'Bates Motel' Bosses Explain That Bloody 'Psycho' Twist

Showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Cartlon Cuse talk with THR about changing things up for Rihanna's Marion Crane and crafting the episode based on the film.
Cate Cameron/A+E Networks

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's Bates Motel.]

After nearly five seasons, A&E's Bates Motel finally went full Psycho during Monday's episode, putting a fresh twist on one of Alfred Hitchcock's most beloved features and the movie's most famed scene. Monday's "Marion" was the second of a two-part arc that featured Rihanna stepping into Janet Leigh's role of Marion Crane as the character entered the show's prequel world of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore). While there were plenty of showers to go around, creators and showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse — who also penned the episode — decided to rewrite the character’s fate.

The hour flipped the camera around and concentrated on what Norman’s side of the story could have been when Marion arrived at the infamous Bates Motel, all while including classic elements and large chunks of dialogue from the movie itself. As Norman fought off his dead mother (Vera Farmiga) and her killer influence, he became increasingly self-aware and determined to do the right thing.

For her part, Marion had arrived at the hotel with a stolen $400,000 (a small jump from Psycho’s original $40,000), intent on starting a new life with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols). Little did she know that her Sam was the guy introduced at the start of the season — aka the husband to Norman’s current love interest, Madeline (Isabelle McNally). After an intense, red-herring shower scene in which it looked as though Rihanna's Marion would suffer the same fate as her Psycho predecessor, Marion and Madeline wised up and confronted Sam.

By the end of the episode, it was Norman — fearful of “Mother” taking over — who convinced Marion to leave and never look back. She then drove off, safely, ditching her phone along the way. It was a happy, hopeful ending for Marion, though not everyone else escaped alive. 

Sam wound up arriving at Marion's motel room in a bid to make things right just as Mother was making a deal with Norman. Farmiga's Norma revealed all the ways she has protected her son over the years by blocking him from the bad stuff — starting with his abusive father. At the same time, Sam hopped in the shower to rinse off the wine Madeline had thrown on him. That provoked Norman to make his actual first kill — as himself and not Mother — in a reverse-gender shower scene that had been expected since the episode was announced.

To break down the episode’s creative points and find out how "Marion" changes things for the characters in the remainder of the final season, THR caught up with Ehrin and Cuse.

Could you have done this episode without having a shower scene with an actual murder?

Cuse: Had we not done a shower scene, people would have been really pissed. It’s a little bit like if you go to see The Knack and they don’t play “My Sharona.” I know that’s a weird example. We felt like we had to do it, but we were also determined we were not going to make it be the same thing that was in the movie.

So you doubled down?

Cuse: (Laughs) We were like, "We’re going to do this scene, and we’re going to cut expectations by doing the scene."

Why the gender role reversal?

Ehrin: We discussed this episode for a long time in the writers’ room. It was a tall order to bring Psycho in, not let it take over, and deliver a story that was going to have meaning for the arc of our characters. We also wanted our story to be at a peak while doing the episode, so it was almost like a math equation. Eventually it felt like because the story we have been telling in Bates Motel is about how Norman got the way he is, and how a lot of it had to do with growing up in a violent household, that led us back to killing Sam. The idea was that he represented to Norman a version of his father. Norman is really going deep, deep down the rabbit hole of insanity; this makes sense in his head at this moment. It’s both heartbreaking and horrific, which is sort of the cocktail that we like. We like heartbreak in our horror.

This is Norman’s first murder in which he isn’t Mother. How is that a game changer?

Cuse: It was something we talked a lot about in terms of the architecture of the show; what was Norman’s level of culpability for each of these acts that he engaged in? There was a very clearly designed progression in terms of his culpability, and that was his journey as a character as a serial killer. It’s weird to use those words, because I don’t think we ever thought of him as that. We thought of him as someone who was troubled and had this horrible psychopathology and it’s just getting progressive, and it’s part of that progressive journey as he becomes more and more on the hook for his actions.

Ehrin: In terms of Norman and Mother, it means a new deal. It means Norma is no longer in the business of being completely controlling. She has to be an equal partner. And that’s a very new area for her. But the fact is that he kind of outmaneuvered her and found out stuff she didn’t want him to know, and whether or not he wants to know that stuff, he now knows it and has to live with it. It’s a little more like the next step of their relationship is a very weary partnership where they’re trying to feel out what it is and how much they can trust each other, and who is still really trying to control it from underneath.

There were quite a few lines said verbatim from the film, like the quip about the stationery and shoes or the explanation of Norman’s taxidermy. How did you decide what to keep and what to ditch?

Ehrin: With me it wasn’t very conscious. There were certain scenes like the scene where he’s having dinner with Marion in the little office that seemed like a scene that had to happen, but we wanted to reinvent it. So you need enough of the presence of what the scene was originally for people to really understand that’s what it is so that you can then riff off of it. You have to ground it in, "Here’s what we’re riffing on," as opposed to just riffing.

Cuse: We certainly didn’t sit there with the movie open. It was a question of having watched it a few times so that it permeated our consciousness. We were aware of what some of the fundamental elements were, and then we intuitively incorporated them into the show to some degree. In the same way that Christopher Nolan took iconic elements from Batman but told a whole different story, we felt like we were taking elements of Psycho but really fitting them into our own story. We didn’t try to bend our story around to the movie in any way.

Marion made a reference to “Janet” leaving in “Dreams Die First,” when she asked for a promotion. Was that a throw to Janet Leigh?

Ehrin: No. no. (Laughs) That’s just a coincidence, honestly.

You’ve discussed why Philip Abraham was the right choice to direct “Marion,” but what can you say about what he specifically brought now that the episode has aired?

Cuse: Phil spent a lot of time, obviously, looking at the original sequence, and his thought was to match some shots but also to do some stuff that was different, including using this special lens that has an extremely short focal throw. So the shot down over the shower head to Rihanna showering, that’s not in the original, it was made possible by using this kind of cool lens. He was the cinematographer and the DP for The Sopranos, so I think for him as a director to get a chance to do his own version of the shower scene, I think he took the same creative approach we did, which is to have it contain some familiar elements but also make it our own, and that’s what he did. There are things that are literally duplicated, and then there are other things that are his own interpretation of the scene.

Carlton, now that you’ve got some directing experience, did you consider directing this episode?

Cuse: I wish that I could have. I would have loved to have directed an episode of Bates. The scheduling of my life just didn’t make it possible. With directing you need to be singularly focused, and the schedule of when the show was shooting didn’t allow that for me. I would have loved to do it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better experience with a cast than the cast on this show. The actors are all so amazing and such wonderful people, and Kerry has been the center point of the whole process. It would have been great; it just didn’t work out timing-wise.

You did pull a Hitchcock and make a cameo on “Dreams Die First.” Why play the role of the cop who stops Marion?

Ehrin: I actually wanted him to do it. Carlton is such a fun presence, and when we were breaking that scene in the room I had the image in my head of that really stern-looking cop, and it reminded me of Carlton. Only because it’s like a personality of his that he pulls out, but it’s not his constant personality, this super alpha dude. It just reminded me of him, so when he came in the room it was like, "I have the perfect cameo for you." And we all talked him into doing it.

And it worked out, right, Carlton?

Cuse: You tell me! I guess so. It was fun to do. It was very fun to get to participate on that level in the show, and also because Nestor [Carbonell] was directing that episode, the shoe was on the other foot and he was giving me notes.

Kerry, why didn’t you make a cameo?

Ehrin: I only work for top of show. (Laughs) I love acting, I would love to do a part sometime in some little movie or something, but it seemed like to go on and be a receptionist or whatever…nothing came up that I was super excited about, where I thought, "Oh my God, I have to do that." Or that anybody else thought I had to do. So it’s just so much easier to stay home. In L.A.

Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E. What did you think of “Marion?” Sound off in the comments below.  

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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