Season finales are tough to write, mainly because with today's television scheduling, producers and writers are never sure if the show will be back for another season. Audiences have been finding more and more that seasons have their own substantial arc and the finales for them aren't really cliffhangers but definitive answers to that season. Justified has been working on an arc cycle for its last three seasons. It seems Bates Motel is up to play the same game, beause "Midnight" feels less like a branching-off point for the next season than it does a send-off for the show, as though there was a question of whether it might be renewed. While that's not the case now, the finale sure seems a bit confused on its longevity.
We've been building to this finale for a while now, especially after Abernathy plays into the picture. While it at first seemed clear that the first season of Bates Motel would mostly be focused on the repercussions of Norman and Norma killing Keith, the fallout of that - at least from a legal standpoint - was quickly resolved. From there, Bates Motel has branched off into dangerous territory, introducing a strong central villain who threatens to kill Norma if she doesn't come up with Keith's $150,000.
Along with that, she's also decided to visit Norman's therapist without him. She's going through a lot with this whole "I'm going to murder you and your kids" thing, and it seems she's open to getting some stuff off her chest. That is until the doctor pries deeply into her past, where she kind of shuts down and leaves.
Later on, though, she does reveal to Norman what happened in her past to make her want to become so authoratative - she was raped by her brother multiple times, and there's a moment here where everything sort of connects. Keith raped her during the first episode, she's experienced it before because of her brother, and she has rebelled against that feeling of powerlessness in order to forget the past.
Norman's got problems of his own with Bradley. He still can't get over her, even when he's at the school dance with Emma. After Bradley's boyfriend catches Norman staring at her, he slogs him one outside the school, and Norman runs away in a bloody fit, only to be picked up by his teacher Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy).
Bates Motel is getting good at keeping all three of the Bates characters busy in each episode, and their paths often connect in dramatic ways. Dylan seems to have a thing going on with Bradley, and it makes Norman a little crazy - and when he gets like this, it's never clear what he might do. And Norma gets caught up in Norman's life too much; it's probably not the best idea to tell him about her rape as a child when he's getting ready to go to a fun school dance.
Spoiler Alert: But "Midnight" feels like a misstep in its conclusion. Jere Burns as Abernathy has been a delight in these past few episodes, but he's got to be moving back to Justified soon. The conclusion to his arc, about a man whose been running multiple prostitution rings at city ports along the coast, is surprisingly fast, and for a man supposedly as smart as he is, he falls for a really dumb ploy. Sheriff Romero gets involved in the case, and he shows up instead of Norma to hand off the money. Red flag? Red flag. Abernathy, who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere, doesn't notice the trap he's falling into? Hard to believe.
Without giving too much away, even though there is that spoiler alert, everything just wraps a bit too conveniently in this finale. With Abernathy taken care of, Norma and Norman walk with arms around each other as a crane shot shows us the motel, the house, and the iconic Bates Motel sign. It feels like a parting shot, as though Bates Motel has been a nice little jaunt into Norman's childhood that is about to end. And yet there's a final scene tacked on to the end of the episode (post-production, after they learned of the show's renewal?), that adds a twist to next season. End Spoiler Alert.
Yet the momentum of Abernathy's character is now gone. We're starting over next season. And with a wrap-up as final as the one we see in "Midnight", there's bound to be some serious explaining done in the first episodes of next season. That means that the showrunners can start fairly fresh, and new viewers can get sucked into the story. But at the same time, "Midnight" feels too rushed to be a good ending to the season. We're left to wait for more Bates Motel next year to see what lies in store for Norman.