What’s been fun about BATES MOTEL for me as a life-long PSYCHO fan is trying to guess how and when certain threads from the original mythos will present themselves. Pretty much since the very beginning, we knew this modern remake of the story of Norman Bates and his Mother would eventually loop into the events of PSYCHO. So, inevitably (and forgive the following spoiler for a 57-year-old movie) Norman was always destined to kill his Mother and take her place. But how and when was that going to happen in BATES MOTEL? I mean, the shower scene is such a watershed moment (pun intended) for not just horror history, but film history too. So, when and how has been half the fun of watching along every week!
I’ve tried to make several predictions in several articles on this site as each season has progressed, and I’ve been wrong every single step of the way! Even though I’m well-versed the cinematic version of Norman Bates, the writers and producers of the show have successfully thrown me for a loop at every turn. That infamous “shower scene” for example? Yep. Didn’t see that one coming!
Now that we’re a mere few days away from the series finale, I wanted to shine the spotlight on a few things that did not exist in the movie universe of PSYCHO, but were created solely for the show’s narrative. These are things that have now become part of the lore, and feel as if they’ve always been there. Before we say goodbye to BATES MOTEL forever, let’s roll through the most welcome additions to the PSYCHO mythos via the show, shall we?
Norman’s Brother, Dylan Massett
It’s so funny to think back upon the scrutiny that this show was facing before the premiere episode even aired. We were all, after all, nervous that it might trend in the same shallow waters as Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot 1998 remake of PSYCHO. I mean, didn’t that prove that this can’t be done?! Alas, that particular project was confined to the rules they set up for themselves by sticking exactly to the original movie so closely. One of the earliest tidbits to come out before BATES MOTEL kicked off its first season? The introduction of Norman Bates brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot. “What?!” cried loudly the most enthusiastic of PSYCHO fans! “Norman Bates didn’t have a brother!” True, he didn’t in the film version, but real life killer Ed Gein did. And small elements of the Gein case were indeed an influence on author Robert Bloch, who created Norman Bates in the original novel version of PSYCHO. Immediately, I was fascinated by this. In real life, it’s often believed that Ed Gein’s brother Henry was an unconfirmed victim of Ed’s. So, feasibly, I wondered if they were going to borrow from that element of reality and perhaps make Norman’s brother one of the catalysts to him becoming a “psycho.” Instead, while skeptical of his role at first, Dylan ended up becoming one of my favorite characters in the show, primarily because he often acted the same way the audience would in regard to Norman and Norma’s odd relationship. Early on in the first season, he walks into the house and wakes up Norman, sprawled out on the couch. He calls out, “Mother?” And Dylan asks him, “why do you call her that? That’s weird.” Even Norman’s new found hobby of taxidermy was met with strange judgmental looks from Dylan. He may have had a shady past, and participated in some criminal behavior to make ends meet over the course of the series, but Dylan ended up being one of the most important characters introduced in the show. He was also a good brother. There was nothing more heartbreaking than him confronting his brother and trying to force Norman to take his medication, although he already knew deep inside the horrible things he’d done.
The Long-Lost Uncle, Caleb Calhoun
Speaking of Dylan, you figure in order to make the modern day back story work, they had to expand upon the Bates family. Technically, Dylan is Norman’s half-brother. They share Norma in common as their Mother, but they both came from separate fathers. There got to be some weird plot twists in both PSYCHO II and III revolving around Norma’s long lost mentally ill sister Emma Spool, but none of that was carted over for the show. Instead, Norma has a brother, Caleb, played by THE SHIELD’s Kenny Johnson. When he appears, it causes all sorts of problems for the Bates family, dredging up the abuse that both Norma and Caleb experienced under their parent’s household, but the biggest shocker is who Caleb really is. In a bizarre twist, Caleb is both Norma’s brother and Dylan’s father, making Dylan the result of incest! Normally, when you introduce an element like this into the story, it’s unforgivable. And yet, we come to realize that Caleb and Norma had a very, very complicated and inappropriate relationship, all of which stemmed out of their mutual distain for their parents. In fact, Caleb never hides the fact that he both loves Norma and is in love with her. And you know something? It definitely comes off like that inexplicable “love” is mutual at points. Poor Dylan. He has to live with this knowledge forever. In this final season, both Emma and Dylan decide that it’s probably best for everyone if Caleb isn’t in their lives. And when Caleb discovers Norma has died, he doesn’t want to live anymore either. The Bates family is clouded in so much tragedy, it’s unbelievably sad! I was surprised by how emotionally complex Norma and Caleb’s relationship was.
The Beautiful, Broken Girl Next Door, Emma Decody
Which brings us to Emma. Norman’s first real best friend when they move into town, and the girl he should’ve ended up with! Played by Olivia Cooke, Emma has cystic fibrosis and her life expectancy was fairly short. It’s impossible not to immediately be smitten by her character, or to develop a great deal of sympathy for her. It’s obvious from the get-go that she pines for Norman, but in typical fashion, Norman rather prefers the pretty, popular girl at school, Bradley Martin. (That doesn’t end well for anyone!) Regardless, she maintains her friendship with Norman and develops a strong relationship with Norma, acting almost as a surrogate daughter to Norma Bates. Because of her fragile state, I predicted when the show started that inevitably, at some point, Norman would see the error of his ways and accept that he belonged with the girl next door, Emma. And then, the disease she suffered from would eventually kill her and this death would be one of the catalysts for Norman’s descent. But… that didn’t happen! At all! In fact, they do end up “dating” for a very brief period of time, and then in a twist worthy of a Hitchcock movie, her and Dylan end up falling in love with each other and moving out of town?! I also suspected that perhaps in this final season, Emma and Dylan would take the “Sam and Lila” rolls from the original PSYCHO, and I imagined Emma would be the one to find the still-preserved corpse of Norma Bates. But again, I was way off. Instead, she confronts Norman in his cell after discovering that he had murdered her Mother and sends one brief message to this new-found personality that so obviously has taken over Norman’s body. “Tell Norman that I miss him.”
Sheriff Alex Romero, The Bad-Ass
When we met the off-kilter and somewhat shady Sheriff Alex Romero in the first season, I couldn’t have possibly predicted how prominent a role he’d play in the story of the Bates family, but here we are at the tail end, and it looks like he’s going to be a major part of how this all ends, one way or another! You’ll have to remember, back in Season One, it was Deputy Zack Shelby that was the first love interest for Norma, before it turned out he was partnered in on a secret sex slave operation that took place at the motel before the Bates took over. Romero, then proved to be a total bad-ass, dishing out his own brand of vigilante justice as the seasons progressed. While he always had a strange, flirtatious relationship with Norma, I never anticipated they’d end up together, let alone get married! Granted, the marriage part was primarily for his health coverage and so they could afford to put Norman in a mental institution, but eventually, that marriage became genuine and they did, in fact, love each other. In the movies, Norman poisoned both his Mother and her lover out of sheer jealousy. But here in the show, Norma pushes Romero away, having to choose between her son or her husband. She chooses Norman, which proves to be her fatal mistake. Norman attempts to kill himself and his Mother in one last act of desperation. Norman did not expect to survive this ordeal, but since he did, it’s what fully completed his transformation into the “Psycho” we know and love from the movies.
Norman’s Version Of Mother
The version of “Psycho” we get to see Norman portray in the show is unlike any we’ve ever seen before. The fascinating debate that raged on from movie to movie was the following: Is Norman Bates the way he is because of the way his Mother treated him growing up, leading him to murder her? Or was it something always inherent in his DNA? Nature versus nurture. And the closest we’ve gotten to an example is the deconstruction of Norman’s origin as presented in PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING. There were very specific rules set up by the movie version of Norman. He was strictly two personalities, that of Norman Bates and that of his jealous, enraged Mother. He would often morph into the Mother persona whenever he felt a strong sexual attraction to another woman, and because of how pathologically jealous he was of her, his interpretation of her persona would be equally as pathologically jealous. We are told pretty early in the shows run that Norman is, in fact, mentally ill. Nothing his Mother does or says is going to prevent him from his dark destiny. (Well, if only he had gotten help early on, who knows?) But, there wouldn’t be a show if we went the normal route and hence, that’s what these 5 seasons have been all about.
In the movie-verse, Norma Bates never actually killed anyone. Her abuse of Norman and the awkward nature in which she suppressed his sexuality is what makes her a “monster,” but she isn’t a murderer. That’s Norman’s perception of Mother. In the show, one of the first things we see right in the pilot is Norma viciously stabbing to death a rapist. This one event had forever been embedded into the psyche of the TV version of Norman as to what happens when his Mother loses her tempter. And it’s the basis for how we, the audience, see her in his mind. Real life Mother never killed anyone after that, but Norman’s imaginary version of her was far more brutal, vicious and manipulative. In season 4, Freddie Highmore delivers one of the most convincing performances of the entire run. He has already killed several people, and yet, Norman is absolutely convinced that not only has his Mother done it, she covered it up and is trying to place the blame solely on Norman. Watch that heartbreaking clip below:
Inevitably, in Season Five, with Mother dead, and Norman assuming her personality, he eventually comes to accept the truth that this “murdering Mother” was never actually his real Mother, and is an alternate personality vying for control of his body. It’s tremendously sad to watch him come to terms with the truth, which is why when he actually does murder Sam in the shower, of his own choice and with his own hands, not only does he vomit, but he confesses pretty quickly. The real Norman would never be able to stomach the things he’s done. What’s been fascinating, especially in these last few episodes is watching Mother take over for Norman and seeing how conniving she/he actually is. With a murder confession on the books, Norma(n) suddenly comes up with a valid excuse on how to get out of it, blaming it on shoddy police work, his lack of meds, and setting up Madeline Loomis as a potential suspect! The lengths of which “Mother” will go to get Norman out of this mess are astounding and unbelievable. But again, something we’ve never fully seen, and it’s a credit to just how amazing Freddie Highmore is to be able to shift in and out of each personality using facial expressions and body language.
If anything, I can’t wait for the series to wrap so I can go back to the very beginning and really analyze the brilliant work Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore put into both of their characters over the course of the 5 seasons.
We will always have the classic Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece PSYCHO. But what’s great now is the “Psycho Legacy” continues. BATES MOTEL has given us a new update to the myth and legend of Norman Bates, added some terrific characters and story, and will forever be a part of the PSYCHO-verse now.