Bates Motel: Kerry Ehrin on reimagining the Psycho shower scene
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.
‘MARION’: NORMAN GROWS UP
It’s a tricky thing doing a prequel to an iconic film. Trickier still to incorporate part of that film into one’s prequel without the film taking over. But that was the task the writers (Erica Lipez, Tom Szentgyorgyi, Alyson Evans and Steve Kornacki, Scott Kosar, Phil Buiser, Torrey Speer, myself, and Carlton) were faced with: How to pull Psycho into Bates without just redoing one of the most iconic horror films of all time.
It had always seemed amusing to have Psycho sort of “offscreen” while we were telling a crazy, emotional story of what was going on inside the house during Psycho — because we never get to see that in the film, and I always wondered what was happening in there. How did it look when Norman went back in the house after those scenes with Marion Crane? What was his interaction with “Mother” like? So we started from the premise that there was a major storyline going on with Norman and Mother that Marion “collided” with. And that the ending of the episode would be something quite different from the ending of Psycho. We wanted to go “through” Psycho, like a train, rather than become absorbed in it and land at a destination that was meaningful to the story we have been telling on Bates: the story of what made Norman into Norman.
In “Marion,” Norman is facing true clarity about who he is and what he does while at the same time sinking further out of touch with any means of coping with his life. Starting in “Dreams Die First,” we begin a big arc for Norman as he begins to understand that Mother is a thing of his own creation. This is slowly peeled away in layers all the while Marion is in the motel. It’s one of my favorite arcs we’ve done — Norman going back to the White Horse Bar and realizing the truth — Norman going home and trying to push out the fantasy that is Mother. And yet her pull on him is so strong, it tortures him into submission. Also, the idea that Mother is an organic and changing “person” that he has created was fascinating to us. The idea that she would realize Norman no longer “believes” in her and how she goes about handling that became a great arc for Mother. (Vera in that scene in the kitchen, where she realizes what’s happening — her face — the naughty pleasure she gets from the game playing aspect of, “Oh, he knows. How do I f— with him and get him back?” — is just pure Vera madness/genius and a joy to behold.)
And ultimately, Mother is broken down to the point where she comes clean with him. (Which is, of course, Norman’s own brain feeling he is strong enough to handle the truth he is seeking.) The scene in the office where Mother tells Norman why he “created” her, how her function was to keep him from feeling the pain of a violent and scary childhood, how he can have the knowledge now, but he also has to feel the pain, and that is the price of the knowledge and knowing the truth — is also one of my all time favorites. Norman feels the pain, which quickly becomes rage at his father. Sam, now in the motel obliviously waiting for Marion, becomes a placeholder in Norman’s mind for his own father. Norman, in his first murder of clarity, kills Sam in a rage.
(Did anyone notice that Sam is also the name of Norman’s father?)
It was also really exciting to us to play the opposite of the shower scene in Psycho, where now Norman is not dressed as his Mother — is no longer hiding behind her skirts — but is claiming himself and his emotional pain. We traded out the Psycho line of “Mother, what have you done?” with Norman realizing he has committed murder for the first time, and being horrified.
“Mother, what have I done?”
This is, without a doubt, the biggest and most meaningful arc for Norman in the entire series, and this newfound clarity puts Norman at the precipice of the wild ride to the end.
There were so many tricky elements in incorporating parts of Psycho without simply redoing it. Phil Abraham, who directed this episode so beautifully, says, “I think with the introduction of Marion Crane, the series really starts to intersect with the movie, which is a great place to be as a director because now the show is really playing with expectations and preconceived notions about not only what is going to happen, but how it will happen — and playing with those perceptions is honestly a high-wire act of sorts considering you are dealing with one of the film’s most iconic moments (shower scene). Obviously the setup for the shower scene with Marion is very similar to the movie, and since the setting is so familiar, I really didn’t want to make it just an exercise of copying Hitchcock frame for frame; I didn’t think that was necessary or relevant to the tension of the story, certainly in those early scenes leading up to Marion getting in the shower. But certain key moments, such as Norman looking through the peephole in the wall, are all part of building up the tension with what the audience knows or thinks is coming. The fun of the shower scene is all about that expectation, and the sequence and choice of shots are very much tied into that sense of what is going to happen, so the pace is critical, and of course mixing in a volley of different shots I felt I could keep the audience off-balance just enough to feel they are watching something familiar yet also in a subtle way be kept off-balance. Because Norman has clarity during the final shower scene, there was no need to hide him behind a shadow but rather quite the contrary — to fully expose him — and I thought by splattering him with blood and making it unabashedly violent, I was toying and tweaking what Hitchcock had done with his original shower scene. “
I also spoke to Austin Nichols, who was the one getting bloody in that shower scene! (It’s pretty funny next to Phil’s quote above.) Austin recalls, “So in the final shower scene, I was naked and wet and fending off knife blows from Freddie. Our director, Phil Abraham, just kept rolling. He wouldn’t cut. He was yelling ‘More stabbing! More grunting! More blood!’ And he had a can of fake blood and a paint brush, and he was flinging blood at us like we were making a student film in the backyard. A producer said, ‘You know we have professionals that can do that,’ but he wouldn’t have it. He was like a kid in a candy store. ‘More blood!’ He just kept flinging it at our faces. Great day.”
I’m not going to lie. This is a crazy fun job, making this show. :)
And then there’s Rihanna! What a crazy, great experience that was! And while the hype was huge and all the extra security and needing badges to get on the set — and none of us knew what to expect — Rihanna herself, the person, could not have been more lovely, grounded, professional, and hard-working. She completely embraced the show and the work and brought a new and unique life to Marion. Says Phil Abraham, “Rihanna was great. We had her for a very limited time, and she had a serious amount of heavy lifting in terms of work and page count to do. I think we shot over 38 pages with her being in just about everything in five days. One of the most fun things was to see what a die-hard fan of the show she was — walking her through our main house set was a blast as she was literally freaking out and having a real fan attack. That was a lot of fun to see.”
Thank you so much, Rihanna, for making time to check in and play with us at the Bates Motel! We loved having you and you made it all very special.
We now begin the final four episodes of the series! Buckle up! I want to see you all in one piece at the end of this ride. :)
Freddie and Rihanna
The aftermath of a broken heart
That parlor scene
Who doesn’t want this on their home screen?
Mother, what have I done?