Even though we know where the characters ultimately end up, Bates Motel has done a pretty good job of being unpredictable in its debut season. For instance, I couldn’t have told you at the outset that there would have been subplots involving human trafficking, marijuana fields and police corruption. Nor that Vera Farmiga would take complete control over the series, giving far more depth and nuance to Norma Bates than I ever thought possible. Why, it’s almost heartbreaking to think that one day she’ll be sitting in that rocking chair as her mummified corpse takes the blame for Norman’s murderous rampage.
A grim image, I know, but it’s appropriate for Bates Motel, which hasn’t shied away from unpleasantness in its first 10 episodes, a trend that holds true for the finale, “Midnight.”
It starts off with Norma charging into the sheriff’s office to talk to Romero (Nestor Carbonell) about the threats made against her by Abernathy (Jere Burns). She’s got to show up with $150,000 at midnight at the docks or he’ll kill not only Norma but Norman and Dylan (Max Thieriot) as well. He assures her in his cold, disturbing way that everything will be all right. He’ll take care of it, and no harm will come to Norma and her sons. Doesn’t explain anything beyond that, although the bag of large bills he surreptitiously digs into later (we’re guessing the full amount is somewhere around $150K) clears up a few things. Although it gets a bit deeper when next time we see Romero, he’s visiting Keith Summers’ sister, Maggie, who apparently kept the books on their trafficking operation, and learns that Abernathy (a fake name apparently) believes Shelby owes him the $150,000.
Norma asks Dylan for a gun, to which he reasonably replies, “You and a gun is a bad idea.” Dylan really doesn’t seem all that worried about Abernathy’s schemes, perhaps having been emboldened by his victorious encounter with Shelby. But his reaction leaves Norma even more unsettled, enough that a simple inadvertent bump into a fellow pedestrian in town leads her to unleash the classic comeback, “Screw off, sh!thead!!!” She looks a bit sheepish afterward, but hey, she probably earned that one. With all this going on, perhaps it’s good she had an appointment with Dr. Kurata (Hiro Kanagawa). Or, actually, it’s an appointment that she canceled and forgot to reschedule, but the good doctor agrees to see her anyway. She tells him she needs ways to deal with stress, but the conversation quickly turns to Norman, and Dr. Kurata presses her about what it’ll be like when Norman finally leaves the nest, a reality Norma has trouble envisioning. He then asks her about her own childhood, and Norma shares that she’s an only child and that her father was a very kind man. Doesn’t say much about her own mother, other than that she and her father are both “gone” now, and then Norma quickly feigns some squeamishness in order to cut short the appointment.
Norman, meanwhile, seems considerably better adjusted in this episode, enough that he asks Emma (Olivia Cooke) if she wants to go to a school dance together. She tries to play it cool for about a second before agreeing. His way with women continues when he goes to talk to Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy) and overhears her in a very heated conversation with some dude, screaming into the phone. She’s so upset over whatever that was all about that she can’t muster up too much grief over Norman not wanting to publish his short story. Instead, she says she understands and swears her student to secrecy over what just happened with her and the phone call. She then gives him a borderline inappropriate hug, one we sense she’s been wanting to give him all season.
Things finally improve for Norma when Dylan relents and agrees to give her a gun and shooting lessons. While she’s not the best student — a little quick on the trigger, surprise surprise — the experience does let mother and son bond a bit. Dylan even has a momentary lapse of familial warmth and calls Norma “Mom,” something she has to go and ruin by pointing out. Still, it’s refreshing to see, given how the two started the season. Dylan also tells her that he’s been developing his own weapon skills by his job of guarding weed, something Norma doesn’t approve of but knows she can’t stop. Norma also learns about Emma and Norman going to the dance, and the two ladies have a sweet interlude where Emma shows Norma the purple dress she’s going to wear, and the two both pretend to try it on, giving us a nice preview of what life might have been like had Norma had a daughter.
Norma gets a much less pleasant visitor when Maggie Summers shows up to the hotel and warns her that she needs to give Abernathy that money, or else, yeah, he will kill her. Like she didn’t know that already, but coming from a battered, scary-looking stranger, it just adds more to the tension. Then Norman gets his good mood turned around when Bradley (Nicola Peltz) comes to the house and asks for … Dylan. It’s just to get the box of her father’s belongings, but Norman is obviously seething, able to detect the undeniable attraction between his older brother and the girl who took his virginity.
Norman then goes stomping around the house looking for some black socks, interrupting Norma while she’s having a very personal encounter with her new gun (turning it on herself for a disturbing few seconds) then getting into a more passive-aggressive situation with Dylan, who lets him borrow the desired hosiery. Date her if you want, he tells Dylan. I’m completely over Bradley. Sure, buddy. And I think that bow tie you’re wearing looks AWESOME.
Dylan does tell Norman to take it easy on their mom, she’s got a lot on her mind. So once cooler heads prevail Norma and Norman are sitting on the couch and she proceeds to tell him something she says she’s never told anyone. She confesses that she grew up in Akron, Ohio, and that her brother used to sexually abuse her from the time she was 13. She then describes her mother as being “checked out of her body” and her dad as the kind of violent man who would kill her brother if he ever found out, much different information than she gave to the doctor earlier that day. She then reveals how she got the burn on her leg, which apparently happened when her dad came home unexpectedly one day and she knocked the iron off the ironing board. So yeah, there’s all this information and then DING DONG the doorbell rings and it’s Emma ready for Norman to take her to the dance. Just what he’s in the mood for, right?
Well, the dance is quite purty, much better than anything I experienced in high school. A very TV dance, where I expected everyone to break out into a She’s All That-style choreographed routine. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, although there was drama right away as Norman made eye contact with Bradley from across the dance floor, causing Emma to scurry away. When Norman and Emma are dancing later, he can’t keep his eyes off Bradley, and Emma finally calls him on it. She ditches him (good for her!) and Norman is soon escorted outside by Bradley’s date, who tells Norman to leave her alone. Then he punches Norman, leaving us all (well, me anyway) expecting and yes, hoping, for a Carrie-style payback scene. Instead we get Norman walking home alone in the rain when Miss Watson oh-so-advantageously pulls up beside him and gives him a ride. To her house. You know, to patch up that eye. I think I speak for the South Park guys when I say about this development, “Niiiicce.”
In less Penthouse developments, Norma heads down to the docks for her midnight meeting with Abernathy. But the first person she spies there isn’t him but Romero, who drops a bag on the dock and stands there as Abernathy’s car pulls up. The two exchange pleasantries before getting down to business. Romero proposes a new partnership, with “Abernathy,” who tells the sheriff to call him “Joe,” one that will split all the profits 50/50. Yeah, that’s more than Joe’s previous two partners got combined, but Romero asserts that Joe will get what he pays for in the form of certainty and, you know, not having idiots as partners. All right, then, Romero proves himself to be a scumbag and this town is just neck-deep in corruption and depravity, right?
Not so fast. When Joe bends down to pick up the bag, Romero unloads his gun into him, sending him plummeting harmlessly into the water. To add to the heroic moment, he hurls the bag (still full of money, right?) into the water after him, saying “Not in my town, you piece of @#$%.” He then cool-as-a-cucumber tells Norma that she can go home now. But our wonderful Norma can’t leave well enough alone, emerging out of the shadows and yelling at her savior that she almost shot him. “When I say trust me, trust me,” he replies, not bothering to turn around. Bad. Ass.
Now that that’s over, everything seems poised for a nice sendoff into next season. But there’s still the matter of Norman getting some TLC from Miss Watson. She tenderly cradles his face as she cleans his wound, telling him he probably shouldn’t tell anyone he was over at her house, then gets up to go change before taking him home. Only, oh darn, she happens to leave her bedroom door open enough that Norman can see her disrobing. Spoiling the fantasy, though, is an imaginary Norma sitting on the couch telling Norman how wrong this is, and how this teacher should be ashamed. She’s trying to seduce him, she says. And, Norman, you know what you have to do.
Cut to Norman not stabbing Miss Watson in the shower, but resuming his run home, where he meets Norma as she’s pulling in. The two have a nice reunion, and we pan away with seemingly everything in a good place. Of course, there was that line Norman said to his mother about sorta blacking out between the time Miss Watson was going to give him a ride home and then running out in the rain. We know what happens when Norman blacks out, after all.
So yes, our parting shot of Season 1 is back at Miss Watson’s house, with pools of blood on the floor that eventually lead to the kindly seductress lying down with her throat slashed. It’s a powerful moment, redolent with that irrational feeling we all have of watching a movie we know is going to end poorly — because we’ve seen it already — and hoping against hope that maybe this time it will somehow all turn out OK. But no, Norman is not going to turn out OK, and there is nothing but pain, fear and death in his future.
But enough about Psycho III!
Seriously, though, Bates Motel managed to overcome its tricky premise that could so easily have been tirelessly portentous by Episode 3 and instead completely reinvigorated the Psycho story. I’ll never watch that scene between Norman and Marion Crane in the parlor the same way again. Speaking of which, I gotta dig up that DVD.
Photo: © 2011 Credit: Joseph Lederer