Bates Motel Season Finale Recap: Mama’s Boy

Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. Photo: Cate Cameron/A&E Networks
Bates Motel
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Norma Bates is dead. Last week, I was surprised to see some people suggest that the climax of "Forever" could have been a fake-out. No, she's definitely gone. And Norman Bates is the one who killed her. Now what? Bates Motel is left with two deeply damaged men, Norman (Freddie Highmore) and Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), who lost the love of his life. If the fifth and final season shapes up to be Alex vs. Norman, this finale sets the table in a perfectly tragic way.

In an interesting choice, the "previously on" sequence only includes the final scenes of last week's episode. We pick up immediately afterward, as cop cars and ambulances gather outside the Bates home. Norman is in an ambulance, looking out the window. We see the scene from his point of view, with the Bates house on its side. It's a great shot — the safety of domestic life thrown off-kilter. We also see him descend into memory, with a key line emerging after young Norman loses his mother while playing hide and seek: "Promise, mother? Never leave me alone?" And she never will.

Alex, still in shock, is being interviewed. He was at his house. They were married for only two weeks. The cops give Alex the letter that Norma wrote — the one that says she would always love him, the one with her wedding ring sealed inside the envelope. As he read it, I felt silly for not realizing that the situation would be read as a suicide. It's a clear-cut tragedy in the eyes of the police: Devastated by the failed marriage, Norma killed herself and tried to kill Norman. Of course, Alex knows this is wrong. He says, "If I were you, I'd question her son, Norman Bates."

Norman is being released from the hospital when Alex first encounters him. Norman is going with the suicide story, blaming Alex for it. In an unexpected but totally understandable move, he grabs Norman and throws him against the wall, with his hand around his throat. He spits the line, "I'm going to prove you did it, you piece of shit." Sympathy for Norman is over. The protection Norma gave her son is gone. Norman comes home to an empty house and sits in silence. He eats alone. He opens the door to his mother's room, almost as if he thinks he'll see her in bed. He gets into that bed they shared so many times. He's utterly alone.

Alex goes to the morgue to see Norma. Over the protestations of the morgue employees, he pries open the door to find her body. He pulls the sheet back and cries. Carbonell is so good in this episode, perfectly conveying the blend of grief and anger coursing through Alex's veins. He puts the wedding ring she tried to give back on her finger again. He kisses her and says, "I love you. I always will."

Norman is at home, looking at himself in the mirror. He's in shock, almost as if he's waiting for "Norma" to return. He says, "What do I have to do, mother?" And he pours out the pills he had been taking since his stint at Pineview Institute. That's not a good idea. The phone rings; the funeral home is looking for Alex. Norman intercepts all details regarding Norma's funeral. He'll bring the outfit that she'll wear for her burial. Alex will have nothing to do with the ceremony.

As Norman destroys the widescreen TV that Alex brought into the house, the cops pull up. It's the same detective that questioned Alex earlier, and Norman is quick to slander his newest enemy. He claims that mother was upset over leaving Alex, and that Norman didn't really know what was happening because he was at Pineview. He claims that Alex wasn't a good man, that he only married Norma to get him locked up in an institute. That's the story: Alex tried to turn her against Norman, then she left him. Norman can be awfully convincing, yet even the detective suspects that something isn't quite right.

After a scene at the funeral home in which we get a chilling nod to what will happen to Norma Bates's body in Psycho, Alex learns that Norman may have been in the room when the repairman told Norma that the furnace could kill them. Then, there's a crucial phone call. Dylan (Max Thieriot) has called home to speak to Norman, knowing that the fight he had with Norma means they'll be on the outs for awhile. Norman doesn't tell him the truth. When Dylan says, "I doubt she'll reach out to me," a heartbreaking impression sets into place. He'll mistake the silence of her death as estrangement. Dylan ends the season not knowing that his mother is dead. That dagger will hang above him until next season.

Norma Bates has a funeral for one. Norman didn't tell Dylan, Emma, Alex, or anyone else in his mother's life. He looks at her photo, then stands to speak to an empty church. "She was like a miracle," he says. It's a great scene in a season that was full of them for Highmore. This was his best year, overall. "She was not supposed to leave me," he says, barely conveying the knowledge that she left him because he killed her. He gets angry and the preacher asks if he's okay. Then Alex enters the church, and we get a major moment in the grim history of Bates Motel. Norman shows Alex the ring. He took it off Norma's finger, defying Alex's final wish for his wife. Alex punches him in the face. Repeatedly. Can you blame him?

It looks like Alex is ready to kill Norman. He rushes into his office to get his gun. As he's leaving, the DEA pulls up and arrests him, arguably saving Norman's life. He'll be charged with perjury for lying about his relationship with Rebecca (Jaime Ray Newman). It's really just a pressure tactic, though; the DEA wants more information about the death of Bob Paris. The two-season arc of Bob Paris just led to a scene that saved Norman's skin. I love when a subplot has that kind of delayed payoff.

Meanwhile, Norman seems to be increasingly convinced that Norma will be coming home. And in a way, she does. After muttering things like, "Mother, I've really had enough of this," he goes and digs her up. He carries her body into the living room, laying her on the couch. He shakes her body. He even pries her eyes open, gluing them in that position. "Look at me, mother. Mother, look at me!" he screams. Norman is desperate, sad, and insane.

And that's when Chick (Ryan Hurst) walks in. The door was open. He admired Norma for standing up to him, and came to pay his respects because he heard about her death. (Makes me wonder how it wouldn't also get back to Dylan, but I digress.) He brought a chicken enchilada casserole for Norman. Of course, he sees Norma's body on the couch. "You do what you have to do, but you understand she's dead, right?" he asks. He's going to come back in a few days to check on Norman. Chick doesn't quite understand Norman's psychosis. He just sees a damaged kid who needs help.

Norman loads a gun to finish the job he started. He's going to that great Oahu in the sky with Norma. He puts the barrel in his mouth. He stops himself. Someone is playing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" on the piano. We see Norma dressed in red, happily playing the cheerful tune. It's just a boy and his mother, playing piano around the holidays, as the camera pans out to the iconic Bates Motel neon sign.

Other Notes:

  • The final three episodes of this season contain the best acting and writing in the four-season run of Bates Motel. I really hope the show can carry its momentum into the final season.
  • Although Norman will win his showdown with Alex in the long run (or else Psycho wouldn't exist), I have a feeling the sheriff will make Norman pay dearly for what he did.
  • Who's your season five MVP? For weeks, I thought it would be Farmiga, but I may have to go with Highmore, especially for his writing of 408. And Carbonell arguably had his best season to date as well.
  • What do you hope happens in the final season of Bates Motel?
  • Thanks for reading. See you in 2017!