Did 'Bates Motel' Just Kill Off Its Star?

“We’re moving into the end game,” executive producer Carlton Cuse tells THR going into next week’s finale.
Courtesy of A&E

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's episode of Bates Motel, "Forever."]

Bates Motel may have just delivered the moment that Psycho fans knew would eventually come going into the A&E prequel series.

Last week, Norman’s (Freddie Highmore) made a quick exit from mental health facility Pineview and had a tumultuous return home — setting the writing on the wall for at least one character's comeuppance heading into this week’s penultimate installment. But could that episode have been the swan song for Norma (Vera Farmiga)?

The fate of Emmy nominee Farmiga's Norma Bates was left hanging by the end of Monday's episode after her unstable son Norman unexpectedly switched into his “Mother” persona, and filled the house with carbon monoxide in what could have been a murder-suicide.

With Norma leaving that breakup note for husband Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and Dylan (Max Thieriot) deciding that he'd had enough of Norma’s placating her younger son’s mental illness, it certainly seems as though Norma may now be backed into a deadly corner.

To break down the shocking events of episode nine and to find out what to expect heading into next week's season-four finale, THR caught up with star Highmore and co-showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse.  

Freddie, what kind of prep did you and Vera do for that final scene together?

Highmore: Not a huge amount. What’s nice about the last proper scene that they have together in the episode is that it’s understated and it isn’t this huge, eventful thing. After everything they’ve gone through, they’re just in bed together and they laugh and they have a good time. That’s what makes the end of nine — what Norman goes downstairs to do — even more shocking. Kerry and Carlton have always been great in finding and playing against the emotions, those key moments, as opposed to overdramatizing it. So there wasn’t this huge amount of preparation that needed to be done and that’s what makes the scene in the bedroom more rewarding as opposed to it coming out of this fight or rage. It’s more heartbreaking.

Ehrin: It’s really just them being together in the good way that they always have been.

How do you tackle a character change like that in the writing?

Ehrin: It’s definitely tricky in the writing. This is truly a psychological thriller and there’s a lot of plate-spinning of psychology in different people and their psyches and how those fit together or don’t fit together. This show is pretty epic to write because of that. It’s also a great opportunity to get to see these different parts of Norman’s psyche this year. From a writing perspective, it’s been interesting to get to play with this psyche of “Mother,” and of who that is.

What about in acting it?

Highmore: The transitional beats have been the most interesting thing, too, in that Kerry and Carlton allowed it to live. There’s a certain nuance — instead of it being one minute he’s Norman and one minute he’s his mother, it’s finding moments. Like in episode five, he’s talking to Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) and suddenly a switch occurs. But working out and exploring that transitional process between Norman and Norma has such an interstitial nature of it as opposed to it being just one or the other — it’s how they combine or transfer.

How much talk went into the selection of that final song?

Cuse: That was something we spent a lot of time talking about. That was super specific.

What did it represent for you?

Ehrin: It represents what is beautiful about the two of them. It’s a throwback to the second-season episode where Norma wanted Norman to try out for the musical; she was trying to distract herself from the darkness of her life. And the song that she got him to sing to try out with was “Mr. Sandman.” Of course it’s also just a symbolic song about dreams and love that isn’t there, that can’t happen. Longing, desire. It hit a lot of our nails on the head and had a softness to it that really fit the moment. 

Can you tease how quickly we’ll find out what happens in the finale?

Highmore: It does begin where the events of nine leave off. It’s not just ignored.

How does this finale compare to other finales?

Cuse: Episode 10 is really the deciphering of events and really, as Freddie said, we’re picking up where we left off. We hope the audience is compelled to watch 10 and get a lot of questions answered about what happened in nine. It also really plumbs deeper psychologically into where the character’s been and it also sets in motion the fifth season. For Kerry and I, this is a plan that we started talking about the very first year of the show and was part of why we wanted to define the journey of the show as being five seasons. It’s a show that has a defined beginning, middle and end, and we are now moving into the end game. If you think of the narrative of the show over its life, going from A to Z, we’re now getting to those last letters of the alphabet. That’s really fun as a writer and I think will be really compelling for the audience to watch.

What did you think of the penultimate episode? Sound off in the comments below. Bates Motel airs Monday at 9 p.m. on A&E.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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