(SPOILERS ahead for Bates Motel, Season 4, episode 1, “A Danger to Himself and Others”)
Life can be very difficult and counter-intuitive for those who love too well. After three seasons of Bates Motel, A&E’s prequel series to Hitchcock’s Psycho, we know for sure that the bond between Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) is too close for comfort or a healthy relationship, leaving no breathing room between them. They cling so tightly that they have morphed into a single entity. When poor demented Norman has his psychic breaks — with no memory afterward — he literally becomes his mother. Or at least a version of his mother. And that version is a fanatical puritan who punishes any perceived moral failing with death. We now recognize the crazed murderer who haunts Psycho in Highmore’s Norman.
That’s where we are as Season 4 of Bates Motel opens, with Norman’s severe mental illness finally exposed in public, out of his mother’s protective, if smothering, grasp. When Norman wakes up in a ditch on some random farmer’s property, battered and bruised, shouting and arguing with someone who isn’t there — his mother, of course — the protective bubble Norma has tried so hard to sustain has finally burst. Norman — “a danger to himself and others,” the episode’s apt title — enters the public mental health system and for the mandatory 48 hour observation period, anyway, he is beyond his mother’s reach and ken.
The tragedy cuts both ways. Manipulative Norma has refused to lighten up on the reins and has allowed Norman’s obsession with her and his resultant mental illness to burgeon and metastasize as she has systematically undermined his other relationships, kept him emotionally dependent, and refused to address or even acknowledge his very serious issues like blackouts and a string of increasingly suspicious deaths. Norman has stubbornly stayed on the crazy train, only too willing to remain under his mother’s protective wing, occasionally bristling against her grip, but ultimately expressing his “individuality” by becoming a version of her who kills.
Besides the remarkable acting and character relationships — Farmiga, Highmore, Nestor Carbonell as Sheriff Alex Romero, Max Thieriot as Norma’s stalwart older son Dylan, Olivia Cooke as adorable but fragile Emma — a key driver has been the tension between knowing what would eventually come and Norman’s relative “normality,” most of the time anyway, through the first three seasons.
In a way, the show has let the viewer off the hook by finally showing the Norman we knew he would become. But now that Norman is Psycho, where do we go from here? Can the writers now back Norman away from the abyss, give him a reprieve of “normality”? Or is Norman a split-personality serial killer from here on out?
That’s what season four is all about and here’s a tease of episode two.