When Rihanna was first announced to play the critical role of Marion Crane in Season 5 of “Bates Motel,” we went into our own little Norman Bates fugue state, split between glee to see RiRi on the small screen and dread knowing the character traditionally meets a gruesome death. But a third emotion starts to creep in over the first half of “Marion” (March 27): Could Rihanna, or anyone, much less the show as a whole, live up to one of the most iconic movie scenes ever made?
Much to our delight, the series creators delivered a fitting twist that masterfully flipped the actions of “Psycho’s” shower scene just enough to make it part of their own series, while paying respectful homage to its root source. In this version, Marion has enough moxie and determination to up and leave when she finds out her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols), is actually a scumbag with a wife — and sweet Norman (Freddie Highmore) still has enough control over his darkness to let her go.
It’s lucky for Marion, perhaps, that her arrival at the motel coincides with Norman (Freddie Highmore) starting to fully grasp the seriousness of his illness, and the depths he goes when he’s not in control. Before we see Marion out front, caught in the rain, Norman has spent considerable time piecing together recent events… Such as the fact that he’s been hooking up with perfectly nice dudes while Mother’s driving. “So I was lonely and got laid!” sniffs Norma (Vera Farmiga), leading into a larger conversation about their shared existence: While she plays coy for a while, by the end of the episode she’s come clean — and explained where she started, and what she’s been doing all this time…
…And what confronting her/his illness directly means for the (terrifying) future: Comparing Norman to the Biblical Adam, Mother explains that the search for knowledge means breaking down the barriers between himself and the things he’s too scared to know, which is what she was designed to protect. By realizing definitively that Mother is an internal construct, Norman can no longer give himself a pass for his blackouts, his urges, or anything Mother does when she’s driving. As with any mental illness, it’s a painful breakthrough: We are not our illnesses, our broken parts, but that doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for their consequences.
Up in Seattle, Dylan (Max Thieriot) discovers the truth about Norma’s fate after Emma (Olivia Cooke) does a cursory internet search about the motel after the two have a fight. The news is crushing enough that, after two years of being out of contact, Dylan decides to call Norman to find out what’s going on. The call is strained at best, as both brothers are coming to terms with what really happened to Norma but can’t bring themselves to say it aloud: Norma is dead — and Norman killed her.
Meanwhile, Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols) is dealing with his own dual reality: Norman having finally told Madeleine (Isabelle McNally) about Sam’s affair, Sam does his best to deflect the ensuing confrontation — unaware that Marion (Rihanna) is on her way to White Pine Bay with $400,000 she just stole from her boss so that they can finally start a life together.
Having checked her into the fateful Room 1 at the motel, Norman makes Marion a ham sandwich and they hang out in the motel office, discussing the taxidermied animals with which he’s decided to spruce up the joint. Marion, in Rihanna’s best scene of her entire appearance, is politely amused and internally disgusted — and eventually, utterly consumed with confusion and rage when Norman spills the Loomis beans to her, too… Along with their address.
Like any self-respecting jilted girlfriend would, Marion heads to Sam’s house and ends up smashing his car to bits in true Bad Girl Riri fashion. Back at the Motel, she shares a tender moment of consolation with Norman before his desire kicks in, and he does his best to transmute his terror that he’s about to kill her into a performance of girl-power solidarity, packing up her cash and virtually shoving her out the door. And as Marion tosses her cell phone out into the rain and continues off out of town, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief: Marion has almost certainly just met a very different fate than her cinematic counterpart.
So who, then, steps into Janet Leigh’s shoes? Ah, for that you’d have to think back along Norma’s whole life, particularly their first days in White Pine Bay, when coincident horrors brought back Norma’s own PTSD — and woke Mother right up. The second you hear Mother start talking about the toxic masculinity in the world, Norman’s abusive biological father, and all the nightmares since then, you know something big is about to go down.
Sam, having been kicked out by a perfectly reasonable Madeleine, arrives at the motel and — seeing the clothes Marion’s left behind — assumes she’ll soon return. He hops in the shower, and while Mother and Norman spy on him, they level with each other — “like adults” — about what their symbiosis means for the future… And the present. Because if Mother’s not guarding the door anymore, Norman will have to deal with all his pain, rage, shame and helplessness of his abusive childhood (so much like Norma’s own, note) — and Mother knows just where to put it.
Norman was helpless then, but he’s not now, Mother argues: And Sam, just like Norman’s father, is hurting innocent women that Norman cares about.
Norma works Norman into a frenzy, so reminiscent of his attack on Caleb (Kenny Johnson) that was our first act of Mother’s violence glimpsed from the outside, and we get our near-shot-for-shot “shower scene” at last. And then, in a masterfully poignant final scene, putting a bow around the brilliant reframing of the narrative and an exciting introduction to the series’ final four episodes, we’re left with the infamous question:
“Oh, Mother! What have I done?”
“Bates Motel” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.