And so Bates Motel ends its third season with a maddening sense of “What might have been?” If only Norma had enough money (or Obamacare) to provide Norman the psychiatric help he needed. If only teen-Bradley had been able to pull Norman away from his mother successfully. If only Norman hadn’t reacted so negatively to Norma’s attempts to help him. If only Sheriff Romero and Norma had been able to keep it together and provide Norman a stable parenting figure.
If only Norma Bates were a better mother… But we wouldn’t have that tell-tale cry of “Mother, what have you done?” And it wouldn’t be Bates Motel.
The third season finale wrapped up what resulted in a significant uptick in quality for the overall series. The leads – Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore – predictably turned in stellar performances, and, in a less competitive environment, they would be winning Emmys for their brilliant interpretations of the classic Psycho characters. But that has largely been a consistent event through the series. No, what made this season so much better than those coming before was the refocusing of the overall plot toward the original inspiration (the Bates mythology) and away from CSI: White Pines Bay-level drama. The season (and the series itself) was better off for it.
To briefly recap the events of the show, thanks to Dylan’s cash donation, Emma was bumped to the top of the list for her lung transplant. Fearing rejection by the new set of lungs, she initially runs away and declines the offer, preferring to live her days with the knowledge that she will more predictably die. Dylan, having none of that, convinces her otherwise with a single, long-delayed kiss. A kiss that convinces Emma to go through with the surgery.
Norma attempts to book Norman into a psychiatric facility, but the costs are too great considering her lack of insurance. Later at the house, she shares a sad, poignant moment with Norman during which she confesses her fears for his long-term safety – even going so far as to reference the fact that he’s going to outlive her. It’s the first time in a while where she’s been fully honest with her emotions, embracing her fears and concerns instead of burying them under lies and deceit. Later, she tells Sheriff Romero that “he’s my son, and he’s broken.” It’s truly heartbreaking series of revelations, and Norman only sees an adversary, not the mother whose love nearly smothered him to death and yet recognized the right move – clearly too late. Instead, Norman runs away from her, furious with her for “giving up” on him.
Finally, he attempts to break free from Norma, telling her he’s running away with Bradley. The trick here is that Norma thinks Bradley is dead, so, after a struggle, Norma knocks Norman unconscious and ties him up in the basement. By the time Dylan comes home to assist, Norman has broken free, escaping out of the tiny basement window. He manages to join Bradley, but his mistake is not leaving “Mother” behind. “Mother” appears, furious with Bradley for trying to separate the mother from her son. Naturally, “Mother” wins, killing Bradley in the interim. Norman cleans up the mess by driving her car into the lake. The “dead” girl is now truly dead, and “Mother” has killed. Again.
The episode closes in an morbidly and ironically light note akin to this week’s Mad Men closure. It uses the Ronette’s “Be My Baby” to serenade “Mother” and Norman during their embrace as they watch Bradley’s car and corpse sink into the bay. It’s the kind of touch the show sorely needed, and it ended the third season on a note-perfect pitch.
I cannot wait for Season Four.