This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel: Season 4, Episode 10
“You know I’d never leave you. You know it’s just a game, right?”
I was particularly excited for this season finale of Bates Motel.
It’s been a stand-out season for this show that’s been building to such a deadly boiling point, with this episode being the culmination of it all. This is when the thermometer explodes, you guys! And man, is it bonkers!
First of all, I’m glad that the show didn’t cop out on the sucker punch of a cliffhanger that the last episode went out on. This entire season has been hinting at this moment—and a crucial one for Norman’s “development”—so to flirt with it, only to push it back to a later episode would only be insulting the audience and dulling the impact. So yes, Norma Bates is dead, and long live the Norma Bates of Norman’s psyche.
While I think that a lot of people don’t believe that Norman deserves sympathy here—his gas leak solution to his problem is very much the actions of a petulant child not getting his way so no one can be happy—but the results here are just tragic stuff. Norman didn’t want to kill his mother. He wanted to leave this world with her. Together. The fact that he’s still alive, broken brain and all, but now his only solace in this world is gone—and it’s his fault—is beyond the pale. If Norman didn’t already have major issues…
Norman’s brain thinks back to childhood games that he played with his mother as a means of making sense of what’s going on, but this isn’t some misunderstood match of peek-a-boo. She’s gone. Norman’s inability to believe that Norma has passed becomes the major catalyst in him becoming the Norman that we all know and fear from Hitchcock’s classic film.
It’s deeply satisfying to see all of these building blocks finally snapping together and the proper legwork being put in. This moment that’s been reached, as well as Norman’s incredible denial, are both fully earned and completely believable. As much as this season has been about Norman receiving mental help, it’s also been about him learning how to deceive and get out of that needed mental help. All of that is coming to roost here, with the frayed wires that Dr. Edwards has left exposed beginning to electrocute people.
Norman’s delusion gets stuck on the idea of him having to do something to prove to his mother that he’s worthy of her returning and that he’s ready for her love. These tests largely come in the form of him throwing out his medication and staving off sanity long enough for his long-brewing bad habits spring up again. It’s disheartening to see a Norman that was potentially so close to a “normal” life throwing that all away and backsliding in such a permanent fashion. He’s even imagining that his long-dead dog, Juno, is back in the picture.
The episode masterfully plays with your expectations of worrying that a character is going to get it whenever they’re alone with Norman, whether it’s the detective, the goth mortician, or Chick. There’s absolutely nothing holding Norman back now. There are so many moments in this episode that are perfect distillations of the unusual relationship that Norman and Norma shared. Scenes like Norman delivering a eulogy about how perfect his mother is (and how creepy is that eulogy? “She was half queen, half little girl”?) to an empty funeral home (because he wants it this way) hammer the point home. With one of them gone, the abyss is all that’s left.
With an episode like this, I’d have been more than content if we didn’t get any detours to Dylan and Emma, but Dylan’s phone call to Norman is one of the more poignant moments in the episode. It’s brutal for Dylan to be checking in on his damaged brother, completely unaware of what’s happened to his mother. It’s even more upsetting to watch Norman say goodbye to Dylan in what he knows will likely be the last time they talk to each other. He’s ready for what mother needs of him, and that means doing this solo. The fact that he sheds tears over the departure at least shows that there’s some humanity left in him. I just hope Dylan has the restraint to stay away from home and accept his happy ending. I firmly believe that if he pops up next season at Norman’s residence it’s going to cost him his life. Let this blissful ignorance be the note that he goes out on.
A lot of this episode coasts off of various people through this next stage of Norman’s life giving furtive glances to each other over how peculiar Norman is acting. He’s staring at dresses for too long. He’s getting tripped up on the past tense of Norma. All of this bubbles to a beautifully uncomfortable surface tension as you begin to wonder just how far this episode will go into Norman’s evolution. A pointed discussion about embalming Norma is brought up, with the idea of preserving a forever-beautiful Norma being exactly what Norman would want. When he shoots down the procedure though, your brain can’t help but have flashes to that decrepit skeleton of Norma that’s collecting cobwebs in the Bates mansion in Psycho.
I can’t tell you how goddamned cathartic it is when Romero nearly beats the shit out of Norman in the hospital—and then succeeds in doing so at the church—after Norman tries to blame him for all of this. This has understandably been a tough season on Norman but it hasn’t been much easier on Romero. He’s been giving Norman the benefit of the doubt in order to make his wife happy and now she’s dead because of the exact thing that he was worried about. In a lot of ways his story is even more devastating that Norman’s. He’s the one that’s crying and losing it over her cold body. He’s the one that’s actually processing this loss. I had my initial reservations when the whole Norma and Romero wedding was jumped into, but I absolutely believe it when he tells her corpse that he’ll never stop loving her. His wedding ring on her hand is the brightest thing on her pale body.
My only real quibble with this episode is that it’s awfully convenient that Romero’s perjury business catches up with him now, leaving Norman further isolated during all of this. It’s a small thing to complain about, especially when it has been teased enough all season. Besides, did I mention that Norma is dead!? And Norman exhumes her corpse in this episode!? And he puts nail polish remover on her eyelids to keep her dead gaze permanently on him!? I’ll let some sloppy B-story crime stuff slide.
The final beat of this episode is exactly what you want it to be and one that sets up the show’s final season in the most exciting way possible. Freddie Highmore has been giving a masterclass in acting this season but his work in the final act is truly on another level (and honestly, if I didn’t know the source material better, the hypothesis that Norman does in fact kill himself in the end makes a whole lot of sense). I’ve said it plenty this year, but it’ll be a true tragedy if the actor doesn’t even warrant a nomination come Emmy season. This season of Bates Motel charged me in a way that the other seasons only managed to scratch the surface of, and next year looks like it will be even better. I cannot wait to see how far in Norman’s story we are at that point, and how far this ride will eventually take us. The wait could very well drive me mad.
And, well. We all go a little mad, sometimes…