Warning: Major spoilers ahead!
Bates Motel concluded its five-season run last night with an episode that, based on the world the show created, could be considered a happy ending… well, as happy as could be for a serial killer with severe psychological issues. It was certainly a happy ending for viewers, resolving every storyline in an emotional climax. In ultimately giving Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) everything he really wanted, writers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin gave fans of the show everything they really needed.
Plus, the show continued to surprise, up to the very end. Last week, we anticipated that the final confrontation between Norman and Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) would be the focus of the series finale, “The Cord.” It was not. In fact, that story was resolved in the first act. Subsequently, as Norman kneeled beside his mother’s snowy grave in the woods, she (Vera Farmiga) appeared to him and said, “You know everything now and there’s nothing to protect you from. Goodbye, Norman.”
Left “by himself” to process everything that’s happened since the death of his father, Norman retreats into his happy memories. Sunny flashbacks of the past appear in his mind as he takes Norma’s body back to the house in the dark present, as it was when they first arrived after she purchased the motel. This was a clever way for the show to acknowledge how it began and to emphasize the change Norman has experienced between then and now. It also reminds us of what the original bond with his mother meant in a more innocent time.
In the end, it’s the two brothers who have the final confrontation. Dylan (Max Thieriot) arrives for dinner at Norman’s invitation and becomes physically ill when he sees Norma’s body sitting at the table. He attempts to drag Norman kicking and screaming, figuratively, into the situation, literally. “You’re not living in the real world. She’s dead; you have to deal with it.” When Norman asks what he wants from him, Dylan replies, “I want something that can never happen. I want you to be happy and well.”
Norman counters with a statement that reveals a partial explanation for his mental state, if not an actual confession of his conscious participation in reaching it. “If you believe hard enough, you can make it happen.” As a child, Norman Bates was faced with more in life than he could handle. He clung desperately to his mother and developed an unhealthy relationship with her, which she enabled. When she died and he discovered he was truly alone, he chose to believe that she was still with him.
Ultimately, he says, “I just want to be with her, Dylan.” He gets his wish and is reunited with Norma in death, where she greets him in an angelic white dress and lovingly embraces him. In the real world, Norman takes his dying breath in Dylan’s arms and quietly whispers, “Thank you.” It wasn’t exactly a mercy killing. Dylan had to defend himself when his brother violently attacked him. Luckily, he earlier obtained a gun. In fact, when he got the gun two segments earlier, I knew what was going to happen… what had to happen. And I was fine with that.
Of all the colorful characters who came to and went from White Pine Bay, who checked in and out of the Bates Motel, who crossed Norma Bates or her son, only two survive, Dylan and his wife, Emma (Olivia Cooke). The epilogue is not a twist where Norman survives to sit in jail, staring quietly as a fly buzzes around him, or where Dylan goes crazy and picks up a knife, inheriting the family madness. Instead, it’s a lovely glimpse into the future for the couple and their daughter. They get the happy ending they deserve, and we do as well.