Fans, Critics Misunderstand Final “Bates Motel” Reveal

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Like “American Horror Story,” critical and fan reaction to “Bates Motel” has been all over the place. Some not only see the series as a serious, high-concept drama but believe it is completely excelling on that front. Some feel the show has the promise of a great drama but has been failing in its execution.

Others, meanwhile, point to the wacky dialogue (particularly from Vera Farmiga’s Norma, who is responsible for lines like “sorry that dirtbag raped me” and “I killed the crap out of him”) and incongruous storytelling as proof that “Bates Motel” is not to be taken seriously. Like season one of “American Horror Story,” it is a campy, “so bad it’s good” horror series embracing cable’s opportunity to be weird, edgy and random.

But regardless of the show’s intent, most critics agree that the show has picked up its storytelling in recent weeks. Fueled by improved cohesion between scenes and performances, a compelling villain in Jere Burns’ Jake Abernathy and Norman’s evolution into a more haunting persona (thanks largely to ongoing improvement from actor Freddie Highmore), “Bates Motel” found the road to success near the end of its first season.

Monday’s well-constructed season finale seemed to bring the show closer to excellence. But just as critics and fans were nearly unanimous in their appreciation for the episode, they were also nearly unanimous in misunderstanding one of its key “reveals.”

And that misunderstanding let some critics to unfairly repudiate the final moments of “Bates Motel” season one.

In addition to building–and concluding–key story arcs at a blistering pace, the “Bates” season finale succeeded by focusing on character. Norma’s fear of death at the hands of Abernathy pushed her to a new realm of vulnerability, and in the process, she continued repairing her relationship with Dylan while opening up further to Norman, her pride-and-joy. Her heartbreaking story of being victimized by her brother’s sexual assaults shed new light not only on Norman, but on the way tragic circumstances have pushed normalcy, comfort and control so far out of reach for the Bates family.

Romero solidified himself as a “good guy” by ultimately doing away with Abernathy, while improvement in the Dylan-Norman relationship came to a screeching halt when Norman learned of his older half-brother’s budding relationship with Bradley. Emma, meanwhile, finally confronted Norman, who refuses to detach his focus from Bradley and recognize the treasure of a girl in front of him.

And then there was that conclusion. Bloodied at the hands of Bradley’s creepy “boyfriend,” a dejected Norman, who had already broken Emma’s heart, trudged through the rain to escape a disastrous school dance. Along the way, he was spotted by Miss Watson, who offered to drive him to her house and clean up the cut.

An awkward situation in any context, it was exacerbated by recent indications that the teacher has a crush on (and certainly an emotional fondness for) her deranged student. As Miss Watson “changed” out of her dress, leaving the door open for Norman’s wandering eyes to capture the cute teacher in lingerie, Norman “snapped” into blackout mode and began a conversation with a hallucination of his Mother.

Mother noted Miss Watson’s sexual, predatory behavior, before reminding Norman that he knows what he needs to do. As Norman got up, presumably to attack Miss Watson, the shot suddenly flashes to Norman sprinting through the streets to his home.

While in motion, he encounters Norma and explains that he had another blackout, signaling to viewers that he was in the same state as when he killed his father and attacked Shelby. It certainly seemed pretty clear that Norman killed Miss Watson.

And that is why fans and critics were initially justified in groaning when, following a beautiful final shot of the Bates Motel property, the camera cut to the bloody floor of Miss Watson’s apartment. As the shot began wrapping around her bed, surely with the aim of revealing a murdered teacher to the audience, “Bates” seemed to be making the unfortunate television mistake of disrespecting its audience. Did it trust the audience so little–and think it so unintelligent–that it needed to explicitly confirm what anyone could have figured out from Norman’s conversation with his mother?

But in stopping there and building their complaints around the show’s mistrust in its audience, these critics and viewers missed the true purpose of the reveal: a “B” necklace around the murdered Miss Watson’s neck.

As revealed last week (and confirmed in the “previously on” bit, which is why it’s odd so many critics and viewers missed this key moment), Bradley’s father was evidently having an affair with a woman known as “B” prior to his death. By wearing the necklace, Watson was either exposed as “B” or exposed as knowing who it was prior to her murder.

Though the reveal confirms that others would have had motive to kill Miss Watson, it certainly does not rule out young Norman Bates as the prime suspect. It does, however, add narrative color and intrigue to the situation, turning it into something more than Norman killing a woman who might have been sexually threatening.

It also makes renders all the criticism about “Bates” mistrusting its viewers moot. Insofar as the reveal was not about Miss Watson’s death but about her necklace, “Bates” was not simply recapping what viewers could have figured out from Norman and Norma’s conversation. It was sharing something new. It was…”revealing.”

The irony of complaints about the final scene is that they attack “Bates Motel” for treating its viewers like idiots and not trusting them to reach basic narrative conclusions. But by not understanding the real purpose of that scene, and missing such a key detail, aren’t these critics and fans, in fact, proving themselves to unable to independently comprehend the A&E drama’s pivotal moments?

  • Guest

    …yeah. I didn’t pick up on that necklace. Not gonna lie. But then again, I thought it was a good shot when they panned around and showed the body. I quite appreciate the effort those working on the show have exhibited in staying true to the inspiration material. The cinematography and set pull shots and camera angles directly out of Hitchcock’s film. I appreciate also that they’ve worked to redeem Mrs. Bates as a character, and not some over-domineering loon who badgered her son into insanity. Props especially to Highmore’s performance. It seems he really studied Tony Perkin’s work as Norman, recreating that awkward smile and even Perkin’s fidgety body-language that made the original Norman so unassuming. (And on a side-note, I fist-pumped when the sheriff shot the villain 4 times and threw the $$ in the river. That was great.) Overall, I find it respectful of the source film, wonderfully acted & well-presented. The only thing that doesn’t always read in the series is a low-energy or unrealistic reaction to highly emotional things. Norman’s reaction to Bradley’s rejection (storming away in the rain cursing) was great! But a generic “oh, well Shelby’s a bad guy” was a little empty if standing against a good old “I trusted you!! *weepweep*” That got a LOT better as the show went on. Thanks for the tip on that necklace! I wouldn’t have caught that.

    • http://twitter.com/cantorpedia Brian Cantor

      I agree with the point about the incompatibility between the events and the accompanying character reactions, and I think that really speaks to WHY so many critics (myself included) are unsure exactly how to feel about this show.

      When I first reviewed the pilot screener, my focus was on whether the show should be more about the town and the characters within that town or the “Psycho” element. As it turns out, that question was far less relevant than that concerning whether the show should present itself as a serious drama or as campy, B-movie fun.

      I, of course, noted the “Sorry that dirtbag raped me” line, but I wrote that more off as bad dialogue than what we now see could have been INTENTIONALLY bad dialogue designed to break the seriousness (“I killed the crap out of him,” and even “Screw off, sh*t head” in this episode elicit the same sentiment).

      If you go to some of the more high-brow, if “pretentious” TV websites, they approach this show as a somewhat of a joke – and the evaluation is based more on how entertaining the show and the characters were within that goofy premise. If you go to the more mainstream websites, you see people revering this as high art–maybe not the way one would “Mad Men,” but certainly more than something like The CW’s “Cult.”

      Vera Farmiga’s performance speaks to that dilemma. Some of what she does as Norma is far too wacky, ludicrous and unrealistic to take entirely seriously. But at the same time, she also plays those notes with such endearing, believable conviction, and so you can easily make the case that she’s deliberately being “goofy” for the sake of showing that real people do and say silly things and don’t always act like they do in super-serious dramas.

      It’s really a fascinating series to evaluate.

      • Guest

        I enjoyed your article and analysis. I agree with you on Farmiga’s work, and – while I am no critic (but a ‘layman, if you will) – it seems Norma is really the character who is the most relatable.
        While one certainly could make an argument for Dylan Bates in that respect, he often lacks the every day absurdity & embarrassment that we as people encounter every day. Norma is easily the type of person you could see saying ‘Thank you, sir” into a drive through, just to be served by a woman.

        While we – the common audience – can’t always relate to Norman in the throes of his psychosis, Bradley on her pedestal of high-school perfection, or Emma and her disease, every one of us has been Norma at one point with a ‘Me Against the World’ attitude.

        Whether the filmmakers decide to make it a high-drama, a B-Movie spin-off, or walk the line between, as long as they deliver a very human story with characters we see ourselves in, and maintain the concept of the beautiful and un-redeemable tragedy Norman Bates becomes… They’ll still have a show that smears all but the high-rollers (eg – The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones).

        As a reviewer of the show, though, have you written an article on the introduction of another family member (Dylan) into the Psycho canon?

        • http://twitter.com/cantorpedia Brian Cantor

          I didn’t regularly review this show, unfortunately, so I missed the initial opportunity to explore Dylan. When I do pre-premiere reviews (as I did with Bates), I like to only focus on the pilot (that’s what I think matters most to readers), and he wasn’t introduced until episode 2.

  • Hyok Kim

    This is a brilliant review. Especially in dissecting all those wannabee ‘artsy’ bs criticism of ‘Bates Motel’ ‘Bates Motel’ is a unique surreal juxtaposition of comedy, black humor, serious drama, psychological thriller, and procedural.

    Btw. I think it was Bradley who murdered Miss Watson. I think the writers are pulling the same trick they pulled to make it look like it was Norma who killed Norman’s father. Do you remember how outraged Bradley was when she found out about ‘B’?

    • http://twitter.com/cantorpedia Brian Cantor

      Insofar as I’m not sure the “Bates” writers expect us to REALLY care about “B,” that ending seemed more like a device to create some suspicion about who the really killer was.

      I’m fine if it ends up being someone other than Norman, but if so, I think the show has to work really hard to justify that. It can’t just say “it was Bradley” or even “It was Miss Watson’s (ex?) boyfriend” and expect us to buy it. Bradley had the motive, but would she really have been able to figure out “B”‘s identity so quickly (and then actually execute such a quick and brutal-looking killing)?

      • Hyok Kim

        “Insofar as I’m not sure the “Bates” writers expect us to REALLY care about “B,”

        …but they can use ‘B’ to make us care about Bradley, and how what happens to Bradley to make us care even more about how it would affect Norman.

        “..that ending seemed more like a device to create some suspicion about who the really killer was.”

        That’s a bonus, but I don’t think it’s the main reason aforementioned.

        “I’m fine if it ends up being someone other than Norman, but if so, I think the show has to work really hard to justify that.”

        I absolutely agree, and I think Cuse is working overtime to exactly do that. Didn’t he hire a whole bunch of extra new writers?

        “It can’t just say “it was Bradley” or even “It was Miss Watson’s (ex?) boyfriend” and expect us to buy it.”

        Again, ditto. Btw. I don’t think it was ‘Eric’ who killed Miss Watson. I think ‘Eric’ is the one who set the fire that killed Bradley’s father.

        “Bradley had the motive, but would she really have been able to figure out “B”‘s identity so quickly”

        Remember, Bradley was obsessed about the memory of her father, and Dylan gave all the letters from ‘B’ to her father, and since ‘B’ was Miss Watson, she should have been able to figure out what ‘B’ did for living, about where she lived, pretty much where she worked. Heck, ‘B’ most likely may have even mentioned Bradley!

        How would you like it if someone you trust, especially professionally, such as your boss, or therapist talks behind your back to someone you truly love, such as your parents, wife, children in a non-professional manner, that you do not think complementary?

        “…(and then actually execute such a quick and brutal-looking killing)?”

        Compared to Jody Arias, it would have been a walk in the park on sunny day.

        I’ve been reading true crime non-fiction, and yes, good looking teenage girls from suburb are perfectly capable of exceeding brutal crime, especially on another female whom she feels as ‘competition’, especially when enraged.

        Yes, it would be totally plausible (with help from some great writing).

        Here is how I think could happen. Bradley belatedly follows Norman after his beating, out of guilt and maybe to give him a ride, then sees Miss Watson picking him up, and so she follows.

        Norman ‘fights’ against ‘Mother’, barely ‘wins’, that is, he grabs the knife, but eventually threw it away on the floor, and runs away from the apartment.

        Bradley goes inside and sees Miss Watson in her undies, and she concludes Miss Watson is a manipulative slut who uses men and discards them after she is done, just like she did with her father, and here is the proof, ‘B’ is already trying to seduce her student after writing ‘sweet nothings’ for so long to her dear father, and not so long after he died a horrible death because of her.

        She grabs the knife and lunges forward. Miss Watson is in total shock, she expected to see Norman, instead she sees Bradly in homicidal rage, the daughter of the man she so much loved coming after her with a knife.

        Another angle the writers could explore is that Bradley and her dad had a similar relationship between Norma and Norman, kind of electra complex.

        Perhaps this ends up reinforcing Norman’s pre-existing condition instead of curing it?

        If you noticed that Bradley’s mother threw away all the stuff of her father after he died. Why would she do that? Perhaps she wanted to ‘start over’ ala Norma? ….by getting rid of the painful reminder that she lost him to her own daughter?

        You obviously noticed that ‘Bates Motel’ has many parallels that are mirror images of different characters.

        Another angle I see is the reason why Norma has such a difficult relationship with Dylan is that Dylan is the son she had with her brother. Dylan is the painful reminder Norma wants to forget?

        Obviously, Dylan looks alike more like Norma than Norman. Obviously, again, Dylan’s ‘blood’ is thicker with Norma than Norman?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeanne.agusto Jeanne Agusto-Paul

    yea i missed the necklace when i watched it again i seen it and it made more sense but i thought it was a great

    i honestly sat back and said i wonder if he killed her cause he ran from bradley and when she caught up he looked like he was gonna kill her but he did’nt so it left me wondering after he was talking to norma if he did kill her and whoever can say whatever i think he did i don’t think eric or bradley did that

    • Hyok Kim

      Norman is obviously lying about being unable to remember what happened after he left the dance due to black out. Even if he did have a black out and killed Miss Watson, he should be able to remember the events just before the black out, which includes his ‘conversation’ with ‘Mother’.

      Now, Norman does what ‘Mother’ tells him to do, and if ‘Mother’ gave the idea to Norman to kill Miss Watson, then he should be able to remember that ‘fact’ even if he does not remember the actual act of killing Miss Watson.

      Obviously when he got back to motel and converse with Norma, it is obvious he is unaware of the death of Miss Watson. Otherwise he would not have behaved the way he did with Norma. At least he would have wondered for himself (if not in actual words with Norma) why Norma would want him to kill Miss Watson.

      Besides there is a potentially fascinating angle involving Bradley and her father.

      They might have had the similar relationship. This explains why Bradley’s mother threw away all his stuff after his death. Maybe she is bitter because she lost him to her own daughter.

      This would also create suspense involving Dylan and Norman, and how it would affect Norman. If the black out was due to Norman witnessing Bradley murdering Miss Watson.

      Hitchicock films such as, ‘Spellbound’, and ‘Suspicion’ explore such themes.

      Btw. Bradley might turn out like Carol Harbin from ‘StraightJacket’, another script written by Robert Bloch, the original writer of ‘Psycho’.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strait-Jacket

      Here’s the penutlimate scene,

      Can you imagine Bradley behaving that way, and Norman visiting her in the criminally insane asylum? Talk about turning the table around!

      • Brian Cantor

        There’s certainly a possibility that Norman is lying, but I’m curious what makes you so certain. Has there been any indication that he was lying about “blacking out” when he murdered his father, attacked Dylan and attacked Shelby?

        • Hyok Kim

          “Has there been any indication that he was lying about “blacking out” when he murdered his father, attacked Dylan and attacked Shelby?”

          My conclusion is not based on whether Norman previously lied about his black outs.

          On the contrary, it is based on accepting Norman’s previous claim of black outs as the truth.

          In those black outs, Norman does not remember what he does, that is, if you accept Norman’s claim as the truth.

          But when Norman has ‘conversation’ with ‘Mother’, he does ‘remember’ what he is ‘told’ by ‘Mother’ and remembers what he actually does as a result of it.

          The example, do you remember when Norman was ‘told’ by ‘Mother’ to retrieve the belt from Shelby’s house?

          He clearly was not in black out mode. Because later he told Norma about the ‘conversation’ he had with ‘Mother’.

          Obviously, Norman ‘remembers’ what he was ‘told’ by ‘Mother’, and remembers what he actually does as a consequence.

          So when Norman has ‘conversation’ with ‘Mother’, he cannot be in black out mode since if we accept Norman cannot remember what he does during black outs, obviously Norman could not recall the ‘conversation’ he has with ‘Mother’ and what he does as a consequence.

          The writers of this show are actually very cunning. They want the audience to confuse Norman’s hallucination mode with his black out mode in order to create more drama and suspense later on, but actually without breaking the rules they had made themselves.

          Norman claimed that he could not remember what happened after he had left the school dance due to black out. That claim itself is a fact. (whether that claim is true is a different matter.)

          When Norman goes into black out mode, he does not have conversations whether with ‘Mother’ or real people. He just does what he does. That is a fact. (So I am not disputing whether Norman’s claim of black out in previous occasion is true or not. (I am accepting it as the truth.)

          Norman did have conversations both with Miss Watson and ‘Mother’. That is a fact.

          So Norman could not have been in black out mode during those moments.

          So Norman should be able to remember those moments, yet he claimed to Norma that he could not remember those moments due to black out.

          So that is clearly a lie.

  • Hyok Kim

    “As Miss Watson “changed” out of her dress, leaving the door open for Norman’s wandering eyes to capture the cute teacher in lingerie, Norman “snapped” into blackout mode and began a conversation with a hallucination of his Mother.

    Mother noted Miss Watson’s sexual, predatory behavior, before reminding Norman that he knows what he needs to do. As Norman got up, presumably to attack Miss Watson, the shot suddenly flashes to Norman sprinting through the streets to his home.

    While there, he encounters Norma explains that he had another blackout, signaling to viewers that he was in the same state as when he killed his father and attacked Shelby. It certainly seemed pretty clear that Norman killed Miss Watson.”

    Mr.Cantor, I think you need to think over on above statements. Based on what I’ve seen so far, when Norman goes into black out mode, he just acts, he doesn’t have conversation with ‘Mother’.

    On the contrary, when he has conversation with ‘Mother’, he most definitely does not go into black out mode. He just does what ‘Mother’ says he should do, and he does ‘remember’ what he was told and what he did.

    So the conclusion that I reached is that Norman lied to Norma about going into black outs because he didn’t want to embarrass himself or Miss Watson to Norma that he had sexual fantasies about Miss Watson and he was in her house while she was changing her dress in a visible way to him, knowing how much this will upset Norma, and how much trouble this would cause to Miss Watson. (At this point, Norman does not know Miss Watson has been murdered.)

  • Hyok Kim

    “Norman “snapped” into blackout mode and began a conversation with a hallucination of his Mother.”

    Just one more correction, Mr.Cantor.

    Norman doesn’t have ‘conversation’ with ‘Mother’ in black out mode. He just does what he does and doesn’t remember it afterward, whereas when he has ‘conversation’ with ‘Mother’, he ‘remembers’ what he is told by ‘Mother’ and certainly remembers what he does as a result. Another word, he cannot have a black out mode when he has ‘conversation’ with ‘Mother’.

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