Bates Motel gave us an interesting and necessary finale to a great season of a (surprisingly?) great show. Though Bates has unfortunately been largely forgotten by most people in the deluge of great TV on at the moment, it’s uncrowded Monday night spot at least gave it the ratings to thankfully warrant a second season. The show has been a surprise and delight in the way it has woven its story in an open, intricate and twisty way, along with the quality of its cast (particularly, of course, Vera Farmiga), as well as its ability to create some compelling new characters (Dylan and Emma) as well as fascinating new situations (the secrets of White Pine Bay). Bates Motel has always had hints that will lead up to the film on which it was based, but it saved the biggest nod until the last scene in this finale, and rightfully so. Hit the jump for why “not in my town, you piece of shit!”
As a villain, Abernathy was never built up to have enough emotional impact or fear beyond a few creepy turns. His advent and demise all seemed rushed, though in a typical Bates Motel switcheroo, it was great to see Romero not only kill him, but fake us out over his own intentions regarding the town and Norma. Romero has had a great character arc throughout the season, from being Norma’s main antagonist to being an uncertain ally when he cleared Norma for the death of Shelby. It was totally plausible, given the town and what we’ve seen of Romero, that his original speech to Abernathy was true: he wanted in, and he wanted to be paid for it. The twist that it was all a ploy to gain Abernathy’s trust enough to kill him was a genuine shock. Romero is still in the grey, but he really does care about that town (at least, insofar as … weed is ok, Chinese sex slaves are not).
So Norman dodged a bullet again, despite her preparing for battle. Vera Farmiga might have had her best episode yet, where she went from being a giddy girl with Dylan, shooting the gun, to crawling through the night to attack Abernathy, to a lie-filled anxious meeting with the therapist, to being emotionally raw and open about her brother’s abuse.
In case anyone bought the “my mom and dad were perfect, but I swear I don’t remember anything from childhood” story that Norma spun for the therapist, her scene with Emma reminded us of that nasty scar on her thigh, which Norma brushed off as being from a childhood accident (that same childhood she “couldn’t remember”). The scar has been making appearances all season, and it’s a great example of the nuanced storytelling of the series. Bates Motel doesn’t usually just drop things on viewers, it calls back to things it teased earlier in the season, even small things like the scar.
Norma admitting her real backstory was an important moment for her character, not only in her telling someone the truth about herself (in this way she reminded me a lot of Mad Men‘s Don Draper), but also in making clear some of her neuroses as well as her weird relationship with Norman. There has always been something slightly incestuous about their interactions, and hearing Norma’s history of incestuous abuse at the hands of her brother sets up plenty of fodder for the armchair psychiatrists. But it also was integral in setting Norman on a rage blackout that will define his character.
“Midnight” did an excellent job of bringing together stories from the entire season to culminate in the moment we have been waiting for since the premiere. Norman’s rage over Bradley (and her friendship with his brother), being assaulted by her boyfriend, having his mother admit a history of incest to him just before a dance he was already anxious about, having Emma abandon him … all of these were threads that have been in place all season, and the final piece, Miss Watson, brought them to a head.
Throughout the season, Miss Watson has had a weird relationship with Norman that wasn’t overt (until “Midnight”) but was nevertheless questionable, especially when it came to submitting his story. Norman has been toying with the rage blackouts all season — from the attack on his father to the attacks on Keith Summers and his brother, two of which were finished off by Norma. Though Norman had the rage to kill Bradley, she subdued it with a hug, but Miss Watson was apparently not so lucky. (HeadNorma has an agenda and morality that boils down to, “kill the sluts!”) I suppose there could be some ambiguity with “Eric,” with whom she was fighting on the phone, but I think he will be used as Norman’s scapegoat next season. In the meantime, it seems clear that Norman finally “broke bad,” and committed a kill that had nothing to do with revenge or self defense. Ladies and Gentleman, Norman Bates.
Episode Rating: A
Season Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— The show has always been wonderfully atmospheric, but the soft lightning in this particular episode was fantastic.
— “Are you kidding me? You don’t know my name??” – Norma
— Interesting this was the first time we’ve seen Keith’s sister Maggie. I wonder if she’ll return.
— Norma Bates: the cute but nutty lady who runs the motel.
— Dylan saved the day with the socks and tried to convince Norman nothing was going on with Bradley but, alas. At least Norman didn’t kill him!
— Poor Emma. She is so darn cute and her dress was beautiful.
— High school dances on TV are always so much more elaborate than in real life.
— Incest, now time for dancing!
— “Here’s some French toast! I need a gun” – Norma
— Dylan was right, I would never want to be around Norma with a gun.
— Norma: “Sorry.” Guy: “I guess …” Norma: “Screw you, shit head!”
— Where is the Chinese girl who escaped???
— Goodbye Bates Motel, I will miss you until your return next year.