With the Season Two finale, Bates Motel hinted at the transformation that would occur throughout this season. Last year, we ended with Norman Bates’ knowing smile as he looked directly at the screen—the same one that Anthony Perkins’ Norman gave to the audience in Psycho. But what made that moment so frightening in Psycho was the quick fade, where for a split-second, we see Norman turn into the skeleton of his mother, showing that, no matter how much help Norman might get, and no matter how long his mother has been dead, Norma will still live on within him. With “Unconscious,” we experience that transformation of Norman into a hybrid of himself and his mother and it’s just as haunting as expected.
Norman seems to have had much less screen time in this third season, yet his degrading mental issues have been felt through every character. Norman hasn’t had to interact with as many strange people as he had in past seasons and that’s been detrimental to his health. In the past, he could stay somewhat tethered to reality through new people, but now that he’s home-schooled, his blackouts have increased and his visions of his mother have become quite frequent.
Last season, I said that it seemed like Norman finally became the Norman that we know from Psycho in those final moments of the finale, but Season Three has been inching Norman into that final 10% he needed for that process to be complete. We started this season with him creeping on visitors at the motel. By the middle of the season, he was stashing his mother’s favorite dress away and started believing himself to be his mother. But by the end of “Unconscious,” Norman and the Norma that lives inside of him are now one in the same. The real Norma has disappointed him all season, but this Norma can be whatever Norman wants her or needs her to be. He has always believed that he and his mother to belong together and at the end of the episode, when fake Norma tells Norman not to tell anyone about her/him killing Bradley, Norman responds “I do.” This feels less like a promise of solidarity and more like an unholy marriage of the two sides of Norman’s personality that can only lead to horrible things.
Yet even though this season ends with a hugely important change, “Unconscious” is smart to focus on long-anticipated character moments rather than big set pieces. Last season ended with a drug bust, an impending shootout and a lie-detector test for Norman. This year, we have much more effective face-offs that have been building all season.
Emma finally has an opportunity to get new lungs, but runs away from her father, afraid of all the ways that things could go wrong. When Dylan finds her, the two finally kiss and Emma decides to take a chance with the surgery. These two have grown so much over the past ten episodes, as Dylan has matured into a responsible adult and gotten over petty grudges, while Emma is smart to abandon her doomed relationship with Norman and follow her heart to where it probably should be.
Poor Norma, though, is stuck in relationships that already seemed doomed. She finally sits down with Norman and explains that she’s more scared for him not to get help, which makes Norman believe that Norma has finally given up on him. When he tells Norma of his plans to run away with Bradley, Norma whacks him upside his head and ties him up in their basement. It’s the last resort of a mother trying to keep her son safe, but no matter what she does, he can still escape her grasp when he needs to and sneaks out of the basement. But the real disappointment in this relationship comes from the fact that Norma knows what dangers will happen if Norman doesn’t get help. But after visiting the best mental health clinic for Norman, she realizes she literally doesn’t have the means to keep her son safe the way he needs.
Even Norma’s moment with Romero seems doomed, especially when they comment that they’re all likely doomed in the end anyways. The two reconcile with each other, but there’s a sort of melancholy to their meeting. Romero clearly loves Norma, but can only show it in ways that are less evident, such as warning Bob about the upcoming police raid on his house, then meeting up with him as he sneaks away into the night.
Bob is obviously dead the moment Romero shows up waiting for him on his boat, as Romero finally wants to end Bob’s reign of terror once and for all, for the good of Norma and for the good of the town. Romero’s story might be even more tragic than Norman’s at this point. While Norman has embraced his mother’s love and wants to be as close to her as possible—to the point that he thinks he might even be sexually attracted to her—Romero has intentionally tried to divert his path from his father’s only to wind up exactly like him in the end. When Bob warns Romero of this, it seems like Romero shooting him stems from anger over the fact that what Bob is saying is the truth.
But Bates Motel is smart to finally, once and for all get rid of Bradley, as she becomes the first victim of the Norma-Norman combo. Watching Freddie Highmore transform into a raging Vera Farmiga, chasing around Bradley is terrifying, but also slightly funny in its absurdity. Bradley has been nothing but trouble for Norman and she continues this trend as she steals from her mother and plans to take Norman away from his mother. For once, I was glad that Norman was getting ready to kill, since she’s been one of the most problematic characters in the entire show and she just can’t stay away. Norma-Norman’s murder not only solidifies who Norman has become, but also severs all ties to the problems of Bates Motel’s past.
“Unconscious” is an excellent finale to a exceptional third season of Bates Motel. This seems like a conclusion to the show we knew, and the beginning of a show where everyone realizes they are doomed. Bates Motel continues to be one of the most fascinating evolutions on TV and what comes next will surely be as exciting and as wonderful as this great season has been.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.