Deconstructing 'Bates Motel': Carlton Cuse on Norman's Game-Changing Reveal
"By looking at Psycho, you would have thought that Norma Bates is a woman who berated and screamed at her child and eventually drove him crazy and then he became a serial killer. But what if that wasn't true?" the exec producer tells THR in our weekly postmortem.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's "The Truth" episode of A&E's Bates Motel.]
Monday's Bates Motel changed everything we previously knew about young Norman Bates.
In a bid to guard themselves before turning Shelby into police for the sex ring he's been a part of, things naturally go astray when the deputy shows up at the motel and learns the Bates family is on to his secret.
And that's just the beginning. Following a bloody shootout inside the motel, Dylan winds up being the last man standing and tells Norma that he's going to tell the police -- who are en route -- the truth, including all of the family's twisted secrets. As it turns out, the elder Bates brother doesn't know the extent of the family's misdeeds when Norma reveals the real culprit behind the death of her second husband: Norman.
It's a shocking reveal that shows the young psychopath-to-be was already a killer when we first met him in the pilot and didn't evolve into the killer Psycho fans know he becomes. While he did clock his father over the head with a blender, it was done out of love -- for Norma.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Carlton Cuse to break down the episode in our weekly Deconstructing Bates Motel postmortem.
The Hollywood Reporter: Tonight's episode is a game changer -- Norman was already a killer when we met him. How does this change the show?
Carlton Cuse: Our goal all along has been that we don't want the show to feel predictable. We tried hard to subvert some of the expected and predicable directions that the show might go in. It felt like it was time to resolve Shelby's story. We felt like this worked out well to have a big seismic event happen in the middle of the series as opposed to waiting until the end of the first season. There's a whole other chapter that lays beyond this that is not unrelated that will commence next week.
THR: Norma explains to Dylan that Norman was responsible for his father's death. How will we see Dylan respond to this news? This is a kid who was ready to move Norman away from Norma into an apartment with him.
Cuse: Dylan is reeling. There are a lot of things that happened in a very short amount of time that have left him completely confused. He doesn't know what to think at this moment; he has a lot to process here. This is a huge revelation about Norman that's been dumped in his lap and in a way the same is true for our audience. Kerry and I, our goal from the start was to subvert the audience's expectations about what they thought they knew about Norma and Norman Bates. By looking at Psycho, you would have thought that Norma Bates is a woman who berated and screamed at her child and eventually drove him crazy and then he became a serial killer. But what if that wasn't true? What this episode does is establish that there's something fundamentally off in Norman's DNA and despite Norma's best intentions, she may not be able to change him. Being concerned and essentially smothering -- which is part of her nature -- may be catalyzing what's going to happen to Norman. But she's not responsible for Norman being Norman in an environmental sense. What we really learn in this episode is that Norma is trying desperately to keep Norman from becoming the guy that he might become.
THR: How does this change Dylan's contentious relationship with Norma?
Cuse: Dylan has a lot of pondering to do here. He is looking at both his brother and mother in new light. This is the kind of traumatic moment that is really compelling on television -- when character has to reassess their view of the world. It will be interesting to see how Dylan treats mother and brother. There's a definite change. Dylan and Norma, who have been really at odds with each other, are now going to find a new level of connection, which spins out in interesting ways.
THR: How will Dylan and Norma work together to deal with Shelby's death?
Cuse: One of the big questions going into episode seven is: What happens when the cops show up? How is all of this going to get sorted out? That gets answered right at the top of the next episode in a way that is not what the audience might be expecting.
THR: Norman really killed his father but has no recollection of it. As he begins to question if Norma killed his father, will he begin to explore her role now that Dylan has voiced his suspicions?
Cuse: If Norma is a reliable narrator, we have a very different picture of what their prior circumstances were. Going forward, we hope the audience looks at Norma more sympathetically. She's obviously been under enormous pressures here and most notably with trying to deal with Norman when she doesn't have any idea what is going to happen with him or how she desperately wants to make him better. There isn't a clear path for her in terms of how she can do that.
THR: With four episodes left this season, how much will you explore what's going on in Norman's head? He's questioning if something is wrong with him, Dylan likely will and Norma already knows…
Cuse: We're not rushing headlong into Norman turning into someone who kills the guest who shows up at the motel every week. That's not an interesting version of the show for us. We see Norman's progression happening over a longer time frame. What exactly happens to Norman over time is interesting and compelling to us as storytellers. We're not instantly going to turn him into a serial killer of the week; that's not happening. Right away, there are many facets and dimensions to his personality that we want to explore.
THR: We still doing know if the girl Shelby was keeping hostage is alive or dead. Does her fate matter at this point?
Cuse: I would hope that Jau was resourceful enough to not get shot in the woods but what exactly happened to her I can't say (laughs).
THR: Romero was always suspicious of Norma. How will we see him respond to Shelby's death?
Cuse: I don't want to spoil upcoming episodes but Sheriff Romero plays an increasingly important part in the last four episodes of the season. There are some fantastic scenes between Romero and Norma coming up that would rank among my favorites.
THR: Norman and Norma will still have to explain what happened to Emma. Is she the wild card here?
Cuse: It kinda throws a wrench in their plans, doesn't it? (Laughs.) Emma remains very much a part of the show. One of the things that's really interesting starting next week is that the show gets funnier -- there's a lot of humor that Vera brings to the role. It's not expected that you'd find humor in a show that's a psychological thriller but it's one of the things I love most about the upcoming episodes. They have real heart and humor while at the same time there still is a very suspenseful story unfolding.
THR: What can you preview about the next chapter that starts next week?
Cuse: While Shelby and Keith Summers were involved in this sex slave business in town, what if they weren't alone? This is a business that might have acquired other participants. The death of Shelby and Keith might mean that some of those other participants might show up and want to know what the heck is going on. That would be very interesting. (Laughs.)
THR: Might Dylan's boss Gil and his new partner Remo be connected to the ring?
Cuse: I don't want to say yes or no to that. Dylan's relationship with Remo is definteily something we're playing more of going forward.
What did you think of Norman's big reveal? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.