Emmy spotlight: Vera Farmiga needs bookend nomination for scene-stealing Norma in ‘Bates Motel’

Vera Farmiga may have less screen time this season on “Bates Motel,” but it’s never been a better time to give her another Emmy nomination. Farmiga has been relegated to a smaller role in this fifth and final season of “Bates Motel,” but it’s hard to deny that she’s chewing every bit of scenery she gets. The actress is playing Norma Bates on a whole different level in Season 5, considering the character is no longer alive. Norma’s role this season has been in haunting her troubled son Norman Bates (the Emmy-worthy Freddie Highmore), who is frequently switching personalities and embodying his dead mother.

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While “Bates Motel” viewers have seen Farmiga playing the “Mother” half of Norman’s personality in previous years, this final season has featured many more scenes of Norman’s personas switching back and forth. Farmiga’s performance has been more broad and comedic, yet still powerful, as the specter of Norma gets Norman into more trouble than he can handle.

Part of the challenge in Farmiga’s performance this year is in playing Norma as Norman remembers her. Since the real Norma is dead as a doornail, this version of Norma needed to have the combination of devoted 1950s housewife and indomitable control freak, the way Norman loved and feared her. Farmiga has excelled in portraying the brash elements of Norma’s personality, from whining about wanting to escape the Bates Motel to goading Norman into killing people and cleaning up the crime scene.

Farmiga will be campaigning for Best Drama Supporting Actress at the Emmys this year. This will be the first time Farmiga isn’t competing in the Lead Actress category, after receiving a nomination there in 2013 for “Bates Motel’s” first season. The actress has been overlooked for Seasons 2-4, but this year would be the perfect opportunity to give her a bookend nomination.

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Unfortunately, Emmy voters haven’t been the biggest fans of “Bates Motel” over the years. Outside of Farmiga’s first nomination the show was completely snubbed for Seasons 2 and 3, but they received nominations in the Best Single-Camera Cinematography and Best Music Composition categories last year for Season 4. If this means that Emmy voters are watching the show more closely now and like what they see, Farmiga could be in the hunt to receive a final nomination.

One major advantage for Farmiga, especially compared to co-star Highmore in the more competitive Drama Actor category, is that her Emmy race is wide open. Four of last year’s six nominees won’t be competing, including Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones,” which is ineligible this year, and Maggie Smith for “Downton Abbey,” which has ended. As a previous nominee, Farmiga could benefit from voters recognizing and liking her.

Farmiga is also a movie star, having led “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2” to worldwide box office success. The Emmys tend to love stars who come to the small screen, and considering she is also an Oscar nominee for 2009’s “Up in the Air,” we can see that she is liked by both audiences and the industry at large.

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Critics love her, too. Yahoo’s Ken Tucker raved in his “Bates Motel” Season 5 review about Farmiga giving a “wonderful performance as a pushy, sarcastic, sexy, needy, and ferally strong woman imposing her will on her son.” And Ben Travers from IndieWire celebrated Farmiga’s performance in how “she’s relishing the opportunity to go full-on nutbag with Norma. It’s a subtle shift fitting Norman’s slightly off-kilter perception of his mother, but one you’ll adore once you notice it.”

On top of this, Farmiga’s performance in this final season is the definition of a scene-stealing supporting role. Many of her moments are so broad and laugh-out-loud funny that you could make a case for her competing in the equivalent comedy category. Even in Drama Supporting Actress, though, we’ve seen voters award scene-stealing performances that are a mix of comedic and dramatic, including Uzo Aduba in “Orange Is the New Black,” Blythe Danner in “Huff” and the aforementioned Smith in “Downton Abbey.” Farmiga very much falls in that line as she hams it up like never before.

As “Bates Motel” prepares to close its doors for good, Emmy voters should recognize one of the main elements that has made the show such an addictive ride from start to finish. A final Emmy nomination for Farmiga would be a great symbol to honor one of the best TV performances of the decade.

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