‘Bates Motel’ Season 4 Finale: The “Norman” Who Stole Christmas

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Ah, Christmas at the “Bates Motel.” The freshly-cut tree is trimmed, the lights are hung, there’s a newly-baked casserole ready for the eating, a little dog yapping around the house…and a corpse on the couch. Well, I did say it was Christmas at the Bates Motel, after all.

In the fourth season finale, we finally got somewhere, in terms of the series lining up with the original Hitchcock film in a big way, and in true “Bates Motel” fashion, it managed to be both chilling and heartbreaking all at once. As inevitable as it all was, it was still kind of shocking that it got here so soon.

Okay, granted, four seasons in isn’t that soon, but you get my meaning. After a certain point, you begin to feel reasonably safe that things aren’t going to come to a head with certain people on the show…until they do.

It happened on the last season finale, with Bradley (Nicola Peltz), who had seemed to get away scot-free previously, only to come back and push her luck by trying to get Norman (Freddie Highmore) to leave town with her. That didn’t end so well.

We also saw it, right at the top of this season, as Norman came face-to-face with a bona fide bad mother in Audrey (Karina Logue) and you just knew it was never going to stand- and it didn’t. With two murders back-to-back under his belt, it was only a matter of time before the other high heel dropped, and in retrospect, it almost had to be the Big One.

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Looking back, it makes a lot more sense why the show felt compelled to spend so much time giving Norma (Vera Farmiga) what amounted to a happy ending with Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell), before pulling the rug out from underneath them both in no uncertain terms. (Fair warning: it’s about to get spoiler-heavy up in here.)

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that, going into this season, Norman was definitely escalating, nor that checking him into a mental institution was clearly the way to go for him. The mistake was, of course, letting him out, least of all after he’d started to make genuine progress with his therapist.

The minute Norman found out about his beloved mother marrying the Sheriff, you just knew it wasn’t going to end well. Therefore, it wasn’t exactly a shock when that proved to be the case, but at the same time, it kind of was.

I can’t imagine I was the only one that thought there was going to be some sort of last minute reprieve for Norma after Norman turned on the old furnace and shut all the vents but the one in his mother’s room. I mean, we all knew Norman was going to live, but it was still a surprise when Norma didn’t make it, at least for me.

I kept waiting for it to turn out to be all a dream or for her to wake up at the last minute or whatever, but that never happened. Instead, not unlike Norman himself, we were left sitting in an empty house, waiting for someone that never was going to arrive- at least not in the traditional sense.

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Of course, it was inevitable that Norman’s version of his mother was going to take over eventually- we all know the story as it exists in the film version. But that didn’t stop it from being somewhat unexpected. Even after four seasons, it felt a little too soon.

But that was part of the genius of the show in general: it’s great at lulling you into a false sense of security, and then, when you least expect it, pulling the rug out from under you. As such, was there really any other way it could have gone down?

Besides, we all knew this day was going to come, and I thought it was ultimately the right time. The show had explored the icky dynamic between Norman and his mother just as far as they could possibly take it. Once you’ve seen a teenage boy spoon with his mother and them covering each other with kisses…yeah, it’s time to pull the plug before things get even more gross.

Well, okay, granted, it doesn’t get much grosser than a boy hauling around the corpse of his mother and pretending she’s alive by “speaking” for her and even dressing as her, but once again, we all knew that was coming, too. If anything, next season should see that sort of behavior go into overdrive.

Until then, though, this was a solid enough season, filled with some undeniably great acting moments, and not just from the main two leads, either. Farmiga had one of the finest moments of her career in the scene in which she finally confessed her darkest secret to Romero- how is this woman’s mantle not covered with awards at this point?

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But Carbonell was up to the task of giving as good as he got, or at least going above and beyond what could have been expected. After all, when Norma first suggested they get married in order for her to be able to use his insurance to get Norman committed, it was almost laughable.

But Carbonell really sold it, in terms of making one believe how someone who should know better would get themselves involved in a situation that was bound to crash and burn- and he knew it. The scene where he said his goodbyes to Norma at the morgue was heartbreaking. And yet, one had no problem believing Romero would do it, because why wouldn’t you? As crazy as she is, Norma’s kind of amazing, and those two had off-the-charts chemistry together. Besides, whoever said love was easy?

But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. There was a ticking time bomb on that relationship and it’s name was Norman. Highmore himself had some great scenes with his therapist, Dr. Gregg Edwards (Damon Gupton), who sadly dropped out of things altogether in the final episode, which was a little odd, given what all went down.

Highmore is an acting force to be reckoned with, but Gupton was up to the task, deftly downplaying things, even as one got the sense that even he knew that Norman had no business out in the “real” world.

Kudos then, to Highmore and Gupton alike for selling it so brilliantly, and making one see how even someone who knew better could be talked into doing something they shouldn’t. It will be interesting to see if Dr. Edwards is involved with the proceedings moving forward next season. I should think he would be, and I was a little surprised he wasn’t on the finale, frankly.

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Unfortunately, the same could not be said for brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) and his girlfriend Emma (Olivia Cooke). Though I just adore both actors and both were great on the show in the past, neither of them had much to do this season, once we got past the initial drama of Emma’s operation.

It’s no wonder they essentially wrote the two off the show- there was no point in them sticking around unless it was for them to be killed off. To it’s credit, though, the show didn’t go there, even though it would have been easy to have Norman get jealous of them and take out his frustrations on one or both of the pair.

But “Bates Motel” had bigger fish to fry, in terms of the show’s alpha couples, Norma and Romero and, of course, Norman and Norma, so it was right to let those two escape unharmed. If they had gone there, I suspect it would have felt disingenuous and shoe-horned in, and left the season feeling a bit overstuffed.

No, they made the right decision in letting them go for that reason alone, even if it left poor Thieriot and Cooke somewhat rudderless in the process, with nothing much to do or contribute. Besides, they could always bring them back on down the line. After all, eventually Dylan’s got to find out his mother died, right?

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As for the rest of the cast, Ryan Hurst did his best with a more underwritten role this season, but that role was nonetheless an important catalyst for some for the bigger moments, from Norma’s big revelation to Romero about her past, to the great scene in the finale where he paid Norman a visit to deliver a casserole, as well as the line of the evening: “You know she’s dead, right?”

All in all, though, this was Farmiga and Highmore’s show, and they completely owned it, whether making us all feel uncomfortable with how close this particular mother and son were and how much further they would take things, to showing the thin cracks beneath the veneer of sanity both tried so valiantly to hide, both knowing deep down it was a losing battle.

No doubt about it, though it was seemingly a low-key season in some ways, it was also a crucial one. We got to see Norman dress as his mother for the first time, put that peep-hole in the adjoining room next to the office to good use, and, of course, we finally got to see Norman transform into Norma right before our very eyes in that psychiatric session, which was just riveting television all around.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: how these two aren’t swimming in awards is beyond me. The only thing I can think is that the subject matter is a bit much for the staunch group of people who vote on such things.

Still, “American Horror Story” cleans up during awards season and it’s plenty gruesome- much more so than “Bates Motel”- so what gives? (I’d argue it’s far and away a better and more consistent show as well, and I say that as a big fan of “AHS.”)

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I will say that it’s certainly a cringe-inducing show- there were times it turned my stomach just watching some of this stuff, much less contemplating how it could be even worse. I mean, no doubt about it, Norman’s relationship with his mother is one of the most discomfiting things
I’ve ever seen on television, that’s for sure.

But that said, it’s also one of the most engrossing relationships in television as well. It’s almost impossible not to be affected by it, even as one is repulsed by it, am I right? Such is the nature of horror, though, I suppose- it’s all about taking the everyday and making it a little off. Or, okay, a LOT off in this case.

So, yes, this was yet another solid season of the show. A bit of a slow burn admittedly, but a necessary one- a crucial one, really, as it set the stage for things to start lining up with the movies in earnest. Before now, one could make a case for Norman to be one of the less crazy things about the show- not anymore.

No, that worm has definitely turned, and from here on out, things are only going to get worse for old Norman- not to mention the guests of his hotel. In fact, I hear a certain Marion Crane will be checking in next season…hmm, where have I heard that name before?

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Until then, I’ve enjoyed my stay at the “Bates Motel” and look forward to seeing what the next one will bring us. Tune in next season to find out for yourself, and I’ll see you then, hopefully. Be sure and let me know what you thought of the season down below!