Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Note: Check out my post-finale interview with star Freddie Highmore and my chat with Bates Motel executive producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin about the finale’s closing moments.
Bates Motel concluded its five season saga with the heartbreaking and fittingly tragic “The Cord,” in which Norman finally returned to us – but as a broken, beaten and forever lost version of his former self.
When you consider that there were really only two acceptable fates that awaited Norman — death or incarceration in a mental hospital — the show chose the more apropos ending, having already established that Norman yearned to be with his mother more than anything. I mean, he already did try to die at the end of last season.
So did Norman, essentially, trick Dylan into killing him? Having never really intended to stab his brother, only scare him into firing off a fatal shot? It’s hard to say. The final scene between the two was so sad and laced with love with regret, on both sides, that it’s difficult to determine if either one of them had an actual endgame in mind when Dylan came by for a “family dinner.”
I loved that the final moments of the series came down to a tense, but also tender, moment between Norman and Dylan. When the show began, many of us had the idea that Hitchcock’s Psycho was the end point. Which meant that all the non-Norman characters — Dylan, Emma, Romero, and (naturally) Norma — would all fall, sequentially, to Norman’s increasing madness. Which would leave only him in the end, to get caught and captured and locked up as a crazy person. So, honestly, I spent the first few seasons wondering “Okay, when is Norman going to accidentally stab Emma?” or “When will Dylan find out too much and get murdered?”
Once the show began to really blossom into its own thing, however, and started feeling like it was going to elevate up and out of the idea that the Hitchcock film was its ultimate fate, I could drop all my assumptions about what I thought the formula was and really invest. Because the show could now end with Norman still having a brother. And an ex-girlfriend. They didn’t have to be used as stepping stones for his spiraling.
Romero did have to die though. I mean, he didn’t always have to, I suppose, but his story this final season was pretty much a long trudge toward his own demise. He was of a single mind here, and despite all the warnings, and opportunities to change his mind, he persisted and met a predictably gruesome end.
He did, however, facilitate Norman’s escape and Norman’s return to being Norman. Because that was a huge question heading into this finale. Would Norman ever be free from the Mother persona or had she taken over completely? Here, Romero essentially beat Norman out of himself, causing the poor boy to awaken inside of haze. A half-dream state that took his mind back to the beginning of the series when he and Norma were first opening the motel.
In the end, the Norman we got was genuinely shattered. Before Mother took over, he seemed to be in a decent place, having turned himself in, ready to accept responsibility for his actions – even if it meant being institutionalized. The Norman that emerged from the blood and snow here had to be put down, even if that wasn’t Dylan’s intention. Dylan and Emma now get to be the ones to come out of this story as the true survivors. It’s comforting to know, since this story was meant to be a tragedy from the get go, that those two got escape with a happy ending. Having Dylan return to elements of his old White Pine Bay life before he confronted Norman was also a nice touch.