Deconstructing 'Bates Motel': Kerry Ehrin on the 'Psycho' Nod, Larger Mysteries
"The wonderful thing about Norma Bates is she's the master of resilience and denial," the EP tells THR.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's Bates Motel episode "Nice Town You Picked, Norma."]
Norma Bates' vision of the perfect town isn't all it was cracked up to be.
During Monday's second episode of A&E's Bates Motel, Norma (Vera Farmiga) learned that there's more to White Pine Bay than she originally thought when Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) warns her that the town runs on its own form of justice after Bradley's (Nicola Peltz) father is nearly burned to death.
Elsewhere, Norma's eldest son Dylan (Max Theriot) arrives at the Bates Motel for an awkward reunion with his mother -- whom he calls by her first name -- and half brother, Norman (Freddie Highmore), who is none too pleased to see him.
Meanwhile, Norman's new friend Emma (Olivia Cooke) begins looking into a mysterious book of drawings that he found in the motel as they realize that brutal story indeed might be true.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Kerry Ehrin to break down the episode in our weekly Deconstructing Bates Motel postmortem.
The Hollywood Reporter: Norma's oldest son, Dylan -- and Norman's half brother -- arrives. How will his presence impact Norma and Norman?
Kerry Ehrin: He gives us an opportunity to see this incredibly close bond that Norma and Norman have from the outside. Everybody can identify with a sibling who is not the favorite child. He's someone who calls them out a bit. Dylan has a bad history with his mom; clearly they just don't jibe and don't have same mind-set and don't understand each other. Like any kid, Dylan has a deep wanting for his mother's affection and approval, and that's constantly at odds inside of him and makes for a volatile and interesting relationship. He comes to the house with a very specific agenda about something he believes has taken place, and he's using it as leverage with his mom, which is heartbreaking. He in equal parts wants to destroy her and her to just love him.
THR: Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is investigating Norma's potential role in Keith Summers' disappearance. How will her relationship with Shelby factor in?
Ehrin: Shelby becomes a life raft for Norma. Norma is in this horrible situation where she killed this guy and they're trying to hide the body. In that scene with Shelby, Norma can pick up that he was attracted to her. So when she runs into him in town, she knows she can use it for something and might be able to get him on her side. Norma doesn't mean it in a devious way -- she's not super conscious of it; a lot of people use the opposite sex for that reason. It comes from that survivor place in her, and she's doing what she can to survive and get away with this.
THR: Shelby informs Norma that there's much more to White Pine Bay than it appears, with the town seemingly operating under its own "eye for an eye" code.
Ehrin: It's horrifying to Norma because the whole thesis of her life is that she's trying to change her life and create a beautiful one for her and Norman, where they can be happy together and run this motel without interference and be free of crazy people -- and you get the feeling that her relationship with her husband was troubled. She just wants her and Norman in this town, and she picks this idyllic town. And it's slowly revealed to her that this town, under the surface, has a very dark pocket. That's the last thing she wanted to hear.
THR: Should Norma be worried about more than Romero when it comes to justice for Summers?
Ehrin: She should definitely be worried about more than Romero. (Laughs) There's a lot going on in White Pine Bay. Keith Summers has lived his whole life there, and there are friends of his that will re-emerge. This is a new environment for her, and she's trying to keep her dream alive.
THR: Emma and Norman really click, and she plants a kiss on him. Was that just a random kiss, or might there be more there? Norman seemed pretty happy about it.
Ehrin: You'll see a lot of that. Their relationship evolves into a very interesting and real one for Norman, which he's never had with any girl besides his mother. There's a bit of triangle aspect with Bradley, who is a flashier type than Emma. Emma is very deep and thoughtful and has lived through so much with her illness that she's much more of an adult than anyone else her age. Norman is so guarded and Emma blows through that all the time, and he really needs that.
THR: Emma and Norman set out to find the shed featured in the stories in the book Norman found at the motel, and they find that as well as a pot field. Will they continue to explore that mystery? Will the shed's proximity to the pot field pose a problem for them?
Ehrin: Yes to all those questions! They're terrified when they get chased by the guards at the pot field, and their inclination is to feel that they got in over their heads and may back out a bit. What they believe happened to those girls -- they have no proof that it did -- is so powerful to Emma because of her own life-and-death situation that it's very hard for her to let go of it. She keeps reaching out to Norman and pulling him back in even though he has so much going on with his mother.
THR: Is it safe to say the drug industry is what's keeping White Pine Bay afloat?
Ehrin: Very much so. It's an interesting economy when towns run like this because everyone knows that that's how their economy is staying afloat yet they also know it's illegal and they somehow keep going. With Romero, in a town where lawlessness is the rule, there has to be one person who holds the law -- or the law as they see -- it in their hands. That's Romero. Is he moral, immoral, amoral? We don't know yet. He's a fascinating character, and we're peeling away layers of him. It's like the Old West, where there's lawlessness and the sheriff is the guy who runs the town by doing what he thinks is best -- and sometimes that involves not-so-civilized things.
THR: Dylan gets a shady job. Is he now part of the muscle at the pot fields?
Ehrin: Dylan is a badass but still so innocent. He's been running his whole life and chasing every relationship. He's down on his luck and sees this guy with all this money, and when you have no money your whole life and see that much on a regular guy … he innocently gets into that world, and he'll find out a lot about himself as he ventures further into it.
THR: We caught a glimpse of Norman's dark side during his confrontation with Dylan. Has that dark side always been there, or is it brought out when someone threatens Norma?
Ehrin: It's always been there because of Norman's bond to his mother. Norman doesn't want to let anyone else in and that's become a bone of contention for Dylan. Dylan knows he can push Norman's buttons and be a shit to Norma. And in that kind of dysfunctional family situation, if you can't get affection, you get attention by pushing buttons, and that works because Norman completely loses it.
THR: In addition to the meat tenderizer, we also saw the origins of Norman's taxidermy fascination. Is that something we'll return to?
Ehrin: We'll absolutely return to it. I always wondered in Psycho how the heck Norman did that to his mother. Is making someone into a taxidermy object -- is that something he learned in school? (Laughs) How does someone learn how to do it? Taxidermy, for people who do it, it's a thing of art, and it's a really interesting world to explore with Norman.
THR: Norma changes for a date in front of Norman and insists there's nothing odd about it. Really?
Ehrin: It's odd until you have kids. You get so used to just doing everything with your kids when they're little and growing up. Then they get to teens, and Norman is older, but I really do understand it's comfort level that those two have with each other. They've been through so much together that we don't know about yet in their old life. They have this weird closeness and familiarity, and she has not fully acknowledged that she probably shouldn't be doing that in front of her son, although she does turn away from him, which is very cute. He does look away -- and then he starts looking back. It's awkward and disturbing to him, and at the same time he can't help looking.
THR: Norman was very interested in the "Tiger Tiger" poem he and Emma were prepping. How might we see him explore that dark side?
Ehrin: That poem is so perfectly applicable to him. What's interesting to the audience is to be able to know where Norman is going, but Norman doesn't know where Norman is going. It's this tragic moment in a way where Norman has this feeling deep inside himself that something isn't right with him. A poem like that causes him to have a feeling that he doesn't quite understand yet. He'll eventually figure that out. The point of our story is the winding path that eventually leads to that.
THR: The episode ends with the second cliffhanger in as many episodes -- with a man's body burning on the wharf. Is that the eye for an eye for the attack on Bradley's father? How will seeing that impact Norma?
Ehrin: Yep! That's justice in White Pine Bay. (Laughs) It's a crazy world and it's off the leash, which makes it fun, too. She's horrified, but the wonderful thing about Norma Bates is she's the master of resilience and denial and she'll compartmentalize that and put it away and continue on her pursuit of her dream.
What did you think of Dylan and the creepy town of White Pine Bay? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Bates Motel airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on A&E.