Norma and Norman Bates are arguably the most complicated mother-son duo on television. They’ve got enough secrets to last a lifetime. And with that in mind, Bates Motel showrunner Kerry Ehrin is blogging some of the show’s most pivotal episodes, breaking down exactly what’s happening and why.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Let’s talk about Norma Bates.
I was trying to figure out how many times I have written the name “Norma” in a script in the last five years. I think it’s somewhere around 12,000 to 15,000 times. All those times were attached to an instinct of how she would behave, react, act out, be a smartass, be crushed, be scared, be protective, be in love, be angry, be worried, be evasive, be invasive, be bitchy, be comforting, be hopeful.
Carlton Cuse and I knew we wanted, from the beginning, to tell a story about a real woman, not a shrew, as she is presented (with complete and brilliant success) in Psycho. We wanted her to be a flesh and blood woman, with a real problem of raising a son who had a problem. And we went about creating her, piece by piece, instinct by instinct, collaborating with the insanely brilliant Vera Farmiga as she stoked the fires of inspiration with her fearless performance. Norma, in my mind, was a fully living, breathing, red blooded woman. We fought through her fights with her, tried to bury old wounds with her, hoped for the best for her, and always, always, loved the hell out of her.
And then we had to kill her.
If anyone thinks living with a character all those years and then doing them in is easy, they would be wrong. I have spent more time with Norma in the last five years than I have spent with any of my friends and possibly more than I have spent with my children. There’s a lot of hours logged into writing “Norma” 12 to 15 thousand times. I’ve travelled a lot of road with Norma. And I love her as much as it is possible to love a fictional character that you kind of secretly think is actually real. And that’s a lot of love.
I know many people who watch the show and love Norma are really hurting. All I can say is so am I. However, the mythology of Robert Bloch loomed large and there was no escaping it, even though I had fantasies of putting Norma and Norman and Alex in a car and driving away to Mexico, far away from Psycho. I had the same fantasies of my mother when she was in the hospital and dying. I just wanted to get her the hell out tof there. But I couldn’t do that either. I don’t think it’s a surprise that Bates came into my life about a year after I lost my mother. I think Bates is a love letter to my mother, and to mothers in general. To the real women out there who struggle against the odds in a world that is not always kind to women, who go above and beyond every day to selflessly take care of the people they love. Women who tirelessly care for their families, fight the dragons, are flawed, get disappointed, cry by themselves in the car when no one is looking. Women who valiantly pick up the pieces and start over and over and over and over again no matter how many times they have been knocked down. Mothers are that voice that cuts through all the craziness and tells us it’s all going to be okay. They are all the softness and strength and beauty in the world.
I was grieving the loss of my mother when Bates came my way. And it became a sort of personal mission to write a mother in all her technicolor dimensions. Norman’s devotion to his mother was a weird sort of channeling of my own devotion to my mother, albeit without the serial killer part. (I know, I am skilled at denial! This is a nuanced family drama — not a tale of horror. Right?) And Norma’s love for her child at all costs was what I missed from my own mother and found a way to express through writing Bates.
Then a year ago, in the writers’ room, we were discussing just the concept of when specifically and how we would have to do the deed. I felt tears starting to roll out of my eyes. It was really embarrassing because this was my job. I was a writer, I needed to think about it. There’s no tears in executive producing! But I’d done such a good job of hiding from the fact of Norma’s eventual demise that the reality of it looming ahead hit me like a truck. I can honestly say I have spent the last year dreading this. Not like 24/7, but quietly, deeply, it has whispered to me for the last year. And still I was not ready.
When it came time to do it, It was important to for us to honor the character and how much Norman loved her, in spite of his insanity, and let her death be as gentle as possible. We wanted it to have a Romeo and Juliet quality; a convergence of potentially avoidable incidents that fell together in exactly the right order so as to render them unavoidable. We set out to write a tragedy.
The tragedy was that we actually had to go through with it.
Norma Bates will continue to be the heart and center and engine of the show. Norman and Alex’s love for her will motivate them forever. It will always be the emotional drive of the storytelling. And the fabulous Vera Farmiga will unfold in fantastical new ways that will be breathtaking to watch.
I couldn’t say goodbye to Norma Bates without spending some time loving on Vera Farmiga. Talk about a f–king muse. Talk about an artist that breathed blood and soul into this character. Vera is all mixed up in my head with this fictional character, which made it all the more heartbreaking to have to kill her on paper. Vera is, quite simply, the most ridiculously talented, brilliantly instinctual, large-hearted, hardworking, passionate, selfless, fearless, bad-assed, queen of an actress that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The load she has carried for the show and the craft she has put into this role are extraordinary. She has brought her guts and spirit and brain to work every day and thrown them out on the table in the conjuring up of Norma Louise Bates. Bates Motel doesn’t have an innate, given story engine. It has no procedural element. It is a structure scaffolded by writing and sculpted by performance. And Vera has sculpted the f–king Pieta for us.
So thank you from the bottom of my heart, Vera, for Norma Bates. I can’t say goodbye to her. I love her too much. So I will just have to jump on to Norman’s train of denial. In my own brain, Norma and Norman and I will live in Oahu and run a resort, take walks on the beach, live on macadamia nuts, and be very, very happy, .
“It’s all going to be good,” you know.
Because Norma told me it would be. And I believe her.