This Bates Motel review contains spoilers.
Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 9
“Everyone has multiple personalities, Julia. We all pull out what we need when we have to. ”
Norma is now full-on in the driver’s seat inside Norman’s head as Bates Motel barrels ahead into its swan song. As Norman’s fate gets dangerously close to being revealed, everyone else is dealing with mixed emotions and trying to make sense of their new realities.
With Norman now in custody and within holding, it’s only natural to reflect on how this seismic shift is also affecting the few remaining people still in his life. Thieriot and Cooke act their asses off in this one and it’s once again great to see how far they’ve come as performers. While last week I mentioned that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the series just glossed over Emma in favor of doubling down on Norman, her presence in “Visiting Hours” is so fundamental that I can’t believe I considered the show might have robbed its audience of this. Norman and Emma’s relationship was a huge part of the show’s first few years. It might have felt awkward or problematic at times, but it was one of the first real bonds that the show established and one that resonated with many viewers. So to now be at this point where Emma gets to learn that Norman murdered her mother and actually gets to have a face-to-face with him after such a lengthy absence is pretty damn juicy.
It feels like if anyone can shake Norman out of this and bring him back to his senses, it’s Emma. That’s why it’s so sad to hear her saying that she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to look at Norman again without attempting to kill him. The episode skirts around that cathartic reckoning between Norman and Emma that’s maybe even been hinted at since the very first episode, simply because Norman has gone too far and done too much damage. Emma can’t bear the burden of trying to save him. When Emma finally does muster the strength to pay Norman a visit before leaving all of this behind, she’s cheated by talking to Norma through the entire encounter (also, that scene in question totally misses a great opportunity to go with Norman’s “I wouldn’t even harm a fly” line from Psycho…Just saying).
It’s also beyond beautiful to see Dylan and Emma helping and leaning into each other through this messed up, broken situation, yet still ultimately falling into different mentalities. This is sort of an impossible situation to reconcile. Emma understandably wants Norman in prison and justice for her mother, while Dylan just wants to see Norman get the right help, whatever that ends up meaning. We may not get to see much into the future of Emma and Dylan’s relationship post-Norman, but I hope that they’re somehow able to rise above all of this. I’m not optimistic about it though. What’s even sadder is that after Madeleine’s dressing down of Dylan, he might spend the rest of his life in doubt over the fact that he could have done something to prevent all of this.
Even though Emma might have already written Norman out of her life, it’s a little shocking to see her burial plans for her biological mother get derailed by her need to pay respects to Norma. Emma’s perception of her relationship with Norma was obviously very different than what Norma thought of things, but it makes for an incredibly bittersweet, confusing moment in an episode that’s full of misplaced grief and sympathy. Emma might not blast Norman with rage during their face-to-face, but she is able to cleanse herself through talking to Norma.
While Dylan is still ultimately in camp “Save Norman,” the episode also creates tension by the growing forces that are mounting against Norman. Romero is going for broke at this point and has never been more determined to end Norman. Also, just how chilling is it to see the Bates property littered with forensic agents, like ants? As people scour for evidence, Sheriff Greene pokes through every nook and cranny of Norman and Norma’s formerly sacred fortress of solitude. It’s a jarring visual to see this closed off space suddenly so open and exposed. It’s a perfect visual representation of this “everything out in the open” mentality of the series’ final episodes. It’s also jarring material because it feels like the sort of stuff that should be in the epilogue of the series since that’s where the placement of this content’s equivalent falls in Psycho. While this curiously might be one of Bates Motel’s shortest entries, only clocking in at 38 minutes, there’s still a whole episode left here. The show continues to have fun playing with the audience, making them try and figure out what’s going to be the angle that fuels the final episode.
Norman also finds himself facing the bitter irony that if he doesn’t want to face consecutive life sentences in prison, then he has to embrace the fact that he’s mentally unwell in order to get off on an insanity plea. The only catch is that this isn’t some quick solution that gets Norman back into his home and living happily ever after with his psychosis. No, it’s a future that sees Norman being constantly poked and prodded until every shred of Mother is torn out of him. This is a reality that seems even worse than prison in some respects to Norman, especially now that Norma is the one that’s calling the shots (it’s a great moment where Norman goes onto to Julia about how “being a mother is an impossible job to win”).
At this point in the series’ run they’ve proven that they’re pros at swapping between Norman and Norma mid-scene as a way of reflecting Norman’s mental state. It’s being pulled off so effortlessly in this penultimate episode though that you almost don’t notice it at times. There are subtle touches in the background like Norman’s out of focus reflection actually being of Norma. The episode switches between the two so frenetically as a nice way of getting the viewer just as lost as Norman is mentally.
Psycho never allows the audience to see any sort of trial or legal proceedings for Norman Bates, which is why the prospect of Bates Motel getting Norman into a courtroom is so tantalizing. It’s a set piece devoted entirely into picking Norman apart and it’s appreciated that the series also gets this necessary housekeeping out of the way this week rather than it bogging down their finale. Highmore continues to do incredible work as the audience in the courtroom reacts and feels pain over the description of his actions while he blankly stares forward, as if tuning the whole thing out. Highmore’s gotten plenty of accolades for portraying the scarier aspects of a serial killer, but these glimpses of detachment are just as crucial.
“Visiting Hours” manages to up-end the status quo before its credits roll, plummeting next week’s finale into some very interesting places. With Norman now in a hostage situation I truly have no idea how all of this is going to wrap up. I couldn’t be more excited.