'Bates Motel's' Vera Farmiga, Kerry Ehrin Break Down Norma's "Boiling Point"

The star of A&E's 'Psycho' prequel and co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin interview each other and go inside the mind of Norma Bates.

Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) has fled the coop. Betrayed by her sons, the Bates Motel matriarch finally hit her boiling point in last week's  "The Deal" episode, hastily packing a suitcase and gun before ditching her hotel — and leaving a hysterical Norman (Freddie Highmore) behind, seemingly for good.

When the action ramps up in Monday's "Norma Louise" episode, viewers will get a rare glimpse into the character's psyche — going all the way back to her abusive relationship with her brother, Caleb (Kenny Johnson), and her disturbing childhood. Meanwhile, at home, Bates takes one of its biggest Psycho leaps to date, setting the series on new trajectory and bringing Norman one step closer to the famed Hitchcockian character.

To delve deeper into Norma's world, The Hollywood Reporter asked star Farmiga and Bates co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin to interview one another ahead of Monday's big episode.  

Ehrin: I have a silly question, but if Norman wasn't your son, is there any world where you would ever date him?

Farmiga: Part of why Norma bonded so strongly with him is that he has these qualities she needs for her emotional survival. He's 100 percent attentive to her and very nurturing, sensitive and docile (and vulnerable and delicate) — the opposite of her thick-skinned, brawny brother and her merciless, hard-hearted, drunken father. At the same time, frankly, Norman's too much of a waif. She needs a guy who can sweep her off her feet. She wants a guy with the steady, strong, unwavering arms of a superhero. I don't know if Norman could pick her up! He has to start working out and drinking protein shakes or something.

Ehrin: When you talk about her childhood, do you think she has an awareness of all this, or has she just stuffed it all down?

Farmiga: Anger is anger. There is attachment but there is also a profound guilt about wrongdoing. She wants atonement. What is interesting about what we explore this season is that she's not only a victim, she participated as a coping mechanism. These are supremely heavy weights around her ankles that she's carried her whole life.

Ehrin: Can she forgive herself?

Farmiga: She's looking for salvation, no question. There's this Jodi Picoult novel called The Storyteller and there's this amazing quote about forgiveness. "Forgiveness isn't something you do for someone else, it's something you do for yourself. It's saying you're not important enough to have a stranglehold on me. It's saying you don't get to trap me in the past. I am looking at the future." And it's so Norma. Her life is too heavy. She's got to let go.

Ehrin: What do you think she thought when she left?

Farmiga: I don't know what she was thinking. A good friend of mine admitted to me recently that when he gets home from his high-stress job, he pulls up to his house and sits gripping his steering wheel for 60 minutes staring straight ahead, just shaking. But after that hiatus he's ready to face his wife, his 6-year-old daughter and his 20-month-old son. And he's a better man for it. It's a recess. In the same way, Norma's having a quiet time. There isn't a mother anywhere who can't relate to that moment in some way, just cutting off from the world. Cut the f—ing umbilical cord. It's like anger is her God-given super weapon. She's so angry, I don't know if she's really thinking.

Farmiga: How did you write it?

Ehrin: It was a much more immature instinct for me, whereas the way you processed it was quite mature. It was like, "OK. You guys don't appreciate me to this extent; I'm leaving and you will be sorry." A couple of times when my kids have been tough, I actually have gotten in my car and said, "I'm just leaving!" Then I drive around for 10 minutes and I come back. I'm like a little girl trying to run away from her parents. You get to the top of your driveway and then you're like, "I can't leave. I don't know what I'm doing." So it came a little more from that sort of crazy, emotional, childlike place.

Farmiga: The waiver in Norma is that she has always managed to be this glass half-full kind of gal, but this was a boiling point. It's awful; everything is ruined. In that moment she's all worked out and contorted and illogical. And what's the first thing you do? You just chop yourself off. Prove to them that they need you. She has a very childlike disposition.

Ehrin: That's what makes people want to save her — there's this beautiful person in there who has had to deal with so much.

Farmiga: I also love the quality of courage in her. It's like one of the greatest qualities of her mind. She never lets the noise or the racket of other people's opinions drown her inner voice. But she has the courage to follow her intuition. She's been afraid so many times, but she saddles the fuck up anyway.

Ehrin: It's almost like when she's the most scared that she saddles up.

Farmiga: What about the fact that I get so nervous when you're on set? Did you notice that about me? That I scurry away when you show up on set?

Ehrin: No, I don't!

Farmiga: It's true. I know you are the voice behind Norma's voice. I know it's you. So it's like having an alter ego there like, like there's a hall monitor.

Ehrin: I just go there to see the transformation from the childish, emotional, Norma that lives in my head to the fully dimensional woman. It's one thing to go from thinking about it, where it can feel really real and emotional, and another to be in the room with it happening.

Farmiga: The parenting comes from such a deep place — exploring the mental toughness and courage that it takes to be a parent. It's the portrait of the ultimate self-sacrifice. What's that book, The Giving Tree?

Ehrin: I remember reading that book. At a certain point you want the tree to go, "I'm happy to do all this, but could you at least appreciate it?" The complete acceptance of being taken for granted is something I could just not get behind.

Farmiga: No offense to Shel Silverstein, but I don't agree with the premise that someone is supposed to give, and give, and give and expect nothing in return. I want that love and respect. I want to sit on my kid when I grow up! In the book, they were both just wrecks in the end. The guy's staring forlornly in the distance, and the tree's just this little stub …

Ehrin: Do you know if Norma knows that she's dependent on Norman?

Farmiga: They have an awareness of how much they depend on each other. I think they hang onto each other like rafts.

Farmiga: At this point, what does Norma ultimately want?

Ehrin: Safety, whatever that looks like. She wants to feel safe. Which is ironic given the story we're telling. But because she feels safe with Norman, it keeps her from going out and doing actual things that would bring her a little more emotional health and actual safety. That's part of why when Norma feels like Norman is into someone else or something else, she pulls him into her again.

Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on A&E. How do you think Norman will cope without his mother? Sound off in the comments below and come back to The Live Feed after the episode for more from Ehrin and star Highmore.  

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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