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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday’s season finale of Bates Motel, “Norman.”]
Heading into the season-four finale of A&E’s Bates Motel, there was only one question on the minds of viewers: Did the show really just kill off its leading lady?
The answer, as those who tuned in quickly learned, is that yes, indeed — Norma (Vera Farmiga) is dead and gone, although in the universe of this series, her spirit is destined to live on. Meanwhile, Norman (Freddie Highmore) is one step closer to becoming the psycho everyone remembers from the classic 1960 Hitchcock film, despite a season of therapy and well wishes from everyone left in his life that loves him.
It was one of the series’ most tragic twists to date as viewers said farewell to the Norma that was and got ready to embrace the character that will live on through her deranged son in next year’s fifth and final season. If the season-four finale’s Christmas scene is any indication, it will be a dark but beautiful world indeed.
To get confirmation of Norma’s “existence” moving forward, find out just how close to Psycho the show plans on becoming in its final year and learn why Norma’s death went down the way it did, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse, along with star Highmore.
Now that Norma is confirmed as dead, is it safe to say Farmiga is still very much a part of the show through Norman?
Ehrin: Vera will always be the center of the show in any incarnation because the obsession with her has always driven the show.
How hard was it for each of you to let that character go?
Ehrin: Super hard. It was hard writing that script and emotional. I went up to the set for that last scene and I actually got so physically ill that I couldn’t be there. My body just wouldn’t let me do it. You spend all this time with a character, it’s hard to imagine when you don’t do that for a living and don’t know the hours you spend with the characters going through these things with them. But they’re very, very close to you.
Cuse: The real profound moment was when I saw the director’s cut for the first time of the episode and that moment of shock and realization where we were like, “Oh, my God, we really did this.” It was a bit of a knife in the gut. It’s weird how you can willfully do something as a writer and then still be emotionally shocked by it when you see it executed and you realize, “Oh, my God, we’re responsible for this, was this the right thing to do?” We were committed that it was the right thing to do, but it was just so shocking and painful. You grow so emotionally attached to the characters that you can still have an unexpected, visceral reaction to something even if you planned it.
Highmore: Maybe I side with Norman and just sort of live in the happiness of Norman’s delusion. There’s a part of me that doesn’t quite feel that the episode hasn’t happened until people see it.
Ehrin: Because we imagine all kinds of things!
Was Norma’s death always going to be carbon monoxide poisoning or something that gentle?
Ehrin: Seeing that Carlton and I have always wanted to tell this weird love story between a mother and a son, the instinct was to do something against what you might imagine, him flying into a rage and being jealous or something. His love for her was really pretty pure. Down to the last beat of episode nine, in his weird deluded way, he had the best intentions. We wanted to do something that had a little bit of gothic romance to it that was not just violent or destructive but also has some beauty to it, some heartbreak, some romance and some tragedy. And the tragedy is that had these two people had some sort of help in their life, some sort of enlightenment or therapy — especially Norma — things could have been different. So this was the ending of that story that gives it a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet vibe.
How does this twist change the tone for season five?
Cuse: Season five is about the ways in which our show does and more specifically does not intersect with the events of Psycho. So Kerry and I have always framed the show as a tragedy, and tragedy is a storytelling form where you know the characters have a bad fate but you’re hoping against hope they don’t meet that fate. We are going to see a version of Norman that is much closer now to the one in the movie, but the way in which he acts and the events in the story will not be the same as the movie. They will cross paths with some of the events in the movie and lead to an ultimate resolution. What that resolution is and how that plays out is something that will be not disconnected to the movie Psycho but will be very much our own story in the same way the entire series has been.
A&E’s Bates Motel has been renewed and is expected to return for its fifth and final season in 2017.
What did you think of the finale? Sound off in the comments below.
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