At the end of episode 2.2, Norma Bates’ brother Caleb showed up, opening the door to a closet filled with horrific skeletons. This week’s “Caleb” and “Check-out” explored the ramifications of Caleb’s arrival, including the devastating effects on Dylan, and showed us what happens when decades full of secrets are suddenly let loose.
“Caleb” opens with Emma entering the Bates’ home and showing Norman the newspaper. After finding Bradley’s clothes and her (fake) suicide note, the police are ready to presume she’s dead. Emma feels terrible, and is quite surprised to see Norman acting rather nonchalant about the girl he was head over heels for. Unconvinced he’s ok, Emma offers to lend an ear if Norman ever needs to talk. Of course, despite knowing Bradley is alive and well, Norman could have acted a little more upset. But Emma didn’t completely buy his “I’m ok” act, so it all worked out anyway.
Meanwhile, Norma goes into town to check the posted results of the local theatre production auditions. She’s disappointed when she doesn’t see her name (though Norman gets a part in the chorus), but runs into the director, Christine, who apologizes to Norma for not having been picked for the lead, even going so far as to quit directing the production. She takes Norma out for a drink, and the two become fast friends after Christine shows Norma a bit of empathy regarding what she went through with Sheriff Shelby (last season). Norma, who clearly isn’t used to such kindness, marvels at Christine’s plans to introduce Norma around town.
Back at the motel, Caleb encounters Dylan and starts asking questions about Norma. It was nice to see Dylan respond in a protective way about his mom, despite their volatile relationship. When Caleb reveals he’s Norma’s brother, Dylan is disbelieving, stating Norma never mentioned a brother. Even so, Dylan is curious about Caleb’s claims.
When Norma returns from town, Caleb is sitting in her kitchen, and Norma loses it. She forcibly removes Caleb, screaming at him, and warns Dylan not to ever let him in the house again. Dylan, of course, is very confused. The descent into an ugly and terrible abyss has begun.
Dylan later sees Caleb in town and asks why Norma is so angry at Caleb. His uncle explains, making it sound like it’s just run of the mill family animosity and resentment built up over the years. He reels Dylan in by telling him about the fly fishing in Oregon, offering a tidbit of information about his dad’s (Dylan’s grandfather) interest in the activity. Now, at this point, we’re not sure if Norma’s accusations about Caleb are true, but Caleb certainly seems to be trying to win Dylan over. And it works, because Dylan, who obviously feels like an outsider in the Bates home, is so enticed by the notion of having a connection with family that he invites Caleb to dinner.
In the middle of these family dynamics – just so we don’t forget there’s an escalating drug war – we learn that two of Zane’s men have been murdered in retaliation for Gil Turner’s murder (though we know that Bradley killed Gil, not the rival drug family). Zane, hot head that he is, wants revenge, though Dylan tells him to do nothing and concentrate on moving their product. But from what we’ve seen of Zane, we know he’ll do something.
Back at the Bates home, Norman goes to the theater to drop out of the chorus, but runs into Cody (the grocery clerk he met while buying supplies for Bradley’s escape). Cody encourages him to be one of the tech people for the summer, and Norman gets the ok from his mother.
Norma gets an invitation to Christine’s garden party, and while dressing for it, Dylan makes an attempt to get Norma to open up about her brother. His manner is gentle, though it’s obvious he’s very uncomfortable probing for information. Norma responds to her son’s attempt to connect by slamming the door in his face.
Emma plans a beach memorial for Bradley to assuage her guilt (she never liked the girl), but it turns out when people get there, they just want to party. Norman sees Cody with another guy, but when Norman joins them on the rocks and proceeds to just sit there while they make out, the guy grabs Norman’s leg – an overt invitation to join in. Cody only laughs at Norman later when he naively thinks he’s breaking the news that her make-out partner is gay. Emma, meanwhile sees “Cupcake Boy “and gets drunk with him, but any romantic plans go awry when she throws up. The show always slows down a bit when the focus is on the teenagers’ antics, even though they do make sense within the context of the story. They also serve to show us that in many ways, Norman is a regular teenager, even though in the deep recesses of his mind, he’s something else, too.
At dinner, Caleb tells Dylan stories about Dylan’s grandfather and grandmother, and sells his version of events that Norma and Caleb’s dad abused them, causing Norma to blame Caleb for not protecting her. Caleb describes an opportunity in Costa Rico, but low and behold, he needs money. Though he doesn’t ask outright, he readily accepts Dylan’s donation of 11,500 dollars, sealing the deal with a good old-fashioned family hug.
We take a detour to Christine’s garden party, where Norma makes a good impression, smiling and telling lively jokes to new acquaintances, including Christine’s brother, George. Norma also meets Nick Ford, who tells her that he too, is not in favor of the bypass. When Norma asks to meet with him to get ideas for halting construction of the bypass, he quickly agrees. She doesn’t know he’s the head of the drug family warring with Zane (and by extension, Dylan), but we know it, so we know that sooner or later, Norma will get herself into more trouble.
When Norma gets home, Dylan is waiting for her. He calls her mom (something he doesn’t do, except the one time he sarcastically said it after he tracked her down in the first season), and it makes for a poignant moment. However, when Dylan tries to explain what a good guy Caleb is, Norma can’t take it and reveals that Caleb raped her for years. Dylan calls her a liar, and as things escalate, Norman rushes to his mother’s defense by getting into a fistfight with Dylan. Norma, in an effort to stop her two sons from pummeling each other, reveals that Caleb is Dylan’s father. It’s a disgusting, horrible revelation. But what an effecting scene it gave us.
Episode 2.4 “Check-out” picks up right after Norma’s shocking disclosure. Dylan isn’t taking it too well, and ends up passed out drunk – for everyone to see – in the motel parking lot. Emma (pausing her little side story with “Cupcake Boy” momentarily) and Norman drag Dylan inside a room, and when Norma sees him she instantly goes into mom mode. She covers his vomit-stained shirt with a towel, tucks him in, and strokes his face. He may not be Norman, but Norma truly does care about Dylan.
After seeing the damage Caleb has already inflicted on her family, Norma races over to Caleb’s motel to tell him off, but when she arrives all she can do is sit in her car and weep, overcome by fear and sadness. It’s becoming pretty clear that although Norma has been known to lie if it suits her needs, Caleb did do something awful to her.
Later, when Dylan wakes up from his drunken stupor, he confronts Norman about how long he’s known the terrible secret. Norman tells Dylan he found out the same time Dylan did, which is technically true. Norman may have already known Caleb sexually abused his mother, but the paternity of Dylan is as new to Norman as it is to his brother. Dylan is very angry and almost spills the beans about what Norman did to his dad, alluding to the fact Norma may be keeping important information from Norman as well.
On the docks, Dylan sees Caleb, and confronts him about Norma’s accusations. Caleb doesn’t really deny it, instead saying “it wasn’t exactly like that,” which is an interesting choice of words if the guy is completely innocent of the charges. He does deny being Dylan’s father though, saying Norma got pregnant in high school by her boyfriend and then married the guy. When he gives Dylan all of his 11,500 dollars back, poor Dylan is more confused than ever.
Christine talks Norma into dinner with Christine’s husband and brother, being so forward as to go to Norma’s house and help her pick out clothes, even after Norma declines the invitation. While Norma is getting ready Dylan comes home and another confrontation takes place. Norma wants Dylan to put the revelation of how he came to be behind him, but Dylan feels like he’s a consequence of a horrific act and astutely tells her, “It’s me. How can I put me behind me?” This time he walks away, and Norma’s date George arrives, making watchful Norman a bit jealous of his mom’s new friend.
At the theatre with Cody, Norman opens up quite a bit about what is happening with his family. Cody, like Bradley before her, could be considered the stereotypical “bad girl,” but Norman seems drawn to these women who don’t seem constrained by a set of internal rules. In fact, Cody plants the idea in Norman’s head that he should go and rough Caleb up, in order to scare him into leaving Norma alone.
At dinner, Norma has to put on a smile – even while listening to Christine’s husband go on about the upcoming bypass construction – despite all the turmoil at home. One thing you have to say about Norma, regardless of what is going on in her life, she always finds the ability to carry on. Christine’s brother George is very understanding, but at the end of the night when he asks to take Norma out again, she rebuffs him.
Cody and Norman do go to Caleb’s motel – tire iron in hand – but, Norman, just like Norma earlier in the episode, can’t go through with the confrontation. To make matters worse, he’s plagued by mental images of the horrific acts that happened to his mother before he was born.
Sheriff Romero briefly shows up in this episode, and it was good to see him. Romero’s bluntness and confidence, along with Nestor Carbonell’s screen presence, make for interesting scenes. Romero threatens Zane, letting him know that a certain balance in the town exists (presumably between rival marijuana-producing families that the sheriff turns a blind eye to), and should Zane upset that balance, then he will have to answer to Romero. Zane’s impulsivity and rage get the best of him, and he later burns Romero’s house to the ground. It seems likely Romero will make good on his threat in future episodes.
Norma and Dylan have one more altercation, only this time Norma actually opens up to her oldest son. Dylan feels like Norma used his birth for her own gain, but Norma pleads with him to understand what she had been up against. Despite the appalling way Dylan was conceived, we see that Norma loves Dylan, at least as much as she’s capable of, and she’s clearly reaching out to him. But Dylan is so devastated by how he came into the world that he can’t reciprocate. Though his mother pleads for him not to, Dylan takes off, leaving Norma, and Norman – who was listening in on everything – behind.
With his family torn apart, Norman once more goes to Caleb’s motel, but this time he has the resolve to go through with confronting him. In an extremely creepy sequence, Norman channels his mother as a girl, telling Caleb “she” isn’t afraid of him anymore, pulling a knife on him. The two fight, and Norman continues under his trance, berating Caleb for repeatedly raping “her.” Caleb calls Norman crazy and, bags already packed, leaves the motel and presumably, White Pine Bay.
Norman remains in his trance/blackout state, wandering into a café, where the waitress calls Cody, using the number Cody scrawled across Norman’s arm in an earlier scene (three cheers for episode continuity!). And then Cody gingerly takes Norman home.
These two episodes provided a fascinating look into the mind set of individual family members, shattered by horrendous acts and resulting secrets. Vera Farmiga and Max Thierot were both excellent portraying the shock, shame, and sadness that came to light when Caleb arrived in town, and Freddie Highmore was captivating, like always, as complex and erratic Norman. The show, a unique mixture of psychological thriller and family drama, is at its best when allowing these three to play off one another, regardless of the circumstances.
Since Caleb left town, that storyline seems temporarily wrapped up, but the effects on the family will likely continue to permeate their interactions. Though at times the stories move at an almost too rapid pace (out of necessity given the ten episode limit), this show knows how to do familial tension very well, allowing any plot to work around the main narrative, which is the step by step process that ultimately culminates in the creation of the pyscho Norman Bates.