Bates Motel’s 4.2 (written by Kerry Ehrin and Torrey Speer) was a fascinating look at the disintegration of a toxic relationship, with a cat and mouse chase sequence that would’ve made Hitchcock proud. Already this season, Mother and Son are at a crossroads: Norma can no longer shelter her son from his own insanity, and must make an agonizingly hard choice, knowing her son may never forgive her. Norman, who has always felt protected and loved by his mother, has reached a point where he no longer trusts her, and will decide to do whatever it takes to stop Norma from the things he fears she’s doing. This combustible situation came to a head in “Goodnight Mother,” and the end result produced a terrifying, sad, and completely gripping 43 minute masterpiece.
The episode began with that iconic shot of the Bates home on the hill – and Mother in the window. This time, it was the real Norma Bates, as she frantically and repeatedly called Dr. Edwards in the hope of getting Norman admitted to PIneview immediately. Norman, fresh from his Audrey Decody kill, can’t remember anything except being locked in his mom’s room, so he questions Norma about why she did it. Norma’s instinct has always been to lie, and this time is no different; she gives the lame excuse that she went out to buy groceries. But as Norman is washing up for breakfast, he sees visions of his mother dragging Audrey’s body down the basement steps and locking her in a freezer. It’s interesting that Norman subconsciously knows what he did, but would rather attribute the heinous acts to the person he loves most in the world than face the truth.
Norman goes to the basement to look for Audrey’s body, and then has the first of several face offs with his mother. He tells her his fears about Audrey’s fate, but Norma says Audrey checked out, and that everything will be alright. Norma isn’t buying what she’s selling to Norman, though. She knows her son is very dangerous. It’s just too bad she didn’t figure it out the first time he told her he thought he committed murder.
Meanwhile, Emma is doing well after her lung transplant, coming off the vent and sitting up. Dylan is there for it all, which is sweet, but also provides a great reason for the writers to get him out of the way for the showdown between Norma and Norman. When Will Decody sees that Dylan truly cares about Emma, he tells Dylan he needs to find something else to do besides grow pot on a farm, because Emma will want a bit more of a future than that.
Norma gets a visit from Romero, who despite their many arguments, has always been very protective of her. Norma acts surprised to see him, but then Romero reminds her of her recent request to marry him for insurance. He also wants to know if Norma’s scared to stay in the house alone with Norman – and she really should be. But Norma being Norma, she decides it’s better to deal with Norman herself. She tells Romero she just needs to get Norman into Pineview ASAP.
From the very beginning of this series, Romero has been drawn to Norma. He has a shady past himself, so on some level he understands her. Also, underneath it all, he’s a decent person, so he feels a lot of empathy for Norma. When he learns how desperate the situation is, he gets his hidden money (that he took from Bob Paris after killing him) and brings it to Pineview. A bribe and proclamation to marry Norma later (before he even tells Norma herself), and Norman has a way into the posh psychiatric facility.
What follows is the main confrontation between Norman and Norma. Norman tells his mother he thinks she killed not only Audrey, but Bradley, Blair Watson, and Norman’s father as well. As Norman becomes more unhinged, he finally declares what he believes to be the horrible truth: Norma is the killer. She is the one who has to be stopped. I’ve been praising Freddie Highmore’s performances since Season One, but he was absolutely amazing in this kitchen scene. His portrayal of Norman’s anger, disappointment and heartbreak over his mother was astounding. He deserves more recognition for his work in this brilliant role.
The confrontation comes to a head and turns into a chase, with Norma leaping from the table and literally running for her life. It’s a terrifying moment when Norma races to her room to get her gun, only to see Norman already has it. Norma’s attempts to get the gun from Norman were disturbing, but it wasn’t the first time Norma used seduction on her own son to defuse an explosive situation. It does momentarily calm him, giving Norma enough time to run and lock herself in Dylan’s room. There she calls Romero in a simultaneous plea for help and grateful good-bye. It was touching that even when Norma was fearing for her life, she took a moment to thank Romero for everything he had done for her.
Things quiet down, which concerns Norma, so she goes down to the basement to look for Norman – taking along a pair of the biggest shears I’ve ever seen. Newsflash Norma – if you’ve reached the point where you’re searching your son out with a huge, very sharp weapon, it’s probably time to leave the house and let the professionals give it a whirl.
Norma finds Norman sitting there in that ominous forward facing way. Without even turning around, he tells his mother that he knew the best way to draw her out was to ignore her. Norman proceeds to tell Norma he won’t get locked up because of her. Desperate, Norman points the gun at Norma and talks of a murder – suicide to ensure she’ll be stopped but so they can also always be together. The scene was chilling, but it was even more heartbreaking. It was hard to watch this terribly troubled – yet very likable – kid descend to this murderous state. Fortunately, Romero comes to the rescue, and takes Norman away, and out of what was most likely self-preservation (to avoid the county facility) Norman signs the Pineview commitment papers.
This episode was a tour-de-force for everyone involved – from the writers, to the director, to the actors and everyone else who contributes to the making of this show. It never ceases to impress me how Bates Motel walks that fine line between horror, psychological thriller, and family drama. It’s a multi-layered gem.
Unfortunately, this is the beginning of the end for Norma and Norman. Despite being pretty certain the series will end true to Psycho’s origins, I still find myself hoping things can change for the Bates Family. Maybe Norman can get the help he needs at Pineview. Maybe Norma can find happiness with Romero. Then Norma and Norman can finally start to have a healthier mother/son relationship. Nah, I know none of that will happen. But it’s a testament to this show and these complex characters that I can root so hard for them, even after what Norman has become. But the only realistic thing I can truly hope for is that the show will continue to tell this story in as compelling a way as it has so far. And that is one hope about Bates Motel that is very likely to be realized.