Episode 3.4 was an action-packed hour that wove a tale of murder, jealousy, and family turmoil, resulting in two dead call girls, a secret flash drive, and a troubled boy’s plan to destroy his brother and mother’s familial bond.
The episode opens as Norman awakens to sounds of sirens outside his bedroom window. Police have surrounded the motel, and Norma is getting checked over after having passed out. Annika is dead, and the first question Norman asks his mother when he goes down to the motel and sees Annika’s body splayed on the ground is “Did I do it?” That lone inquiry speaks to how damaged Norman’s psyche has become, and how aware he is of his own unraveling. But as of right now, Norman didn’t have anything to do with Annika’s death.
Romero wants answers, so Norma explains what happened. Of course, she leaves the part where Annika secretly handed her a flash drive out of the explanation. Romero isn’t buying what Norma’s selling, however, telling her, “Chaos seems to swirl around you.” He certainly has a point. The motel has been the site of numerous unsavory incidents, including several murders. But Norma continues to tell only partial truths, until Romero quickly realizes he won’t get anywhere. I’m actually a bit surprised that Norma didn’t tell Romero right away about the flash drive, despite her curiosity about it. Given her past, she should be well aware how easily secrets can spin out of control, and she seems to trust Romero, but she still chose to shut him out.
When Dylan finds out about Annika’s murder, he’s there for his mother and brother. Norma is grateful, but Norman – even though distraught over Annika’s death – still gets very jealous of his older half-brother. Norma seems to be turning to Dylan for support more often, even confiding in him (and only him) about the flash drive. To make matters worse, Norman hears them in Norma’s room, whispering – and excluding him.
The next day, influenced by his feelings that things have changed since Dylan moved in, Norman asks his mother outright “do you still like me?” The question was quite babyish and kind of sad, which makes it clear that underneath Norman’s disturbing behavior, lies a vulnerable kid who wants his mom to love him best. Freddie Highmore conveyed that hostile –tinged vulnerability flawlessly; I never cease to be impressed at his acting versatility, or in his ability to convey the complicated facets of Norman’s psyche so realistically.
Norma makes several attempts to decode the flash drive, from eliciting the help of a tech-savvy teenager at the local cafe to looking in her school library’s computer code section. It’s there that she runs into the psychology professor, and he invites her for coffee. Norma ends up opening up to him, admitting her distrust of Norman and even crying. She may not trust Norman, but she certainly seems to trust this guy. Quite frankly, I think there’s something creepy about him – he’s just a bit too eager to help.
Meanwhile, Romero investigates the two women’s murders, and learns the car Annika drove to the motel was registered to the other dead girl in town. He also finds out the woman pulled from the tidal flats had a relationship with Bob Paris, which included having three-ways with him and Annika Johnson. But when Romero goes and questions Bob Paris about all of it, Paris is as smug as ever, blowing off Romero’s questions, except to inquire if Annika had anything on her when she died. Clearly this guy thinks he’s above the law, and clearly he knows more than he’s saying. It’s interesting that even though Bob Paris is cut from the same mold as villain characters from previous seasons, he’s still used effectively enough for me to want to see him get what’s coming to him.
Norman spends his time trying to turn the tables on Norma and make her jealous – with Emma. He kisses Emma in front of his mom (opening his eyes long enough to make sure Norma is looking), and throws plans for a romantic picnic with Emma in Norma’s face. Strangely, his attempts are pretty effective. He’s able to push Norma’s buttons sufficiently so that she forbids Norman from sleeping with Emma. But to Norma’s credit, she’s also trying to protect Emma from being used, telling Norman, “You hurt that girl, I will kick your ass to the moon and back.”
Later, Norma finds Romero searching Annika’s room, and it’s obvious that he knows Annika had something important in her possession that’s now missing. But Norma still won’t budge, feigning ignorance with regard to the sheriff’s questions. Romero has always had good instincts, though, and he knows Norma’s lying. But for the time being, he doesn’t press her further.
Emma and Norman’s romantic day is ruined when, after getting cozy in an abandoned cabin, Norman tells Emma that she shouldn’t have sex – because Norman said so. Emma walks out on him saying “I didn’t think your mother was coming on this date with us.” Why Emma wanted to date Norman in the first place is beyond me, and why she continually stays with him after seeing his recent behavior is even more curious. But I like the character, and I guess her decisions make sense given her life circumstances. Maybe being ringside for all the Bates Family drama makes her feel more alive.
Caleb is still hanging around, going into town and almost getting spotted by Norma. When Dylan finds out what Caleb did, they have a confrontation. Things get heated, but the situation is quickly diffused when Caleb takes a hard fall from the barn roof. When he says he can’t go to the hospital because there’s a warrant out for his arrest (this guy is a winner), Dylan stitches him up. This quiet moment between them gives Caleb the opportunity to try and define his childhood relationship with Norma – which was all sorts of bizarre. It turns out, Norma voluntarily entered into a sexual relationship with Caleb, but then quickly wanted to end it. But Caleb couldn’t, pretty much confirming that he did rape his sister. All things considered, Dylan handles the new information really well. But it also leaves him in a very difficult place – trying to start a relationship with his dad while not destroying the one he worked so hard to build with his mom.
Later, Dylan finds some of Bob Paris’ men searching the motel office, apparently looking for the flash drive. He chases them off, but they scare him enough that he runs to the house and pleads with Norma to come clean to Romero. It’s a reasonable request, especially since Norma’s stubbornness has gotten her into her fair share of trouble in the past. But Dylan wants to be loyal to his mom (who refuses to tell Romero), and suggests he take the flash drive to the farm for safekeeping. He and his mom share a moment – and a hug – when he tells Norma he doesn’t want anything to happen to her. Despite their volatile past, and even their current differences, Dylan loves his mother. For Norma’s part, she seems sincere in her feelings for Dylan as well, and it’s nice to see her begin to openly display her affection toward him.
Norman confronts Dylan about all the secrecy, but Dylan won’t say anything. Norman won’t give up that easily, though, so he follows Dylan to the farm. He doesn’t see Dylan hide the flash drive in a light switch timer, but he does see Dylan and Caleb walking outside together (after hugging – Dylan was getting lots of family affection this episode).
When Norman sees Caleb, he races to his car, hell bent on telling Norma. Dylan runs after him, tackling Norman and begging him not to say anything, lest it ruin what Dylan has recently built with Norma. But that’s exactly what Norman wants – he says, “You betrayed Mother. She needs to know!” Norman is almost gleeful, thinking he has found the perfect vehicle for banishing Dylan from the family, thereby ridding himself of any competition for Norma’s affections.
Every installment of Bates Motel has fascinating character beats, but this one had lots of action too, making for a stand out episode. This show is at its best when combining plot movement with deep character exploration. Also, it was so good to see Dylan finally entrenched in some family dynamics, and Max Theiriot was excellent portraying a conflicted Dylan. I’ve been saying all along that Dylan needs to be shown with Norman and Norma. I only hope nothing happens to him. If Norman’s plan doesn’t work, he may resort to something drastic.
Even Caleb was more relevant in this episode, serving as the catalyst for the climatic blow up between Norman and Dylan. His anguish about Norma seemed sincere, and his deep desire for a relationship with his son is valid. There’s so much story potential there in terms of Caleb and Dylan, Caleb and Norma, and even Caleb and Norman. It’s all very complicated and sensitive subject matter – in the hands of less talented writers, it could easily dissolve into sensationalism. But so far, it’s been handled in a tactful (and compelling) way.
Only the character of Romero remains elusive, but I have a feeling there’s more to him than meets the eye. At least we got to see him doing some good old-fashioned police work in this episode. I hope we also get to see him interacting more with the Bates Family, especially Norma, as the season progresses.
All of these characters are written as smart, complex, and deeply flawed individuals, and the actors that portray them lend even more layers to those traits. They’re fascinating to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing what they all do next.