Bates Motel season 1 finale review: Midnight

Bates Motel's first season may end on a whimper rather than a bang, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, suggests Michael...

This review contains spoilers.

1.10 Midnight

That this season finale included a return visit to the psychiatrist’s office tells you all you need to know about its intentions. Going out not with a bang, but a whimper, Midnight eschewed plot pyrotechnics to focus on character. There were a handful of tiny reveals, and a mild sense of escalation, but nothing explosive, which showed great control. Bates Motel is a little potboiler, a thriller in a minor key and, with the exception of a couple of emotional outbursts, the season ended in the same fashion. It was an admirable move. Sending Norman on a murderous rampage would have been the easier option.

Psychologically speaking, the episode was full of the little generational playfulness that has been a hallmark of the show. Some were funny. Dylan’s handgun lesson with Norma and his frustration at her refusal to pay attention was like a parent dealing with a wayward child.

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Others were more serious. Norma’s chat with the psychiatrist was less dramatic than her earlier one, but it revealed some truths about her relationship with her son. It’s interesting that she said ‘now that he’s getting bigger’ to describe Norman’s development. ‘Bigger’. Not ‘older’. It’s rather a funny way to describe a seventeen year-old reaching the end of high school. Its infantilising quality was confirmed when she revealed that the thought of his leaving her hadn’t even occurred to her.

She could perhaps be forgiven for overlooking certain things at home. Jake Abernathy had given her a somewhat more pressing, $150k-sized problem to deal with first, even if in the end it wasn’t her who dealt with it. Any viewer sharing my suspicions of Sheriff Romero had them confirmed this week. White Pine Bay is his town, as he informed the newly dead Abernathy.

Romero has earned his place as the recurring Big Bad, even if only for the superior manner in which he weathered Norma’s constant hysterical shrieking. All of Bates Motel’s major villains have displayed a softly-spoken calmness as they went about their nefarious business. However, none of them have been as calm and even as Romero, who conducts himself in the manner of a man confident of his position and authority. His whispered face-off with Abernathy, or Joe, or whoever he was, was all the better because of its understated tone and relatively short duration. There’s no point dragging things out when you’ve got a town to run.

The dance was a nice distraction from the mess at home, especially once Norman had solved the sock problem (though unfortunately not the bow tie problem. He looked parts Time Lord, part serial killer). The problems he encountered at the dance itself were refreshingly familiar high school issues, his constant staring at Bradley irritating Emma, Bradley herself and her date, who made his displeasure plain, and set things in motion for Norman’s encounter with his teacher.

The power of the season’s final moment was, excuse the pun, deadened by expectation. We knew that Norman would kill, that was the whole point of his character and it would have been a cop-out to have avoided it. Questions were raised as to his victim, with Bradley, Emma and, above all, Norma, being in strong contention. In the end, it was that nice Miss Watson, whose removal must come as a disappointment to all the boys in Norman’s school.

Miss Watson was a maternal figure, and her comforting of the beaten Norman effectively sealed the deal. He had earlier seen her upset, which was a more personal mirroring of his mother, for whom screaming down the phone is as ordinary as having a cup of tea. Of all the potential victims, she made the most sense, even if she had the least personal emotional resonance to Norman. Indeed, it may be better that she was so little known – boy despatches his friends and family would be a very short-lived story, while ‘killer of near-strangers’ would allow for a more open set of storylines.

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Norma’s apparition was the strongest and most sustained of all such appearances so far and I fully expect them to become a feature of the second season. The motivation that she gave Norman, that Miss Watson was attempting to seduce him, reflected the concerns that Norma had expressed to her son all season long. With them now appearing effectively in Norman’s head, he seems to have taken the message on board, and to have internalised the belief that women are a menace who will only use him if he doesn’t deal with them first.

Norman’s kill aside, it didn’t feel very much like a season finale. Yes, Sheriff Romero despatched the former occupant of Room 9, but he hadn’t been in the show long enough for this to feel significant. There was no tying up or major escalation of Dylan’s storyline or any of the other elements that have lifted this show out of being a simple melodrama about a dysfunctional mother and son. The shot of Miss Watson’s necklace suggested that she may have been the ‘B’ with whom Bradley’s father had been involved, suggesting that the connections between the storylines are much tighter than we’d thought and promising that the second season will be a more focused affair than the first. We’ll find out when we return to White Pine Bay next year. 

Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, Underwater, here.

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