***Spoiler Alert! Do not read this is you have not watched the series finale of BATES MOTEL***
This is the third eulogy I’ve had to write for a genre show this season (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and GRIMM were before this). But this one is hard for me. I loved BATES MOTEL. Like everyone else, I wasn’t sure that a TV series based on a movie – especially such a classic as PSYCHO – was a good idea (ahem – DAMIAN – ahem). But with the exception of terrible second season, BATES was great. Seasons four and five were jaw-droppingly amazing, largely because that is when shit hit the fan.
Last night was the series finale of BATES MOTEL, and it really closed on a high note – or a low note, depending on how you view things. Romero forces Norman to take him to see Norma’s body, the men fight, and Romero ends up dead. Norman’s mental issues take a sharp turn, when Norma “leaves” him, and Norman slips back in time five years, to when he and Mother first moved to the motel. (This was the one sticking point with me, something that I couldn’t put out of my head for the entirety of the episode: with a massive manhunt underway for Romero and Norman, why wasn’t a cop posted at the Bates home the entire time? Why did it take Dylan to get the cops there?) Dylan is invited to a dinner with Norman and Mother, and when he tries to talk Norman into surrender, Norman forces Dylan to kill him.
There was nothing surprising or out of the ordinary for this episode. Honestly, it was a slow-burn finale. It wasn’t a surprise that Norman died; it was really the only ending the show could have. Norman isn’t a sociopath like Hannibal Lecter; there is no joy in seeing him locked up. He missed his mom, and he didn’t know how to handle it. Likewise, when Dylan got the gun, he knew he would have to use it on Norman, but he didn’t want to. It was a sympathetic ending, because Norman was finally at peace. In his moments of clarity, Norman Bates didn’t want to kill people; unfortunately, his moments of clarity were few and far between, until there was no point in living. All of Norman was gone. What I found to be the saddest moment in the episode was the final shot of Norma and Norman’s gravestone. Norma has a lengthy epitaph on her side; Norman has nothing more than his birth and death date. It is a stark contrast, and reminder that the few friends Norman had in his life – namely, Dylan and Emma, and to a lesser extent, Madeline – were so hurt by Norman that, by the end, they didn’t/couldn’t say anything about him. Nothing that could be etched, anyway.
I want to look back at the Marion Crane scenes. Marion was the infamous shower murder in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. She was portrayed as something of a scandal: a woman having an affair with a married man, then making the conscious decision to steal $40,000 and flee the state. In PSYCHO, Marion was portrayed by Janet Leigh, one of the infamous Hitchcock Blondes. In BATES MOTEL, Marion was portrayed by Rhianna, and was a far more sympathetic character. She does not know that her boyfriend, Sam, is married, and her theft is portrayed less like calculated, manipulative move, and more like the sudden impetuous decision of a woman pushed too far.
Some might say that, in BATES MOTEL, Marion was spared because she was the aggrieved party. Instead, it was Sam, her philandering boyfriend, who was killed. In the setting of BATES MOTEL, with the story that has been told thus far about Norman, it makes sense that Sam would be murdered (in exactly the same iconic fashion that Marion suffered); however, Norman hasn’t shied away from killing other, innocent women. I’m sure there are some feminists out there that think this is a great blow for gender equality. But honestly, I think that it was also a way for the producers to distinguish themselves. You still got the iconic shower scene that everyone was waiting for; but you got an updated spin on it, something to throw viewers off.
BATES MOTEL was most successful when it was focused on the family drama of the Bates family. In the first few seasons, there were some missteps, where the focus was on the sordid goings-on of the town: the human trafficking, the (at the time illegal) marijuana business, the secret societies with their sex parties. (Fun fact: the realtor showing off the Bates Motel to potential buyers at the end of the finale is Jiao, the sex slave that Norman saved from Deputy Shelby’s boat in season one.) I think that producers, in the first three seasons, were still feeling their way through.
Season four, when Norman’s mental problems really came to the fore, and season five, after Norma died and Norman entered PSYCHO territory, was really where the series shined. That is due in no small part to the magnificent performances of Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. Vera is such an amazing actress, playing Norma as a fierce, independent, woman; but also a scared, sad woman who is desperate for the love and stability she was denied as a child. Freddie is the perfect Norman Bates: sweet, innocent, and unsuspecting. But then he switches between Norman and Norma so smoothly it is chilling.
BATES MOTEL was a solid series that stayed true to the material that came before it. It was a weekly dose of tension, and I felt sympathy for Norman that I rarely feel for real people. I am glad it went out at the height of its quality, but that means it will be missed even more.