Bates Motel 4.8 (penned by Freddie Highmore in his writing debut) showed us a facing off of sorts – between Norman wanting to keep himself and his mother wrapped in the cocoon they’ve built since he was a child, and Alex seeking a normal relationship with the woman he loves. Norma ended up caught in the middle, trying to make peace with her son, but not wanting to give up the life she’s started to build with her husband. But as “Unfaithful” confirmed, Norman will not allow his mother to have both. She must choose, or he will do the choosing for her.
As this episode opens, the house has turned cold (a perfect metaphor for the familial relationships that revolve inside it), so Norma goes to the basement to investigate, and finds the furnace is not working. Norman wakes, only to immediately tear into Norma about Alex, and the new TV and movies (the objects just more things Norma has replaced, from Norman’s perspective). Norma responds by going on the defensive, and these two are right back where we left them at the beginning of the season.
When Norma retreats to her room, Norman follows (his excuse is they’ll be warmer in the same bed), and a calmer Norman genuinely asks what happened to them. Norma then does what Norma always does – she reassures Norman that everything is ok (even when it’s not) and tells him they just got used to being apart. This brings up a side issue: So much happened within the episodes from the time Norman got to Pineview to the time he was released, that it seems like much time has actually passed. But in the world of Bates Motel, it was only a mere two weeks. This makes Norma’s decision to let Norman come home even more foolish, and the two wouldn’t have really gotten used to being apart. It would have made more narrative sense for all the events of the previous episodes to have happened over the course of at least a couple months, but we’re on the writer’s timeline, so we have to go with it.
Romero has been temporarily cut out of the picture while Norman adjusts to being back home, and his call to Norma makes him concerned. He can tell in Norma’s voice that Norman is getting at her. For his part, Norman continues to feel angry at the changes Norma made (again, this is a short amount of time) and seems more resolved than ever to return things to the way they were. This includes paying a visit to Romero’s office and politely thanking him for the health insurance, but letting him know in no uncertain terms that his services aren’t needed any longer so he can divorce Norma. Romero has never been one to just slink away, so he says he’s in the picture now and Norman has to realize things have changed. After this scene, it’s inevitable these two will get into an altercation before the episode is over.
Norma goes into town looking for a new heater for the house and runs into Dylan. She invites him and Emma to go with her and Norman for a Christmas tree. It’s obvious that Norma has always cared for Dylan and has tried to include him in her life, but Dylan calls his mom on things, and she doesn’t like that, so their relationship has also been volatile. Ultimately, though, Dylan has always wanted to be part of a family, so he keeps one foot in the door, trying to be both son and brother, yet still keep a distance from all the dysfunction.
Meanwhile, the uninteresting Rebecca side story is wrapped up in this episode, as she tries to leave town to visit her mother, but the DEA stops her. It turns out they really were after Romero all along, and if Rebecca can get Romero to confess to killing Bob Paris, she will be free of any charges. This will be a very convenient reason to get Romero out of the picture, at least for a while.
Dylan becomes very suspicious when he sees Emma’s childhood stuffed animal on Norman’s table in his room. Dylan knows it’s the one Audrey Decody was holding at the hospital, so it solidifies his worries about Norman. He doesn’t follow up on it by the end of the episode, however, and it was a bit unbelievable that he would just let it go when he knows his brother is deeply disturbed, and his mother is alone in the house with Norman.
At the tree farm, Norma and Norman have it out, because Norma finally does what Romero and Dylan have been telling her to do; she’s honest with Norman about her relationship with Alex. Norman, who has been faced with way too many truths lately, just can’t face this one: It’s too big and shakes his entire world – which is the insulated relationship he has with his mother – to its very foundation. The whole exchange ends up making him vomit.
After seeing all this, Dylan is done with his family. He’s able to distance himself enough to realize he doesn’t want anything to do with Norma and Norman’s dysfunction. He just wants to start over and have a normal life with Emma. The two consummate their relationship, and Dylan professes his love for Emma. At least there’s hope for these two characters to get their happy ending.
Back at home, Norma suggests she and Norman move down to the motel where it’s warm until the new heater is installed. Norman is raging mad at Norma, but handles it by doing what he thinks (and has said in previous episodes) will get to her most – he tries to give her the silent treatment. But Norman is tethered to his mother, to the point that when Alex arrives at the motel to talk to Norma, Norman creates a hole in the wall (in an homage to Psycho’s Norman Bates) and watches his mother and Alex have sex. It was unsettling to see, but it was yet another scene in which the writers (in this case Freddie Highmore himself) seem to be pulling us out of Norman’s corner by showing us more blatantly what he’s become.
Norma gets a new space heater (and the repairman warns Norma about the danger of ever lighting her old furnace) and then has the resolve to say she’s through with Norman’s tantrums, and he will just have to get used to the fact that Alex is going to be a part of their lives.
Norman won’t ever accept that fact, however. He wants it to be just him and his mother, and an awkward dinner for three with an overly restrained Norman ends up in a blow up where Norman tells Alex he will never come between mother and son. Norma and Alex are firm but rational, with Norma trying to tell Norman there’s room in her heart to love two people. But Norman is no longer rational – not at the dinner table and most likely not ever again – and so he loses it, running outside to chop wood. Romero makes one more effort to try to talk calmly with Norman, and in a high tension scene, Norman approaches Alex, ax in hand, and rants about how he hates him. It was so tension-filled because, although we know Norma will eventually meet her end at Norman’s hand, the supporting characters of Romero, Dylan and Emma have somewhat of a blank canvas, as they weren’t in the original (even though Norman killed Norma’s “lover” in the movie). But Romero comes away from the altercation unharmed, and tells Norma he won’t be letting her in the house alone with Norman.
This episode was unsettling on many levels, and Freddie Highmore’s brilliant script helped solidify Norman’s now full transformation from a very troubled teenager who still wanted a normal life, to a psychotic young man who has staked his claim on his own mother. It’s chilling and sad at the same time, but it was set up beautifully this season. Norman is at the end of his rope; he’s no longer approaching the path to becoming “psycho,”as he was for the last four seasons. He is psycho now – and so we wait to see how his deadly plan ultimately plays out.