Despite being one of the best series on TV over the past five years, ‘Bates Motel’ never became the breakout hit it deserved to be. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise, as show-runners Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin have been able to mold their overall story the way they wanted to without any undue pressure from the studio, network or a legion of fans. This week marks the beginning of the final season of the series, and if the first episode is any indication, ‘Bates Motel’ is going out just as fantastically as it came in.
The final season begins with a record player starting automatically and playing “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.” The music awakens Norman, who’s greeted by his dog, Juno. He goes downstairs to have breakfast with his mom, Norma. Of course, viewers realize that none of this is real. It’s all Norman’s version of reality inside his twisted mind. Juno died years ago and Norman (with his taxidermy skills) stuffed him, and Norma died last season – only to have Norman bring her body back to the house and prop her up in a chair in the basement.
Norman has plans to paint the motel, so he heads into town and stops at the local hardware store, where his psychopathic eyes lock on Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally), who looks a lot like a young version of Norma. Her last name and the kind of store she runs are big hints for fans of the original Hitchcock movie, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Norman has her help him find some paint, but when he goes to check out, he realizes that he doesn’t have his own wallet. Instead, he’s carrying a wallet belonging to someone named Jim Blackwell. We’ll find out more about Mr. Blackwell later. For now, Norman makes excuses and asks Madeleine to hold the paint for him.
If you’re wondering what happened to Sheriff Alex Romero after the feds arrested him last season for killing Bob Paris and stealing drug money, he’s in prison. We don’t see a whole lot of him in the episode, but he tries to make a phone call when he first appears (no answer on the other end) and he gets a visitor who tells him that his parole has been denied. Will Romero spend the entire season in jail? I hope not, since he’s one of the best characters on this show, but that does make it a whole lot easier for Norman to get away with things back in White Pine Bay.
I wasn’t sure if the characters of Dylan and Emma would be involved at all in this final season, since they moved away to Seattle at the end of last year. However, they’re back (although still in Seattle) and now have a baby girl. (The episode never says if they got married or not, but I get the sense that they’re just living together for now.) While having a party at their house, Dylan’s dad, Caleb, shows up. Naturally, he’s low on funds and looking for a place to stay. Dylan agrees to put him up for the time being and tells Emma that Caleb’s really the one who came up with the money for her lung transplant surgery. Later, however, Emma has a heart-to-heart with Caleb. Although she appreciates what he did, she needs him to leave because she doesn’t want Dylan to have to lie to his daughter about Caleb’s background. (Remember, Dylan is the product of an incestuous relationship between Caleb and Norma.) It’s also important to note that despite the passage of time between Seasons 4 and 5, none of these characters is aware that Norma is dead. I guess Romero was too busy with his trial to find Dylan or tell him.
Further investigating the reason why he has some stranger’s wallet, Norman finds a receipt for a gas station visit that he doesn’t recall. Looking in his daily planner, Norman sees that he had a blackout (which he notes all occurrences of) at the same time that’s on the receipt. Not long afterward, a man (played by Austin Nichols) arrives at the motel asking to rent a room for a couple of hours. Norman tells him that he doesn’t run that kind of motel, so the guy – who introduces himself as “David Davidson” – agrees to pay for the entire night. Norman then sees the man help a woman out of his car and lead her to the room. Norman gave them the key to Room #1, so he can look through the peephole in the office wall to see what’s going on. Sure enough, the man and woman are there to have sex – which Norman masturbates to. (Don’t worry, it’s as tastefully shot as cable TV allows while still getting the point across.) He’s interrupted by a phone call from his mother asking what he’s doing!
Norman also gets a visit at the office from Madeleine, who brings him the paint since he didn’t have his own wallet earlier at the store. Norman pays her for the paint and Madeleine invites him to a small business owners’ meeting that’s taking place in town that night. However, when Norma hears of this, she doesn’t want Norman to drive, allegedly because of his frequent blackouts (but really because she doesn’t want him getting involved with another girl). When Norman insists and tries to leave in the car, Norma stops him. The two get in a fight about her being overprotective. Norma grabs him by the ear and drags him back up to the house to show Norman just how hard she works to keep him safe.
Taking him down to the basement, Norma opens the large freezer and reveals the dead body of Jim Blackwell. In a flashback sequence (which really isn’t a flashback, since we know that Norma isn’t real and that Norman actually committed the deed), we see Blackwell pulling a gun on Norman, and Norma stabbing the man to death. Norman and Norma then decide to ditch the body, carrying it out to the car (it would have been nice to see how Norman actually did this, since he’s really doing it all on his own, but the episode never gives us that perspective), putting the corpse in the trunk of their car, driving it out to the lake, and rowing out to the middle in a boat.
Before they can dump the body, a cell phone in Blackwell’s pocket rings. (Boy, that phone must have a really good battery). Norman answers it, and who would you guess is on the other end? Yep, it’s Alex Romero trying to talk to Jim. Looks like while he was in prison, Alex sent Jim to take care of Norman.
I’d forgotten how good this show is. This is a fantastic way to kick off the final season, and if the brief preview of episodes to come (which I won’t spoil here) is any indication, ‘Bates Motel’ will go out on a really high note. Of course, the most fascinating thing that will set this season apart from the four before it is that fact that Norma is dead and the “Norma” we’re seeing now basically represents Norman’s Crazy side, which is in constant debate with his Sane side. This episode also starts to put the pieces in place that will lead up to that classic shower sequence from the Hitchcock movie. The only question is whether the show-runners will dare trying to recreate one of cinema’s greatest moments or if they’ll sidestep it in some way. Regardless, I’m happy to have this series back and am really going to miss it when it’s gone.
That’s my take. What did you guys think? If you’ve put together the pieces with some of the new characters, try not to spoil things for everyone else!