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Moment of Goodness

Bates Motel Says Goodbye to Norma Louise in “Norman” 

Photo Credit: Cate Cameron/A & E Networks
Photo Credit: Cate Cameron/A & E Networks

I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is a wistful holiday tune, and the key phrase as it concludes is, “if only in my dreams.” I think that’s where we’ll find most of the action going forward on Bates Motel, because they went there.

TV deaths are a strange animal. Sometimes they’re sudden, and sometimes they’re unexpected. They can yield rage or a shrug. The death of Norma Bates was a foregone conclusion before Bates Motel ever began, and yet, when it came, it felt too fast. I realized when watching “Norman,” the fourth season finale, that perhaps that was what was most jarring. We knew it was coming, but the when of it, as Norma found the teensiest measure of uneasy happiness, was just doubly brutal. We, like her shiny, surprisingly affectionate and adoring new husband, are left to mourn a woman we were just beginning to know on her own, apart from Norman. That seemed to be a life she was never going to be allowed to live.

I wrote here a few weeks back how much I did not like the repeated onscreen violation of Norma, and it pains me that one of her few final episodes walked her back down that road. I wish we had dedicated that episode to happier things given how short Norma’s time was. I don’t buy that that was the only way to get her truly closer to Alex. We’ll never know for sure.

In the opening moments of the finale, we learn that Norman was successful in the murder portion of his intended murder-suicide, but genuinely seems to be dispossessed of the notion that he was the one responsible. Even when Romero pushes all his buttons, and comes to blows, he doesn’t wholly grasp what he did. He thinks he was on the murder end of that.

Even more disconcerting is that he keeps waiting for her to come back home. He sits down at the kitchen table for his dinner and eats quietly, with a place set for Norma across from his. He looks up, fully expecting to see her there, happily chatting away with him, but she’s not. And he’s lost and sad–their last meal together was fractious and focused on Romero. He flushes his pills, no longer in need of the stability, and is happy when he sees his dog, Juno, alive and well again, but still no NotNorma. Norman tells Juno she’ll be home soon.

As we know, he’s had an ongoing relationship with the Norma in his mind, who’s been omnipresent in his time at Pineview, but the longer she’s MIA in the absence of actual Norma’s death, the more frantic he becomes. Strangely, his doctor doesn’t come calling (even though there is a pic of a house call in the press set–so I think that was shot but didn’t make the cut, and it was an oversight that I felt.)

The detective comes calling and Norman paints a vindictive portrait of Romero, and doesn’t contest the detective’s idea that Norma maybe did this. Norman says yes, she was upset.

When Dylan calls, Norman breaks off contact with him, to support Norma’s severing of ties, but he never tells Dylan she’s dead. Glaring oversight number 2 is that I feel sure somehow at least Emma’s dad would find out because he’s still trying to sell a house in white Pine Bay (plus, the Internet). But for now, he doesn’t know.

That leaves Norman on his own to plan the funeral, which he does. He selects a dress and takes it to the funeral home, waiting in the lobby and straightening the dress out beside him. As he chats with the funeral home directors, he talks about her in the present tense, and insists on seeing her. He goes in and the makeup artist isn’t happy about the intrusion. The directors stand behind him uneasy, even though he’s promised he won’t be upset.

He approaches her slowly and leans over the body and whispers that he wishes he’d known the plan, still putting the responsibility on her. He’s loving until he sees Romero’s ring and he slides it angrily off her finger. He leans over to say goodbye and as he takes his last look, her eyes quickly open and close. He looks around to see if anyone else saw it and then he tearfully leaves.

At the actual funeral, where he sits alone because he hasn’t invited anyone, he gives a derailed eulogy that denigrates into violence again when Romero shows up and Norman triumphantly shoves his ring back on him and Romero goes off. He goes home, and still no NotNorma, so then he realizes he needs her there, so he digs her up and brings her home.

And I realizes as skeevy as that entire scene is, it’s required because the whole of Psycho hinges on the fact that Norma is a skeleton in a rocking chair, so of course he has to go get the body. He digs up her grave, pulls her out of the coffin, rolls her off to the side so he can refill the grave, and then props her up in the passenger seat and drives her home. He lays her out on the sofa, and still no magical undeadening. Then he glues her eyes open. And that’s as horrific as it sounds as she lies there doll-like.

Photo Credit: A & E Networks
Photo Credit: A & E Networks

Then Chick comes calling with a casserole and reminds Norman, in as heartfelt a manner as possible, in what I believe is their first meeting, that he must understand that Norma is dead now–it’s unclear whether he actually sees her laid out on the couch (the producers say yes). Chick leaves, with the reassurance that he’ll check back in on Norman, and that seems to be the thing that finally triggers reality. Norman races upstairs, loads Norma’s gun, puts it in his mouth, and then the piano in the parlor downstairs starts to play, followed closely by Juno’s bark summoning him downstairs.

And there, in a perfect Christmas card, is his beautiful mother playing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the piano beside a brightly lit and beribboned, also nonexistent, Christmas tree in a gorgeously cheery room. He’s so glad she’s come back, that he thought she’d left him. She turns and smiles and says she’d never leave him, he knows that. He sits down beside her at the piano, completely mad now, disbelieving it’s really her, and says they’re finally together. She agrees, “Forever and ever.”

He puts his arm around her waist and his head on her shoulder, and the camera pulls back on the lit room, framed by Christmas lights on the house and the hotel. Interestingly, there is no reverse POV that none of it is real and Norman is alone in a dark house on Christmas.

<blockquoteclass=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”>

Forever and ever. #BatesMotel

— Bates Motel on A&E(@InsideBates) May 17, 2016

Madness realized. He received his greatest, most terrible and wished-for gift on Christmas.

Where I land on this, is wondering what story they’ll tell in season five now that we’ve leapt wholly into this Norman without Norma scenario. As he loses his last grasp on reality and finds peace in his own personal Norma, do the people around him acquiesce to his odd tendencies, or do they attempt to intervene? With Alex scooped up by the DEA, does any murder investigation die with Norma? Do Dylan and Emma stay blissfully unaware in Seattle only to at some point return to a normal Norman ruse they naively accept? Does Norman evolve into an active serial killer who eliminates anyone who might be a threat to his fantasy dream world with Norma?

Psycho doesn’t end with Norman’s death–he’s still alive. Bates Motel was always billed as a precursor to that, so we can presume he will not die in the context of this series. Given that, what grim story is left to tell in 10 hours? Do we want to watch that story, given that it’s so wholly sad and hopeless as we figure out who Norman is with Norma only alive in his mind? ? I don’t know.

I dislike that we spent Norma’s last season with her separated from Norman, so that this new “permanent” separation feels less impactful. I also wonder if this Norman’s revenge because she put him in Pineview, because she found a way to love without him? Or was it mercy because she was bereft again? Or was it claiming her as his and only his? So many questions.

I was also surprised that the whole of season four only spanned two weeks, which makes it even more startling that Norman was allowed to leave Pineview that quickly. When Romero tells the detective that Norma was his wife for two weeks, that makes her loss infinitely more tragic–her entire life spiraled out of her hands so fast.

All that said, the work Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, and Nestor Carbonell did was extraordinarily nuanced. I cared about these characters because of them. I’ll care about the figment of NotNorma because it’s still Vera Farmiga. I didn’t expect Bates Motel to go here yet. That trigger’s been pulled. We’ll see where it leads.

Bates Motel returns in 2017.

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