***This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS from last night’s Bates Motel.***
Last night’s penultimate episode of Bates Motel‘s fourth season is, quite honestly, the reason I watch television.
After viewing the episode entitled, “Forever,” my mind raced. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t pull away from Twitter. It was an episode that required processing and mourning before I could even begin to accept it. It was an achievement in television, one where the acting, production design, writing, lighting – the entire puzzle – came together so beautifully to create the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the death of Norma Bates.
During the haunting final scenes, Norman (Freddie Highmore) comforted his sleeping mother in bed, singing her a song and hoping to soothe her aching heart from her split with Sheriff Alex Romero. While a killer, slowed down rendition of “Mr. Sandman” eerily set the tone, Norman lit the home’s broken gas furnace. Norman then closed all the vents in the home except for the one in his mother’s bedroom…and lied down next to her. It was a murder-suicide, Bates style.
Romero arrived at the home and attempted to save their lives, carrying them both downstairs, frantically opening windows and desperately trying to resuscitate his wife, Norma. Norman coughed as he came to, but Norma remained unresponsive. We’ve been waiting all series for this hammer to drop, and that it did with a deafening boom, soaked with emotion and dripping in suspense.
What’s most difficult and most exhilarating about this show is that we all know where this is heading. The villain wins. Norman Bates is alive and well (sort of…) when we meet him in the Hitchcock classic. Yet, Bates Motel has created a world of characters that we care about so much – from Dylan, the older brother we never knew Norman had, to Emma, the loyal Bates family friend and confidant, and Romero, a man whose love for Norma will unquestionably be his downfall. But we know how this is going to end: badly, horrifyingly. No matter how much hope we hold out for this universe, it’s arguable that every single one of these characters has been doomed since the very first episode.
As viewers, it’s as if we’re setting ourselves up for heartbreak. Despite knowing that Norma and Norman’s co-dependency is unnatural and unhealthy for them both – not even taking into consideration that Norma more or less created Norman’s dark side – we’re still completely torn up by Norma’s death even though we know the series can’t end without it! It’s a genius form of storytelling that uses this “We know you know the ending” circumstance to build up so much tension you can barely stand it. In last night’s final moments, my heart was pounding harder and harder with each vent Norman closed, as Bates Motel delivered its massive season finale-worthy shocker as if it was just another Monday at the motel.
Despite the borderline-obsessive and incestuous relationship between mother and son, the show has worked hard to ground these characters into believable human beings. Despite the countless times your skin has crawled off your body (#ThatKiss!), there is a powerful bond and true love between Norma and Norman, one that I would argue is special and sacred. You wonder, what if they could have set boundaries and maintained what they have as a healthier connection? Could they have maintained normalcy? This is what makes last night’s episode truly tragic. But there I go again hoping for a better outcome. Norma and Norman both have a lot of heart…if only they weren’t concurrently poisoning each other every step of the way.
So is Norma dead? Is this really the moment we’ve been waiting for? Showrunners have been mum in interviews for fear of ruining next week’s finale, but I’m going out on a limb and saying Norma Jean is donezo. If she lives to see Season 5, I can’t imagine that the writers can concoct a more thrilling death scene for Mama Bates. We all know Vera Farmiga isn’t going anywhere – she will definitely still appear as part of Norman’s darker half when he continues downward spiraling into madness (and let’s be serious, Bates Motel without Farmiga would be a tough sell). But by killing her off now, the show has confirmed that it’s the ultimate edge-of-your-seat creepfest on TV (#SorryNotSorry, Walking Dead!).
With its fifth and final season on the horizon next year, part of me hopes that Norma’s apparent demise is, in fact, her curtain call. While I personally wouldn’t think it’s cheap for her to be revived in the finale, getting caught this off-guard, from a fan’s and critic’s perspective, is absolutely riveting. But whether she dies now or dies later, Bates has more than proven it’s an award-worthy show, full of award-worthy performances that have been simultaneously uncomfortable, horrifying, heartbreaking and downright masterful. And there’s no other show on TV like it.