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Has Norman Officially Gone “Psycho”? Bates Motel Season Finale Review

By on May 21, 2013
Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. Image © A&E

Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates. Image © A&E

A vigilante justice system, taxidermy, dead detectives being hidden in beds … the first season of Bates Motel has offered us a variety of deliciously bizarre things. Considering that, one would expect the finale to be at least equally as disturbing. If you were waiting for a huge shock, “Midnight” may have been a little underwhelming.

After Jake Abernathy/Joe demands that Norma meet him with the $150,000 he feels owed, the flustered woman scrambles to find a way out of her predicament. Her first attempt is to go to Sheriff Romero for help. In a normal town, that would indeed seem like the best, safest option. Romero looks cagey when he tells Norma he will take care of it. Norma voices what we’re thinking when she sarcastically comments, “That’s comforting.”

Her next idea is to ask her criminally inclined eldest son for a gun (and some lessons). Though initially wary, he eventually agrees. The two of them bond during their lesson, and Dylan even comes clean about what his current occupation is. In an unusual display of normalcy, Norma expresses concern about Dylan guarding pot fields for a living. He whines about how that’s the reason he didn’t want to tell her, but when Norma hears him call her “mom” she doesn’t care about anything else. There’s nothing like guns, weed, and the threat of impending death to bring a family together. It turns out Norma is a pretty good shot, too.

Meanwhile, Norman is busy breaking Emma’s heart and being seduced by his creepy teacher. After calling Emma pathetic, he offers to take her to the school dance. They are not there for long before Emma grows tired of watching Norman watch Bradley. She leaves him to find his own way home, and then Bradley’s weird boyfriend punches him. During Norman’s pitiful, rainy walk home, Miss Watson drives up. She offers to take him to her place so she can tend to his wounds. That seems more appropriate than taking him home, doesn’t it? Especially in that red, cleavage-bearing dress.

It is hard to blame Norman for going into the dance uneasy, though. Before he leaves, Norma drops a bombshell on him. She admits that when she was younger, her brother used to molest her. Earlier in the episode, she told her therapist that she was an only child in a happy family. Apparently she wanted to tell someone the truth “just in case”, and her adolescent son with mommy issues seemed like the best choice. When Emma arrives moments later, Norma ushers them out the door, cheerfully instructing them to have a fun time.

Norman proves to be an inattentive date. Image © A&E

Norman proves to be an inattentive date. Image © A&E

The Jake Abernathy/Joe plot line is wrapped up surprisingly neatly. Nervous but armed, Norma shows up at midnight for a showdown. Perhaps her plan was to shoot Joe with her new, shiny revolver? Whatever it was, she ends up simply watching as Romero shows up to handle the situation. At first it looks like he is going to be as corrupt as Shelby was, but then he shoots Joe. Before he leaves, he casually informs Norma: “You can go home now, Norma … When I say trust me, trust me.”

The cliffhanger of the season is revealed when we cut to Miss Watson lying on the floor, her throat sliced. Since Norman cannot remember what happened after he got a ride from the teacher, we are left to assume he killed her. Norman did have one of his imaginary conversations with Norma while watching Miss Watson undress. (He has such fantastic female role models in his life.) That is unnerving, but is it enough to support the theory of Norman killing the flirtatious woman? Let’s not forget Miss Watson’s earlier, suspicious phone call from an overbearing boyfriend. That’s a bit of a random thing to include unless it has some importance to the story. Even for someone who ran home in the rain, Norman looks awfully blood-free.

Vera Farmiga continues to steal the show as Norma Bates. I’m going to run out of adjectives to describe the sensational job she is doing. While Freddie Highmore has something of a base to jump off of with his character (which surely represents its own challenges), Farmiga is essentially starting from scratch with Norma. She is hilarious in a skirt and gumboots as she takes backyard shooting lessons. She is uncomfortably manipulative as she takes out her own issues on her troubled son, seemingly unaware of what she is doing to him. No matter how much she stifles and damages Norman, she somehow still comes across as a mother trying her best.

Bates Motel is difficult to summarize or define. Though stemming from Psycho, it is clearly a story of its own. While it is occasionally unsettling, it does not have anything close to that tone of trepidation that the film does. There are also moments of extreme comedy, which fortunately seem to be intentional. It has been compared to shows like American Horror Story and Twin Peaks, but really does not fit either mold.

The show may want to be careful of its chaotic, sometimes confused story. Most people interested in Bates signed up for the twisted relationship between Norma and Norman Bates. We want to know what created the monster. In addition to that, we received the crazy town of White Pine Bay. That is not a bad thing, but sometimes the information overload borders on absurd.

Whatever Bates Motel is, it’s a lot of fun to watch. This finale has given us plenty to think on while we wait for season two. Will you be checking in again?