Bates Motel’s “The Arcanum Club” didn’t cover a whole lot of new ground this week, but instead focused on Norma’s deepening fears about her son. And judging by Norman’s recent behavior, Norma has every reason to be very afraid.
The episode opens with Norma walking to Annika’s motel room to bring her fresh towels and to check that pesky bathroom window shade to make sure it’s working – after all, she doesn’t want anyone (cough, Norman, cough) to invade the woman’s privacy. When there’s no response to Norma’s repeated knocking, though, she realizes the room is empty.
Norma inquires about Annika to Norman, who is down in the basement, practicing his taxidermy skills on a baby goat. When Norma asks if Norman saw Annika the previous night, he easily lies right to his mother’s face. Then, when Norman tells Norma not to worry, she looks more troubled than ever.
When Norma comes back from town and Annika is still nowhere in sight, Norma goes to see if Emma can provide any information. Emma spills the beans about Norman driving Annika to the restaurant/bar, which instantly gets Norma all panicky.
Norma runs up to the house, questioning Norman about why he lied, and basically accusing him of something sinister, saying “You were the last person seen with her, and now she’s gone.” But Norman insists he was just being a nice guy, offering to drive Annika’s car back from the bar since she was planning on drinking that night. Norma chastises her son, telling him he can’t keep getting into cars with certain types of women, or as she puts it, “Slutty. Oversexed. Crazy.” “I don’t know why, but unhinged women seem drawn to you.” Really, Norma? Do you know how ironic you’re being?
Norman and Norma drive to the bar to determine if anyone has seen Annika. When Norma is about to get out of the car, she has a major realization, and questions Norman about why he said Annika “was” a nice girl. Only, Norman didn’t say that. I played it back twice, with close captioning, and he said “she’s a nice girl,” not even using the word woman. Maybe Freddie Highmore said “was” in another take, but not the one that aired. So, either we’re supposed to think Norma is twisting Norman’s words due to her intense suspicion of him, or it really was just a writing mistake. If it was just a mistake, they need to be a bit more careful, because Norma shouldn’t be picking up on things that are impossible for the audience to pick up along with her.
Norma comes out of the bar, frustrated that nobody can tell her anything. Then, completely frazzled and exasperated, Norma blurts out “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this Norman.” But Norma stops herself, so we don’t know what she can’t keep doing. She could have meant “I don’t know how much longer I can keep covering for you when you kill people.” Or, “I don’t know how much longer I can deny you are a psychopath.” At this point, there should probably be a lot of things Norma can’t do much longer regarding Norman.
Back at Dylan’s cabin, Gunner and creepy Caleb are working on plans for an irrigation system for the marijuana plants. I have to wonder, why, after being so adamant about Caleb getting out of town, is Dylan letting him stay at the cabin now? And I also have to wonder why the character of Dylan is stuck in sub-plot purgatory, when the real action of the show is wherever Norma and Norman are.
After working on plans for his 99 marijuana plants, Dylan is headed home, but Caleb wants him to stay for a drink. The way Caleb is inserting himself into Dylan’s life so intensely is at best inappropriate, and at worst reprehensible. Family bonding time is interrupted, however, when a dog comes running out of the woods, and attacks Gunner’s dog. Caleb ends things by shooting the wild dog, which sets off an unusual chain of events and introduces a new character.
Enter, Chick Hogan (Sons of Anarchy,’s Ryan Hurst) who comes snooping around Dylan’s cabin, supposedly looking for his pet dog. Caleb sees Chick and comes rushing out, introducing himself as Dylan’s father. Tension grows between the three as they stand their ground, talking in code about tomatoes, green beans and the DEA before Chick finally retreats. Now, when I heard Ryan Hurst was cast in Bates Motel as a gun runner, I thought it would be Opie 2.0 (his very popular character in SoA that was also a gun runner). But he was almost unrecognizable here, and I think Chick Hogan has the potential to be a very interesting addition to White Pine Bay, even if it’s in the drug side story.
Later in the episode, Caleb tells Dylan they have to pay Chick a visit to give him a taste of his own trespassing medicine. But when they arrive at Chick’s cabin, they find he has a wife and baby (but alas, he never did have a dog). When the men go into Chick’s gun-laden shed, he tries to lay down the rules for courtesy between neighbors engaged in questionable activities, but Caleb gets in Chick’s face, telling him boundaries between them better be respected. That’s pretty funny, considering Caleb just overstepped his with Chick, and has been stepping all over them with Dylan.
Back at the motel, Norman discloses to his mother that he and Emma will be dating, and for a moment, Norma breathes a sigh of relief over the normalcy of that idea. But when Emma is trying to plan her and Norman’s date the next day, Norman is too preoccupied with the missing Annika to even listen to Emma. When Emma reaches over and takes Norman’s hands as she speaks to him, the gesture seems to make Norman uncomfortable. Since Norman only ever acts normal with Emma, this was an odd reaction. But perhaps the realization that Emma doesn’t belong in Norman’s world – or more specifically in his head – is starting to dawn on him.
Meanwhile, when Norma continues to fret over Annika, Emma suggests they search Annika’s room for clues. While searching, Norma finds Annika’s invitation to the Arcanum “Hunting” club, which viewers will come to learn about through another one of Norma’s over the top schemes.
When they leave Annika’s room, Norma sees that Sheriff Romero is packing up his car after having been at the motel three months while his house (the one drug runners burned down) was rebuilt. Romero greets Norma with a hefty check, and the two share an awkward hug and kiss on the cheek. Vera Farmiga and Nestor Carbonell are so good in this scene, I could feel the second hand awkwardness. After their goodbye, Norma jumps in front of Romero’s jeep and in a rare display of vulnerability and sentimentality, reveals to Romero that she always felt safe while he was at the motel. Romero is clearly good for Norma, but he should probably run quickly in the other direction. Still, I root for them to get together. Because just as Emma could be Norman’s salvation (though she probably won’t be), Romero represents Norma’s chance at a normal and happy life.
Meanwhile, Norma decides to pose as Annika and use her invitation. Norma drives to the hunt club, but is turned away when she doesn’t know the password. Of course, Norma being Norma, she sneaks in, and runs into – wouldn’t you know it – Romero. This whole scene felt kind of misplaced and forced, especially given the earlier, far more effective scene between Norma and Romero. It did, however, allow for Norma to tell the sheriff about Annika being missing. And when Romero hears Norman was the last person to see the poor girl, the look on his face says it all.
Norma heads home, but first has to make a stop at the Lee Berman Memorial bypass, where she has a tantrum and runs into the sign with her car – which is of course, classic Norma behavior.
The episode closes with Emma and Norman coming home from their date and kissing goodbye, before Norman nervously pulls away, making the excuse that he doesn’t want to start something they can’t finish. After Emma leaves, Norma comes home to Norman and confesses her vandalism. As the two go up to the house arm in arm, we switch to a lake, where a dog is barking at a body lying face down in the water, and where we see it may be Annika who has met her end.
This episode was slow paced yet thoughtful, choosing to focus not on thrills but on where each character’s head space is at currently: Dylan finds himself wanting not just a legitimate business but a father figure to run it with; Emma has stars in her eyes over Norman; Romero – well, he always remains a mystery; Norman seems to be unraveling a quicker pace; and Norma’s worst fears about Norman seem to be coming true – yet denial is still her best friend.
Regarding Annika, I must say I would be a bit surprised if it’s revealed this early in the season that Norman killed her. Because if Norman has already killed another woman, then the audience will be in that much more of a hurry to see Norman morph into Psycho. And I think at that point the show will be over. Wherever we go this season, though, I know we’ll get fascinating character exploration, amazing acting, and gripping storytelling.