Bates Motel is not the best incest show on TV. That title probably goes to some show on HBO about the Renaissance, which I hear is very good. But damn if A&E’s Psycho prequel isn’t the ‘cest fest that makes me screech at my television every time I see one of its signature mother-son mountings.
I mean, here’s the thing: Isn’t the idea of Norma-on-Norman (which is typically the case) the whole reason I signed up for this show in the first place? You tell me “Psycho prequel,” and I want to see knives in showers and men in bathrobes and a dead woman’s skeleton still wearing a chunky cardigan. On Bates Motel, there also happen to be weird storylines about marijuana farms and underground crime rings and the occasional dead prostitute. But despite those distractions, viewers can surely agree that the best narrative is the romance between a son and his mother who, despite pretending she’s not really into it, is absolutely into it.
This season of Bates has been particularly thrilling for that reason. The incestuous connection between Norman and Norma has delivered a bunch of moments this year that both delighted and horrified me. I know they’re coming—in truth, I beg for them—and yet each time Norma clasps Norman just a little too sexually, I shriek.
But you probabably don’t even watch Bates. I know this because I see Norman-less newsfeeds and hear motel-sized voids in conversations about TV you should be watching. I often find myself trying to convert people to see the neon light, but to no avail. Even so, I feel like I’m frequently asked for the TL;DR of it all. Is Norman a psycho yet? Has he killed Norma yet? Something something shower something something?
Which is why, even if you don’t watch this insane show, you have to hear about why this season is really upping the game when it comes to the Hitchcock references. Everyone who has seen Psycho should be able to appreciate these five moments:
5. Norman looked through a lady’s shower.
We knew the third season of Bates Motel would be unlike the first two when, right in the season premiere, Norman moseys on over to a hotel room to spy on a mysterious new guest (who’s dead three episodes later, because why wouldn’t she be?) while she’s in the shower. The shower! That iconic stall of shampoo and stab wounds! The hotel guest is no Marion Crane—in fact, she’s one of the aforementioned dead prostitutes—but the very sight of a Peeping Norm in the bathroom promised that the slashing serial killer was on the horizon this year.
4. Norman did more taxidermy.
In the movie, Norman famously stuffs his mother. But in Bates Motel, we’ve only seen Norman begin to show a passing fancy for the world’s most unfortunate art form. In the past, we’ve seen him experiment with small animals and birds. But in season 3, he’s got a whole damn basement workshop dedicated to skinning and stuffing, like the sick love child of Jim Henson and Hannibel Lecter. Craziest of all is that Norman’s obsession with preservation has begun to include visions of his taxidermied creatures coming back to life. Fun!
3. Norman and Norma kissed.
In the season 2 finale, mother and son shared a legitimate, MTV Movie Award-worthy liplock in the middle of the forest—and in season 3, Norman and Norma are so disgustingly comfortable with each other that they’ve even started sleeping in the same bed together AND SPOONING! Throwing all parental boundaries aside, Norma has engaged her son in copious tickle-fights and held him nose-to-nose like any good Nicholas Sparks movie poster. All that sexual tension probably explains why Norman’s started seeing visions of a hypersexualized, Marilyn Monrovian Norma everywhere, and it’s probably not too much of a reach to suggest that in the history of his pubescence, Norman probably bates his own motel thinking about his mom’s bedroom right next door.
2. Norman put on his mother’s clothes.
Perhaps season 3’s most monumental scene was the moment when Norman really, truly, finally snapped into the Psycho we know. His half-brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) discovered Norman wearing his mother’s bathrobe and bustling around the kitchen at midnight, making breakfast and insisting that Max go wake up his brother. Norman’s dissociative disorder makes him believe he’s actually Norma—so much so that he’s even invented memories of what it felt like when Norma was raped as a teenager—and though breakfast is harmless, the bathrobe moment is the first in a series of very, very bad things that happen when Norman thinks he’s his mother.
1. Norman killed as Norma.
And that brings us to the big season 3 finale, when Norman—in the most sane decision he’s made all season—decides it’s best to run away from home with Bradley, a bad girl classmate who faked her death earlier in the series to get away from her tragic rich life (and because Nicola Peltz booked a movie). But as Norman and Bradley are driving away from home, the reality of Norman leaving sets in… and suddenly he becomes the jealous, possessive “Mother” in the car, scolding Bradley for stealing him away.
They pull the car over to the side of the road, and it’s here that Norman suddenly transforms completely into his mother (it’s Vera Farmiga onscreen instead of Freddie Highmore). She walks over to the driver’s side of the car, yanks Bradley out of her seat, and proceeds to smash the teenager’s head against a bunch of rocks. Surveying the bloody damage, Norman snaps back into himself and remarks, “Mother, what have you done?”
It’s a huge moment because, unlike all the others, it signifies that Norman’s transformations into his mother are no longer an occasional dalliance. Instead, it’s a new normal that bring us one mother-murder closer to the psychotic boy-child we love. Norman hasn’t just allowed his alter ego to fill his head with antagonistic thoughts; he actually killed as his mother, relinquishing all power to the jealous, I’ll-take-care-of-everything voice in his head. And that’s the Norman Bates we know.