Photo: Cate Cameron/A&E

Raise your glasses to Charles Hogan, a.k.a. Chick. He deserved better—well, at least a little better—than the undignified death he was bequeathed by Alex Romero. There’s something especially piteous about seeing a man cut down in the throes of his passion, carried away by the inspiration he found in the tragedy of Romero’s situation. Had Chick only remained calm and quiet—if he hadn’t pushed this already dangerous and emotionally broken man with his braying, triumphant recognition of the pain he saw all over the former sheriff’s face, he might have survived the encounter. Then again, maybe not. Romero has one mission left on earth, and anyone who threatens it isn’t going to wind up surviving the encounter.

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“The Body” serves to encapsulate some of the key conflicts that have driven the last couple seasons of the show, and this last-act exchange between Chick and Romero gets at so much of what makes the show effective. In some ways, Chick’s argument is that of the viewer, making the case not just for what’s compelling about the series, but what makes it a tragedy—and it’s not merely the body count. “He killed his mother,” Romero spits out. “And he loved her,” Chick retorts. It’s obvious why Chick felt the need to tell this tale, even if the decision on the writers’ part to turn Chick into a true-crime novelist of sorts does hang an awfully big lampshade on the whole endeavor. In their respective states of loss, Chick found a copacetic partner in sadness in Norman Bates. The young man’s grief, and his damaged psyche, resonated with the older, shattered man, and pushed Chick to see this story through. The whole conversation is such a meta exploration of the show as a whole, it’s hard to strip it down to the emotional truth of the exchange—but when you do, all that’s left are two broken men, wanting to see their respective stories through to the end, come what may. In the case of Bates Motel’s strongest, strangest supporting character, that end was a bullet. R.I.P., Chick.

Whereas the show, especially in this final season, has been a showcase for Freddie Highmore’s performance, this episode found the actor pulling double duty, making his directorial debut while spending his time in front of the camera returning once more to the state of being taken over by the Norma persona. Norma/n was in control for the majority of the running time, and by now, Highmore has a firm grip on his alter ego, confidently conveying the barely restrained scorn fictitious Norma has for everything and everyone around her. The standout moments, though, still impressed, even after all the times we’ve seen the actor do this mind-swap song and dance. The fight in holding with Norma was startling, both for its violence (has the Mother persona ever actively knocked out Norman before? I don’t think so) and for the physicality of both actors in such a confined space. While Farmiga was in high-low mode, going from snarling dervish to comforting maternal coos, Highmore was in the reactive setting, straight man in the struggle.

But if that was the electric kick, Norma/n’s faux “confession” to the sheriff was the riveting centerpiece. Highmore wisely framed the shot—and the sheriff’s reactions—as a straight-to-camera monologue, letting the subtleties of his playing-Norma-playing-Norman do all the heavy lifting. As Norma/n unspools one manipulative reveal after the other, setting up Madeline to be the fall guy in the murder of her own husband, each line took on a delicious double meaning, as even the exposition carried a glint of Norma/n’s rage-filled machinations. “My mother did always say I was too naive about beautiful women,” he ruefully intones, as his eyes flash just a touch of Norma’s satisfied vindictiveness.

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Poor Dylan Bates, meanwhile, continues to be the living embodiment of the “blood is thicker than water” mentality. He rallies to the defense of his brother, within minutes of having a glass broken over his head. Even after Norman has confessed and is being led out of the house, Dylan is rushing to support him, to tell him not to say anything, and do whatever he can to keep his brother from getting into more trouble than is already the case. He hires the lawyer, Julia Ramos, to make sure Norman sees the inside of a mental health facility, rather than a prison. Unfortunately, Norma/n has other plans, though perhaps after being charged with the deaths of Romero’s contact and Audrey Ellis as well, the Mother persona will start to reconsider the best options. Still, Dylan’s wide-eyed solidarity with his family is admirable, even when he’s confronted with the news that Audrey is dead. He suspected Norman was responsible, but he also knows—in a very strange and real way—that it’s not his brother’s fault.

There were some clunky beats tonight, but it’s hard to say how much of that is a result of the script rather than execution. Romero seeing Norma-as-ghost, luminous glow and all, was cheesy, and took away from the impact of his return to the Bates’ home, rather than sharpening it. And the whole sequence of Romero snaking the gun away from Maggie felt forced, this show’s equivalent of the scene in the movie where the person sneaks out the door without waking their partner/spouse/date.etc. Still, what surrounded that was impressive, moments that continue to drive us toward an unknown ending. Bodies have been found, including that of Sam Loomis, and the noose seems to be tightening around Norman’s neck, no matter how hard Norma/n tries to pin the blame on Madeline or anybody else. “I want him to feel like he’s being watched,” the sheriff says, ordering Norman back into the interrogation room. Norman is being watched, all right—by us, by the cops, by the Norma persona—and what he does next is anyone’s guess. If Norma/n ever lets him take control again, that is.

Stray observations:

  • I was really sad to see Chick go. And after delivering some great final one-liners, no less. “I don’t have to put my hands up, it’s stupid.” Ryan Hurst shined in this role.
  • We keep waiting for Emma Decody to return to White Pines Bay, and it keeps not happening. Surely, the series isn’t going to end without one last reunion between Emma and Norman, is it?
  • The sheriff’s initial assessment of Norman’s confession is one of those forehead-smacking moments, where you can’t believe, after all the “I’m guilty of something!” encounters she’s had with Norman, that she really thinks he’s making it up. “Children sometimes act out.” You don’t know how right you are, Sheriff.
  • Norma/n Bates has no poker face: Talking to Julia Ramos about what would happen if they do find Loomis’ body. “And…why would someone lie about something like that?”

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