Congratulations on your first episode. You must be incredibly proud of this especially tense, Norman-centric episode.
Yes, I’m also incredibly grateful to producers Kerry [Ehrin] and Carlton [Cuse] for giving me the opportunity to write an episode and be a part of the writing team this season, to have me in the room. It’s been a wonderful experience. I guess it was born out of the desire to be involved in the writing process of the show… [you’re] in Vancouver for four or five months. You get so involved with the character and so invested in the story as a whole. It seemed odd to me to leave all of that behind and sort of go home and have nothing to do with it… I wanted to be involved in that wider process.
Was there a discussion about you doing this specific episode? Given everything that happens with Norman, how personal this storyline is to the character, it seems especially appropriate that you wrote this one.
It was. Kerry and Carlton are the ones who choose how they develop [episodes] and who is going to write what. It certainly was a good episode for Norman. It centers around that idea of him coming home and what all of that means. It worked out well.
Did you choose “Unfaithful” as the title of the episode?
Yes, I did, actually. I remember talking about it with Kerry. I think it plays on that sense of there being a marriage of sorts between Norman and Norma. When he comes home, he discovers that things have changed. Kerry uses this great analogy of someone being away at war… this soldier who sort of comes back and realizes just how much has gone on while they’ve been away. It’s that sense of [being] unfaithful. I guess it’s up to the audience to decide whether it is being unfaithful to their relationship and who is the one who’s the more unfaithful.
That idea is central to the dinner table confrontation scene. When Norman tells Norma she’s a hypocrite, it’s so jarring. But what Norman says to her is exactly right, that she’s created this expectation in Norman that it’s him and his mother against the world. He’s accepted that he’s not going to have romance in his life, because she doesn’t want him to, but now she is committing to this marriage to Romero. You certainly feel for Norman and how much anger and betrayal he must feel walking back home into this situation.
Yes, and I think it’s just being hit with all those changes, like the television and just the simple things that have gone on while he’s been gone. But you’re right, that scene is certainly the climax of it, where you truly understand what he’s feeling. I think there’s this nice sense, hopefully of not doing too much too soon, and creating tension by having people not… always say what you truly think. Throughout that first part of the episode, I think there’s this sense of not necessarily saying at the very beginning what the real issues are and not talking them through in terms of trying to make things work. I think Norman comes back and he wants things to be normal, then, over time, they’re going to have to have the confrontation that comes right at the end of the episode. It was a fun scene to write. I remember being in the writers’ room at the time, and all episodes are structured and talked through with the entire room. When you go off to write your individual episodes, you certainly have that game plan, the break down of all the different beats and large scenes that come within the episode. This last one at the dinner table, I remember everyone saying… “You can’t really talk too much about it, just go and find it.”
Going back to the beginning a little bit, when Norman comes home and we start to see him and Norma interacting, there’s a new kind of confidence that wasn’t there before with him. He also seems emboldened. Is it because he got his way and got out of Pineview, like he told Julian he would? Is he feeling a like he can be in control of whatever the situation brings now?
I think so. It comes a little bit from this deluded place of thinking that he’s right and thinking that he has it all figured out, especially in that huge scene at the end where so much of what he is saying is true, although he perhaps misreads what Romero’s intentions are. He feels that sense of empowerment. The conversation with Julian in [“There’s No Place Like Home”] was really key in showing that Norman can disguise his emotions now. He can be more manipulative and intelligent and clever. He’s not this little boy. And he’s aware of the way that people interact. He has a real insight into that, especially in the case of Norma. He knows her better than anyone, so he can start to use that against her. Hopefully we still feel for him, and his delusion is something that we wish would go away, but we understand it, too. Also, everyone understands that sense of trying to manipulate things a little bit in order to get your own way. I think that’s what Norman has sort of carried into this episode from (last week’s episode).
“There’s No Place Like Home” included one of the most crushing scenes for Norman and Norma, when Norman’s father drags Norma home, and is abusing her in their bedroom, and she reaches under the bed and holds Norman’s hand throughout. If there were any lingering questions about what helped bring Norman to where he is, that scene answered them. Norman has seen his mom make huge sacrifices for him… is that why he assumes Romero’s intentions were negative, in terms of marrying Norma?
Yes, to some extent. I think that comes from the sense of really taking care of her. As you say, of holding her hand through all of the troubled times that she went through while Norman was younger. I think he genuinely cares for his mother so much, and that leads him into what he says to her at the end. It genuinely comes out of a sense of, “Can’t you see what he’s doing to you? It’s going to be the same thing again.” I think he’s genuinely trying to protect his mother in that moment. The sort of twisted self-interest thing has gone away, and it’s replaced with this raw sense of, “I know what’s best for you.” That’s part of the tragedy of it all: they both think they know what’s best for the other one, even though they’re both wrong about it. Norma thinks she knows the best way to deal with Norman’s problems and his condition. Norman feels like, “If only we could just get back to the two of us, then things would be great. We can be happy again.”
Is there a part of Norman that does see that Norma has genuine feelings for Romero? Like when he sees her giggling at Romero’s joke at the dinner table?
Norman is right that his relationship with her will always be stronger than any relationship. Their bond will [remain] closer and tighter than any relationship she could have with Alex Romero. I think Norman sees it more as, a phase that she might get over. A sense of, she’s enjoying it at the moment, but look at the wider picture. Is this the person who you really want to be with? It’s complicated.
Norman’s confrontation with the ax and Romero at the end… he tells Alex he hates him. What specific thing is motivating that level of anger at that point? Is it because Romero is blocking any chance of things going back to normal, or rather Norma and Norman’s normal?
Yes, and I think he’s also just blowing off steam. That whole scene is, in a way, Norman wanting to hate this person so much, but at the same time not wanting to kill him. He’s got the ax in his hand, but he doesn’t want to swing it at Alex. He doesn’t want to, regardless of whether or not it would be an effective take down. He doesn’t want physically hurt him. We all have that feeling. You absolutely hate someone, but you’re not driven toward murder because you have that thing in the back of your brain that’s like, “No, maybe that’s not such a good idea.” It’s moral responsibility. Norman does have that. That’s what I hope is interesting about the scene, that he’s not devoid of his moral compass. In this scene, he’s not a serial killer. He’s a human that we can identify with in that situation. He’s trying to take out all of his anger on this piece of wood. He can’t bring himself to kill Romero, but he hates him so much.
Norman has a sweet reunion with Emma, who he hasn’t seen since her operation, and since he found out Emma and Dylan are a couple. He seems sincerely happy for his friend and his brother… is that true? Is he sincere?
Yes, I think he is. There’s been that huge gap of time between them seeing each other and interacting, and so much has gone on, and there’s kind of a nice sense of, first of all nostalgia, of them being specifically in those same positions they were in the very first time Emma came over to the house, and they went upstairs and read poetry. There’s that sense of nostalgia of what was before, coupled with the fact that they’ve both moved on and can now genuinely feel happy for one another… It’s a nice reconciliation. I feel Norman is genuine in that moment, although that’s the trouble, isn’t it? More and more, people think, “Is he genuine?” You find those moments where [viewers] really do side with him and maintain a certain trust, as opposed to thinking that Norman is just tricking them, or perhaps has been, all along.
That brings up another question: was it a balancing act, writing this episode, to make sure viewers do still see both sides, Norman’s, and the “Normero” relationship?
Yes, I think so. I guess it just comes down to what people think, ultimately, is the truth. I kind of feel that Norman’s right at the end. When he tells Norma [their mother/son relationship] is what love is, real love, not this pale corpse… “You’re setting yourself up, and he’s making you think that it’s possible.” I think there’s a darker sense of foreboding… we know from the storyline where things are going to end up one day. Norman and Norma do have this bond that means they’re always going to have to be together. The sort of tragedy in that moment is that Norman realizes that he has a greater awareness of the future… they really are dreaming. We know how the story ends. So it’s a sense of this being such a tragic foreboding in that moment that I enjoy.
Even in the midst of tragedy ahead, and so much anger, there are several great darkly funny moments, which is one of the show’s trademarks. Norman’s “all fixed now” line when he takes his medicine was great, and when he said about Norma, “God, she’s moody.” But the squabbling at the Christmas tree lot, when Norman makes that dismissive “Pffft” noise to Norma… we’ve all made that noise to or at someone, but it’s so perfectly Norma that she actually calls him on it.
[Laughing] Vera [Farmiga] was pretty into that. It was fun to be moving through the Christmas tree lot. It’s finding those moments of humor that underlie the whole thing, so that the fights seem real and genuine… and sometimes people make really pathetic arguments. It comes down to the end of this really visceral place for Norman, that when you bicker with someone, your thoughts aren’t always incredibly well thought through or expressed. You just want to attack someone and you don’t know what to say and you’re like, “Ugh, pfffffft, well, I’ll just make fun of you in that way, then.” It makes us laugh.