'Bates Motel' Boss on Norma's "Bubbling Awareness" About Her "Lovely" Son

Co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin breaks down the season-three premiere and teases Norman’s evolution.
Cate Cameron/A&E

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season- three premiere of A&E's Bates Motel.]

Norman Bates might not yet be the deranged serial killer audiences first met in Psycho, but judging from Monday's season-three premiere, he’s well on his way.

During the episode, Norman (Freddie Highmore) finally gave in to some of the voyeuristic urges that famously connect him to the film character when Annika Johnson (Tracy Spiridakos) booked a stay at the motel. But not before committing himself to a dying Emma (Olivia Cooke) and deciding to homeschool himself when the pressure of going back proved to be too much. Meanwhile, Norma (Vera Farmiga) received terrible news about her own mother and began to lean a little more on her other son, Dylan (Max Thieriot) — much to Norman’s dismay.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin to get the lowdown on Norma’s reactions to Norman’s peeping, casting these love interests and Dylan’s evolving relationship with dear old mom.

Read more 'Bates Motel' Boss Previews a Darker Norman in Season 3, More 'Psycho' Nods

Now that Norma has caught Norman peeping, how long can she continue to live in denial?

Norma, on a very deep level, knows that there’s some shit going on with Norman. Like any parent, you will run as fast as you can to justify your kid. You don’t want to believe that there’s bad or that there’s anything wrong with them. She’s just been running as fast as she can to keep that denial going in her head, and it’s at the point where it’s starting to emerge from the vault that she’s shut it in. She can’t keep it in there anymore. What’s really fun about the start of the season is that bubbling awareness is inside of her, but it’s also paired with a very traditional mother-son relationship. If any woman saw her son looking in a naked window you would have the same reaction as her. You would feel like grabbing him by the ear, pulling him in the house and saying, “What the eff do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that.” That’s sort of the joy of the show, straddling the reality of a mother with this darker, darker, sad, capital R romantic tale. That’s a tragedy, you know?

When you’re casting these romantic leads for Norman what do you look for?

We tend to follow the theory that women who are drawn to Norman are women who are broken. He is broken and they feel some sort of connection to that. It happens all the time to people who have bad childhoods; they will connect to someone who has the same issues. I think that we build more from that model. Blair Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy) was this incredibly lovely teacher but she had this dark side in her sexual life. She was seeing a married man; she was kind of a lost soul. I think that they gravitate toward him because he is also lost. But also his exterior, he’s so lovely. He’s such a kind kid. He’s empathetic. So it’s kind of a seductive combination for those personality types.

Bradley (Nicola Peltz) is returning. Why is now the right time for her to come back?

Mostly we were just interested in what she’s been doing, how she was surviving. What her story was. How seeing her again would affect Norman now that he is in a much darker place. In a certain respect they had such an innocent relationship. It was at the beginning when Norman had first moved here and it was all kinds of hopeful. She was this nice, sweet, teenage girl…it was the first time he fell in love with someone who wasn’t his mother. And I think that’s interesting, to play against the darkness of where both of their worlds have gone.

Read more 'Bates Motel' Brings Norma's Brother Back as 'Dark Presence' Looms

How does Emma differ from that and why does Norman agree to date her at this point?

Emma is facing the reality of her illness that her life is finite. Norman genuinely loves her. She’s probably the first real friend that he’s had in his life aside from his mother. Her friendship represents such an incredibly nonjudgmental, unconditional love. That’s very meaningful to someone like Norman. He wants to try to live a normal life and I think she represents that to him. Which is ironic because she’s ill, but because she’s a good person and she’s been in love with him for a long time. At least in the way that a 16-year-old girl thinks she’s in love with someone!

Those two decide to homeschool themselves — is it actually that easy? And why does Norma think it’s a good idea?

It’s super easy to set up homeschooling. You have to actually do the work, you have to be conscientious and turn in your tests and stuff, but I actually know a lot of kids who do homeschooling. And I think Norma has such a bubbling sense of awareness about Norman that it just makes her want to keep him close and in a certain respect locked up. She doesn’t want to create too much stress on him. She’s kind of creating a snow-globe environment where he can work at the hotel and he’s always there. I think that makes her feel like she can control him more.

We see Dylan begin to question their relationship a bit, especially in sharing a bed. How is that going to affect his relationship with Norman?

That does get played out to some extent. I think it’s a really traditional family situation that a lot of people can relate to. Siblings go in and out in favor with the parents. Norman is obviously wound so tight in his possession of Norma that it is going to be hard for him now that Norma and Dylan are working toward having a healthier relationship. But Norman himself — and this is one of the things that I love so much about the character — wants to be better than he is. I think he’s trying to be big about it. He’s trying. But he’s always fighting this other part of himself that is…you know, psychotic. That’s a big fight!

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

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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