We all knew this day would come. We knew that Norman Bates's mother would eventually have to die. And yet, it's still such a powerful moment. When we get to it, after nearly four seasons of buildup, it hits like a kick to the chest. Why? We've come to know Norman and Norma so well. Watching this demented young man attempt to kill himself and his mother is heartbreaking.
"Forever" starts with Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) asleep. (In a tragic sense, the episode is ends the same way.) She awakes to find Alex (Nestor Carbonell) in the living room, where he slept with a gun on the coffee table. She's far too ready to put the drama of last night behind her, reminding us how often she's seen similar behavior. Alex never has. "I don't feel safe leaving you alone with him," he says, clearly rattled. If only he had never left.
Norma can be convincing, though. She says there's no way that Norman would hurt her. Of course, we all know she's wrong. Norman (Freddie Highmore) sees them hug and kiss as Alex leaves for work, adding fuel to a growing fire.
Norma just wants to move on, she says. They can put up Christmas lights later, and just be a family. Now, it's time for more therapy. Norman's problems with Alex are clear. He tells Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) that he barely knows Alex and that Norma only married him for the insurance. The doctor confronts him with the idea that it wouldn't be so bad if his mother were happy. This is top-notch writing: Norman is right when he notes that what happened while he was away traces back to Norma's fear of being alone. In many ways, she replaced Norman with Alex. Norman may be crazy, but he also knows exactly what makes his mother tick. "She is as fragile as a baby bird," he says. "He has no idea what he's got coming for him."
Meanwhile, Norma is pushing back against Alex's concerns, feeling protective of Norman and judged by her new husband. She makes excuses, claiming that Alex wants Norman sent back to Pineview because he doesn't want to make room for him. If she's forced to pick sides, as she feels she is, she will pick Norman every time.
In the episode's only scene that feels a bit too convenient, Dylan (Max Thieriot) finds Audrey's earring among the clothes that Emma (Olivia Cooke) borrowed. So, to briefly rehash: Norman kills Emma's mother, Norma finds the dead woman's earring, and it ends up in a coat that Emma takes back to her house? That's a bit much to buy, but it's forgivable given how much else this episode has to do and where it ultimately takes Dylan's character.
Poor Rebecca (Jaime Ray Newman), caught trying to flee to Indianapolis of all places, agrees to work with the DEA to get a bigger fish. She'll wear a wire and try to get Alex to confess to killing Bob Paris. It's amazing that she thinks Alex would fall for such a thin ruse, but Rebecca has always been a bit naïve.
At the same time, Alex and Dylan are meeting in secret. Alex knows that Dylan has seen Norman's violent behavior. He must have. Dylan doesn't think he should be home either. Alex proposes that they need two family members to have him committed — and they can do so behind Norma's back. Will they do it? What if it saves Norma's life? Dylan says he'll try to talk to her. There's great direction and production design in this scene. I love the Pacific Northwest look of the restaurant and the placement of the booth.
Dylan goes to speak to his mother, but it's not about committing Norman — it's about the earring. They get into a fight. Why was she keeping it? Why was she claiming it as her own? Norman is dangerous, and Dylan is afraid of what's going to happen. She's still in denial. And then Dylan reveals that he met with Alex. The worst thing you can do to Norma is go behind her back. It gets ugly. Dylan screams, "You've never been a real mother to me! Never!" Instead of trying to talk him into staying, she asks for the earring. Protecting Norman is more important than losing Dylan. The "bad son" comes home just in time to get a hug from his brother. "Good-bye, Norman." And he drives off, possibly never to be seen again on Bates Motel.
While Norma and Norman's co-dependency grows stronger, Rebecca goes to meet with Alex, who's surprised to see her. She acts like nothing is wrong, and fishes very poorly for information. He's not biting at all. "Where's the mic? I just want to make sure I'm heard," he says, as he speaks directly into it. It sure looks like Rebecca is out of options. Poor Alex goes to his office to find a furious Norma. It's over. She'll never trust him again. The bubble has burst, and Alex is furious.
If only he had begged her to stay. Or followed her home. Norman is in his basement, going through some things when he finds Audrey's suitcase. He discovers bloody clothes and hair. And the robe he was wearing as "Norma" when he killed her, covered in dirt. He puts it on, and gets emotional. Is Norman finally remembering something that "Norma" did? What does that mean for his future? He buries the evidence just before his mother comes home.
Lit tragically by the fridge, Norma looks defeated. "It's not going to work with Alex and me," she says, asking if they can have leftovers for dinner as she's on the verge of tears. Even the word leftovers feels like a loss, like they're returning to their old ways, a place they've been so many times before. She knows in her heart that Alex was there for her. Norman hugs her. "I'm so sorry, mother." Part of him knows that this latest misery is his fault.
Norma writes a letter to Alex. "I will always love you, no matter what. I'm truly sorry." As she cries, she puts her wedding ring in the envelope and seals it. Norman comes in to say goodnight, suggesting it's time they move on from White Pine Bay, which makes sense. He suggests Oahu; it's safer because it's an island. Walk away from the house. Let the bank have it. It's time to go. They're almost happy in this moment, saying things like, "We are very charming people." Although the key exchange comes when Norma says, "We're supposed to be together, aren't we Norman?" and he responds, "Yes we are, mother. Forever."
Norman begins to sing "Pearly Shells," a classic Hawaiiain song that was covered by everyone from Don Ho to Slim Whitman. He kisses the back of Norma's head and turns off the light. He doesn't close his eyes. We pan the house, silent and eerie. Norman's still awake, staring at his mother as she sleeps. He creeps out and goes down to the basement, then turns on the broken furnace. He stares at the flame. We pan up the crack in the furnace as "Mr. Sandman" plays. We watch as the house vents are closed from the inside. Norman locks the front door. He gets back in bed, as the only open vent blows carbon monoxide under their bed. We pan back to the blue flames of the furnace and out to the blue neon hue of the Bates Motel sign.
Alex pulls up and takes the stairs to the front door. He knocks. No lights are on. It's locked. He has a key and he knows something is wrong. He calls to Norma and gets no answer. As he climbs the stairs, all the Psycho fans out there hold their breath, but this is not that tragedy. Alex sees them in bed and calls Norma's name. He can't wake her up. He smells the gas and breaks the window. He carries her out of her room, opening the window in the hall. He tries to perform CPR, but Norma's not responsive. The music swells. Norman coughs and wakes up. We see Alex weeping, saying, "Come on, baby!" Norman turns and sees what remains of his family: A stepfather in agony and a dead mother.
As the episode ends, he says the word often most associated with Norman Bates: "Mother."
- The last two episodes so brilliantly encapsulate the co-dependency that led to the inevitable end of "Forever." Norman needs his mother, but his darker side was formed by her behavior. In many ways, "Unfaithful" and "Forever" are the culmination of four seasons of character development. That's quite an accomplishment for the series, which has never been better.
- Were the Dylan/Emma and Rebecca/DEA arcs sleight-of-hand maneuvers? It seems like they're meant to lull us into complacency, which made Norma's death all the more stunning.
- I wouldn't worry too much about losing Farmiga from Bates Motel. We still have "Norma," Norman's alter ego, who is likely to come out even more now. Also, the show has never been afraid of flashbacks.
- What now? Won't Alex be able to prove that Norman closed the vents and turned on the furnace? At the very least, he'll surely be committed. What do you think will happen in the season finale?