This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 10
“I feel like there’s a cord between our hearts. It’s you and me. It’s always been you and me.”
Bates Motel isn’t a series that should have worked. A series that digs into the backstory and shines a light on every nook and cranny of famous serial killer and psychotic of the silver screen, Norman Bates, is inherently wrought with issues. And yet, here we are five seasons and 50 episodes later, and I couldn’t be happier that we’ve been allowed to watch this story unfold and reach this glorious end point for the series.
“The Cord” is a series finale that’s much more interested in the emotional core of Bates Motel than it is with playing with Norman’s broken brain or indulging the series’ more insane tendencies. Underneath all of the schizophrenia and death, this was a show about the connection between a boy and his mother. That’s a topic that’s usually inherently sweet. Of course, the fun in Bates Motel is in perverting that sweetness until its outright rancid, but “The Cord” wants viewers to remember that this was a show that was driven by love at the end of the day. This finale is about Norman’s soul, not his misfiring brain. It’s a direction that not only works for the show’s final installment, but also one that allows them to hit on the sprawling gothic imagery that the show enjoys playing with so often.
Coming in hot from the end of “Visiting Hours,” this episode kicks off with Romero hauling Norman out of police custody to find Norma’s body and then ritualistically kill Norman. I’m not sure if anyone was expecting Romero to actually succeed in his plan to kill Norman (although he does get a few solid licks in), but the episode’s first act is devoted to the character, his grand vengeance plan, and getting closure with his relationship with Norma. That closure might still come at the cost of Norma(n) ending his life, but he’s at least allowed that much. While Romero certainly isn’t justified in his actions this episode, it’s still easy to feel for the guy. Not just because Nestor Carbonell plays the role so damn well, but because he’s been just as messed up by Norman and Norma as someone like Dylan.
On the topic of Dylan, I kind of love how incredibly on point and lucid he is through all of this. He knows exactly what Romero is up to with Norman and just wants to cut through all of this bullshit so he can help his brother. His biggest obstacle this week is red tape and bureaucracy slowing down what he knows needs to be done. At least he has the decency to bring up marijuana one last time, as a reminder of the show’s clunkier inaugural seasons.
Surprisingly, a lot of the rest of this episode plays like a Greatest Hits of Norman’s memories with his mother. A good amount of time is spent on (now) painfully optimistic scenes about them fleeing to Oregon together and having a crazy go at the motel game. With how much doom and gloom is now embedded into the series’ DNA it’s almost hard to believe there was a time when these characters were so pie-eyed and earnest. The decision for Norman to revisit his mother in his mind now that she’s finally “left” him is significant, but a choice that might fall flat for some viewers. I can understand the need for more forward momentum in the present timeline rather than indulging in flashbacks, but it’s clear that Norman is mounting towards a huge final decision. Some self-reflection is more than allowed, especially when he’s choosing to re-live these moments and “try again” with his mother.
Norman and his stability are put through one final test as he tries to act like everything is normal at the motel. A happy family checks in for a room and Norman can’t help but watch in admiration. Or is it anger? They’re a misdirection for Norman’s true final target. Each season of Bates Motel has pointedly ended with a significant murder that in turn acted as a pivotal turn in Norman’s development as a serial killer. This final season not only keeps that tradition alive (although murder has been a prevalent point throughout this season), but it follows through with it in the ultimate sense, as Norman’s own demise is the bold choice that the series closes on. Norman finally realizes that there’s just nowhere left in this world for him anymore. His plan was always to go out with Norma in the first place. Now it’s just time to finish the job.
This might amount to an ending that some people legitimately hate—those that were hoping to see Norman go away to an asylum for help, rot away in prison, or ended up escaping and living happily ever after as a deranged murderer. As controversial as this decision that Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin decide to go out on, it is one that finally allows Norman peace. Regardless of how that peace is reached, I would argue that most viewers were hoping for Norman to find that in the end. And now that it’s found, everybody else can begin to heal. That might be an overly sentimental, glib ending to a series about the evolution of a serial killer that makes some people mad, but hey, we all go a little mad sometimes…