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Warning: This interview for the “Dark Paradise” episode of Bates Motel contains spoilers.
The end is too near as far as we’re concerned, but the premiere episode of Bates Motel’s fifth and final season promised it’s going to be just as wild, wonderful, heartbreaking, and darkly funny a ride as ever. Bates co-creator Kerry Ehrin talked to Yahoo TV about how Norman is coming unglued 18 months after the death of Norma; Alex Romero’s sole focus and ultimately tragic quest for revenge; and Dylan and Emma’s quest for happiness outside of the Bates bubble.
Ehrin, who’s collaborating on a new drama about infamous bank robber Baby Face Nelson with Bates star Freddie Highmore, also talks about the series’ trademark humor in the final season, and offers hints about Rihanna’s debut and the reaction she expects viewers will have to the epic series finale.
In the opening of the episode, it appears things are pretty sane and wonderful for Norman. You almost forget where we left him at the end of Season 4. Then he walks out the door, out of the Bates home, and the kitchen is a mess, not all tidied up after a homemade Norma breakfast. What was the idea between setting up that great little fantasy for a moment and then throwing us right back in there?
Reality. You know, we wanted to show the world he was living in at this point, which was a somewhat strained relationship with Mother. We tended to think of it as a marriage that was good on the surface, but was starting to show cracks underneath. Establishing that quickly, and then also just letting the audience know that we’re dealing with a person who doesn’t know always what reality he’s in and is just feeling his way through in the dark all the time. We just wanted to set that up very quickly, so the audience could be on the ride.
What do you want the pace to be for this final season?
This season is very much about how you can try to get away from dysfunction, but you can’t ever really escape it, that you get pulled back in in different ways. You can overcome dysfunction, but you can never escape it. That pull of that family, eventually, in different ways, it pulls everyone back into that circle of madness.
We flash pretty quickly on Alex Romero in prison, which I think makes all of us very sad, because we have come to love that character so much. It seems that he’s only motivated by one thing and that’s revenge against Norman.
He’s lost everything that could ever have possibly meant anything to him. He knows that. It’s not like he’s going to go back out in the world and fall in love with another woman. There’s not another Norma Bates on every corner. She’s a once in a lifetime person. The only thing he’s fixated on is revenge, which sounds shallow, but when you think about it [from his perspective]… “There’s a guy out there living his life who did this to the woman I love and who did this to me. He does not deserve to be out there living his life.” It starts to make more sense. It’s really about him wanting to vindicate losing Norma and her death.
We also have to remember that Romero saw all the different layers of Norma and Norman’s relationship, the way they both manipulated each other. It certainly wasn’t just Norma. So we get where his anger comes from.
Yeah, absolutely. I think part of it, too, because he’s a human being, there’s anger at himself that maybe he could have handled it differently. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to get Norman in a mental institution behind Norma’s back, which was a really bad move. Maybe he should have chased after her when she walked out of his office. There was a million things that played through his head on an hourly basis. “If I had just done this, if I had just done this…” Really, in constructing a tragedy, you want that. You want there to be these moments in people’s lives where they could have made different decisions and the outcome would have changed, but that is not what happened in this case. He’s down a rabbit hole. He’s in a dark place.
What you just said about the “what if” questions: There’s a new kind of tragedy in seeing Norman in town, interacting with the townsfolk, greeting Mrs. Claremont and her cat, being a social person. This is the Norman that could have been. He’s making friends now. He’s getting his flirt on with Madeline. He’s very likable.
Yes, it is. Part of what I love about Norman this year is his spirit, and that he knows, inside of himself, that he is not in his right mind. He understands that he has blackouts. He understands there’s something up with the situation inside his house, but he’s trying so valiantly to just put one foot in front of the other and keep the business going and take care of things and be a nice person. It’s just heartbreaking, not knowing all the terrible things that he’s done, but feeling this dread inside of him all the time. We wanted to create this idea that he actually had made it. He actually had survived the death of Norma in a way, from the outside. The town basically had perceived that Norma was the crazy one, that she tried to kill herself, and she tried to take her son with her. From all her interactions with the town, she seemed crazy. It worked in his favor, even though he didn’t plan it that way. Now he seems like, “Oh, look at this kid. He survived this horrible tragedy. He’s making his business work.” Everybody is supportive of him.
Norman’s blackouts, we see that he has a little notebook to track them. When he’s flipping through it, there are at least four or five days that are marked as blackouts. Do we assume that each of those correlates to a murder?
I think that’s up to the viewer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that, because we’re just on the ride with Norman, and we’re experiencing it through him. To him, he’s literally just following the days he’s blacked out.
Also in the book, we see that it says October 2017. Is there a specific reason why it’s set in the future?
We wanted it to start about 18 months after Norma died, because of the Dylan and Emma of it. The baby. We wanted Norman to have had enough time to have been living in this dream world, where, as I said, we think of it as a marriage with him and Mother. He’s been living in it long enough that it’s starting to show cracks. Imagine the strain of having to conjure up a reality every day of your life. The strain on your body. He’s feeling it at this point. He’s coming apart at the seams a little bit, and that’s where we want to start telling the story for the final season.
You mentioned Emma and Dylan. What a great moment when we first pan in on him, and he’s gotten this promotion, and then we see Emma and their baby. All these really amazing things have happened for them, and then Caleb shows up. And you realize none of them even know Norma is dead. How quickly is that going to unravel this very happy picture we first get of them?
Well, the interesting thing about Dylan is that he really made a huge effort at the end of last season to break away from his family and to really put it behind him. He’s been successful. He has a job that he likes, that he’s good at. He’s married to this wonderful woman. He has a child. All he ever wanted is a family. He wanted to belong to something. He has this horrible secret that he is keeping from Emma, that he has suspicions about her mom disappearing, that he has suspicions about Norman being dangerous, that he walked out during a discussion with his mom where he was saying, “You have to do something about Norman.” He didn’t stay and force it to happen. That’s a completely understandable choice under those circumstances, because it was like he was at a crossroads of, “Do I break my mother in half and take Norman away from her, or do I just let them deal with it and leave?” He chose the latter. He’s really trying, but when you have a secret, you can’t really have a successful life. The secret bubbles up in him and haunts him and haunts his relationship with this woman, who is so incredibly innocent and present and cool. He can’t really ultimately get away from the web.
You said you think that this may be the funniest season ever — and there is a lot of humor in the premiere. The “David Davidson” line… is that a hint that Sam Loomis is maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed when that’s the fake name he comes up with?
Well, he’s also a bit of a smart ass. Just being like, “F**k you. I’m not going to tell you what my name is.”
Norman is hilarious in his interactions with Sam, too, because he’s not in the Norma persona at that moment, but he does adopt some of her mannerisms when he’s judging this guy, who’s trying to rent a motel room for just a few hours.
Yes. There’s some Norma that shows up there. Freddie is hilarious this year. Hilarious and also amazing in moving in and out of these different perceptions of who Norman is in the moment, and becoming his mother and acting like his mother. Him having to deal with all of these different realities at once is so entertaining to watch. Just an amazing performance this year.
There is a cheeky line from Norman that was probably an instant favorite, when he is watching “David Davidson” through the peephole, and gets the call from Mother. He says, “Okay, mother. I’m just coming, I’ll be right there.” Where did that line come from? Was there any hesitancy about the line or was it just, “No, this is the final season”?
I don’t know. It came from my brain. I don’t know what that tells you about me. It seemed like the right thing to say right there. That’s what he would say. I think it was important to set the tone early, because the show is so dark. It could be so dark. It could just fall into a precipice of darkness, that it was very much my instinct in that first episode to let people know that they were going to have fun, even in a very dark world, that we were going to take care of them, that we weren’t going to torture them. Yeah, I think it just came out of wanting to have fun with it, because so many of the situations, when you step outside of them, are just so absurd and so crazy and so demented. Also, when you’re inside the character, it can be quite funny. When you’re inside Norman and he’s wondering, “Did I wear this yesterday? Because I don’t remember if I did” … it’s such a crazy environment. It does get to a little bit of an absurd point, that you have fun with.
You and Carlton Cuse were pretty committed from the beginning to telling this story in five seasons, but was there ever any point throughout the season where you thought, “Oh, we could have done one more”?
Yeah. There was a part of me that wished that was true, but I very strongly felt, as did Carlton, that we were telling the story in the right amount of episodes, and that we didn’t want to ruin it by stretching it out. We wanted every episode to have an impact and be meaningful.
Do you feel like you did everything you wanted to do?
Yeah. Which is a really nice feeling.
We know Rihanna is coming in as Marion Crane at some point this season. Any hints about that?
It’s a huge crux of the storytelling this year. She’s in multiple episodes. The story that she plays out is woven through the whole season. She’s not in the first episode, but it begins [there]. The breadcrumbs are laid in the first episode, and we’re just super excited about how it worked out, the idea being that it isn’t that we’re just doing Psycho, but that this is truly a collision between Psycho and Bates Motel and that it delivers its very own version of it that is really quite cool and meaningful within the framework of Bates Motel.
There were sequels to Psycho. Have you given any thought to there being a sequel to Bates Motel?
Not today. It’s a world I love, so I would never say never.
Can you offer one word for what you think fans’ reactions, their feelings, will be when they see the final scene of the series feeling.
“Holy f**k.” But that’s not one word.
Bates Motel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.