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Credit: A&E; Inset: Adam Larkey
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  • A&E

Welcome to Bates Motel‘s final season, where the relationship between Norman and Norma Bates is more complicated than ever. (Yes, even now that she's dead.) So, to help guide you through the twisted mind of Norman, showrunner Kerry Ehrin is blogging the season's most pivotal episodes.

BATES MOTEL SEASON 5: A PLAYER'S GUIDE

Welcome to our fifth and final season of Bates Motel!

I want to loop you into the writers' room last April, when we got back together to start breaking the season. The biggest challenge was not the story — we knew where we wanted to go. It was setting out to carve the psychology of the characters — and particularly of "Mother," the fantasy incarnation of Norma that lives in Norman's head now that his real mother is actually dead and hanging out in a walk-in freezer in the basement.

Mother was a challenge. We had to divorce ourselves from thinking of her as a fictional character that existed in Norman's mind. I felt that she should be as real to Norman as these "fictional" characters are to us (the writers). After all, we made them up (well and yes, ok, Robert Bloch had a little to do with Norman) but these are no longer characters. They are real living, flesh and blood people who live inside our heads at this point: I could put any of them in any situation and know what they would want, what they would fear, and how they would behave. And so Mother should be to Norman, and in turn to us, as we are on the ride with Norman. We wanted the viewer to experience her as Norman does, not from "outside" of him.

With the fabulous, magical, creative prism that is Vera Farmiga, I began to think of Mother as a form of Norma grafted onto another dimension. Qualities for Mother began to emerge in the back of my brain: strong and tough and impenetrable — even in her "vulnerable" moments. Like she could make bedroom eyes at you one second and kick your head in the next. Human and feeling and wise and worldly and yet impenetrable. Seamlessly mercurial. Good and bad all at once. These were qualities that began to get grafted on the page for Mother. Someone who could feel and convey the warmth and sweetness and love of Norma but effortlessly transition into a Mob Boss and do the most heinous things. Then maybe just get a latte. She is a beautifully amoral character brought to life by Farmiga. It's no small task to do a jazz riff on a character you've inhabited with your heart and soul for four years but Vera blasts Mother into the skies like a celebration. (I love being my own TV critic lol.)

Another important thing to know about Mother is that she has no real "rules": she doesn't "appear" or "disappear" consistently on certain "story cues." She doesn't "know everything." She doesn't have super powers. She gets confused. She gets irritated. She can't control everything but she often can control a lot. Her one rule — and we based everything on this — is that she is a being created by Norman as a child to protect him from situations that overwhelmed him emotionally. Her internal mission is to protect. She's kind of like a Secret Service agent for Norman. And with that goes the human side of devoting your existence to just taking care of someone else (which, if you're a mother, you know can get challenging even though it's the best job ever). So Mother became, in many ways, a statement on motherhood: You give all and don't always get "all" back. But it's your job, your instinct, your internal force. You can't escape it, even if you want to at times.

At first, we went down that road of trying to "create rules" for Mother and it just felt fake and like science fiction or fantasy. It felt wrong. We landed, eventually, on the truth that madness has no rules. Norman and Mother were two souls adrift in a sea of insanity and longing, both feeling their way in the dark, both just trying to make it all work and survive on an instinctual level, without even fully understanding what they were trying to survive at this point. It gave their relationship a wonderful existential quality. They had no rules. They just "were." (A funny aside: I often, in my own head, speaking of existential fictional relationships, thought of Norman and Mother as a sort of amoral version of Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear — just wandering around the Hundred Acre Wood together talking about life, with Mother as Pooh, guiding the innocent Norman through the trials and sorrows of life with wisdom, good cheer, and some murders.) They're two souls forever bound in love wandering in the dark infinity of madness, but at least they had each other, and that's a lot in this life.

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Norman, also, had to be psychologically carved out this season. It's no small task as he is living in different realities simultaneously and making it work — at least at the start. Here is a guy who knows something is wrong with him, knows he is blacking out, believes he is living with his mother on some level, but at the same time it doesn't quite feel like his mother. And the part of him that can't acknowledge her death and his responsibility in killing her and failing to kill himself just stumbles on in a misty denial where reality goes in and out like a faulty light bulb.

We imagined the relationship between him and Mother as a "bad marriage" — a marriage that had begun to show cracks. (If you use the example of being in a bad marriage — you could be in one — you go to work, talk about the great weekend you had together, and it all seems great from the outside. All the pieces are in place for "happiness." But then there are those moments of clarity late at night when you know in your heart that you are isolated from each other and this isn't going to work. But that's too painful to think about so you put it away again and go back into the fantasy you're selling yourself.) This was what we based the psychology on for Norman's understanding of his situation. The fact that sometimes Norman can go in the freezer and see Norma in there, those are his moments of painful clarity. But he can also shove it away and walk away and go back to the denial in order to survive the pain.

With all the psychological craziness of this season, the simple reality of some of these situations lent itself to a lot of dark humor. Mother is very much the voice of the absurdity of the situation and that aspect of her, elevated by Vera, is a true joy. Life is ridiculous — and often the more horrifying it is, the more ridiculous it gets. It's a weird survival instinct to turn off the pain and just step outside of it and see how stupid it all is. Mother does this in spades and Vera kills it.

One last "player's guide" note: Norman is living in a reality with Mother where everything is perfect and lovely, as it always was when Norma was alive. In reality, however, he is living in a house that is physically a chaotic mess. (We imagined him as a 10-year-old boy that got left home alone and tried to mimic what his mother did but in a sort of half-assed 10-year-old boy fashion, as he was really interested in other things and didn't want to put all the effort into it.) Going between these two realities was a constant challenge in production — who's POV is the interior house in and for what scene? But we got through it scene by scene, and the backdrop of this physical manifestation of Norman's psychology adds a luscious texture to the madness throughout. So thank you, wonderful, brilliant production team, for your patience and inspiration!

Finally, I just want to say thank you to all of you following the show. This is a labor of love for all of us and you are a huge part of that labor and that love to us. (I have wandered around in my own brain dreaming up crazy s— my whole life. It's nice to have all of you in here with me for awhile; it's kind of like the train/bunk compartment scene from Some Like It Hot. We are all stuffed in there together, which is challenging because Carlton is a big guy. If you haven't seen it check it out because (a) it's awesome and (b) you will get what I mean when you see that scene. It's funny. The film is a comedy made in the '50s that involves cross-dressing. Which brings us full circle back to our Bates…)

And on that note, welcome home. Wrapping you in some love and madness. Thank you so much for being here.

Now let's get this party started.

Bates Motel Blog
Credit: Kerry Ehrin

Me and the coolest dude on the planet…

Bates Motel Blog
Credit: Kerry Ehrin

How to make a show haha

Bates Motel Blog
Credit: Kerry Ehrin

Naomi, our amazing makeup artist, with Freddie

Bates Motel Blog
Credit: Kerry Ehrin

J Paul (our wonderful on-set costumer) getting Freddie managered up

Bates Motel Blog
Credit: Kerry Ehrin

Just ship me already

Bates Motel Blog
Credit: Kerry Ehrin

Just another freezing night filming at this beautiful house

Episode Recaps

Bates Motel
type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 5
rating
  • TV-MA
genre
network
  • A&E

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