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‘Bates Motel’: Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin on ‘Bittersweet’ Series Finale (SPOILERS)

Variety logo Variety 4/25/2017 Debra Birnbaum
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Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the series finale of “Bates Motel,” titled “The Cord.”

After five seasons of love, loss, and a few too many bodies, “Bates Motel” wrapped up its run with a heartbreaking finale. Mother and son were finally reunited — albeit tragically in death, when Dylan (Max Theriot) was forced to shoot Norman (Freddie Highmore) when he charged at him with a knife. At least Dylan got a happy ending, as we got a glimpse into a future where he, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and their daughter seemed to have put their painful past behind them.

Here, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin break down the road to the epic series-ender.

This finale was five years in its planning, given that you were able to set your own end date for the series. How are you feeling about it now?

Cuse: It’s always bittersweet. I think we got the chance to do what we set out to do. From very early on, we had this plan that the show should be five seasons, and we should bring it to its close, and we got to do that, which was really lucky. On the other hand, to not be working with everybody each day, it was an incredibly loving, well-connected group of people. Everybody was really so wonderful on the show. We had our on-screen tragic ending, and we had the off-screen tragic ending of not working with each other every day, and that’s hard.

Is this finale you always had in mind?

Ehrin: It’s the emotional destination we always had in mind from the beginning. How we got there and the structure of the last episode was very much found. But knowing where we wanted to land, that we wanted Norman to be returned to Norma, whether that means in his mind or in the earth, that seemed like the only ending.

Was it always going to be Dylan who would deliver him there?

Cuse: No, that idea came about later. We did know from the very beginning that the only ending that worked for us was that Norman would die and that Norman and Norma was this great romance and these were characters who were not fated to be able to live together in this world. They only could be reunited really in death. But the fact that Dylan ended up being a critical participant in that evolved later.

You always intended, too, to deviate from the movie “Psycho.”

Ehrin: We drove past “Psycho”.. once Romero gets Norman out of jail, because “Psycho” ends with him in jail basically, having completely lost his mind. So once Romero breaks him out of jail, we’ve gone past that off-ramp. Then it felt like we were back in pure “Bates Motel” territory. And we were back to the love story between Norman and Norma.

Cuse: We felt like it would be deeply disappointing to have the show end in the same way that “Psycho” did. We borrowed these elements from the “Psycho” mythology, these two characters, and some of the iconographic imagery, but we were always telling our own story. And our own story had to have its own conclusion. We thought it was fun to weave in and out of the mythology, particularly the Marion Crane mythology but we were doing our own thing.

Norman invites Dylan over for the worst dinner party ever…

Cuse: … or the best, depending on your point of view. I think it’s the best. I think it’s the creepiest dinner party ever in the history of television, and that’s why I love it. (Laughs.)

Fair enough. But it leads to a heartbreaking conversation between the two brothers about wanting things that can’t happen. Norman has lost touch with any sense of reality.

Cuse: Very much so.

Ehrin: It’s Dylan’s own frustration that all those things have been taken away from him. It’s this craziness that he’s lived with his whole life. It’s as much a wake-up call for Dylan in that moment as it is for Norman. He’s definitely not trying to protect Norman in that moment because he’s dealing with his own s–t.

Norman essentially forces him to kill him.

Cuse: We wanted the ending to be messy. We wanted it to be spontaneous. There’s this real poignancy that Dylan helps Norman have this moment of clarity, that he recognizes that what’s going on. In that moment he makes this spontaneous decision and it’s not premeditated. It’s not necessarily the most rational thing. But in that moment of clarity, Norman saw that he only had one path, which was to die. And how that came about, in self-defense at Dylan’s hand, or suicide by cop, was a spontaneous decision that Norman made.

Ehrin: I also think that if they’d had two hours to talk about it, I think Dylan would have come to the conclusion… I think he would have done it for Norman. I think he would have realized this was the best way out. And honestly if I was so f–ked up that I thought the only way out was for me to die, and I was right, I would much rather have Carlton shoot me and die in Carlton’s arms than do it by myself. I think there’s a certain romance to having a family member or friend do that deed for you so that you’re not doing it alone.

Cuse: I’m going to have to give that some thought before I commit.

Was Dylan going there on a suicide mission?

Cuse: No.

Ehrin: No, I think he was trying to figure out what the f–k was going on.

But he had the gun.

Cuse: Because he didn’t know what condition he was going to find Norman in. He’s protecting himself.

Ehrin: And he didn’t know if Romero was going to be there. Who he knew wanted to kill his brother.

Cuse: Romero’s on the loose. His brother is a confirmed serial killer at this point. He didn’t know what to expect.

Ehrin: I would take a gun.

Cuse: You’d want a gun. That’s why he went and got the gun from Remo. It wasn’t premeditated that he was going to kill Norman. It was getting the gun because he made a decision that he was going to put the pieces together for himself and he needed to protect himself and take care of himself in the process.

He had that conversation with Emma where she essentially said, I’m not giving you license to kill yourself.

Ehrin: Yeah, she was like, Let’s not make this into a capital R romantic situation. I love you so much, I’m not going to let you get killed. It made me laugh.

The two of you are twisted.

Ehrin: You think?

Madeleine Loomis had that devastating line to Dylan when she said, I only knew him for a few days; you’ve known him your whole life, what’s your excuse. That had to send him spinning. 

Ehrin: For sure. The pain of his decision of leaving at the end of last season was because he knew if he pushed, he would be able to prove that Norman needed to be locked up. and because he could not do that to his mother without destroying her, he didn’t want to deal with it. He could not deal with it so he left. That hit home hard, I’m sure. Because there’s truth in it.

Talk about Freddie’s performance this season, especially as you needed him to play Norman as Norma as Norman. 

Cuse: I really defy anyone to say that there’s any actor whose work on television this season was better than Freddie’s. I think it’s tragic that he has not been recognized by the Emmys, by the Academy for his work on the show. The depth, the resonance, the layers, the levels, the authenticity of his performance is as good as it gets.

Ehrin: It’s also the amazing ability he has to make Norman Bates a fun character. Which is really remarkable. That’s something that Freddie infused in the character. There was a joy in Norman a lot of the time when he wasn’t being tormented. Freddie always went for humor. Honestly nothing delighted him more than when Norman had to be pissy. There’s so many different layers and colors in what Freddie is doing. It’s so incredibly impressive.

Romero (Nestor Carbonell) ended up insane, too. Is there something in the water in Bates Motel?

Cuse: (Laughs.)

Ehrin: Kind of. That’s what the show is about. How love and the pain of tragedy pushes you over the edge. And everything else in between is bulls–t. Do you still think we’re twisted?

Cuse: I don’t think you’re doing anything but cementing that notion right now.

Carlton, you’ve got some experience with series finales. Did you feel any pressure going into this one?

Cuse: No. The goal has to be that you make the ending that you yourself want to see. I think Kerry and I, we worked on the finale until it was something we both absolutely loved from beginning to end, listening to a kajillion songs to get the tone right. To me, as long as we were both happy, I would feel it was right.

And Emma and Dylan got a happy ending, as you’ve been promising.

Ehrin: Thank God they made it. You get into the details of the story, and you’re like, can we actually pull them out of this? Will they get through this? Her brother-in-law killed her mother? He really lived through all this stuff. We’re really happy they made it, too.

Cuse: We definitely wanted someone to have a happy ending. It felt like the rest of the show was going to be… there was so much tragedy. It was inevitable at the end. We wanted Dylan and Emma to be able to rise above it.

Nice touch, by the way, ending with Norman’s blank tombstone, while Norma got a novel.

Ehrin: If you think about it, Norman didn’t really didn’t exist even in his own head outside of his mother, so it’s fitting she should have a novel and he should have a line.

Cuse: Dylan was trying to sell the space to the Draft Kings, but they couldn’t work out a deal.

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