Bates Motel S4 Finale Review: “Norman”
Another season of Bates Motel has come and gone. So many changes impacted the Bates family this season. Norman came to grips with the fact that he needs mental help, which was a long time coming. Caleb finally left Norma’s life for good; Dylan and Emma moved forward in their relationship, and there was even a wedding. But Bates Motel isn’t a family comedy or a Disney tale. This was a dark season, full of death, sadness, anger, and revenge. By the end of the season four finale, most of us were in tears. Spoilers for all of Bates Motel season four follow.
When we last left Sheriff Alex Romero, he was sobbing like a child next to the corpse of his dead wife. And who can blame him? For as long as we’ve known Alex—he’s been going out of his way to help the Bates family. He knows Norma and her son have both killed people, he doesn’t care. Even when Dylan shot his own deputy, he took the side of the Bates family. He married Norma to help her son get the treatment he needed, and fell in love with her for reals. Sure, Alex doesn’t have the moral compass you’d think a Sheriff would, but from where I’m sitting, he’s an okay guy dealing with bad people all the time. We can be sure as “Norman” progresses, Alex will find himself less and less able to accept his new circumstances with grace.
Norman wakes from a haze to visions of Mother reminding him that she’ll never leave him. These scenes mimic those found in Psycho IV (the one where Olivia Hussey plays Norma Bates). The next thing we see is Romero being questioned by a detective we’ve never seen before. She shows him Norma’s letter—the one we were sure would be viewed as a suicide note. Romero informs the cop that he’s keeping his mother’s ring, and that they should question Norman about the death. For his part, Norman appears to have only the vaguest idea that anything is wrong. As we watch Norman throughout the episode, we don’t a boy in mourning. We see someone irritated and impatient, doing his best to stay in control. That’s why it’s so tense when Romero picks Norman up from the hospital. They spar briefly over who is at fault. Norman doesn’t ever want to see Alex again. Meanwhile, Alex is determined to prove that Norman is responsible for Norma’s death. As soon as Norman gets home, he calls for Mother as if she’s supposed to be there. Watch for him to enjoy a tragic and solitary meal without her.
As Norman waits for…something, Romero heads to the county morgue. All he wants to do is put his mother’s ring back on her finger. It’s so sad to see Alex so utterly destroyed. I feel kinda bad for objectifying him for the last four years—but he IS a Sexypants, and his devotion to his wife is even sadder. “I love you. I always will whether you’re here or not, okay?” Back at home, Norman dumps all of his medication in the toilet. So much for getting better, I guess. As Norman waits, he answers a call that turns out to be from the funeral director. Wilcock and Son is another dysfunctional family that only looks normal when compared to the Bates/Massett family.
Flat screen TVs are pretty heavy, so I was surprised to see Norman carrying theirs down those treacherous steps from the house. I was less surprised when he dropped it. Might have been nice to have a TV in one of the rooms. Anyway, Norman doesn’t get far when the woman who was interviewing Alex earlier shows up. We learn that she is Detective Chambers from Oregon state police. Psycho fans will recall that Sheriff Chambers was the lawman in the original film—the one who told Sam Loomis and Lila Crane to file a police report when Marion Crane went missing. This makes it pretty likely that we’ll see Chambers in the next and final season. Norman reveals to Chambers that Romero is crooked and dirty.
Wilcock and Son is a quirky family business, so it’s a great fit for Bates Motel. Sable is described as “changing career paths”, but I’m inclined to think “flunked out of college” is more accurate. As they discuss the finer points of embalming (Norman explains that he does taxidermy), I wondered how Norman intended to pay for any of this. Funerals are surprisingly expensive. Norman’s reaction to Norma’s dead body is similar to Alex’s—except that Norman removes the ring from her finger. “Mother, I wish you’d just told me the plan…” Okay, that’s pretty crazy even for a well-known psycho. (too soon?) When Norma’s eyes open though…damn! Downtown, Romero manhandles the guy who installed the Bates’s new furnace. He’s determined to prove that Norman is responsible for Norma’s death.
Norman returns to the house, and hears Norma’s singing voice echo through it. Juno comes bounding down the stairs. Bates Motel has always downplayed the return of Juno—Norman’s dog who was hit by a car right around the time he started learning taxidermy. Seems weird that someone should taxidermy something they love, right? Only if you’ve never seen a Psycho movie, or read Bloch’s books on the subject, or know who Ed Gein was (Norman Bates is one of several famed “fictional” characters loosely based on Ed Gein—including Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs). For Bates Motel fans who haven’t been paying close attention, Juno is as dead as Norma.
If “Norman” hasn’t made you cry yet, the phone call from Dylan might change that. He calls Norman’s cell to tell him that he can’t deal with Norma anymore but that he wants to make sure Norman can reach him if he needs him. Norman is sick, and that’s not his fault. Norma was awful to Dylan—she never really got over how he was conceived, and she was never an especially good mother to him. So when Norman tells Dylan they shouldn’t talk anymore (for Norma’s sake), it’s heartbreaking. Dylan deserves so much better. Like Romero—he did everything he knew how to work things out with the Bates’s. I predict that we’ll check in with Dylan and Emma often in Season Five. Eventually Dylan will have to find out about his mother’s death.
Norma’s funeral is weird and uncomfortable. Norman’s speech though, is amazing. Shame no one was there to hear it. “My mother was the most wonderful person who ever lived. She was just beautiful beyond words, radiant—half queen, half little girl. She had an innocence to her that illuminated everything she did, everything she touched, every word that she said. She was like a miracle. And I miss her. I miss her so terribly. I just can’t believe she left. She was not supposed to leave me. I know they say God has a plan and we have to trust that…well, it would be nice to know what the hell that plan is. I guess nobody thought telling me that would be important…and I’m just supposed to figure this shit out by myself…Yes, but we must trust God…” That’s when Alex shows up. And things get even more awful and ugly.
Fisticuffs! Yeah, what else can one expect when Norman gives Romero back his mother’s ring. The son of Wilcock and Son does his best to break it up, but he’s ineffective. That’s more swearing than one usually hears at a lady’s funeral. Romero is supposed to be on a mandatory family leave. But when Alex heads to his office to retrieve his spare gun, we see an unnerving determination on his face. We know Alex isn’t averse to killing people once he decides they need killing. While he didn’t kill Keith Summers or Deputy Shelby—he did kill Bob Paris, and Abernathy, and Zane Morgan…and those are just the ones we know about. Oh, and Marcus Young too, the guy who thought he was gonna be Sheriff. Before Romero can get two steps outside the cop shop, he’s ambushed and taken in by the DEA. His crime? Perjury, for lying about having a sexual relationship with Rebecca. Damn, that sucks. Stupid drug war…
We return from commercial to find that Norman has reached the bargaining stage of grief. He’s apologizing, begging Mother to come back. So when he takes Norma’s Mercedes to the cemetery, we know what’s coming. These scenes are far more disturbing than anything Hitchcock has given us, mainly because we’ve known Norma for four seasons. Seeing her corpse treated like it’s still her is simultaneously horrifying and tragic. We’re sad that Norma is dead even though we knew it was coming since the first episode. We’re sad for Norman, of course. But Bates Motel strips these scenes of any sort of black comedy that might be there in any other milieu. This isn’t Weekend at Norman’s. There’s nothing humorous happening here. It’s all handled with a seriousness and maudlin beauty that…I’m just blown away by it. Norman comes home with Norma, and we see Juno’s tail wagging happily at the sight of them.
The scene with the eye glue? What is there to say but * bloodcurdling scream * It’s like we think it can’t be any more disturbing, but then it is. I was just beginning to wonder what else could possibly happen when Chick Hogan stops by. Norman has never met Chick, but he wouldn’t like him if he had any idea who he was. Chicken enchilada casserole does sound pretty good. Will Chick force his way in and see the corpse on the sofa? Will Norman have to kill him? Nope. Chick leaves without incident and with a promise to return later to check on Norman. Still, Mother isn’t back yet.
In the end, Norman can’t take it. We see him load the handgun Dylan gave Norma seasons ago. He’s going to kill himself, like he tried to do several times before. But wait! The piano? Singing? Norman rushes downstairs, still covered in cemetery dirt, to find Mother singing carols at the piano—Christmas décor suddenly everywhere. Mother and son give each other warm smiles. “I’d never leave you, you know that.” Vera Farmiga gives Mother a serenity and confidence that Norma has always lacked. As the camera pans out, we see a lovely looking motel and house all ready for the holidays. The Bates Motel is open for business…and look—a vacancy!
I can say with all honesty that as a lifelong Psycho fan, this season blew my mind eight ways from Sunday. Loved it. Loved everything about it. Now, we know we’ve got another season left and there’s plenty that needs to happen. Romero is a good guy, but in cop parlance he’s dirty as shit. He’ll eventually tell people about Norman. It will probably also be Alex who tells Dylan that Norma is dead. More women will no doubt go missing. Hell, we might even meet Marion Crane. Dylan and Emma will begin a new life together, and we can all hope that goes well for them. Dylan deserves some damn happiness. We’ve got Chick around—who knows Norma is dead. Then there’s Dr Edwards, and Detective Chambers, who doesn’t seem to know what to think about any of these players. At this point, the best Norman can hope for is to end up in Pineview permanently.
That’s all for this season kids.
See you’s around!