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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday’s “Norma Bates” episode of A&E’s Bates Motel.]
They finally went there.
After two and a half seasons of subtle Psycho hints and not-so-subtle blackouts involving one of horror’s most famous mothers, A&E’s Bates Motel pulled the mother of all episodes when Norman (Freddie Highmore) finally transformed into Norma Bates for the very first time.
Unable to cope with Norma (Vera Farmiga) storming out of his life and desperate to get her back, Norman donned his mother’s housecoat and unknowingly became her instead, cheerfully cooking breakfast as Norma in front of his brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot).
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Highmore, as well as co-showrunner Kerry Ehrin, to discuss the big reveal and how it propels the series going forward.
What kind of pressure was there to get this scene right?
Ehrin: Because Psycho is Psycho we have lived with this moment since the inception of the series. It’s such a huge part of the mythology. When [co-showrunner] Carlton Cuse and I were sitting down to figure out when was the right time to get there, we both had the instinct to really do it in a nuanced, realistic way. We didn’t plan ahead of time for it to happen in this episode. It just felt like the exact right place to happen in the story, where Norman is spinning out because he was abandoned by his mother. That’s exactly when he would need to produce her as a hallucination in a really big way, to help fill that fear in him.
Highmore: Once the scene was written it was more this sense to in some way have a balance between mimicking Norma completely, but keeping Norman in character. It would have been a bit too forced to have it as this complete mimicry and over-the-top. It was something I was hoping to keep simple and understated, because I felt that would make it more powerful.
Which Norma traits did you want to embody?
Highmore: I sat down with Vera and she read through the lines with me. There was certainly an attempt to look at how she would have read the scenes and the inflections she would have used if she was doing the scene as Norma. So I tried to incorporate those into my performance as Norman mimicking her. The way we ended up blocking and staging the scene is very Norma-esque, with her bustling around the kitchen and quite happy getting along cooking. Because it was simply done, it wasn’t overly emotional. Norman wasn’t in any pain or struggling in any way. It was this effortless, pleasant experience for Norman to be down there, cooking away. That’s even worse than if they had had Norman boiling over with anger and then turning into Norma.
Now that the door is opened, how do you balance not overusing this device?
Highmore: We know where it’s going; it’s just to what extent, which is always the thing with Bates Motel. What makes the moment so delicious is that you’ve waited for it. Hopefully if we get to do more seasons those moments will become more frequent. But it’s also something that should never be overused, otherwise it would cease to be as interesting.
Ehrin: We have to be sensitive to it and stay inside the storytelling in a real way so that we’re not just using it for flashy tricks. It has to come out of stories that have been built for an emotional and suspenseful value. So that when he gets into that place when he becomes Norma, it is absolutely thrilling and necessary and could not be any other way. That’s how you keep it real.
How will this affect his relationship with Dylan?
Highmore: Dylan has always had this sympathy for Norman and that’s what is heartbreaking in the episode. Despite Norman losing his mind and becoming someone you can’t keep around and live with very easily, Dylan still has such an emotional tie to him. He wants to do everything he can to make sure he’s all right.
Ehrin: It affects Norman, too, as he starts to become aware of the levels of it in himself. Right now he has an awareness that there’s something not right with him because he blacks out, though he doesn’t always remember what he experienced in the hallucinations. When he starts to become more aware of that, of course it’s going to have a dramatic effect on every relationship in his life. He’s becoming kind of a scary creature. But Norman does trust Dylan and I think that is going to become important in the future.
Emma (Olivia Cooke) got an inside glimpse at Norman’s blackouts and rage, too; how does this affect them?
Highmore: I think the start of a new relationship plays into that quite strongly in the episode as well, as she maybe finds much more of a kindred spirit in Dylan as opposed to Norman. Yet at the same time she is feeling incredibly disconnected from Norman. She recognizes it when Olivia and Max are in the bathroom, that they both share more than they maybe previously thought.
Ehrin: She and Dylan are islands that have floated around the Norma/Norman mainland without being attached to it. The fact that these two floating islands bump into each other that night is really interesting and it opens a new connection between them.
Does that create jealousy between Dylan and Norman?
Highmore: Norman’s interactions become much more internal and imaginary as opposed to maintaining these real- life relationships. It’s almost as though he isn’t aware what’s going on outside the craziness of his mind. And that’s a signal of things to come.
Now that Norma left once, does that change the way Norman sees her?
Ehrin: Her leaving is a huge betrayal between those two incredibly codependent people. In a way it was a really healthy step for Norma to take because she’s just fed up. She doesn’t know what to do; she doesn’t know how to handle it.
Highmore: For Norman to link it all might be a step too far because he doesn’t necessarily remember all of these things he’s done. Their relationship shifts toward this point where Norman is seeking greater control, and becomes evermore manipulative of Norma. So if there is a turning point, it’s one where Norman will seek to make sure that Norma will never do that again. He might become more controlling and domineering, in a way that we expected of Norma in season one.
Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on A&E. Did Norman’s Psycho move live up to expectations? Sound off in the comments below.
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