Halftime Leisure

Bates Motel’s Tragic Final Hour is One for the Ages

May 1, 2017

Photo: Flickr

“This is how it ends, isn’t it?”

The phrase resonates throughout the final hour of Bates Motel, a series that, unlike many others, became better as the years went by. For the first couple of seasons, the show struggled to find its voice as several subplots and pointless supporting characters made the show feel rather frustrating. It was not until the third season when the show finally found its footing, going full-on psychological horror-thriller. We saw Norman (Freddie Highmore) become Mother, his bloodthirsty alter-ego, for the first time in one chilling and unforgettable scene, while the doomed return and gruesome demise of Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), Norman’s high school sweetheart, set the stage for two final and truly outstanding seasons.

Bates Motel became a masterclass in acting, directing, editing, musical composition, cinematography, and writing. Don’t get me wrong, the series has been exceptional throughout. The excellence of the latter seasons has more to do with a resolute shift in tone, as the show gradually started to resemble a dark Greek tragedy more than a mere dysfunctional family drama.

The final hour starts where the last episode left off, with Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) forcing Norman to take him to see Norma’s (Vera Farmiga) body. The intensity of these moments is truly heart-pounding as one cannot help but feel sorry for the Sheriff. Carbonell’s work throughout the series has been solid. Yet, it was not until he fell for Norma that one could finally see a human behind his tough-to-figure-out face; and when she died the raw pain in his eyes revealed a profoundly broken man. Romero had always had a strong moral compass, but by this final hour he was utterly unhinged; no one could redeem him from his frantic obsession with killing Norman, only Norma. The snowy, darkly lit forest where he confronts his stepson is a beautiful setting to determine this shattered character’s fate, providing closure to his arc in a poetic way.

A set of montages of Norman reminiscing his mother follows this initial tense fifteen minutes, reminding us that he is still unable to come to terms with her death. It is truly sad to see him fool himself, but as he checks in once more a family to the motel, one cannot but fear for their lives. All he ultimately wants is his family back, a family consisting of his loving mother and his estranged brother Dylan (Max Thieriot).

In the beginning of the series, Dylan’s detached storyline and Thieriot’s uneven performance prevented me from actually caring about the character. Nevertheless, once he fell in love with and married Emma, played by an always wonderful Olivia Cooke, I began to see what his purpose in the series was. Like Norman, Dylan had been looking for the family he never had given his mother’s neglect; he finally found one with Emma. Sadly, the past came back to haunt him and he became once again enmeshed in Norman’s psychosis. Dylan deeply cares about his brother, as evidenced in Thieriot’s expressive, kind eyes, but the ethical dilemma he faces given Norman’s atrocious actions is much bigger than himself. All this gets resolved in a handsomely constructed final sequence between the two siblings in the show’s iconic towering, black, Victorian house, where each struggles with what to do next in order to meet their adequate destinies.

For a series to come full circle with such smoothness and skill has certainly been a joint effort between cast and crew, but the factors that have remained constantly captivating throughout are Highmore’s and Farmiga’s performances as the unforgettable mother and son duo. Farmiga has been a standout for years; her character’s flawed nature has always been at the core of the conflict. This season she changed gears, knocking it out of the park playing Mother. Her character has been imbued with a nice dose of dark humor and shameless, disturbing wittiness, making her delightful to watch. However, in this final hour we see the ideal Norma, the one who had long been gone but Norman still believed existed. Her affectionate and heartwarming performance as she embraces her son once again in a dreamy shot towards the end is a fitting way to end her heartbreaking arc.

Highmore has gone form embodying a sweet, shy, and awkward teenager to playing a completely deranged and unpredictable psychopath. More shocking are the ways in which he still is able to convey certain characteristics of Norman’s former self, showing the character’s never-ending inner struggle; his ever-changing facial expressions and tone of voice remain a phenomenon to behold. A tragic figure, for whom you end up feeling pity more than hate, Norman Bates will remain one of television’s most complex characters.

I refer to Norman simply as a character rather than a villain because true evil was not lurking in his troubled, dark soul. For a long time, fans of Hitchcock’s Psycho kept wondering which way the series was going to go: would Highmore’s Norman be a flat-out antagonist like Anthony Perkins’ or would there be more to the character that the creators wanted to explore? After recreating the iconic shower scene in episode six this season, they had clearly chosen the latter path, but I was unsure of whether it was going to work. I mean is not Norman Bates supposed to be a villain? No, at least this Norman is not. He is merely a boy whose mind was left completely fragmented by the years of psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of his father as a child. What lurked in his soul were the demons of those harrowing times, accompanied by his mother’s unrelenting and unhealthy yet caring overprotection. Each loved and depended on the other way too much to survive, to the extent that they could not imagine a world without the other.

As the curtain begins to fall, the audience cannot help but feel that they have watched a transcendent final hour of television where all the characters have met their logical end. It is sad, bittersweet, and happy, but above all, perfect in every sense of the word.

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