You think you know Norman Bates, that infamously murderous motel owner from the movie Psycho. But how did he become a homicidal, mother-obsessed nutjob? That’s the story told in the A&E series Bates Motel. In Season One, we first met Norman Bates as a mild-mannered teenager — and we were fully aware his story was going to end badly. Here’s how he’s been evolving from a somewhat normal kid into, well, a psycho.
Season One: A New Beginning In a New Town — or Is It?
It’s time for a fresh start for Norman and his mother, Norma, six months after his father’s death. New to the town of White Pine Bay, Norman falls fast and hard for Bradley Martin, the most popular girl in school. Fascinated by his quirks and shyness, she’s kind to him.
The former owner of the Bates Motel, Keith Summers, was forced out by foreclosure. He visits Norma’s house to lament his loss and lashes out and attacks her in the kitchen. Norman catches Keith abusing his mother, and becomes a witness to Keith’s murder when Norma kills Keith in self-defense. Despite his pleas to call 911, Norma convinces Norman that Keith’s death must remain a secret. He helps her hide and dispose of the body. Their relationship grows more peculiarly intimate thanks to this shared secret.
As Norman is about to find out, there are a lot of secrets in White Pine Bay, including an abundance of marijuana farms and even a high-class sex club. But perhaps the biggest bombshell that Norman doesn’t know about is his own past: Norma reveals to Norman’s half-brother, Dylan, that her husband didn’t die in an accident. Norman killed him in a fit of rage, but he doesn’t remember a second of it. Still that murder doesn’t stop Norma from loving Norman, perhaps too much. In the season finale, she reveals to him a deep, dark secret from her own past: as a child, she was sexually abused by her brother. This sends Norman into a tailspin, right before the school dance.
Lovelorn over Bradley, Norman gets knocked out by Bradley’s boyfriend at the dance. Seeing Norman beat-up and walking home alone in the rain, his teacher-turned-confidant, Miss Watson, brings him back to her house and tends to his black-and-blue eye. She says she’ll drive him home, but first she goes into her bedroom to change out of her ’60s-era prom-chaperone dress. She leaves the door open. Norman spies on her undressing, blacks out, and next thing he knows, he’s running down the street in the rain, with zero memory of the night. The final shot of the season is Miss Watson dead on her bedroom floor, her throat slashed.
Season Two: Who Killed Miss Watson?
Did Norman kill Miss Watson? One thing is clear as Season Two begins: After her death, Norman, the last person to see her alive, has become obsessed with her and everything that surrounds her life and death.
Kidnapped and thrown into a box by one of Dylan’s marijuana business enemy’s henchman, Norman begins to have flashbacks — he was involved in Miss Watson’s death.
He doesn’t take the revelation well. He steals a gun from the house and runs into the woods, completely distraught. Norma finds him, calms him down, and drops another shocking revelation: Norman’s father’s death wasn’t an accident. Norman killed his father, trying to protect her from domestic abuse. Norma, crying, absolves Norman of his blackouts and reassures him with a not-so-motherly kiss.
In the season finale, Norman agrees to a polygraph test to prove whether or not he killed Miss Watson. During the test, Norman slips into a blackout and sees Norma. She tells him he did not kill Miss Watson, that she was the one who killed her. Thinking that Norma killed Miss Watson, he is able to fool the polygraph.
Season Three: We Meet "Mother"
Under the stress of Norman’s blackouts, Norma decides to homeschool him. Norman and Norma continue their eerily close-knit, uncomfortable bond, going so far as cuddling and sleeping in the same bed. Norman can’t live without her, and she can’t live without him.
Norma becomes overwhelmed with life in White Pine Bay. Norman’s illness is escalating; the town is building a highway, threatening her motel’s viability; and the last straw is when Norman and Dylan gang up on her, urging her to reconcile with her brother. Feeling betrayed, Norma flees White Pine Bay. Without Norma, Norman snaps. Dylan finds Norman in the kitchen in Norma’s robe, fully believing that he is Mother.
Norma eventually returns, but her manipulative presence within Norman resurfaces and again through blackouts. Norman’s final blackout of season three is as he is running away with Bradley to escape White Pine Bay, leading to Bradley’s unfortunate demise. How will he get out of this one?
Tune into A&E’s Bates Motel on March 7 at 9/8c to find out.