman seeking the help he so desperately needs, then? Cool, cool — reminder that we did sign up for this painful, exhilarating joyride.
- At what point does Marion’s ditched cell phone with a voicemail from Sam about being at the Bates Motel come back to bite Norman in the murderin’ ass?
- “Parents can be a bitch.” “You have no idea.” Somebody isn’t getting pretend dessert at dinner!
- Would reeeeeally love some webisodes on the ins-and-outs of exactly how Norman has been getting in three meals a day with an imaginary mom cooking half of them.
- The way that the writers/directors have given glimpses of Norman’s true reality (wrecked kitchens, overflowing dog bowls, uneaten plates of food) seemingly without any rhyme or reason to the timing has been unnervingly perfect. Consider this my official Yelp review: You can never get comfortable at the Bates Motel.
- As always, please sound off with every single reference, callback, and exact replica from Psycho, as well as — introduciiiiiing — complete and total departures from Psycho!