Bates Motel is great and Netflix has recently acquired the fourth season. The series covers the early life of Norman Bates, pre-Psycho. The relationship between Norman and his mother is intense and passionate. In this season we start to see large cracks in their relationship as Norman becomes more and more convinced that Norma is insane, a murderer and is sabotaging his life. He no longer believes her when she tells him she’s protecting him. An adult now, he sees her rules as restricting and unfair. And takes delight in catching her out in her lies.
Bates Motel is a place out of time. Looking at the house and décor, Norma’s car and their clothing it is easy to imagine it’s set in the sixties, but the technology is modern. Guests say the place is very retro. This place out of time adds to the creep factor in Norman and his mother’s relationship. They are both anachronisms who try to protect each other from the modern world and its vulgarities.
Norman is convinced that it is Norma who murdered his victims. We hear him patiently explain to her that she’s sick, using the same words she has used with him. It’s incredibly chilling to hear him explain how he cannot trust her and how she is trying to sabotage him and frame him for murders she committed. Ironically it becomes less terrifying when he pulls out a gun and talks about a joint suicide. It’s easy to see how he can have come to these conclusions. Throughout the seasons Norma has told him half truths and lies, thinking that she was protecting him. Her erratic and strange behaviour and how others, Norman’s brother, and his father, have related to and spoken to her must reinforce this belief. They are both trapped in each other’s madness.
In this season Norman voluntarily checks into Pineview, a mental institution, and with the help of the brilliant Dr. Edwards starts to work through his problems.
What initially seemed like a marriage of convenience between Romero and Norma becomes something much deeper and intense. The relationship between these two guarded people, Alex and Norma, is beautifully expressed and delicately played. What makes it more poignant is that we know this is not going to end happily. After all, this is a prequel to Psycho, probably the most famous thriller ever made. We know, however hard we try to forget, what’s going to happen to Norma. We just don’t know when.
When Norman learns that Alex and Norma have got married, it’s one of those suspensions of disbelief moments. He’s making a papier-mâché animal and sees a photo from the winter light festival. He speaks to the receptionist and discovers his stepfather is paying his fees. And he calls home to hear Alex’s voice on the other end of the line. Norman is not happy. He petitions to be released and as he was committed voluntarily he is released.
Everyone seems powerless to prevent what will happen. The doctor has to let him go and will only see him as an outpatient. Norma finds it impossible to say he can’t come home or even to admit to the doctor that Norman might be violent. “He isn’t violent!” Even Alex, when Norma tells him, accepts that she’s Norman’s mother and it’s right that she puts her son first. He promises to help make it work. They all suspect it’s a bad idea, but none of them are strong enough to prevent it, and we are left wondering, at the end of the episode, who will die first?
The final scene of episode 7 shows Norma and Norman walking up the steps to their home. The shot pans upwards until we are looking into the attic window, reminding us that one day Norma’s corpse will be looking out of it.
Norman believes that Norma was manipulated into marrying Romero. That she is a victim. To help set things straight, Norma invites Alex to dinner. Norman tells Alex that there is no room for him, that Norma and Norman have a special bond and that he has given up everything to maintain it. “Now there’s room for someone else?” He’s right of course. She has kept him close and potential girlfriends at a distance, although we can’t know for sure whether that was actually Norma or Norma/n’s doing. Norma gets angry and tells him that she loves Alex and Alex loves her and he’ll have to get used to it. “There’s room in the human heart for more than one person.” Norman storms out to chop wood and when Alex approaches him to talk he threatens the sheriff with an axe. He realises Alex won’t back down and instead smashes the outside of the house before fleeing to his room.
Afraid for Norma, Alex tries to recruit Dylan into the let’s get Norman committed club. They only need two family members to sign the papers. However, Romero doesn’t realise how complicated Dylan’s own feelings about his mother are. He can’t betray her. Instead, he does the honourable thing and tries to convince Norma that Norman is a killer. I’m not sure whether he expected it to work, my guess is he didn’t, but at least he tried and tried again to convince Norman to check back into Pineview. Hopefully, it’s enough to assuage his guilt.
“We’re supposed to be together, aren’t we, Norman?” “Yes, we are, mother. Forever.” Mother and son spooning in bed is never a comfortable image. Norma cannot forgive Alex’s betrayal and decides to end the relationship with a letter left on her bedroom table complete with a wedding ring. “I will always love you, no matter what. I’m truly sorry.” It looks almost like a suicide note. Norman tells her they’ll start again, move to an island, be happy. She dries her tears and falls asleep with her son snuggled up behind her. When she falls asleep he lights the cracked boiler and shuts off all the vents except the one under Norma’s bed, then cozies up for some eternal sleep. Alex arrives and tries to save them both. Norman survives, Norma doesn’t.
Norman cannot believe Norma is gone. “She was not supposed to leave me.” It seems insane for Norman to be angry at Norma for dying when he was the one who killed her, but of course, he is insane. His plan had been for them both to die, to be together forever. Now he is left in the world without his only support. She isn’t there. But he convinces himself that she’ll be back, he has to be patient. And his old pet Juno, the taxidermy dog, returns to wait with him.
Norma doesn’t return. Norman thinks she’s testing him. He flushes his medication and recovers her body from her grave. Still, she doesn’t look at him, so he glues her eyelids open. Her dead eyes can’t focus on him, and he gets angry at her again. However much he shouts at her she won’t focus on his face when he talks to her.
Ready to join his mother, Norman loads a gun and holds it to his mouth. But the self-preservation aspect of his Dissociative Personality Disorder kicks in and he hears his mother playing the piano and runs downstairs to a decorated room to celebrate Christmas with her.
This season is one hell of a ride. We were treated to a beautifully respectful and loving romance and extraordinarily dark scenes from Norman’s history. The acting throughout is superb. Even during ridiculous situations, like the strange marriage, we are pulled right in and held in a warped reality by the skill of the actors. Only the romance between Dylan and Emma seems a little weak and superfluous, but it is a break from the powerful emotions coming at the viewer from every other direction. I am excited to see what the final season will bring.
Bates Motel Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix.
Bates Motel Season 4
- It's beautifully shot
- There are interesting sub plots
- The romance between Norma and Alex feels real
- We see Norman and Norma/n as two separate people
- Some of the plot devices seem clumsy
- Dylan and Emma's relationship seems superfluous