[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the “Bates Motel” series finale: Season 5, Episode 10, “The Cord.”]
A cold dose of reality didn’t sit well with Norman, so “Bates Motel” gave him the fantasy instead. Looking back on Season 5, it’s clear now that Norman (Freddie Highmore) was being forced to choose between the two all along: A world without Norma (Vera Farmiga), his mother, was not one he could continue living in without a major lifestyle change. He had to accept she was dead or be allowed to indulge his delusion that she was still alive.
When push came to shove — or, to be more accurate, knife came to gun — Norman chose the delusion. After suffering a beating at the hands of Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), Norman turned the tables on his captor and killed him with a heavy stone to the head. He passed out next to the barely covered corpse of his mother, and dreamt of when they first took over the Bates Motel.
Clearly reeling from the physical and mental trauma, Norman awoke, drove his mother home, and began reliving his life with Norma in it. He even invited Dylan (Max Thieriot) over for dinner in an effort to make peace among the family. Now, whether Norman knew, deep down, that bringing Dylan over would force him to decide once and for all what life he wanted to live, well, that’s up for debate.
I’d like to think that he did, and evidence seems to point to at least a minute awareness within Norman. When he made the fateful move to come after Dylan with a knife, his weapon ended up in the wall, not his brother. The gun may have gone off first, throwing Norman’s aim, but it seemed clear he wanted to die — and didn’t want to take his brother with him.
What stood out the most, though, wasn’t who lived and who died, but how well it all fit together. In an episode written by co-creators Kerry Erin and Carlton Cuse (and directed by fellow EP Tucker Gates), the events of the final hour felt preordained; as if each surprise had to happen that way, and each life-or-death decision had already been made. And that’s a credit to the craftsmanship at work for the past five seasons.
Sure, we hoped against hope Alex could survive and find happiness, but that goal was an impossibility before the finale even began. His life had been ruined long ago, as evidenced by his impractical plan to dig up Norma’s body. What did he hope to accomplish? What was the long term goal? The answer is there was none because Alex couldn’t think past his passionate hatred for Norman and love for Norma. He was operating like he was already dead, so — even when he turned his back on a serial killer, the dumb-dumb horror movie move of all dumb-dumb moves — dying next to Norma felt like the right ending for him.
Dylan, on the other hand, earned his survival. The series’ best overall human being deserved a happy ending, and while he had to fight through the horror of Norman’s last dinner party to get there, seeing him with his wife and child to end it was a welcome comfort.
As for Norman, well, he made his choice. Whether he was beyond help or on the edge of progress is what makes the ending so powerful. He’d finally said goodbye to his mother, and while he refused to admit it, this was as close as he’d ever been to surviving without her. If he’d sought treatment, could he have finally found the breakthrough he needed? Maybe, but with the choice in sight, Norman chose his mother over himself — as always.
“The Cord” binds our tragic couple together forever, just the way Norman wanted. For “Bates Motel,” such a fitting end may seem antithetical to a series with so many shocks, but it should help the series stand up over time. It’s the new ending we were always promised: different from “Psycho,” but true to “Bates Motel.”