Episode 3.5 was an emotional powerhouse penned by Scott Kosar and directed by Bates Motel’s very own Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell). In it we saw the family dynamics between Norman, Norma, Dylan, and even Caleb come to a head, culminating in an unlikely father’s anguish, some unexpected brotherly love, and a mother’s desertion of her family.
The action explodes on screen right away with Norma getting run off the road. As she stumbles out of the car, bleeding and shaken up, we see the person who did it is one of the men who works for Bob Paris. Despite the scare, Norma is her usual self, berating the guy for almost killing her. When she comes to understand that the act was a threat, she warns the guy she will call Sheriff Romero, to which the man replies, “He won’t save you. He can’t even save himself.” The line was an ominous one (these writers are great with eerily foreboding dialogue), and as the stranger drives away, Norma is left in a field, alone and unnerved.
At home, Norman is convinced he told his mother about Dylan and Caleb, even apologizing to his brother when Dylan goes to the house. But after Dylan gets a call from the local hospital and rushes to the ER, he finds Norma very grateful to see him. She explains what happened, but doesn’t connect the dots with the flash drive. Instead she’s now more irritated than scared, remarking “What’s wrong with these criminals that they just can’t hang onto their own shit?” Norma’s ravings are always humorous in the most sardonic way – that’s one of the reasons she’s so fun to watch.
Dylan is convinced the incident is due to the flash drive, and pleads with Norma to turn it over to Romero. But Norma is in financial trouble, with a fledgling motel business and a mentally ill son, and she’s not about to give up something that could be worth so much to her and her family. When Norma throws her arms around Dylan, he agrees to continue to keep the secret. It was hard to know if Norma was using physical affection to manipulate her son – which certainly wouldn’t be the first time (or the only son, for that matter) – or if she just craved physical closeness due to her emotional distress, which seems to be Norma’s “go to” way of coping. In the end, it was probably some of both.
Meanwhile, Romero continues his investigation of the two call girl’s murders, and as I stated last week, I like seeing him on the right side of the law doing his thing. After speaking with a local, Romero learns a guy named Clay Dufont – who also just happens to work for Bob Paris -was seen acting suspiciously a few days before Lindsay Johnson turned up dead. Romero heads straight to Bob Paris, who’s having a lunch meeting with Marcus Young, Romero’s challenger for County Sheriff.
Romero sits down with Paris, who finally tells Romero about the flash drive, and we finally get a bit of backstory on Romero. He has always been a bit of a mystery, but this episode let us in on the facts that Romero and Paris grew up together and were even friends, and that Romero had a bad home life. The two men ended up bending the law to suit their own purposes, but for very different reasons: Romero walked a fine line as a law enforcement officer, allowing illegal activities in White Pine Bay to continue so the town could generate income and stay afloat; yet he still tried to remain true to a moral code. Bob Paris, on the other hand, put out the façade off a law abiding citizen, but in reality had no respect for the law and twisted it at will for his own personal gain. Now, when push comes to shove and two murders have been committed (make that three, Clay Dufont ends up dead to ensure his mouth stays shut), Romero is trying to do the right thing, and Paris is bringing in a potential new sheriff, ordering Romero to back off, and doing everything else in his power to ensure he can continue to break the law unencumbered. Somehow, though, I can’t see Romero just lying down and slinking away.
At Dylan’s farm, Caleb is still up in the woods, raging on a tree with a large ax. Initially I thought Caleb was very manipulative and was trying to weasel his way into Dylan’s life to use him for something, but I’m starting to think maybe he does just want a family. Seeing Caleb alone was significant, because it lets the audience know that even when nobody is watching, Caleb is in anguish over the Norma situation. This scene, and the one where Caleb tearfully confesses to Dylan while his son stitches him up, might finally be earning Caleb a bit of viewer empathy.
Caleb is interrupted by Chick, who in his odd way, appears to attempt to help Caleb. Of course, his way of doing it is to follow Caleb through the woods, yelling at him and pushing boar jerky as the cure all for anything that ails a person. When Caleb disgustedly asks “What the hell is wrong with you, man?” Chick’s grin and one word answer seems to sum it all up: “Everything.”
Chick has a job offer for Caleb as a driver, but it involves risk – aka illegal activity. Caleb is trying to turn over a new leaf, and doesn’t want to be a part of it. However, I’m betting that before the season is over, Caleb will change his mind.
Back at the house, after Dylan tells Norman that Norma knows nothing about Caleb, Norman asks his mother if they had a conversation earlier and if she was wearing a different dress – the blue one he especially likes. Norma gently tells her son that he most likely had another blackout. Norman’s worried and consoles himself by taking his mother’s blue dress out of the closet, clutching it against himself, and stuffing it under his mattress to keep it close. At this point we see Norman’s already fragile psyche starting to unravel at a faster rate, including more blackouts and a much greater need for his mother’s close proximity and touch – real or imagined – either will do from now on.
Dylan gets a call that Gunner found the flash drive and was able to decode it (thanks to his tech skills earned from a summer pirating illegal DVDs). Dylan races home to tell Norma that he decoded it, and it wasn’t clear whether he lied just for ease of explanation or to impress his mother, who was quite amazed that he deciphered it. Norma learns the flash drive is a financial ledger splitting up 15 million dollars of illegal income (from the drug trade) between powerful residents of White Pine Bay. She immediately wants to use it as leverage against Bob Paris, but Dylan is scared something will happen to Norma, saying “You don’t understand what it means to me to have a family finally.” Dylan wants to hold on to what he has, well aware how easily it could all slip away, especially given the secret he harbors.
Norma finally decides to confide in Romero about the flash drive, but mostly because she needs his help to execute her plan. When she goes to his house, she spills the truth, including her scheme to bribe Paris. This was a great scene, and I love the way the writers can infuse humor in between high tension (and how well Carbonell and Farmiga play off each other). As Romero listens to Norma’s manic spewing of her idea, he incredulously asks “Have you lost your mind?” to which Norma matter-of-factly replies, “Yeah, maybe. It’s irrelevant.”
After Romero refuses to help, citing the risk is too great, Norma falls apart, then falls into the sheriff’s arms. But just when we think something will finally happen between these two – it doesn’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though Romero has his own problems, I think he would be good for Norma (and her for him). They seem to understand each other, and even accept one another despite their numerous individual and combined issues. Although I don’t think Norman would be too happy if his mom got cozy with the town sheriff – or anybody else, come to think of it.
Norma and Romero then have the most awkward business meeting ever, where Norma sets forth her conditions for her continued silence about the flash drive. She only wants an exit off the bypass that will connect to Main Street by her motel, a billboard, and a pool. Paris agrees, telling Norma she “got” him. Given the nature of what’s on that flash drive, her demands weren’t all that extravagant, but I don’t buy that Paris will hold up his end of the deal anyway. It’s not his style.
The calm before the episode’s storm comes in the form of a poignant interaction between Norman and Dylan. When Dylan tells Norman he’s about to confess to Norma about Caleb, Norman is contrite about his recent actions, making a confession of his own: “There’s something wrong with me. I wanted to destroy you because you were getting close to her. And I don’t want to be that person. I hate that person.” These were heartbreaking statements, made more so by Norman’s declaration of “I’m a man now,” sounding so much like a kid who knows it’s time to grow up, but doesn’t know if he has what it takes to do it. Ultimately, Norman really does want to help Dylan. But it’s that push and pull inside Norman’s own head – between the desire to be a good person and the need to monopolize his mother’s affection and love – that seems to be getting much harder for him to manage.
When Norma comes home ready to celebrate her successful bribery with chicken and pie, both of her boys are waiting at the kitchen table. Dylan lays everything out about Caleb, and Max Thieriot’s vulnerability in this scene hit all the right emotional buttons. Norma is silent, but the storm is brewing. Vera Farmiga conveys the myriad of Norma’s emotions – from fear to disappointment to rage – flawlessly, using only her facial expressions. The storm then comes with a vengeance, as Norma races upstairs, packs a suitcase, grabs a gun, and tells Norman his brother will look after him.
The last shot of the episode shows us Dylan, standing in shock at what just occurred, and Norman, truly terrified and left alone by his mother for the first time in his life, screaming the one word echoing in his head – “Mother!”
These last two episodes have been firing on all cylinders, moving at a quick pace as our characters are moving deeper into their destinies. This script was excellent, filled with all the humor, emotional beats, and nuances that I’ve come to expect from the talented writing team. Nestor Carbonell brought the script to life, effectively capturing where our main characters are at psychologically and emotionally. I hope he gets a chance to direct another episode in the future. When it comes to directing, there’s nothing quite like an actor stepping inside the dynamics of his own show and discovering all the wonderful things that exist there.
All in all, the plots seem tighter this season, and the stakes are definitely higher. And I love that Romero and Dylan’s stories are finally starting to intersect with Norman and Norma’s. Now we just need Emma a bit more involved. We’re already almost at the halfway point of the season, and these writers are fully immersing us in the story. I can’t wait to see what else this show has in store for us.