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Just before the end, Bates Motel does right by its most underutilized character

Olivia Cooke as Emma Decody (Photo: Cate Cameron)
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It would be easy to gloss over just how much time is spent this episode with Emma Decody. After all, Alex Romero comes out swinging in the final act, storming White Pine Bay’s police station and taking Norman Bates hostage, along with his former co-worker. It’s the act of a man intent on accomplishing one last thing, with no regard for what happens to him after he’s done. He says as much to Maggie—the fantasy of killing Norman was the only thing that kept him alive for the past two years—and so there’s no escape plan, just a determination to see this through. Maggie, bless her heart, tries to pull him back from the brink (“I can live with you broken,” she says, a statement that is sad on a number of levels), but Romero knows something she doesn’t. He’s not broken because of what happened to him; he’s broken because he chose not to pick up the pieces of his life, a long time ago. There’s nothing left of him to salvage.


“Visiting Hours” sees Norma/n slowly realizing this may be a situation from which there’s no escape, at least until Romero arrives, but it most effectively functions as a goodbye for Emma Decody. Youthful acquaintance. Friend. Girlfriend. Co-worker at the motel. Ersatz member of the Bates family and, finally, more or less an actual member of the family by ending up with Dylan and having a child with him. Olivia Cooke was always the most underserved and underutilized member of the cast, but the character of Emma Decody shone all the brighter for being so regularly sidelined. A show this tempestuous and dark needs someone like Emma—an engaging ray of sunlight that can cut through the ennui and dramatics of the Bates household, injecting warmth and empathy into often brittle situations. Bates Motel needed Emma Decody, and the Bates family needed her even more.

Photo: Cate Cameron

Which is why it’s somewhat startling to see her so angry and volatile this episode. Emma is on the warpath here, almost from the moment she receives word of her mother’s death. (The brief moment when she crumples into Dylan after he tells her the news provides a fleeting reminder of the vast reserves of compassion and vulnerability inside the character, despite the fire and strength we see throughout the installment.) She tells Dylan she might kill Norman if she ever sees him again and heads off to deal with her mother’s body. Between the arrangements, cremation, and scattering of the ashes atop the hill in the woods—all set to “Crimson And Clover,” no less—Emma takes a moment to mourn Norma, sitting by the grave of the woman who was “more of a mother to me” than her birth mom ever managed. While Emma’s marginalization in seasons four and five arguably robbed these sequences of some of the potency they might have otherwise possessed, for people who have been with this series since the beginning, it was a long-overdue appreciation, functioning as much as an elegy for Emma as for the mother who played such a minor role in the life of both her daughter and the show.

But the final exchange between Emma and Norma/n was both generous and deeply tragic. After spending the episode snarling at Dylan and abandoning any pretense of understanding in favor of the simple anger of grief, Emma again shows why she is the best and most admirable person on Bates Motel, going to see her old friend at the police station. It’s a gesture of which most of us would likely not be capable, but Emma isn’t most of us. The realization she is not talking to Norman allows her to understand the degree to which her old friend isn’t to blame for this situation, but it’s also quite sad. It’s probably the last moment the two will ever have together, and Emma only gets Norma/n, the mother persona, offering excuses and abstract explanations for why Dylan’s significant other can’t speak to Norman. Her friend is gone. “Can you tell him that I miss him?” she says flatly, only her eyes betraying the fragility and openness of spirit that allows such a statement to come out of her in the first place. Who knows how many years of life will be granted Emma Decody thanks to her lung transplant, but she’s got enough heart for five lifetimes.


It wasn’t always consistent, but the ways “Visiting Hours” cut back and forth between Norman and a visual representation of the Norma persona sitting in his place made for a compelling method of depicting how fully Norma/n was in control of the body. There were times it was haphazard—jumping between the two in the opening fingerprinting scene, for instance—but when the changes were deliberate and thoughtful, it lent weight to the proceedings and paid off in emotional dividends. When Julia Ramos is briefing Norman on the plan to plead insanity, showing the conversation with Norma helps animate the evasions and dodges the imprisoned Bates keeps peddling. And when it cuts back to Freddie Highmore sitting there, it does so on the best possible line. “Everyone has multiple personalities, Julia,” he says, and by returning to how others see him, it drives home just how pedestrian Norma/n finds this split personality. It also allows the camera to mask the oddness of lines like, “Being a mother is an impossible job to win,” by returning to Vera Farmiga to deliver it.

Brief moments with these other characters—Julia, Madeline, Maggie, and more—are only needed at this point to provide external stimuli to the mental struggles faced by the Bates, Emma, and Alex Romero. Dylan’s guilt weighs heavily on him, but he still holds fast to his brother, even if he can’t quite bring himself to sit right behind Norman at the pretrial hearing. The end is in sight, and right now, things don’t look good. Norman Bates could still conceivably manage to end up in a mental health facility, but everything built up over five years’ worth of tragedy and fate suggest something else is in store for a sweet young man who just happens to be out of his mind.


Stray observations

  • Good god, what is wrong with Emma and Dylan not closing the curtains in that hotel room? That flashing red light would be enough to drive anyone insane. I choose to think they both see it as necessary punishment for guilt—Emma for Dylan, and Dylan for himself.
  • Norma Bates’ succinct assessment of the sheriff: “She’s weird.”
  • Music cue of the episode: Bobby Darin’s “Call Me Irresponsible” playing over the montage of police searching the motel, house, and grounds, ending with both the discovery of Audrey’s suitcase and Chick’s body.
  • Emma and Dylan don’t part on the best of terms. Surely, if she can find it within herself to visit Norman, she can forgive Dylan, right? Right, Emma?

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