Norman Bates rushes out of his house in a panic and barges into Cabin 1. He is horrified to see the sight of a dead Marion Crane on the floor of the bathroom, the shower still running. He forces himself out of his shock and, lips pursed, gets to work cleaning up the mess his mother has made. He fetches a mop and a bucket from the office and uses the shower curtain to wrap up Marion's body, after which he pauses to wash her blood off his hands. He mops up all the blood from the tub and the floor.
Outside the cabin, Norman moves Marion's car so that its trunk is facing her cabin door. He then puts Marion's plastic-wrapped body in the trunk of her car, along with all of her belongings - including the folded up newspaper containing the stolen money, which he does not discover. Then, Norman drives Marion's car into a nearby swamp and watches nervously as it sinks - then stops - then sinks from view. Once it's gone, there is a whisper of a smile on his face; the film fades out.
When it fades back in, Sam Loomis is sitting at his desk at the back of his hardware store in Fairvale, California, writing a love letter to Marion when an excited blonde woman in a suit comes in looking for him. She introduces herself as Lila Crane, Marion's sister (Vera Miles). Lila is perturbed and demands to know where Marion is, but Sam has no idea. Moments later, a middle-aged man enters the hardware store and announces, "let's all talk about Marion, shall we?" He introduces himself as Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), a private investigator, and explains that he is also looking for Marion. He has followed Lila all the way to Fairvale, and reveals to Sam that Marion has stolen $40,000 from her boss. Both Lila and Arbogast clearly think that Sam knows where Marion is; Arbogast is curt and rude as he shares his hunch that Marion is in Fairvale, even if she is not in the hardware store itself.
In a montage, Arbogast visits every hotel and motel in the Fairvale area, speaking to various proprietors, but his search reveals nothing. Finally, he reaches the Bates Motel. When he arrives, Norman is sitting on a chair outside the office, eating candy and reading the paper. His behavior is just as harmless and polite as when he and Marion first met. Arbogast explains the purpose of his visit: he is looking for a missing girl. Norman innocently tells him that nobody has been to the Bates Motel in weeks. When Arbogast asks to see the guest registry, Norman lies and claims that he doesn't even use it anymore. Arbogast asks to see it anyway, and, lo and behold, he finds the name "Marie Samuels."
Norman "suddenly remembers" Marion, and tells Arbogast that she came in on a rainy night and left early the next morning. Arbogast's line of questioning clearly catches Norman off guard, and he stutters through his responses. Despite Norman's best attempts to lie, Arbogast isn't satisfied. The detective makes it clear to Norman that he feels like "something's missing" from his story. Norman cheerily invites Arbogast to accompany him while he changes the sheets so that he can see for himself that there is nobody hiding in any of the cabins.
By this time, the sun has started to set. Arbogast looks up at the house, where he can see Norman's mother standing in the window. Stuttering, Norman explains that his mother is an invalid. Arbogast requests to question Mrs. Bates about Marion, but Norman draws the line and sends the detective on his way. Once Arbogast is gone, Norman smiles giddily.
Night has fallen when Arbogast pulls up to a phone booth. He calls Lila, who is still at Sam Loomis's hardware store. He tells Lila that Marion did stay at the Bates Motel right before she disappeared. He repeats what Norman Bates told him and expresses his suspicion of Norman. He mentions Mrs. Bates and the fact that Norman wouldn't even let him speak to her. He tells Lila and Sam to stay put; he's going to go back to the Bates Motel and will return to the hardware store in an hour or so. Arbogast also says that he now believes that Sam didn't know that Marion was in Fairvale, thus crossing him off the suspect list.
After Norman finds Marion's dead body on the ground, he hurls himself out of the bathroom and slams against the wall, causing one of the small framed bird images to fall to the ground, which the camera captures in closeup. Birds are an important visual symbol in Psycho, appearing most prominently in the parlor scene, in which Marion and Norman are surrounded by specimens he has carefully stuffed. Not only is Marion's last name "Crane," but she lives in Phoenix. In addition, Norman tells her she "eats like a bird". Now, in Cabin 1, Norman has discovered that the lovely Crane has fallen prey to the Bates Motel's hidden evil. While the larger and more menacing birds of prey seem to hover over Norman in the parlor, the image of a tiny songbird clattering to the ground here represents the death of an innocent. This is a visual hint at Norman's duplicitous nature.
At this point, the viewer also has no choice but to follow Norman through the motions of cleaning up the mess, and this sequence is crucial in establishing our sympathy for him. First of all, Norman appears to be just as shocked and disgusted as we are when he discovers the aftermath of his "mother's" crime. After all, it did seem in the previous scene that Norman was "on the edge of being 'liberated' by his interest in Marion" (Kolker 90). The suggested narrative makes sense - perhaps Norman's mother sensed her dutiful son's emotional connection to Marion, whom Mrs. Bates already didn't trust, and so the old woman decided to eliminate the threat and keep her son firmly in her grasp. Norman's decision to cover up for his mother, then, is simply another manifestation of his lifelong trap. He demonstrates an almost saintly devotion to his mother and sacrifices his own morality in order to keep her safe. This level of filial piety has always been very admirable in our society, and it invokes the audience's alignment with Norman. Like Norman, we just want him to get this disturbing business over with.
Because Norman now has all our attention, Hitchcock implicates the viewer in his crimes, just as he did with Marion. There is a subjective shot (from Norman's point of view) of him washing Marion's blood off his hands - these are our hands, too. Then, while Marion's car is sinking into the swamp, it gets stuck. Here, just as the viewer wants the traffic cop to let Marion go, we now want the car to sink away. Hitchcock "calculated [this] scene as an opportunity to wring every possible suspense... the idea was to make each audience member an active conspirator in the agony - and, by implication, the madness of Norman" (Rebello 126).
The juxtaposition of the vertical Bates home with the horizontal layout of the Bates Motel is part of Hitchcock's visual design for Psycho. He uses vertical and horizontal lines to contain his frames, sealing his characters into their worlds and emphasizing their personal traps. For example, in the very first shot of Marion and Sam in the Phoenix hotel, Marion is lying horizontally on the bed, perpendicular to the vertical lines of the headboard, while the bottom half of Sam's body defines the vertical plane of the frame. The horizontal and vertical lines indicate stability, but Hitchcock uses diagonal planes and circular shapes to disrupt the frame and represent "madness". The shower scene is one example, as it is composed of the diagonal lines made by the slashing knife and the circles of the shower head, the drain, and Marion's dead eye (as well as the camera's rotation as it zooms out in a spiral from her eye). As Norman is cleaning the shower, the empty curtain rod runs parallel to the top of the frame, while the wall and the tiles complete the grid like pattern. At this point, we are back in the realm of "normalcy".
While Hitchcock had made many films in color at this point in his career, it was not only budget restrictions that informed his decision to shoot Psycho in black and white; this choice is important to portraying the bleakness of the various worlds of the film. After the shower scene and the subsequent cleanup, which Hitchcock filmed in high contrast to enhance the bright white of the bathroom tiles and the inky black of the swamp, we arrive at Sam Loomis's hardware store. Even though we are back in the "normal" world and away from the madness contained in the Bates motel, the setting is hardly comforting. "The drab everyday is full of trivial or latent cruelty" (Kolker 91). The store is gray and dreary, and the female customer inside the hardware store happens to be prattling on about which insecticide is the most painless. Meanwhile, rakes, knives, axes, and other sharp objects populate the frame.