Haven’t we been here before?
A TV Show where our main character is a borderline psychopath who kills those around him, but yet we sympathise with him. Where he struggles with his own guilty conscience and yet no matter what he does, we still want him to somehow escape from his plight of doom and live another day.
You could say that I am talking about Dexter and I admit, as I sat down to watch the end game of Bates Motel, I was hoping we weren’t going down the Lumberjack route, with a daft climax that would ruin all the good work that led us to this finale. Its amazing that Dexter’s final moments were so awful and insulting that is still scars me to this day, and as Norman Bates shares a similar flawed personality, all I wanted was a climax that would honour Freddie Highmore who has been sensational in a role, that up to now, is forever associated with being Anthony Perkins.
While Dexter started strong and became a must watch TV Event, it was when Trinity showed his final hand that the show started to slide into poor writing, with daft story-lines that infuriated the fans. Bates started off the opposite way. The first couple of seasons were more to do with the secrets of the town than what Norman was to become and re-watching them now you can tell the writers were still finding their feet. A touch of an incest planned story was quickly mooted and dropped and it was only when A&E told the writers during their third run, that they have been granted two more seasons, that the show found its feet.
The shocking demise of Norma at the end of Season 4 (most fans expected it to happen in perhaps the final ever episode), meant that as we reached the final season, all bets were off. We knew that a certain character like Marion Crane was all set to turn up and take a shower but how much of Psycho was Bates Motel going to offer?
Apparently very little!
Apart from Norma, Norman and the iconic motel, the show wisely ignored what we knew and expected and was brave enough to venture down its own path. Fans of the movie franchise may disapprove, but for me personally – and I am one of those rare fans who prefer Psycho II to the original- Bates Motel is all the better for it.
When it had the confidence to move away from the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock, Bates Motel offered the unexpected. How many thought that Dylan or even Emma had to die at one stage? How many thought Marion was a goner once Rihanna took her clothes off and took that shower? And who would have thought that Romero would somehow save Norman right at the end?
Yes, its quite right our favourite former sheriff would die. In what seemed like an extended gag of Dick Hallorann’s demise in The Shining, we’ve watched Romero escape from custody, go back to the town to get his revenge on the man who killed the love of his life, only to suffer at the same hands. Despite many chances to turn back and change his mind on seeking his revenge, Romero was lost in his thirst for payback and it was heartbreaking when he finally saw Norma’s body and was consumed with grief, which gave Norman/Mother the chance to escape from his clutches. I’ve always liked Romero and in a decent story, he should have been the hero, the happy ending which is required, but this is not what Bates Motel is about.
We will never know Romero’s final plan concerning Norman, but before he took the bullet, he did get some revenge for himself, his last dying words were enough to not only hurt Norman, but also snap him out of the fragile state he was in. Such was his powerful speech, that “Mother” herself appeared once more in front of Norman, only this time to say goodbye as Norman “knew everything now” and “she could no longer protect him!”. Thinking about it now, Romero not only got the final say, but also ironically helped the love of his life, by getting her son to face up to his actions.
It was a sad imagery for all fans who has shared this journey with Norman, as after a full season of “Mother” being the prominent figure in his mind, we were finally back to the young man we knew and loved. This kind, confused, young man who loved his mother just a little too much. It was tragic to see Norman come to realise that he killed Norma and the shock realisation made him want to go back to a happy place, before the murders took place and in a work of genius, the writers took us back to a where it all begin.
My favourite scene of the entire series is way back in Season One. I remember sitting down five years ago to watch the first episode with such negative thoughts like “how can they make a show about a young Norman Bates?”, but before I got comfortable in my chair, we saw Norma tell Norman that they have bought an motel and as they drove to their new home, we saw that famous horror landmark, with its steps and cabins, and I was like “Whoa!”. I never expected to be right bang in “Psycho” land after only fifteen minutes and to see this scene again, where Norman opens his eyes, to his Motel and Norma saying “Norman Bates you now own a Motel” was fantastic.
In fact the last half played more like a trip down memory lane, with Norman not only in denial of his actions, but trying to recapture the good old times and as a fan it was brilliant to see Freddie and Vera Farmiga back where it all began. There was a sense that Norman for the first time in a very long time, was thinking with a clear head. Yes, he was just trying to picture a perfect life, a chance to reboot the last five years, but you could not help but feel he was desperately clinging on to a past that was no more, guilt running through his body as his actions have resulted to where he stood now.
It really was heartbreaking and anyone expecting a bloodbath, with a young man dressed up in his mother’s clothing going on a murderous rampage would be bitterly disappointed. For me personally, this different approach was more heartfelt and a worthy climax that the show fully deserved. I guess everyone sort of guessed where we were heading once Dylan was given a gun from his old friend and there will be those fans who be bitterly disappointed at the final outcome. but there is a sense that there is only one way this could have ended.
Norman wanted to die with Norma at the end the last season and while she died and he survived, it was that incident that tipped him over the edge even more. Cooking dinner and inviting Dylan over for a final family reunion was a brilliant sequence, played out even more with a dark sense of macabre humour when Dylan sees the stuffed dead body of his mother sitting at the table.
What I really want is something that can never happen, okay?” “I want you to be happy, I want you to be well, I want Mom to be alive again, I want all of us to have Christmases together. I want all of these things to have never happened.” are words you expect Norman to say, but instead they came from the mouth of Dylan who up until then, I hadn’t realised had lost even more than his brother.
Norman replies with a perfect summary of the state of his mind. “If you believe hard enough, then you can make it that way.”
Such brilliant writing as the show reaches its final moments, not with a final gun battle, but of two brothers who have been on separate paths, but all leading to the same outcome. Norman wanted to rejoin his mother, so picked up the kitchen knife and while Dylan pleaded with him, a gunshot rang out and Norman collapsed in his arms with a “Thank you”, coming from his mouth. Dylan managed to do something that not even their beloved mother could and that was end Norman’s suffering. It was bittersweet and I actually felt really sad that this was it. Norman was dead, but not before we witnessed his last thoughts, a bright light and Norma standing there, with open arms.
But the real choker for me, the moment I shook my head is after we see Dylan and Emma, leading a normal life and happy, we go to the gravestone of Norma and Norman and while her side is full of love and words, underneath the name Norman, there was nothing but blankness. Such a strong final image that shows that after everything, Norman Bates had nothing but an empty life and the only person who really truly loved him, he killed out of his own misguided love.
This last episode wasn’t perfect, I still can’t believe how easy it was for Norman to go back to the Motel, reopen and even book in a guest, without any police presence, but that little quibble aside, Bates Motel offered up a final episode that beautifully summed up the entire show. It borrowed the name of “Psycho” and its characters but refused to play the game. This was not a show for fans looking for blood and gore, instead it was a tragic tale of a young man who went a “little mad sometimes” and a misguided mother who tried to protect him.
It contained an amazing performance from nearly everyone and was so full of warm and heart that it actually made you care for all those involved. It really was a tragic tale, more Shakespearean than Hitchcock, but for that reason alone, it was all the more better for it.
The doors of Bates Motel may be closed for good, but the memory of Vera and Freddie playing these iconic roles will sit aside Anthony Perkins forever in the Psycho franchise and I know that as I end this final review, I will deeply miss, such a wonderful show, that had no right to be as good as it was.
Goodbye Norma and Norman….its been a delight!