Romero is back, Norman is missing, Dylan and Emma are doomed, and Mother is here to stay
RECAP: 4/17/17 Bates Motel
Credit: Cate Cameron/A+E Networks

So much of Bates Motel season 5 has been about the battle for dominance over Norman Bates’ mind. We saw hints of Mother throughout the first four seasons, from her first attempted attack on Norma’s brother Caleb all the way to killing Emma’s mother in Norma’s dressing gown. But in season 5, everyone is on the same page: Norman and Mother sat in the office of the Bates Motel, and she told him point blank that she was a dissociative identity he had created over the course of his life to protect him from the trauma of his formative years. And since facing up to what Mother is, and just what lengths she’s willing to go to protect him, Norman has been fighting to keep her at bay…

And Norman has lost.

Freddie Highmore has been wowing us all to pieces this season as one actor flawlessly transitioning between two very different characters, but in Bates Motel’s last episode before the finale, the series completely flips the script. In Monday’s episode, we’re treated to two different (insanely talented) actors playing one single (insane) character, and though it’s happened before, it’s never happened like this. Because Norman Bates has completely left the building. Mother is finally totally and completely in charge of Norman’s mind, and the irony of it is that she’s never been less in control of what happens to him. Mother may be in his head, but what happens to Norman is utterly out of her hands.

Much as this season has taken the time to mourn Norma over and over and over again, its penultimate episode builds on Norman’s extended absence by laying out just how much destruction he’s left in his wake. Since we’ve known him, Norman Bates has been broken — in need of fixing that never came.

In Monday’s episode, as we wade through what remains of Dylan and Emma’s marriage; as Dylan is accused knowing what his brother was capable of and not preventing it; as Romero admits the only thing keeping him alive for the last two years was the thought of revenge murder… it becomes abundantly clear that Norman’s brokenness has finally broken everyone else around him. I’ve been prepared (with my hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers, sure, but still prepared) for Dylan or Emma to potentially meet a fatal end. But somehow this — this possibly irreparable damage that could have been prevented at nearly any point in the past except this one… this hurts more.

But don’t let me be a total drag; this episode was still fun!

Take, for example, the very first shot of the episode, where Mother is being photographed for Norman’s mug shot as Vera Farmiga, but you can clearly see Freddie Highmore’s mug in the camera screen. For the first two-thirds of season 5, the series was sparing and sporadic with these kinds of visual tricks, never letting us know just who we might be dealing with. But now that we’re all tuned into the horrible, awful truth, they’re letting the two-way mirrors, reflections on window glass, and camera screens in the foreground fly free, just in time for it to not grow trite. And since there’s lots of quick switches between Mother’s physical vessels in this episode, I’ll refer to the two actors playing her when it’s important to differentiate between how Mother sees herself (Vera Farmiga) and how the rest of the world sees her (Freddie Highmore).

Straight from a fun little chat with the deputy taking her mugshot, where Mother seems to realize for perhaps the first time that the absolute best-case endpoint here is, like, seven consecutive life sentences in prison, we cut to a deputy going over the Bates Motel parking lot with a metal detector. Frank Sinatra’s “Call Me Irresponsible” plays as the camera pans over the hotel to reveal the entire house and property swarming with deputies and hazmat suits collecting evidence to prove that Norman Bates is a serial killer. Upstairs in Norma’s room, Sheriff Greene observes that Norman’s mother has been dead for two years, but it still looks like she lives there. Curious. But there’s not much time to dig too deeply into that bottomless pit of despair, because one deputy just discovered Chick’s dead body in the basement, and another has dug up Audrey Ellis’ suitcase buried in the front yard…

Which brings us to poor, sweet Emma and Dylan, and their forever-doomed lives. After an entire season with only glimpses of her, boy does Olivia Cooke get a chance to shine on Monday night. Emma arrives at Dylan’s hotel, telling him she’s left Katie with her dad so she could be there with him, and Dylan has to tell her: The police found Emma’s mother’s body in the lake. She was murdered, and he knows it was Norman. Between the writing, the costuming, and the performances, it’s clear that these are not the lovesick kids we used to know. Emma and Dylan are adults now, and they know, no matter what traumas they may have gotten each other through in the past, some obstacles are insurmountable. Some things are too broken.

Emma tells Dylan that it’s not his fault; he didn’t bring Norman into her life: “He was so sweet when I met him.” Dylan tells her that Norman is still sweet — he’s just out of his mind. Emma says she’ll stay in White Pine Bay while she takes care of her mother’s body, “But I don’t know we’re going to make it through this. I can’t promise you that.” It’s straightforward and heartbreaking, but not as straightforward as her follow-up: “And please don’t talk to me about having sympathy for Norman again. If I ever lay eyes on him again, I might just kill him.”

Get in line, sister. Alex Romero has a stolen car, a tank full of gas, and he just found out that Norman Bates has been arrested for murder.

Freddie Highmore sits in an interrogation room with his fist balled up against his face just like Norma used to do. Mother is in the building y’all, and she’s meeting with Norman’s lawyer, Julia. Vera subs in when Julia suggests they think about how they’re going to handle the preliminary hearing with the judge: “Oh, well, I didn’t do it so… not guilty.” Simple! Even Julia agrees that pleading guilty would be the wrong idea since the best case scenario there is maybe keeping Norman alive. She wants to aim higher: “Not guilty by reason of insanity.” And you know that Mother senses an equal in Julia because she doesn’t totally lose her mind at the suggestion. She simply “doesn’t like it.” She says Norman was under duress when he was questioned, and Sheriff Greene has always had it out for him anyway: “It’s weird, she’s so weird.”

Julia tells her they can take it one step at a time, but he has a really good shot at the insanity plea. She tells Norman that Dylan mentioned he struggles with multiple personalities, and the camera deliciously flashes back to Freddie playing Mother again: “And Dylan’s a doctor now?” Julia says it’s important that they have him evaluated so she can best understand how to help him. Mother sways in her chair ominously: “Are you a mother?” H’oh boy. Julia says she’s not and that she doesn’t want to be. “That’s smart. Because you seem like you like to succeed, to win. And being a mother is an impossible job to win.” Julia might not be a mother, but in this moment, I’m sure she understands something about impossible jobs.

But she’s only just encountering Norman Bates, and it seems he’s not much longer for this world. Julia will likely recover from her run-in with Mother, but over at the Kings Motel, Emma and Dylan are still reeling from the damage Norman and Mother have brought into their lives. And that’s when Julia shows up at the door to give Dylan an update. She apologizes to Emma, saying she knows it’s a difficult time, and Emma shoots back, “Oh, has your brother-in-law ever killed your mother?” There’s our girl.

Emma storms into the bathroom, and Dylan tells Julia to please just take the money he’s already paid her and leave them alone. But Dylan can’t just wash his hands of Norman, and she knows it. Julia reminds him that he told her just yesterday that Norman isn’t a bad person; he’s just crazy. Norman’s trial will be open to the public, and would be a big deal for the public to see Dylan there behind him: “No one is going to want to see his illness once they see the evidence of his crimes. They need to see his connection to humanity, and you might not like it right now, but that’s you.” Julia leaves, and Dylan tells Emma that he won’t go to the hearing if she doesn’t want him to. “I can’t tell you what to do about your family,” she tells him as she leaves to go see about her mother’s body.

The problem is that Dylan now has two families, and the difference between them is stark as he thumbs through pictures on his phone: Half feature him smiling alongside Emma and Katie, and the other half are pictures of Norman and Norma together… without Dylan. I don’t think anyone could blame Dylan for giving up on a family who was so hesitant to let him be a part of it. But I also know that Emma can understand complicated families. When she arrives at the funeral home, she makes a quick decision to have her mother’s body cremated, and then asks if they did Norma Bates’ funeral: “She was more of a mother to me than my own.” And then for good Emma-measure, “Her son killed my mother.”

As she’s leaving, Emma detours to the cemetery where she finds Norma’s doozy of a gravestone. “I’m so sorry, Norma,” she says. “I miss you.” The loss of Norma Bates ripples on, nowhere more so than in the son she left behind, with the brokenness inside him she refused to see for so long.

At Norman’s hearing, Mother wonders if all the people filing in don’t have something better to do, and I realize that for all of Mother’s talk about protecting Norman, of the two of them, she’s really the least equipped to be dealing with this situation — she’s a hothead. And, yet, she remains fairly calm as the judge asks his initial questions, including, “Are you Norman Bates, the individual named in the complaint of this matter?” Vera as Mother stands: “Yes, your honor.” Mother is then informed that Norman is charged with three counts of murder in the third degree; the maximum penalty is death.

Dylan arrives late; from his seat in the back, he can see the back of his brother’s head, and it’s almost like we’re seeing Norman. But as the state lays out the evidence of all the murder counts — Joe Blackwell, Audrey Ellis, Sam Loomis — we know that it’s Mother who’s driving this hearing. We know the evidence; we’ve watched the state’s case against Norman Bates develop every week. So rather than show us the trial, the camera pans over those it’s affecting: Dylan… Madeleine Loomis… Norman, looking ever so briefly like himself again.

Dylan storms out of the hearing, and Madeleine quickly catches up with him. He tells her he’s so sorry, but Dylan’s sorries just aren’t cutting it these days. Like Emma, she says that she’s the one who let Norman into their lives, so she’s the reason Sam is now just a piece of evidence — but Norman only tricked her for a few weeks: “How did he trick you for your whole life?” Granted, that’s a little reductive considering their relationship, but nonetheless, Dylan stares back silently. “You knew,” Madeleine spits out. “You’re his brother; you knew. How can you live with yourself?”

At the crematorium, Emma watches as a box containing her mother’s body is pushed into the flames. “Crimson and Clover” scores the scene as the flames light up Emma’s face: “Now I don’t hardly know her / But I think I could love her / Crimson and clover.” Emma takes her mother’s body, now contained in a much smaller box, and scatters her ashes in the wind over White Pine Bay. She looks absolutely miserable: “My, my such a sweet thing / I wanna do everything / What a beautiful feeling / Crimson and clover.”

Shot in slow motion, this scene is as cinematic is they come, but its physical beauty has nothing on what comes next from Olivia Cooke, Freddie Highmore, and Vera Farmiga. Emma informs Dylan the next morning that she has to go home, “where it’s normal,” but she makes one stop before she goes… to the sheriff’s station, where she asks to see Norman Bates.

Now, I don’t know how plausible it would be for Norman to have guests right now, but I also super don’t care because this scene is incredible. As Emma approaches the window of Norman’s cell, she sees Norman, but the malice in his eyes makes it clear that who she’s really seeing, of course, is Mother. And right on cue, Vera reflects in the window, though Emma is looking at Freddie. Mother says she knows Emma is there because the police think Norman killed her mother. “I think you did too, Norman,” Emma tells him. “I wouldn’t kill anyone, Emma, you know that,” says Mother. “It’s me. It’s Norman — your Norman, your friend.”

And Mother is right about one thing: Norman was Emma’s friend. Her best friend, her first crush, the reason she met her husband. Emma knew Norman. And she’s not talking to him. “Where’s Norman?” Emma asks simply. Mother doesn’t flinch; she tells Emma that her mother was a bad woman, and she was trying to use Norman. Emma says she still didn’t deserve to die, and Vera’s face flashes in the reflection of the window: “Death isn’t about deserving. It’s just a part of the deal. She made her own bed; you know that better than anyone.”

But Emma has made it through a childhood with an absent mother, through an adolescence with cystic fibrosis, through a lung transplant — no one makes her bed but her, and she’s not interested in what Mother has to say. “Can I talk to Norman?” she asks again calmly. Mother tells her that Norman is sleeping in his room: “There’s an apple pie in the oven, and when he wakes up, he’ll smell it baking and know that everything is okay.” And, man, that is f—ed up.

Emma asks Mother to tell Norman that she misses him. Freddie’s face seems to twitch, but it’s still Vera’s reflection in the glass when the camera goes back to Emma. With that sentiment, Emma leaves, and I don’t know what to make of that scene (other than my tear ducts making big, dramatic single tears), but for this moment, I’m going to allow my naïve, happy-ending loving self to take it for a little ray of hope. Hope that if Emma can see Norman within Mother — that she can see Mother at all — she could understand why Dylan might still want to help the sliver of Norman that’s left. Can see why Dylan would still hope there’s something left to save. And that it might be enough to save their happy ending.

Because it’s seeming less and less like death is coming for the characters Norman broke, and more and more like it’s coming for the Norman himself. Mother spends most of the episode staring the threat of the death penalty in the face, only to spend its final moments looking into the crazed eyes of Alex Romero as he attempts to choke the life out of Norman. After Romero finds out that Norman has been charged with murder, it doesn’t take him long to track down the only thing that’s been keeping him alive — the thought of killing Norma’s murderer — at the sheriff’s station. He puts a gun to the receptionist’s back, forces a number of his former coworkers to the ground, takes their guns, marches them all back to Norman’s holding cell, and then locks them inside, bringing Norman out for himself.

It’s Norman’s neck Romero wraps his hands around, but of course, it’s Mother he’s choking the life out of. A deputy screams at him through the glass that he’s going to kill him, and he is… Romero is killing Norman, he’s killing Mother. But suddenly he lets go — he has a reason not to kill Norman just yet. So Mother asks: “What do you want with us, Alex?” And he tells her: “You’re going to take me to her body.”

Bates & Pieces

  • When trying to get Dylan to the hearing, Julia tells him, “No one is going to want to see [Norman’s] illness once they’ve seen the evidence of his crimes.” And I’ll admit, with Mother in the driver’s seat, and with the destruction of her crimes so fully on display, that sympathy so many of us had been building for the tragic figure of Norman Bates took a big hit this week.
  • But I still can’t help but side with Emma on this one: I miss Norman.
  • Sheriff Greene’s reaction to a deputy describing Norma’s bedroom as like a museum: “Yeah, maybe… a pretty interactive museum.” Just wait until you get a look at the lipstick drawer, pal.
  • Loved the return of the kind of creepy/kind of sweet family that runs the funeral home. If anyone understands how truly effed White Pine Bay is, surely it’s them.
  • I get what they were going for with the flashing red light (presumably the vacancy sign) in Dylan and Emma’s hotel room, but seriously, no one could sleep through that.
  • #Dylemma 4ever.

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