As Caleb is finished wreaking havoc on Norma and her family (at least temporarily), episode 2.5 focused on giving most of the main characters some semblance of freedom: Emma from her illness, Dylan from his emotional turmoil, Norma from the threat of her business failing, and Norman from his stifling relationship with his mother.
The episode picks up where 2.4 left off, with Norman in his post-blackout phase, having just confronted Caleb in the persona of his teenage mother. Cory is concerned, and asks Norman if he ever blacked out before. Norman denies that he has, too frightened to tell Cody the truth. Cody takes Norman home and doesn’t push the issue.
In the morning, Norman sees Norma engaging in the everyday task of making breakfast – as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened and she hasn’t just told her oldest son his uncle is also his dad. When Norman inquires about Dylan, Norma says he moved out. Norman asks if they should go after him, but Norma becomes agitated. She tells Norman It’s just her and him – like it’s always been. Though we know from previous episodes Norma clearly cares about Dylan, we also know that she’s very comfortable living in the relationship cocoon that envelopes her and Norman.
Later, Sheriff Romero arrives at the Bates Motel looking for a room, and Norma pries – in the way she often does – until she finds out his house has been burned to the ground. Romero is obviously annoyed at having to disclose the information, but Norma is still pleasant to him, even good-naturedly teasing him (she also gives him his room on the house, returning his credit card with a hand wave). This humorous exchange, and the others like it, deliver the best moments of this episode.
Norma calls Nick Ford, and the two plan to meet on Nick’s “boat” to discuss stalling the bypass. Before Norma goes, however, she’s stopped by Emma, who asks what it’s like to have sex for the first time (seems things are moving along with Gunner). Vera Farmiga’s immense talent is evident in this small scene, from the initial dread that spreads across her face at the subject matter, to the reassuring smile (as she puts away her own horrible memories of her first time for Emma’s sake) and words of encouragement that it “should be lovely.” Norma has always had a soft spot for Emma, and the scene ends with Norma gently kissing Emma’s head in a maternal gesture – something poor Emma hasn’t had in a long time.
Emma is a likeable character, the “normal” person who balances out all the dysfunction of the Bates family and the immorality of the drug runners. It would be nice if her character was given more to do than have a romance with Gunner, but for this episode, the relationship does fit. When Emma and Gunner do have sex (she must have trusted Norma’s advice), Emma feels free from the constraints of her medical situation, and even takes off her oxygen – a symbol of her condition. Emma, like all the other main characters in this episode (except perhaps Romero) is experiencing her own personal sense of freedom.
Norma goes to the docks and is taken aback by Nick’s yacht and his extravagant lifestyle. He informs Norma he can’t oppose Lee Berman (who is working to push the bypass) because he (Nick) is too mixed up in what goes on in the town. Well, if that means the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, then that’s true. But he’s going to help Norma halt construction. Norma is thrilled, and she doesn’t even momentarily consider what Nick Ford may want in return. In fact, when Norma goes to pick up the biologist’s Environmental Impact Report (citing an endangered gopher as reason to file an injunction to stop the bypass from being built), she’s surprised at how easy it all is, even getting a bit cocky as she drops the report off at City Hall. However, given what Norma knows about the town’s illicit activities, and after seeing how Nick Ford lives, perhaps she should have started to put two and two together, realizing that his assistance may come at a price.
Meanwhile, Cody and Norman’s friendship deepens. When Cody picks Norman up at his house, she encounters Norma. Of course, Norma doesn’t like what she sees. But in all fairness, Cody was disrespectful to her, blaring music and responding sarcastically to Norma’s attempt at casual conversation. Cody has a big chip on her shoulder, but we see why in the next scene, when Norman and Cody must go to Cody’s house to retrieve money for lumber (for the play scenery). As she gingerly walks in, it’s evident her dad drinks heavily and is abusive toward her.
Cody shows Norman her secret treehouse (and gives him beer in the process) – revealing the place where she escapes her father’s wrath. Norman is entranced with Cody’s sense of herself. He confides in her about his blackouts, telling her it really has happened before. The revelation is, much like Emma’s removal of her oxygen, a symbol of the freedom Norman feels with Cody. He has someone other than his mom to confide in. And unlike Bradley before her, Cody reciprocates. The freedom is intoxicating, and he and Cody sleep together inside the treehouse.
We get another scene of Romero and Norma together, and like the previous one, it’s a pleasure to watch. Norma acts quite motherly toward Romero, taking care of his cuts and bruises (sustained while giving Zane a beat down), and even doing his laundry. Vera Farmiga and Nestor Carbonell have great chemistry together, and Romero’s sullenness juxtaposed with Norma’s excitable manner provides some lightness that balances out the show’s dark tone. Now, I’ve stated before that I’m not a shipper, but how can you not root for these two to get together? They seem like they need each other. During their conversation, Romero does give Norma a piece of serious advice: When she inquires about Nick Ford, Romero warns Norma to stay far away from him, adding that Ford is in the drug business. Well, now Norma knows.
Dylan’s involvement in the drug trade continues. This storyline isn’t that enthralling, but I suppose the character needs something to do when he isn’t going toe to toe with Norma. And for this specific episode, Dylan’s job gives him some relief from his tumultuous family situation.
While waiting to meet Zane for lunch, Dylan tries to call Norman. He gets his voicemail, but the audience gets the message: Though Dylan is an outsider in the family, he still tries to connect with his brother.
When walking out of the restaurant together, Dylan saves Zane’s life from an attempted hit by the rival drug gang. After pushing Zane to the ground, Dylan walks out into the middle of the road and starts shooting at the guys, who have just turned their car around and are now coming at Dylan head on. Dylan was never shown to have a death wish, but after the events of the last two episodes, and given where his head may be at, it’s plausible that he might take such a crazy risk. The car does hit him, and when he wakes up in the hospital, a woman tells him all his medical expenses will be covered. He, and we, get our first glimpse of Zane’s sister – AKA the big drug boss.
After Norman’s day out with Cody, Norma warns him about the girl, saying she is a troublemaker – the type of girl stuck in an unbearable situation, unable to get out; but right after she says the words, they hit too close to home. Regardless, Norma doesn’t want Norman seeing Cody any more, and Norman agrees to sever ties with Cody after the play they’re working on is over.
At the end of the episode, Sheriff Romero informs Norma that Lee Berman was killed in a car accident, having plummeted into a ravine. Hmm, that’s a little too convenient. Might Norma suspect something sinister going on with Nick Ford now?
It’s obvious Norma will be getting in deeper with Nick Ford. Meanwhile she’s currently estranged from Dylan – yet again – and Norman has found someone to bond with besides Norma.
It’s interesting that despite his all-encompassing relationship with his mom, Norman does seek out other relationships (Cody and Bradley) with his peers. In addition, he does try and do right by the others in his life, not just his mom. This version of Norman infuses the show with some hope for the character. That’s what makes the whole concept of Bates Motel so engaging. We know how Norman’s story evolved in the movie Psycho (and its sequels), but there’s a chance this present-day reboot goes in a different direction. Wherever Bates Motel ultimately does go, the journeys of these characters (at least so far) have made for compelling TV.