Things are about to get even crazier in the third season of Bates Motel.
Season 2 of the A&E drama ended with Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) getting away with the murder of his high school teacher thanks to the help of "Mother" — the other side of his personality embodied by his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) — who took credit for the murder and thus allowed Norman to pass a polygraph. After that crucial step in Norman's development, the show — and certainly A&E's promotions department — is leaning more heavily on its Hitchcockian Psycho inspirations.
"The first two seasons were necessary in setting up the relationships and the background of the descent of Norman into the psycho we know that he'll become," Highmore tells TVGuide.com. "I think for the first time, the end is in sight and the things that we expect Norman to take on certainly happen more frequently in the third season."
Adds executive producer Kerry Ehrin: "At this point in the storytelling, everything is converging into that more tense part of this mythology and we're all really excited about that. When the series started, it was very important to establish ourselves as a unique world unto itself. It's not like we didn't know the essential shape of what we were doing when we started. Everything we've done has been very carefully structured. We know where it will end, but we feel like people will be consistently surprised because it is not just a retelling. It's very much its own animal."
As the third season begins, Norman and Norma are closer than ever. In fact, the duo has made a regular habit of sleeping in the same bed. But the dangers of such closeness become apparent when Norman insists he doesn't want to return for senior year of high school and Norma's other son Dylan (Max Thieriot) expresses discomfort with an 18-year-old young man sleeping with his mother. And although Norma acknowledges Dylan is correct, when she receives some tragic news, she both agrees to let Norman home school and invites him for one more night of cuddling.
"There is definitely something broken in her," Ehrin says of Norma. "She spent a lot of her life trying to hide from it. Facing her mother's death brings up a lot of that in her and it makes her very insecure. I think it probably makes her much more needy for Norman. In the front of her brain, she's a mom who has a kid with something wrong with him. So, she has an anxiety and a panic in her 24/7. When you think something is wrong with your kid or they're in danger, you just want to pull them inside, so that you can control their universe. The great thing about this show is that there's never just one motive for anything. Underneath, it's her needing him to stay hooked into her, because that makes her feel safe."
Although Norma might live in a certain sense of denial, Norman is, after his experiences at the end of Season 2, more self-aware than ever. "The third season is about how he deals with that," Highmore says. "Does he become someone who's slightly more manipulative? He's not this innocent person anymore. We see Norman have a lot more power in relationships than we've seen in the past and realize he is capable of messing with people any toying with them."
Indeed, Norman quickly parlays his extra time at home into a role as the motel manager. "Norman is trying to play a part this year," Ehrin adds. "He definitely feels there is dark stuff inside of him. He is not sure about what he is capable of doing, but he is trying to play this part for his mom. He wants to be the good guy, to step up to be the hotel manger. It's like he's split into two parts. He's trying to make the effort to have this normalcy, to make good choices, to give his mom this normal son, but the other part is pulling at him."
That other part of himself first presents itself this season thanks to the arrival of Annika Johnson (Tracy Spiridakos), a call girl who books a room at the motel. Norman develops an instant crush on her, and it's only a matter of time before Norman finds himself peeking through her bathroom window while she showers. "Norman is a sweet kid who can't stop looking down her shirt," Spiridakos says with a laugh. "She's flattered. He's obviously taken by her and she's used to looks like that. Part of her likes the attention."
But there's more to their connection than Norman's attraction. "Annika has had a hard life. Inside she is lost and she's damaged," Ehrin says. "Norman tends to bond with those people because they feel it in him and he's also very compassionate on the outside." Adds Spiridakos: "He has this parent who loves and cares about him so much, and that's something she's never had. It's not very often that she comes across someone who's just being sweet and nice. There's a moment where she feels seen by him in a way that hasn't happened to her in a very long time, if ever."
But does Annika have any sense of what she might be awakening in Norman? "Annika is somebody who invites trouble," Spiridakos says. "She runs toward situations that most people would run away from."
But Annika isn't the only person perhaps coming between Norman and his mother this season. "Dylan has always wanted a closer relationship with Norma," Ehrin says. "It's a very classic sibling rivalry in a way, but Dylan had no chance to win so he just didn't try. Now that he has been through all the stuff with his mom and he's made it clear that he wants to be there for her, the dynamic has changed and I think he is getting more equal time with Norma. In any sort of family triangle, that's difficult for the person who starts feeling pushed out. But when you look how co-dependent Norman is with his mother, it's intensified a million times because Norman feels like that bond with his mother is his very survival on an emotional level."
However, that might not always be the case. "This season is the first time we really challenge Norma and Norman's relationship," Highmore says. "Both of them realize that it might not be this positive relationship they always saw it to be and that there are potential downsides to being so close to your son or your mother. Instead of it being this solid base from which they take on the world, they look more inward and start to challenge each other and their relationship."
Bates Motel premieres Monday at 9/8c on A&E.