It’s a Bates Motel final season that hasn’t been lacking a lick in twists, drama, death, or deliciously dark humor. But Monday’s kickoff of the two-episode arc featuring Marion Crane — the character who bit the dust in Psycho’s iconic shower scene — brings not only an even quicker pace and heightened level of shock as the story heads into the second half of Season 5, but also the much-anticipated debut of pop diva Rihanna as Marion.
RiRi, whose guest gig came about after Bates showrunners Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse found out she’s a fan of the show from a Vanity Fair cover story, plays a Marion Crane who is a modern version of the character, one who fits perfectly, and specifically, into Norman Bates’s ever more rapid descent into madness — and one who was customized for Rihanna’s casting.
“I think the fun thing about television is that you’re in the tailoring business,” Cuse says. “If you’re doing your job well, you’re writing your show to fit the person that you’ve cast. We knew we wanted to do Marion Crane; we just didn’t want to do a carbon copy of Janet Leigh. We were thinking a lot about who we could get, and then the Rihanna opportunity popped up, and it was like, ‘Oh, this is the perfect solution.’ She has such a different vibe and is so contemporary and so strong and so engaging. Once we knew it was Rihanna, we executed the script with her in mind.”
Marion’s storyline — fitting in with one of the series’ trademarks, but without revealing any spoilers — will veer from that of Leigh’s in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, and even those surprises will contain surprises.
“I think what we tried to do was bring full Psycho into Bates Motel, as opposed to dropping Bates Motel into Psycho,” Ehrin says. “I think that was the challenge of [the Marion Crane arc], and also the fun of it, honestly.”
For her part, Rihanna, who previously starred in Battleship and provided the voice of teen girl Tip in Home, proved her fandom for all things Bates as soon as she arrived on set. “I think she loves the show. When she first showed up, I remember walking around with her, and she was looking at all the sets. She just had this wide-eyed enthusiasm,” Cuse says. “Clearly, she really knew the show and watched the show. To see her see these sets that she had seen so many times as a viewer was really, really exciting.”
And she was happy to meet the cast too. “She kept calling Nestor [Carbonell], who was directing her, ‘Sheriff Romero,’” Ehrin says. “It was great.”
Meanwhile, “Dreams Die First,” the first of the two Marion Crane installments, also features a guest appearance by another famous name: Cuse. After Ehrin talked him into moonlighting, he’ll play a cop who meets Marion.
“I have always wanted to put Carlton in a part, because he’s just so amusing,” Ehrin says. “We were breaking the story in the room, me and the writers, and the cop scene came up. I was just thinking of that cop in the [Psycho] movie — he’s super-intimidating. And I thought Carlton would be hilarious doing that part, looking all badass. I pitched it to him, and he was a little reluctant, but we talked him into it.”
As Cuse explains, “It’s a little bit like if somebody says, ‘Would you like to play basketball with the Lakers?’ There’s part of you that’s like, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ but also you’re stepping into a very formidable situation. The acting is so good on this show. I had a little reluctance to bring down the median average. It’s fun to do a cameo, but believe me, I did not emerge from this under any delusion that I somehow have the wrong role in my life.”
Guest appearances aside, the focus of the final season continues to be Norman’s crumbling mind, and, again, without revealing specifics, a new fracture in his personality in “Dreams Die First” leads to a shock, then a fresh bit of clarity for Freddie Highmore’s Norman.
“I think it seems more extreme, although that was something that we charted out over all this,” Cuse says. “From the very beginning, we had imagined what this season would be, but once you get here, you get to really start to implement the plan, and everything starts happening much faster.”
Teases Ehrin, “It’s a very climactic episode for Norman. It’s really the big climax that all things unravel from, that leads to the end.”
‘Bates Motel’ airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.