Family is a perpetually complicated subject for the characters in A&E’s Bates Motel. To say nothing of the incredibly close (and icky) relationship between matriarch Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore), there’s other family or pseudo-family members coming in all the time, either threatening the mother-son bond, changing what that bond is, or both. Nobody seems willing or able to tell the truth to each other, and there’s the whole thing where Norman blacks out and may or may not be killing people. You know, that little thing. None of that’s going to change in Season Three, which premieres tonight at 9/8c, but they certainly will get muddier. Nerdist spoke to executive producer and developer Kerry Ehrin about what she could tell us of the new season; true to the characters, much will remain a mystery.
“Season 3 is very much about the characters trying to figure out right and wrong,” she said. “You know, walking through that kind of murky terrain. Norman definitely is getting to a point where he is more torn between two parts of him. And in a lot of ways it’s about…kind of the battle for his soul, for who he is. Norma is going through a lot of enlightenment. In a weird way, Norma has become so much stronger since we first met her. And she’s starting to develop the ability to look at the truth a little bit, which she has never really been strong enough to do before.”
In Ehrin’s mind, Norman hasn’t yet become the Psycho of the original film; he could still be rehabilitated, probably. “I think part of what we chose to do with the story from the beginning was actually really examine the possibility that there were options. That there were options along the way and that’s kind of why it becomes a tragedy. Ultimately, because there are things that could have been done differently if people had been more enlightened, had been more psychologically healthy and stronger.”
One of the characters that has thrown things into a bit of a spin between Norman and Norma, and has since the beginning, is Emma (Olivia Cooke), Norman’s best friend and one of the few people he’s been honest with (partially). Ehrin tells us that Emma is going to fall further into the web of the Bateses madness in Season 3. “Emma in general is really pulled much more intimately into the Bates family this year. I think a lot of last season was about them having all these secrets and her always being outside of it and this is very much the answer to that. You know, she really made a statement that she wanted to be part of the family and sort of you know ’cause she always gave her whole heart to them and I think she didn’t feel like it was reciprocated, so she definitely is drawn into family very deeply this year.” She followed this up by chuckling, “The funny thing about Norman with women is because he’s so guarded and interior, women, I think, project onto him what they think he is. And, I think because Emma has such a beautiful heart, she just projects on to him her version of him.”
Norma and Norman’s bond is certainly a strong one, and it seems only to be getting stronger. “I think they both have a growing awareness of their need for each other,” she says, “and that it may not perhaps be 100% mentally healthy [guffaw]. Um, but also just that great—you know, that’s in conflict with that great affection that they have for each other which is, in a certain respect, about family, and about not wanting to be alone, and, you know, about feeling safe with someone in a world that’s scary.”
Someone who certainly doesn’t feel safe is Norma’s OTHER son, Dylan (Max Theriot). Ehrin’s heart really goes out for Dylan. “That’s one of the things that we really love about the show is that it’s so much about the longing for family that everyone has, you know. I mean, Dylan just breaks my heart. I really think all Dylan wants in the world is a family. You know, just like a simple life with a family. We take that for granted.” But, she also concedes that, after last season, Dylan’s stepping up to become Norman’s protector. “It seems like Dylan is becoming kind of the de facto parent of Norman in a way. [Laughs] In a way, he can be removed enough from that relationship to look at it a little more objectively and to try to do the right thing by them. He really wants them to be OK.”
A character who will be back this year after making a big impact in only two episodes is Caleb (Kenny Johnson), Norma’s brother, and more. Ehrin sees Caleb as a window into who Norma really is, or at least who she used to be. “Well, Caleb has always been a really fascinating character to us because we don’t know anything about him,” she says,” and we only know about him through Norma. And, in the world of Psycho, hearing about a character through someone else is sort of traditional, because, in the movie, all we hear about Norma is through Norman. So, we’re like, oh, she’s this horrible person, she’s a shrew, you know? And the show gets this great opportunity to kind of show her as a real human being. So, Caleb is sort of a similar opportunity in that all we know about him we know through Norma who we certainly believe, but there’s different versions of the truth.”
The big question with any series like this is whether or not it overstays its welcome. Ehrin is keenly aware of this, and she and co-executive producer Carlton Cuse have spoken a lot about it, and he’s no stranger to this question coming from LOST. “We feel like you’re doing a story and you definitely have to deliver a whole story,” she explained. “You want it to land in a real place. We always thought of it as a tragedy. Like with any tragedy you want there to be a catharsis to the tragedy, so its not just horrible. That it all has a point. That it is all building somewhere and leading and telling a story. So we have a pretty specific plan in mind for probably over five seasons in total.”
So, we’re already closing in on the halfway point in the life of the Bates clan, leading up to the inevitable Hitchcock movie. Cling to it while you can, fans, and remember, nothing is as simple as black and white.