Bates Motel’s “Persuasion” was an apt title for episode 3.3, where we see Norma’s anxiety over Norman’s culpability in Annika Johnson’s disappearance begin to influence her son’s own recollections of the night the call girl vanished, leading the disturbed boy to wonder if he committed yet another murder.
The episode opens with a striking shot of Norma walking down the long corridor of the county morgue, having been called in by Sheriff Romero to identify the woman’s body that was just pulled from the tidal flats. As Norma inches nearer to the shrouded corpse, she fears she recognizes the woman’s toe nail polish, but closer inspection (about a centimeter away from the dead woman’s face, actually) allows her to see she doesn’t know this girl. Flooded with relief, Norma tells Romero it’s not Annika.
Norma drives home, where a frantic Norman is waiting to find out if his mother identified Annika. Of course, Norma gives him the information in another classic walk-by tirade, saying, “I threw up on myself in the car. Ever smell the inside of a morgue? It’s disgusting. It wasn’t her.” Norma just wants to get on with life, but Norman reminds his mother that Annika is still missing. Only Norma doesn’t want to talk about it. After all, she has more pressing matters on her mind, like worrying about her new marketing class. But really, she just wants to keep Norman out of hot water, telling him to stay out of it. “It’s not our problem,” she says.
After the hurried action at the start of the episode, the pace and tone change as Norma heads to her college campus and makes the stereotypical rookie mistake of going into the wrong classroom. While there, she unknowingly gives the professor a hard time, taking his seat and being generally dismissive of him. When Norma realizes she’s in the wrong class and tries to slink away, the instructor gets in a shot of his own, asking “Are you sure you don’t think psychology might be a good idea?”
The professor is later very apologetic, however, tracking Norma down outside and offering his services as a therapist. He can see Norma is burdened, vulnerable, and emotionally damaged. He gives Norma his card, but as soon as he leaves, she throws it on the ground. Norma is not stupid, though – she thinks twice and grabs the crumpled thing – realizing therapy might actually be useful in her current circumstances.
Next, we get a sort of “Pretty Woman” montage – complete with music, provocative clothing and close ups of body parts – leading us to believe someone might be getting dressed for a night of escorting at a place like The Arcanum Club. Instead, we see it’s Emma – and it’s for Norman’s benefit. Apparently she needs something to get Norman past his preoccupations, and her plan works; when she arrives at the motel, Norman notices, despite watching Annika’s car being towed away. In fact, he gets that same “starving man eyeing steak” expression that Norman has been getting a lot lately. And that’s definitely not a good thing for Emma.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero has to handle two adversaries: First is Bob Paris, a rich and influential man who was at The Arcanum Club the night Annika disappeared. Romero questions him about this new girl’s murder, but Bob is glib and condescending, mocking Romero’s questions and reminding him of his complacency when it comes to law enforcement. But Romero shoots back, asserting he will aggressively investigate the homicide, despite having turned a blind eye to the town’s generation of illegal income.
Later, Romero gets a visit at his office from Marcus Young, an arrogant guy running for Romero’s position as county sheriff. This time it’s Romero who is condescending, kicking Young out and telling him he’ll never see the inside of the sheriff’s office again. It looks like the show is gearing up for an election side-story, which would give Romero something to do, but it’s not necessarily better to put the supporting players in their own mediocre storylines than it is to have them in scenes with the show’s two stars, actually – well, supporting them.
Back at the cabin, Dylan’s uncle (and dad) is still trying to worm his way into his nephew (and son’s) life, this time offering to buy expensive lumbar for Dylan’s barn. Dylan refuses it, but typical of Caleb, no means yes, and he buys the lumbar anyway. Pairing Dylan with the weasel Caleb has a lot of potential, but the character of Dylan has suffered the same side-story fate as Sheriff Alex Romero. Max Theriot is a very capable actor, and why he isn’t on screen more often with Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore is a mystery to me, especially since he has a built in relevance as son and brother. But the show is also trying to expand its narrative focus, so I guess everything can’t be all Norma and Norman all the time.
Later in the episode, Romero goes to the Bates’ home and talks to Norman about the woman who was murdered. Norma wants to hover, but Norman shoos her away with sarcasm-laced hostility. This whole sequence had quite a bit of sardonic, dry humor infused in it, and Highmore delivers the lines flawlessly, proving how versatile an actor he is. His performance can be scary, funny and heartbreaking – all in one episode.
When Norman tells the sheriff that Annika opened up to Norman about being a prostitute, Romero astutely remarks that “women seem to trust you.” Norman’s response is a mixture of amusement and bravado when he tells Romero “I like women.” But when Norman is shown a picture of the murdered woman’s corpse, he is clearly troubled by it – possibly because he thinks Annika may have ended up the same way.
When Romero leaves, Norman tears into his mother, having put two and two together about Norma’s involvement in The Arcanum Club party and her “confession” to Romero about Norman. He yells in Norma’s face about being innocent, ranting, “I think one of us has a problem. And I’m tired of the assumption being that’s it’s me.”
Juxtaposed with the intensity of Norman and Norman’s interactions, Emma provides some comic relief when she has to take a delivery of marijuana seedling plants up to Dylan. The shot of her in the car – in disguise and surrounded by plants – was funny, yet seemed out of place. This show usually goes for dry humor rather than something so visually blatant. But the scene also had a larger purpose in getting Emma to the cabin so she could see Caleb there. I’m thinking Norma is destined to find out where her brother is hanging out very soon.
Despite Emma’s success with her clothing choices, Norman remains preoccupied – this time with Norma’s mistrust of him. He gets increasingly upset, telling Emma “I just feel outside of her.” The choice of words was telling, as was Norman’s refusal to take comfort in his new girlfriend’s presence, instead seeking refuge up at the house he shares with his mother.
The tension between Norman and Norma comes to a head (and what better setting to have it out in than the Bates’ creepy house). Norman calls his mother out, saying he was willing to take responsibility for Blair Watson and Norma wouldn’t let him, and now she is basically accusing him about Annika (even getting law enforcement involved). Norman is out of control, close to a breakdown, and it’s interesting that Norma doesn’t seem that surprised at her son’s violent outburst.
When Norma gives Norman some space he retreats to the bathroom, but then the “other” Norma shows up. By this time Norman really can’t remember if he actually did kill Annika, so his “mother” advises him to recreate the sensations he had when he was trapped underground in a box (last season), where everything became clear to him. The scene was jarring, especially since we knew it was all going on in Norman’s head, and since in his hallucination, his mother was seductively undressing him as she told her son to drown himself.
As the ever-obliging son, Norman immerses himself under water, where flashes of all the women in his life -Blair, Norma, Emma, and Annika – consume him. He stays under to the point of unconsciousness, until his mother, worried about the prolonged silence in the bathroom, literally kicks the door down and pulls her son to safety, pleading with him to breathe.
Afterwards, Norman is safely under his covers, his mother gently tucking him in. But now he’s actually unclear whether or not he killed Annika. Norma is reassuring, but as she goes to close up the motel office, she breaks down, overwhelmed by her son’s sick mind. As she sits crumpled on the floor, broken and terrified, she sees car headlights. And outside, she watches as Annika herself emerges from the car. Just when it seems all turned out well, Annika drops to the ground, bleeding out from a gunshot wound. She puts a USB port in Norma’s hand, mustering the strength to blurt out “Use it for you and your son,” before she appears to take her final breath.
This episode was a fascinating exploration of a fragile, deteriorating psyche. It’s pretty clear where the show is going in regard to Norman and his mother, and the now seemingly inevitable ending that will befall them both. What’s a bit surprising, however, is the pace at which they’re headed there. Things are moving much faster this season, and Norman already seems to be at the brink of madness. I don’t know how long he can remain there without going over. But perhaps the show intends to get more mileage out of that process with the sub plots for Dylan and Romero. But if they do that, they need to somehow connect those side stories more to the Bates’ family, or at least make them more interesting. Because right now, they seem like an intrusion – an interruption from the main, gripping narrative of a twisted Norman and his claustrophobic relationship with his mother. But in all fairness, it’s hard to compete with that.
Yet all of the characters in Bates Motel are complex, fascinating people. And with the actors’ multi-layered performances, it makes them even more compelling to watch. If the show plays its cards right (aka finds the right stories), they can seamlessly blend the inhabitants of White Pine Bay together to weave a tale of deceit, mystery, intrigue – and of course, murder. Right now, it seems like they’re on the right track.