'Bates Motel' Postmortem: Freddie Highmore and the Showrunners Talk That Big Death and Season 5

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·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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  • Freddie Highmore
    Freddie Highmore
    English actor/director
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Warning: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the “Forever” episode of Bates Motel.

And that wasn’t even the finale! Bates Motel viewers may be reeling from the shocking ending of Season 4’s penultimate episode, but the good news is that we won’t have to wait very long to find out if Norman Bates really did kill his beloved Mother, Norma. She sure looked pretty lifeless as her weeping husband, Alex Romero, held her in his arms, but in a TV season that has seen lots of fakeouts with major character deaths (yeah, we’re looking at you, J. Snow), we would not bet our primetime dollars on seeing Norma Bates’s obit in the White Pine Bay newspaper.

Of course, Bates star Freddie Highmore and showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse have all the answers, and they’re sharing some of them with Yahoo TV. Read on for scoop about Romero’s continuing legal woes, the return of Chick, the shockingly “fun” season finale, and another confirmation that Season 5 will indeed be the last one we spend with the Bates family.

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I was very afraid for both Romero and Dylan throughout the episode, and if anyone says they saw this ending coming, I think I have to say they’re fibbing.
Kerry Ehrin:
[Laughs.] That’s all good.
Carlton Cuse: It worked exactly as we hoped. It’s incredibly gratifying to hear that because, for all your good intentions, you always hope what you’re trying to do as a storyteller works, you know?

Viewers had good reason to be afraid for Romero, not just on the Norman front, but also with his legal issues. Then with Dylan, too, having found Emma’s mom’s earring and kind of putting things together and collaborating with Romero, there were a lot of things that could’ve happened that didn’t, thankfully.
Cuse:
Still, not a happy ending.
Freddie Highmore: Those storylines aren’t exactly… they may have made it through episode 9, but their storylines aren’t resolved.
Cuse: Dylan is still… there’s more to come with the Romero crime story in 10, for sure, and with Dylan, too.

When Dylan says goodbye, especially when he hugs Norman, it feels very much like he feels it’s a permanent goodbye. Is that true?
Ehrin:
Yes, he does feel that in that moment. He does.
Cuse: But [Max Thieriot] is not off the show.

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That’s good to hear, but there is the other side, where we kind of hope Dylan does get away, because we know that’s obviously what’s best for him.
Highmore:
Max was so amazing in that scene with Vera [Farmiga], the two of them. In 9, when he says goodbye … especially the technical part of it, of having to change scenes and doing the beginning and the end together, and I just thought they were both really phenomenal. And then Norman’s just like, “I don’t know what you’ve been doing up there, but goodbye.”

Yes, poor Norman. He’s infrequently caught unaware, but he really was in that situation, wasn’t he?
Highmore:
Yes, exactly. And he doesn’t have his memory or any blackouts to blame for not being up to speed with events.

With Norman, it seems the big moment — the game-changing moment — is when he’s rummaging in the attic, and puts on the robe, Norma’s robe, from Audrey’s suitcase. He seems to have a moment of clarity or realization. Is that the definitive statement on what happened to Audrey?
Cuse:
Yes.
Highmore: Yes, I think so. I saw it like that, but that’s a real… it’s a moment of self-awareness. He’s looking in the mirror, and he puts on the robe. It very much drives him towards… the seed is planted. When he sees just how broken Norma actually is, it just seems like it’s the right thing to do, and that he feels he may be deluded. Perhaps, Norman at this stage is not the best person to be making decisions, but the one he makes is what he feels is right and is what will make them happiest. It’s an act of love. It has nothing to do with Romero at that stage. It’s about [Norman and Norma] and about how they can be happily together forever.

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Going back to the beginning just for a minute, I was going to say I think Norman, in his session with Dr. Edwards, revealed himself to be a lot more insightful about his mother and about his relationship with her than we realized. He really lays out for Dr. Edwards how fragile she is, how her relationship with Romero will end, how crushed she’s going to be by it, and that he’ll have to be the one to pick her back up. Obviously, we knew he’s a very smart guy and that he is very smart about his mother, but still, I don’t think we completely knew before just how deep this goes and how aware he is of his very specific role with Norma.
Highmore:
I love that you mention this. It makes me happy, because it’s what I’ve been saying all along. It’s that Norman has this… he is insightful. He understands people, and he understands [his and Norma’s] relationship at a much deeper level than others. It links back into the end of [“Unfaithful”], when he’s saying at the dinner table, “Romero’s making you think that [your marriage] is possible, but it’s not.” Part of that plays into the darker sense of foreboding of the whole show, that you know actually he has to be right because that’s how Psycho is, but he also just gets [his and Norma’s relationship] in a way that… even though Romero thinks he’s doing the right thing, Norman intrinsically understands something else, something more about the level of their co-dependence.
Ehrin: Of their bond, yes. Norman understands it instinctively, and that scene is also funny with Dr. Edwards, because, being angry at a partner or a mate can give you sudden, very insightful clarity about all the things wrong with them. Norman’s, you know, he’s pissed at her in that scene, and so he’s just going through the laundry list of, “Here’s who she really is. Here’s who I have to put up with every day.”

When Norma has her breakdown about her big fight with Romero, and, exactly as Norman predicted, he goes into her room to uplift her, to have this conversation with her about her dream of moving to Hawaii, did he know then that he was going to try to kill both of them later?
Highmore:
I think so, yes.
Cuse: I think for us, seeing the suitcase in the attic is kind of the moment of clarity where he realizes, whether he did it or whether his mother did it, someone killed Audrey.
Ehrin: One of the two of them.
Cuse: One of the two of them took her out, and it felt horrible and awful that he realizes that they just can’t exist on this earth. He comes up with this plan, and I think once he makes the plan, there’s a certain sort of satisfaction that comes with it that allows him to be sort of genuine and emotional and warm and loving with her in the moments leading up to him closing all the gas vents and triggering it. He sort of has made his decisions and believes in the decision, but that was the catalyzing event.
Ehrin: The attic was where the Titanic hits the iceberg.
Highmore: I still feel like it’s a genuine scene. It’s a genuine moment of connection. I know we’ve established more and more this season that Norman has a slightly Machiavellian or manipulative side, but I feel like in that moment, he is very much connected, and even though he knows how he’s going to behave once the scene is over, that’s not his guiding… he’s just trying to be happy and trying to pull her out from the depths that she’s hit.

Related: 10 of TV’s Most Manipulative Moms

If you’re watching the scene thinking that he had decided earlier to do this, it sounds weird, but it’s a loving scene. He wants her to have a great final memory.
Highmore:
Exactly. I love that you pick up on all [this]. We’re all nodding away like, “This is brilliant. It’s understood.”

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Within that scene, that final scene with them in the bed, I love Norman’s line, “We’re very charming people.” In this most dire situation, they still have these funny moments, and that is kind of the perfect summation of Norman and Norma, that they are very charming, and that is really how they appear to people who don’t delve deeper into their lives.
Ehrin:
They are, and that scene is so hard, because they really have tried. They have tried and tried and tried to kind of figure the f–k out of how to live. They’ve spent their whole life together, [trying] to run their little motel. They’re just worn out. They’re both just worn out and broken and the only thing they have left is this trust and love for each other, and part of a relationship… the humor between them has always been so intimate. That has always been a favorite part of the show for me.

A lot is going to happen in the season finale. You said there is more coming for Romero with his legal situation. We’re going to see Dylan again. Have we seen the last of Chick?
Cuse:
Oh, Chick. No, we have more Chick [Ryan Hurst] as well. The [season finale] is… We’ve been very cautious about trying not to spoil it, because we want people coming out of this episode asking, “Oh my god, did this really happen? Is Norma really dead?” In episode 10, which is really a brilliant script that Kerry wrote, is really the continuation of the story. It picks right up where [“Forever”] left off, and it both sort of pragmatically and, more important, emotionally, answers all the questions that you have coming out of episode 9.

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I’m glad we’re not being left with this cliffhanger until next season, but either of the last two episodes could’ve served as satisfying season finales.
Cuse:
I don’t know if they’d be satisfying. I’d be yelling at my TV at the end of 9. You’d be like, “Oh!”
Ehrin: It is like a traditional cliffhanger ending. I think it’s so important to us to kind of give a good emotional ending to the season and also…
Cuse: Yes, to sort of set up what’s going to be coming in Season 5.
Ehrin: Yes, to reinvent a little bit and get inside what that looks like.

Will we see Dr. Edwards again this season?
Ehrin:
He actually is not in the finale.
Cuse: No, unfortunately Dr. Edwards is taking a few days off in 410. Our hope is to see him again in the series.
Ehrin: We love [Damon Gupton]. Utterly compelling to watch.
Cuse: It’ll depend somewhat on [his] availability, but we have hopeful future plans for Dr. Edwards, yes.
Highmore: I loved working with him this season. He’s been brilliant. He’s so exceptional.

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Freddie, you have great chemistry with him, and I think he’s really been a great part of the season overall. It seemed like his calming presence made it possible for Norman to figure some things out.
Highmore:
He just always is in the moment and so subtle. So much of what Dr. Edwards does is listen, but you get that he’s always engaged. He’s always in the moment, as opposed to this sort of passive sense of listing of like, “Ah, yeah, I’ll just say my line at the end.” He’s so engaged and there are so many nuanced speeches that he gives that drive all those things forward. He’s been brilliant.

The writer’s room for Season 5 is already open. Is the plan still that Season 5 is going to wrap up the series?
Cuse: Yes. When Kerry and I first sat down more than four years ago, we really felt we needed to talk about the show in its totality, and we concocted a five-year plan. It really made sense in the broad strokes. Obviously, within that we’ve left ourselves a lot of room to add, embellish and sort of follow the show and where it wanted to go, but the overall architecture has remained the same. The events of Season 4 are really seismic and pivotal and long-planned, and they set up Season 5, which brings Norman ever closer to a version of the character that we saw in Psycho. We’re not remaking Psycho. That would be uninteresting. But we will be sort of crossing through some of the events of the original movie.

What can you just give in terms of a little preview of the mood of the season finale? What can you tease about that?
Ehrin:
I think episode 10 has a romance to it, and I think the most shocking thing about it is that it has a little bit of a sense of fun. As well as a lot of… it’s very cathartic and a lot of questions get resolved.

The Bates Motel Season 4 finale airs May 16 at 9 p.m. on A&E.

(Photos: A&E)