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Postmortem: Bates Motel Boss on Norman's "Incredibly Creepy" Next Step

What does it mean for the longevity of the show?

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Monday's episode of Bates Motel. Read at your own risk.]

Norman Bates just took another huge step toward becoming a Psycho.

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On Monday's episode of Bates Motel, Norman (Freddie Highmore) went into total meltdown after his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) left her son and his half-brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) behind. Reeling from the abandonment, Norman eventually went into one of his trademark blackouts before appearing in the kitchen dressed in Norma's robe and speaking in a higher-pitched voice. "Norman's sleeping," Norman said when Dylan asked what was going on, confirming that Dylan has just had his first encounter with "Mother."

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So, what does this huge step in Norman's development mean for the overall lifespan of the show? And how will Norma react after going through her own mini-meltdown without Norman? chatted with executive producer Kerry Ehrin about all that and more.

This was a huge episode, both for this season, but also the evolution of the series. How did you approach this episode?
Kerry Ehrin: It really was born out of a couple things. One was just the question of what would Norma do when her sons asked her to talk to Caleb. We know how emotional and fragile she is about that and it just instinctively felt to me that she would just get in the car and drive away. Carlton also brought up an idea of doing an episode that was just a full-on Vera-thon because she's such an amazing actress and we really wanted to give her a piece that had a lot of peaks and valleys in it and a lot of different dimensions of who she is. What does a person who is co-dependent do when they try to go cold turkey and break off from their other half? How do they spin out? That was the guideline for the episode.

During those scenes of Norma running away, all I could think of was Marion Crane in Psycho. Were you playing with that expectation?
Actually, no. It's kind of embarrassing because I certainly should have been, but no, we weren't. It is similar because these are women who are in messed up situations who are trying to escape and literally have no idea how to escape from this emotional mess that they're in. So maybe it was subconscious, but it was not in the front of our brains.

When Norma ends up at James' (Joshua Leonard) house, I found it really interesting that she told him all about Norman rather than her own issues with Caleb and why that made her run. Why do you think she does that?
Ehrin: For anyone who's ever been in therapy, you spend a lot of time throwing left to avoid the stuff that you truly can't look at. The thing with Norman -- in her everyday practical life, that is the thing that consumes her. It's the element in her life that she does not know how to handle, as opposed to all the psychological crap that's buried in her that she's never dealt with. So, it's a huge tip of an iceberg that she can point to and go, "That's the problem in my life that I don't know how to handle." And it's also true because it's a huge, insurmountable problem that honestly no human being would have a strong sense of how to handle.

Bates Motel: Is Norman finally becoming a Psycho?

But then she instantly regresses and tells him to forget it. Is finding that protective mother side of herself again what leads her to go back home?
Ehrin: It is that and it's also the co-dependence, the feeling that she has betrayed this other half of herself that she needs to survive. She has betrayed Norman, and once this gets out, he could end up being taken away from her. On a psychological level, she feels like she is going to dissolve without him. So, it's partly a protective mother and it's partly a fragile human being who feels suddenly very threatened because she is so co-dependent.

We also see that co-dependence play out in Norman's violent tantrums with Dylan back at the house.
Ehrin: Exactly. Because that co-dependent bond is so incredibly tight between them, he is going through the emotions of somebody who feels like they're on a sinking ship and they're dying. He cannot fathom in his rational brain that he is going to be OK without her. So that's what you're watching him go through. From a medical point of view, the [dissociative identity disorder] has is brought on by stress. Of course, this is the most stressful thing that could possibly happen to him, short of her dying. So, it splits him to the where he has a much more difficult time discerning between reality and hallucinations. And we wanted to really, really, slip into that in a big way in this episode.

And boy did you! How did you approach the scene of Norman acting and speaking like Norma? It seems like there's a fine line to be walked there.
We dealt a lot withhow to walk the line without crossing it, and really what it always comes down to is just getting inside the character and keeping it real from their point of view and not writing it from the outside. It was really just that he's a kid who thinks he is doing something and then it changes on him, and he doesn't know how to handle it. It was putting that into the Psycho framework, but really, it's a very simple theme in that sense.
We've obviously seen previous manifestations of "Mother," but how big of a step was it to see Norman physically acting out what's in his head?
It's a big step. It's the next step and it's a big step because that is where it's going. We're gently guiding the character into that in a realistic way where you feel for him and you're on the ride with him. Freddy has been so amazing doing this over the season. It's really both incredibly creepy and incredibly moving. It's very emotionally engaging.

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Dylan Coulter/A&E

Dylan is at a loss. He knows that Norman has an issue, but in that moment, what is he thinking? Does he have any idea what is going on?
Ehrin: No. I think he's always suspected there's something not right with Norman. He's seen Norman lose it on him, and I think this is just the building crashing down around Dylan when he sees that. He's like, "Oh f---, this is dark and this is serious," and I think he does not have any idea how to handle it. And I think it breaks his heart.

Is this something he will share with Norma as soon as possible?
Ehrin: Dylan, because he is sort of the de facto father of Norma and Norman at this point in their lives, I think he would have every instinct to want to deal with it and protect both Norman and his mom.

Also in this episode, Romero (Nestor Carbobell) gets a lot to do. How did you guys decide to have Romero take out his opposition so quickly?
Ehrin: Those are fun moments in the writers' room. Sometimes you do things because they're just so amusing to yourself and it just seemed like Romero had put up with so much crap from everybody all season. There was just a part of him that was like, "I'm not going to put up with this anymore. I'm done. I'm done trying with these people and I'm just going to do it my way." It felt really, really good in this episode to let him do that.
I'm assuming that might not have been the best choice Romero could have made, though.
Ehrin: In many ways, this episode is about when people make fatal mistakes and it leads to tragedy. This episode is that tipping point for a lot of the characters, and I think the rest of the season is as well. It's about people who've been pushed to a point, and they don't know how to handle it, they don't know what to do. They're choosing roads to go down, and things are set in motion in this episode that will reverberate to the end.

Obviously, that look in Norman's eyes when he watches Norma and Caleb hug is concerning. But in the previous episode, he was encouraging Norma to talk to her brother. What's changed?
In the previous episode, he is very much trying to be a better person than he's probably actually capable of being. I think that moment when he sees him mom with Caleb is terrifying to him because he completely bought all of the emotional baggage Norma had in the previous season about how much she hated this guy. She was scared of him. It was horrible and it was all true. To see her completely turn and have had at some point in her life love for this person, which he knew nothing about, he feels very betrayed. The fact that she never told him that and that his mom loved someone else that much, ever, is shocking to him and makes him feel incredibly threatened. So, it's quite a sandwich of dysfunction. It's a huge awakening to Norman.

So, now that we've seen that awakening and Norman physically acting as Norma, do you feel this story is closer to its end than its beginning?
Ehrin: Yeah. Carlton [Cuse] and I have always felt it was a five-year story. The funny thing about this episode is it's almost exactly halfway through the series, which was not intended at all. It's just sort of funny that it happened that way. As for where it's headed, I can't say when certain things are going to happen, but it wouldn't necessarily be what you would think given the movie.

Bates Motel airs Mondays at 9/8c on A&E. What did you think of the episode?