Bates Motel: Unconscious Review
In which we think about the end of things and the very end of things.
“There’s a cord between our hearts, remember?”
Early on the episode broaches the idea of Norman getting professional mental help. It’s something the show has perhaps flirted with before but now it’s finally seriously contemplated after Caleb’s confrontation with Norma during the end of the last episode. This idea informs the rest of the finale and ends up creating an eerie quality to the installment, almost bisecting it like a taxidermied pheasant into a world that is and a world that could be.
At the start here it feels like this is the only reasonable place for the show to go next, with either struggling to get Norman into a center, or chronicling his ultimately fruitless progress there being the possible directions. Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin have explicitly said that they have a five-year map planned out for Bates Motel, and if the fourth year of that spent a lot of time depicting Norman institutionalized, it could make for fascinating storytelling. Furthermore, it’d be a chapter of Norman’s life that’s never been chronicled anywhere else before (largely because they’d be inventing it), but it’d give itself the sort of renewed energy that Hannibal coasts off of. It’s still far too early to tell, but the seeds have been planted and with that at least being a possibility for next year has me pretty excited.
But as much as this seems like it could be a path for the show to go down, it’s all snatched away from Norma when she learns that sanity can cost anywhere between $20,000 to $40,000 a month. That’s not to say that this treatment would have cured Norman, and in fact, due to where we know he ends up it almost certainly wouldn’t have, but seeing this beautiful endpoint for everyone that’s nearly within their grasp before being taken away is brutal. You can imagine a world where Bates Motel was a three-season show about a troubled boy and his overprotective mother in a wacked out town, until the boy gets treatment and they live happily ever after.
But this false ending that’s never really dwelt on made me think of what the ultimate ending of this show will be. It’s one of the few programs where arguably no one could have a happy ending by the conclusion of it. We know that Norman and Norma are headed into oblivion, and so does our happy ending lie in a self-asserted Dylan repairing things with Caleb and starting a family with Emma? I doubt it. All of these characters have intentionally been given expiration points as we speed towards an ending that is likely going to go for shock rather than self-fulfillment. Like Norma says to Sheriff Romero, “We’re all doomed in the end, right?”
I realize this is a lot of time to spend on a hypothetical ending that we’re far(ish) away from, but this episode more than anything else gets you thinking about that end point. There’s a big sense of “letting go” that occurs in this episode, whether it’s through the characters or the storylines. All of the floating plots come together here, but not in a way that questions the status quo or is challenging, but more so the reinforcement of the message we’ve been getting for weeks now. It doesn’t even feel like any of them even end, but kind of just fade out instead.
Unsurprisingly Dylan and Emma get their grand romantic moment together which is exactly as on the nose as the rest of their relationship has been. All of the discussions about the fears of mortality and not wanting to die are things we’ve heard many times before, including this show itself. By the time that Dylan knights Emma as “a frickin’ warrior,” it seems almost like a given that she’s not going to make it past her operation.
The city turmoil also heats up, and I’m sorry but a lot of the Bob Paris material fell flat on me this season. I’ll admit that it was more engaging than the background C-stories we’ve gotten in previous years, but you can tell that the final meeting between Paris and Romero is supposed to have all sorts of weight behind it but it just sort of hangs there. Even with the explosive end to it, you’re kind of just like, “Well, okay then…” Vicious deaths are hardly anything new for Bates Motel finales. Even when we find a healthy pair of lungs, that doesn’t mean we’re going to live happily ever after…
The final alternative “happily ever after” that’s presented here is in the form of Norman escaping with Bradley. Surely this is the more disastrous of the choices, with an unhinged Norman on the loose being a lot worse than with him getting professional care. But at least having Norman separated from Norma and the poisonous relationship they share could have some sort of positive effect on him. This is another path that’s unable to be chosen though, even if Norman gets incredibly close to taking it. In the end he’s unable to leave his mother (both the physical and mental versions of her) and it damns him.
As clunky as all of this Bradley stuff has been (which is considerably), seeing Norman segue into his mother in the car is the fun, gleeful horror that we’ve been hoping for since episode one. Go-to series director, Tucker Gates does some slick work by switching to Norma executing Norman’s murder as he goes through with it. As effective as this is, it still robs us of half the power of the scene. Switching between Norman and Norma simultaneously committing the murder (like how Twin Peaks handled such a thing) would have had a lot more power behind it. Regardless, we’ve passed the breaking point. We’re into the good stuff now. And as messy as the voyage has been, next season is going to be the most fun yet.
As well as the messiest.