'Bates Motel' Star Freddie Highmore on Norman's Final Descent Into Madness

The actor breaks down the series finale and that ultimate end.
Cate Cameron/A&E Networks LLC

[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of A&E's Bates Motel.]

For five seasons, viewers have hoped that Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) could overcome his mental illness and work through his oh-so-severe issues to be free of his mother once and for all.

Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case during Monday’s series finale, as Norman killed Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and "Mother" left him to revert to happier days in his own twisted mind. Namely, he went back that moment in time when the pair packed up and headed to the motel on a whim, scenes that played out through flashbacks from the original pilot, “First You Dream, Then You Die,” coupled with scenes of a bloodied, present-day Norman talking to himself. (In a fitting nod, Tucker Gates directed both episodes.)

In the end, it was Dylan (Max Thieriot) who put Norman out of his misery when Norman rushed at his brother with a knife, forcing Dylan to shoot and kill him.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Highmore to get his take on filming those final scenes, the bond between Norman and Norma, and saying farewell to the world of Psycho.  

What is it that ultimately wakes Norman up and forces Mother to leave?

That moment of resetting comes out of Romero’s last words to him. When Norman shoots him, that really shocks Norman into this realization that he’s been shifting ownership and putting himself to one side of his brain. He’s been ignoring Norman for the majority of the season. So that moment awakens a certain amount of truth for him, and it’s too much to handle. When he reappears in what is one of my favorite acts, he wakes up and he’s lying next to dead Romero and dead Norma, but he’s happy thinking that he’s back in the time of the pilot. The way that Tucker Gates, who deserves so much credit for everything he’s brought to the show visually and stylistically from the very beginning, played it out, it came together epically. But it also makes me laugh. I know it isn’t a comedy, but at those times I feel like it is; Norman’s just talking to himself, his dead mother next to him. It’s all too much. But there are brilliant shots of him talking to his mother in the back of Chick’s (Ryan Hurst) car as he’s driving to the house, saying it’s just so crazy.

Did you rewatch the pilot in order to get back into that mind-set?

I didn’t rewatch it. In a funny way, it was still fresh in my head. I remember the way those things were said. Those responses that Vera gave were somehow engrained in my head. It was like were back in those times. It was a nostalgic episode to shoot for the last one precisely because of that. It felt like we were back in the beginning again, and how times have changed.

Did Norman’s death feel inevitable to you?

It was in some ways a happy ending. He’s reunited with the person he loves the most. If Bates Motel was the love story between Norma and Norman, then it is a satisfying conclusion, because they’re reunited. They couldn’t be reunited in life, so they were in death. That’s emphasized by the fact that Norman thanks Dylan for the act that he did. But I do think it raises an interesting question; you can see it in that romantic way of two people reunited and everyone lives happily ever after. But there is also this darker take that everyone has the same dream. In Dylan’s head, in the very last scene with Norman, he wanted Norma to still be alive. He wanted her to see his kid and for them to be one big happy family. That’s all that Norman and Norma wanted too. Somehow they couldn’t manage to make those dreams come true, even though they shared the same one.

Is that a fitting ending?

The other poignant line from the finale that pretty much sums up Norma and Norman’s attitudes throughout the series is, “If you believe hard enough, you can make it that way.” That was their attitude to everything, that by sheer force of will and desire and love people can accomplish anything. That was much of their guiding principle from the beginning when they arrived at the motel and thought they were going to make it great. Things were going to be happy and they could start over just because they had each other. Despite the romantic end of them being reunited, there’s also that darker interpretation that the very idea of love and our actions being enough to make us achieve what we want in life might not be true. It is an unusual end to a storyline, but it seems particularly fitting in this case.

What went into filming that final scene?

It was such a strong moment for Dylan to see him make that choice. I know that it’s somewhat debatable if it was an act of defense or a conscious decision for Dylan to go ahead and kill his brother, but I fall on the side of the latter. It was a decision he made knowingly, and that’s such a powerful end for Dylan. On the flip side, Norman has proved himself to be incapable of following through on his suicidal desires. He messed it up at the end of season four in episode nine, and again at the end of season four in the last scene when he goes upstairs and Mother reappears. It was the only way that he could really ensure that he could get what he wanted. He needed Dylan in some ways to give his blessing to that and have him agree to do it. It made Dylan understand him on a much deeper level than ever before. Dylan goes up to the house at the end with a sense of hope, even if it is hoping against all evidence, that there is some potential for reconciliation. That he could somehow turn this all around and Dylan could be the one to help him. Dylan realizes in the course of that scene that it’s impossible and accepts Norman for who he is and helps him out in that moment.

You’ve sold projects with Kerry Ehrin (Baby Face for A&E, and a long distance drama at NBC), so why choose ABC’s The Good Doctor pilot for your next role?

Both those projects with Kerry are ongoing, and we’re in the process of writing and coming up with the stories and moving forward on that front. As for The Good Doctor, I just finished the pilot and I’m scared talking about it too much will tempt fate in the wrong way. It’s a fascinating character and a wonderful group of people. David Shore and the other producers are so smart, and it’s a story I’m excited to have been a part of. Hopefully we’ll be able to do some more episodes.

Do you have anything to add?

Hopefully Emma and Dylan will have their happy ending together at some point!

What did you think of the Bates Motel series finale? Sound off in the comments below. Click here to read our postgame with showrunners Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin.  

Twitter: @amber_dowlin

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