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[Warning: This article contains spoilers from the season five premiere of A&E’s Bates Motel, “Dark Paradise.”]
Bates Motel finally returned for its fifth and final season on Monday night, but some time has passed since viewers last left Norman (Freddie Highmore) imagining his dead mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) playing the piano at Christmastime.
The season five premiere showcased a very different mother-son relationship, a slightly contentious and manipulative offering that has been masterfully concocted inside Norman’s head. As Norman tried to move on with everyday life as the motel manager and create a niche for himself in town with some other business owners, “Mother” questioned his every move and blamed him for having to “fake” her own death in order to be with him.
Meanwhile, Romero (Nestor Carbonell) was plotting Norman’s demise from prison, while Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) had moved away and started a family, none the wiser to Norma’s death but one step closer to it when Caleb (Kenny Johnson) reappeared.
By episode’s end, it was clear things in Norman’s world were beginning to unravel, and the death toll was only just beginning to mount. In order to preview the rest of this final season, break down the anticipated arrival of Marion Crane (Rihanna) and discuss the show’s big return, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin.
Why pick up so far in the future with this time jump?
The impulse came from wanting to tell the story of Norman and “Mother” and what that relationship was. That was something that was personally important to me, to tackle that in a real way so that she didn’t seem like an imaginary figure, so that we bought into her as a real character. The writers, [co-showrunner] Carlton [Cuse] and I spent a lot of time trying to crack that. What it came down to was us thinking of it as a marriage. We wanted to pick it up in an interesting part of the marriage. That had to be after it was going on for a while and the cracks were starting to show. At the end of season four when [Norman] dreams of Norma at the piano, it’s all super idyllic and perfect and happy. We wanted to tell the story of what his life is really like trying to constantly conjure up this reality and how it was fraying on him, how he was having a hard time holding it all together. It felt necessary for some time to have gone by in order to do that.
In the writers room, do you now refer to this character as “Mother” rather than Norma?
Yes. She’s definitely not Norma; she’s a very specifically different character than Norma. She’s Mother.
How did that affect your approach in writing her and crafting her look?
It came from research about the id and how she was created in the first place in his brain, how she was created as a personality to come out and handle things that he couldn’t handle. She was created basically to comfort him and protect him. So that’s who this person is. Okay, well, she’s got to still have Norma qualities; she’s still going to be able to act as that sweet, mother with vulnerability and be almost manipulative in her motherly sweetness. But at the same time, there’s also almost like an effortless drop … a very cold sort of rational thought to her, an amorality. So it’s like the combination of those things are all playing at all times in he,r depending on what she needs to be accomplishing at that moment.
How did you come up with the specific taxidermy look of Norma and how long were you waiting to unroll that look for audiences?
It was born out of trying to figure out how to play the body this season and honestly out of my deep love and reverence for Norma. (Laughs.) It just was a strong instinct to keep her somewhat intact. And I also feel that’s what Norman would have wanted to do, that he would want to kind of honor her. So we came up in the room of building what is almost like an Egyptian tomb where he could dress her, bring her things, interact with her in this weird way. He could just keep her kind of frozen in time.
Is that actually Vera sitting there or did you create a statue of sorts?
It is Vera a great deal of the time, yes. I’m telling you, Vera is the most fascinating actress on so many levels, including playing dead. She’s fascinating even when she’s dead, and I don’t know how she does it.
Chick (Ryan Hurst) returns this season as a new figure in Norman’s life. How did that evolve?
We loved having a person in Norman’s universe who didn’t judge him. Chick was really the perfect person for that. The idea that Chick also at his core is just an incredibly isolated, lonely person made them like the two misfits in a weird way becoming friends. He’s just weirdly supportive of Norman and all his weird shit. He sort of has that dark poet in him. It seemed really funny, too. One of the things that we really love about this season is there’s a lot of great dark humor in it. It’s super bent.
Is it an equal relationship or is there a paternal quality to it?
Chick likes to think there’s a paternal quality to it, but they’re actually equals and he needs Norman.
Marion Crane (Rihanna) makes her appearance this season — was that always part of the plan?
It was a gut instinct that we would, but it felt appropriate to land somewhere in the world of Psycho as we wrapped up the story of Bates Motel.
This is the first time the show directly intersects the storylines. How did you honor the movie while keeping it your own thing?
We worked a lot on it. It was always really important to us to — rather than to pull Bates Motel into Psycho, to pull Psycho into Bates Motel. We wanted it to be a collision of these two versions of the same mythology where they could affect each other and have an outcome that was meaningful and a huge turning point. I believe we did … we’re really excited about the episodes. They are a huge turning point in the storytelling.
Was it important to have a Marion that stuck around for a few episodes rather than a one-off?
Yeah, certainly as a woman it was appealing to me to try to tell the story of Marion Crane and give her a little more personal time. That’s a fascinating situation for a woman to be in, the one that she’s in in Psycho. Obviously Psycho is a different thing. It’s a different animal and brilliant and is built to work the way it works. It’s a lot about sleight of hand, and the director wanting you to see certain things and not see other things. What’s cool about the complement of Bates Motel to that is that Bates is very much about letting you look everywhere and anywhere. In Psycho, you never get to see what’s going on in the house. That’s all offstage. This is a little bit about taking Psycho and seeing what’s offscreen in Psycho and flushing it out and kind of giving a picture of the whole craziness of the world that Norman was living in.
As you were coming up with the episodes, did you discuss flipping the point-of-view or playing with the sleight-of-hand as Hitchcock did?
We did — that’s exactly what we did. It’s like taking the same mythology and filtering it through two different sensibilities. Psycho is a very different sensibility than Bates, but the goal is to make both of those worlds merge for these episodes and render something explosive.
Does that have to include a shower scene or is that something you could forgo at this point?
I don’t know! Is there a shower scene? I didn’t know there was one. (Laughs.) Are you sure you have the right movie?
What made Rihanna the right choice and how did you get her on board?
She’s just kind of magical on film; she has such an interesting presence and was delightful to work with. She came in and took it on. It was a lot and we had to film it in, like, five days. There had been a Vanity Fair article interview with her and she had mentioned that Bates Motel was one of her favorite shows and she had watched it religiously. Carlton had the idea to ask her about playing Marion Crane. At first we were thinking of a cameo, but then we knew it would have to be a real part because we wanted to tell the story. We figured she wouldn’t be able to do it, but we got on the phone with her and she was really into the idea of doing it.
Has the ending come together the way you always thought it would?
Yes. We’re very pleased with this season really on every level, but even the ending will be very exciting, satisfying and unexpected. It’s going to be really good.
Is it possible for any of these characters to “live in the sun” by the end of this all?
We have to always hope, and I hope for all of these characters in every single f—ing script that I’ve written for this show. I’ve hoped that they would end up in the sun. So yes, there is always hope. But it’s not a given.
Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.
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