Showrunner Kerry Ehrin teases the fifth and final season, which includes the arrival of Rihanna as Marion Crane
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Credit: Cate Cameron/A&E Networks; Inset: Adam Larkey

The end of Bates Motel is nigh.

Heading into its fifth and final season, the A&E drama has taken a giant leap toward the source material, closing last season with the death of Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga). Pair that with the introduction of Marion Crane (Rihanna), the character famously brought to life by Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller, and Bates Motel is on runaway train toward its Psycho destiny.

But will Bates stay true to Hitchcock? Or does the tale of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) have one last twist — like seeing his death over his incarceration? EW turned to showrunner Kerry Ehrin to get the scoop on what's in store.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you say of where the new season picks up?

KERRY EHRIN: It's about 18 months after Norma's death and it picks up with everybody trying to live their life, but obviously Dylan still doesn't know that Norma has died. Romero is dealing with the fallout of the legal problems he got into at the end of the last season and dealing, of course, with the death of the woman he loved. He's on a very interesting journey because last season he was so guarded, so closed up, finally let his guard down, and then got completely sucker punched by Norma's death, so he's in a super intense dark place. He blames Norman for the death. Dylan is trying to live a normal and not dysfunctional life, but it's very hard to walk away. No one gets away clean from a dysfunctional family. It pulls you back in. He obviously is going to get pulled back in. Norman is in a further stage of where we left him at the end of last season, where he's living in multiple realities and functioning — at the moment — but on a deep level that he's not even conscious of. He's very, very isolated and lonely. But he's trying. He's running the motel. He's doing a good job. He's doing a good job of covering.

Considering what goes on in Norman's mind in Psycho, does this Norman really recognize that Norma is dead?

For the most part, no. It's too painful of an admission to look at.

Can you talk about how Norma lives on through her son this year, and what role Vera is going to play? We know a dead one, but…

The show is about Norman living with his mother. She's a very real character and she's very present, and that was always a delightful challenge to write a fictional character — fictional in the sense that it's fictional within the fiction — to write a fictional character that people would feel was real and would start believing in and caring about, because you want to be on the ride with Norman. She's very real to Norman. So that was actually a really cool part of breaking the stories and the writing this year was finding that. And Vera is just amazing in everything. Mother is such a fun character because she has the humanity of Norma, but she can seamlessly slide into complete practicality and violence. It's a real interesting character and Vera is amazing as always.

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How do you think Norma's death changes the tone of Bates Motel in season 5?

It's definitely darker, and because it is so tragic, the dark humor comes out more this season. Also because on some level, he's crazy and it's an absurd situation, it just lends itself to dark comedy. The reality of it — the arch version of it is he's crazy and he misses his mother, but when you imagine day-to-day life and what that means, it definitely lends itself to a certain humor that the show balances really well. Obviously Max, Vera, Freddie, they all balance the humor really well.

How different is Norman this year? With Norma gone, is there no one who can stop him?

We don't know. That is what we will find out. He's very different. He's deeper down the rabbit hole, he's more fragile, he's like a little kid that's been left alone to take care of himself for two years, and is doing his best to conjure up this world that will keep him afloat. You can imagine the toll that would take on you physically and emotionally. He's definitely a more complex, darker, more fragile version of himself than we saw two years ago. But still functioning. He still has the survival instinct of, "I'm gonna make this work," which is great.

Credit: A&E Network

How did Rihanna's casting as Marion Crane come together?

We knew Marion Crane was going to be a part of the storytelling for quite a while. We'd always known we wanted to converge Psycho with Bates Motel, to some extent, in the storytelling of the last season, so it had been in our head, Marion Crane and who Marion Crane was. An article came out, an interview, I think it was in Vanity Fair, with Rihanna, who Carlton [Cuse] and I are both huge fans of. In the interview, she said Bates Motel was one of her favorite shows. Carlton had the idea of reaching out to her to do a cameo to play Marion Crane. Then, as we developed the story, it needed to be a larger part and we were like, "Rihanna's not going to be able to have time to do that." We reached out to her anyway and got on the phone with her and she was actually incredibly excited about it and wanted to do it and that's how it started.

Were you up in Vancouver when she filmed her role? What was she like on set?

Yeah, she was absolutely lovely. She's a hardworking, professional, incredibly sweet person. She was wonderful to work with. Everyone loved her.

Had you personally been a fan of her music?

Oh yeah, I love her.

What was that atmosphere like on set when she came on, was everybody pretty excited?

Yeah, it was pretty jacked up. [Laughs] I needed a security badge to get on my own set. Security was definitely jacked up and everyone was just really excited. It felt like an event. It felt like something very special was happening. Mostly, the cast and ourselves were very excited to actually work with her, to work with her as an actress and get inside the world of the show and her character. That's always the best part of everything, is that dream world you get into with the talent. It was great.

Fans definitely have expectations when it comes to Marion Crane. Are you staying true to Psycho lore or are you trying to subvert expectations and do something different?

We're definitely doing our own thing. It would seem utterly irrelevant to just stick to the Psycho lore. The goal was always to really merge what Psycho is and was and what Bates Motel is, because they're very different things thematically. Psycho is very much something you're looking at from the outside, and the brilliant director is telling you where to look, when to look and you never see what goes on inside that house. That's what that movie is, it's that surprise of finding out. Bates Motel is kind of the photographic opposite, which is it takes you inside every room and takes you inside the house. It was always the idea to have a bit of the story of Psycho story present, but to see it from different angles. It was not easy to structure and work out. We worked really hard on it and we're incredibly proud of it. There's some great episodes in the last season. These two different versions of the same story collide in a really explosive way.

Are you playing with timelines?

No, it isn't so much about timelines, it's about seeing things that were off-screen in Psycho. It's also about telling a more contemporary story about a woman in Marion Crane's position.

Tell me about your version of Marion Crane. Are her motivations the same?

As I said, we're talking threads of the story and definitely using them so it's recognizable, it's just where we go with it is very different. Psycho is a brilliant film, let me preface by saying that. It's one of my favorite films, but it is a woman written in the '50s by a guy. It was our very much goal to try to show you the inside of what was going on in her head, give her more complexity. It's tough to be in a situation where you're in love with a guy and for whatever reason he keeps kind of stalling. You're still having the hot sex with him and he's saying he loves you, but he's stalling, he's stalling. The story of that, the internal story of that, for a woman, is a really interesting one. We never really got to see that in Psycho, you just see the outside of it. It was trying to tell a story about a contemporary woman with some edge, with some expectations, who wasn't perfect, who wasn't always perfectly sweet, who's in that situation, but we were rooting for her to get what she wants.

How does Norman take to Marion?

Norman is in an incredibly intense and interesting place that we've built him to when that sequence of episodes starts. It's the collision of the Bates Motel storytelling and then Marion Crane showing up into that. He's in a very fragile and lonely place and Marion Crane is just a charismatic woman and she's also super present when she's with him and she's very attractive — all of those things are exactly what he needs right at this moment.

Credit: A&E Network

You said this role expanded; is she around for one episode or multiple episodes?

No, it's multiple episodes.

Will the infamous shower scene come to life on the show?

Is there a shower scene? All I can tell you is that we pulled Psycho into Bates Motel, not vice versa. That was always the goal and the fun of it. You will have to watch and find out!

What surprised you most about what Rihanna brought to the role?

I wouldn't say we were surprised. We've seen her perform before, but what she brought that was so beautiful was just a real presence, a reality, a depth, and a humanity to the character.

Does Bates Motel have to end with Norman's death?

I don't think it has to end with anyone's death. There are things that happen, we have a roster of characters that are gonna meet various fates. Tune in. It's gonna be a roller coaster ride.

The movie ended with him locked up, so when you sat down to plan your ending, were you actively trying to subvert expectations?

We are not doing Psycho. We go through Psycho. Psycho visits us, let me put it that way. We're definitely doing our own ending of Bates Motel.

If you're not doing Psycho, how will the show intersect with Psycho beyond the introduction of Marion Crane in this final season? Are there other moments that we should be looking out for?

The whole season is threaded through those episodes. The storytelling, from beginning to end, is threaded through those episodes. It will resonate through the entire season.

Anything else fans should know before we go into this final season?

Don't miss it. It's a good one. We're gonna go out big. It's a good ride.

Bates Motel returns Monday at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.

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