Bates Motel 4.6 (written by Scott Kosar) continued the pattern of both Norman and Norma confronting their issues simultaneously but separately. Usually, mother and son are wrapped way too tightly in their own cocoon during times of emotional distress. But since Norman has been at Pineview, the two have had to face their demons without one another. And demons there are. “The Vault” shows us that no matter how painful the past is – no matter how much we try to lock it away – it must be faced. But where Norman couldn’t handle delving into his without taking on the persona of his mother, Norma met her past head on – went through the pain – and emerged on the other side even stronger.
As the episode opens, Norma’s thoughts are on her brother Caleb. Their relationship has always been dysfunctional and twisted, but even so, it’s clear Norma still cares about him and doesn’t want to see him hurt. Now that Chick is hell-bent on going after Caleb, Norma knows she holds her brother’s fate in her hands.
Norma pushes all that aside, though, because she and Romero are so happy together. When Alex kisses her goodbye as he heads to work, even Norma muses over how surreal the situation has become. “After everything we’ve made it,” she says. The two are very sweet together, but more significantly, they see one another – and they still choose to be together. And that fact will help Norma overcome one of her most difficult obstacles.
Norman, on the other hand, continues to shove his past deep within his unconscious mind. He’s experiencing terrible nightmares that he doesn’t understand. Thankfully, however, he has Dr. Edwards, and the warm, empathetic doctor is trying in earnest to help Norman see himself a whole lot clearer. For his part, Norman is starting to try as well. He admits to Edwards there are times he’s confused about what’s real, but when pressed about his relationship with his deceased father, Norman is clearly still holding back. But it’s time for Norman to face his truth. During a session, Norman learns (through Dr. Edwards) that he has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and during his blackouts he takes on the persona of his mother. Interestingly, Norman takes the news pretty well; he doesn’t even seem particularly surprised. His main concern is how “Mother” acts (Dr. Edwards reassures Norman that “she” is charming).
But the reveals don’t stop there: Norman gets a visit from Dylan, where he learns of his brother and Emma’s relationship. Norman seems genuinely happy for the new couple, and is more interested in learning more about his father. Dylan doesn’t offer much, and Norman drops it, just choosing to enjoy their visit. We’re starting to see glimmers of a healthier Norman here, and Dylan notices it too. He later tells Norma that Norman seems calmer and more at peace with himself. That’s the brilliance of these writers. They give us enough contradictions for a “what if” scenario. What if Norman could come to terms with his past and work to regain his sanity? We know that’s not to be, but these characters are so complex and their stories have been laid out from so many angles, that they still make us hope for such an outcome.
Later, Dylan pays a visit to Norma (happily describing Norman’s new calm mental state) and breaks the news that he’s moving to Seattle. He also wants Norma to come clean to Norman about Alex and Norma’s new marriage. Norma side steps the issue and instead takes the opportunity to weasel information about Caleb out of Dylan, though her son warns her to leave the whole thing alone, telling her, “Don’t do something destructive.” Norma agrees, but when has Norma ever left anything alone?
Of course Norma tracks Caleb’s location down and calls him, identifying herself by her childhood name “Norma Louise.” The two poignantly discuss their son, and it’s clear that Norma, despite part of her hating her brother, will never betray him and be complicit in hurting him. On Norma’s suggestion, Caleb calls Dylan, and we see another poignant exchange between father and son; Caleb gives a hollow promise to move close to Dylan, and Dylan encourages the idea, though we see in Dylan’s face and hear in his voice that he knows he will probably never see his father again. But as the two hang up, we are privy to that part of Dylan that loves Caleb, as evidenced when he calls him “Dad.” The two scenes were very powerful, and it felt like closure to their heartrending yet fascinating story from last season.
But even as Dylan said goodbye to his dad and is leaving White Pine Bay, he is inextricably intertwined with his family. On another visit to the house, Dylan finds Audrey Decody’s letter to Emma. He does some secret investigating of his own, and discovers Audrey checked in to Bates Motel but of course, she never checked out. No matter how hard Dylan tries to extricate himself from his family, something always seems to pull him back to them.
The scene showing little Norman hiding under his parents’ bed, holding the hand of his mother as she gets attacked by her own husband was horrific and deeply heartbreaking to watch. It very effectively illuminated, however, why Norman would block out his terrible past and let “Mother” take care of things. The truth is just too painful for Norman. For her part, “Mother” will do anything to protect Norman from that truth, even if it means silencing (permanently) all those who would speak it or ask Norman to speak it himself.
Norma, on the other hand, has always taken care of things herself, and so decides to do the same with Chick, confronting him on a bridge over violent waters, gun in hand (in a beautifully eerie camera shot). But just as Norma can’t bring herself to hurt her brother, she can’t bring herself to shoot Chick either. Norma is stuck, and this realization causes her to rage, bringing out the unhinged Norma we’ve seen in previous seasons – the same one that slowly evaporated as she and Romero have gotten closer. Later, Chick shows up at the Bates House with the new window, and Norma seizes the opportunity to tell Romero that she loves him (she wants him to know even though she feels she’s about to lose him). He responds in kind, and as Chick and Alex carry the window in, Norma finally confronts her past, telling Chick that he won’t break her, because “I’m still standing!” It’s been Norma’s mantra since season one, but this time her declaration felt like a warrior’s call, and it kind of made you wish you could stand up right next to her in solidarity. But Alex did it for us, right after Chick – impressed at Norma’s moxie -backed off, bidding her farewell with a kiss on the cheek.
Norma then does something that she’s never done in the entire series, and that’s be totally honest, come what may. She reveals her and Caleb’s relationship, and the son that came from it, and she does it out of sheer love, admiration and respect for Alex. She takes the chance at revealing that long buried part of herself to the man she loves, but pessimistically tells him “Just go pack your bag.” But Romero’s love for Norma, so long denied but finally realized, allows him to accept Norma – and her past – without hesitation. He replies to her “Okay. Where we going?” That line beautifully expressed Alex’s depth of love and support for Norma, and her reaction to hearing it provided one of the most heartfelt moments of the entire series.
This episode continued in the same vein as the others we’ve seen since Norman’s stay at Pineview: Norma and Norman confronting who they really are, and their reactions to that newfound knowledge. The thing is, Norma is getting stronger for it, putting aside her facade and showing those closest to her more of her authentic self – warts and all. Norman, though he seems to be benefitting from learning the truth, is actually still denying it vehemently, judging from the fact that “Mother” is having to show up much more often to protect him from that truth. So while Norma is embracing self-discovery (with the support of Alex), Norman is recoiling from it. And the more he’s pushed to face it, the more dire things will become for everyone. Ultimately, Norman will most likely shove the truth back into the vault for good.