Bates Motel is often a stunningly handsome show. Sometimes when we spend a week or two stuck at the drab motel itself –cloaked in eternal night– it’s easy to forget that, but for the season finale they staged a school dance and it was out-of-this-world gorgeous. Warm oranges splashed on icy blues.
SPOILERS INCOMING AFTER THE BREAK
It was a step beyond the polished CW/ABC glitter glass look. The lighting and photography bordered on a dream sequence. Narratively, the scene finally made good on the bizarre love triangle brewing between Emma, Bradley and Norman. Plus it gave Richard something to do. Oh, Hi Richard! Where has your misshapen cabbage been all season? As easy as it is to forget how beautiful the show is, it’s just as easy to forget that our main character is a teenager navigating the last rocky crags between himself and the open seas of adulthood. Of, course this particular teenager’s compass is all sorts of fucked.
Speaking of fucked, Norma.
Vera Farmiga has turned out to be the wild card of this show. Her overcompensating, bipolar take on Norma tends towards unapologetic camp but then you see a scene like the confession between her and Norman in the finale and… layers, man, layers.
I personally love the character and I will go so far as to call her a breakout character. Yes, there are shades of Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, the crisis mother with questionable taste in men who often makes the worst choice when her personal comfort is threatened, but Nancy was a cool cat and Norma is a huge dork.
What makes this odd tale of a mother and son and… another son and… a surrogate daughter who is dying of cystic fibrosis and… the even odder people around them work is that, despite how it may have appeared mid-season when Officer Shelby got a bullet through his eyehole, every freak matters.
It may have seemed like week-to-week plotlines were being resolved with little consequence, but the finale ties up several loose ends brilliantly and honors some of the smaller dangling story threads to boot. Particularly satisfying is the ascension of the Sheriff as our anti-hero. The moment when he makes the turn from just-another-blackheart to I AM THE LAW is played just right and makes the character a thousand times more interesting and vital to the future of the series. It also makes Norma’s constant pestering of him, a comic highlight of any potential rewatch.
The finale even calls back to the pilot with Keith’s sister showing up, and a subtle nod to the rape/murder scene that kicked things off. Why did Norma go all murderfreak on Keith after Norman knocked him out? The show seems to suggest that her sexual abuse at the hand’s of her brother has left an indelible mark on her that she has in no way confronted yet. Also given that he was a human trafficker using the motel to do so, his irrational behavior makes so much more sense in hindsight.
Other stories got some attention too. It was great to see the murder of Bradley’s father brought back into the story, the Asian sex slave ring that seemed like it might be so hokey, was given weight by the involvement of the deliciously creepy Jere Burns and was given some closure moving forward.
All these pieces, like Norman’s sexy (and now less talkative) teacher, all had their role to play in setting this world up as a place fraught with peril of the mortal and moral variety. It will be a pleasure to watch these characters try and pave a path through it with their best intentions. We all know where those kind of paths lead.