This week’s Bates Motel was a fascinating character study: It explored Norman’s alarm and confusion in the aftermath of his deadly encounter, examined Norma’s growing fear for her son and his future mental state, and gave us a glimpse of Dylan’s ambivalence toward ditching his family.
The episode begins with a concerned Norma (on her way to City Hall to begin her orientation process) calling Norman because he has disappeared. She thinks he’s still angry about the driver’s test debacle and is making her pay for it, but Norman is actually in a police car, on his way to the station – and Cody’s dad is dead.
At City Hall, Norma is pleasantly surprised to find she has an office, though the administrative assistant is already judging her based on how Norma got the city council seat. One of the councilmen introduces himself to Norma, but in the midst of their conversation, Sheriff Romero comes in and pulls Norma out, telling her something happened. Norma gets a bit panicked, and asks if it is about Norman or Dylan. Now, I have read online forum comments that state Norma doesn’t care about Dylan, but I have always disagreed. Yes, Norman’s name came first, and he will always be first in his mother’s mind, but Norma has shown that she absolutely cares about Dylan. Her inclusion of him in her concern was yet another example.
Romero tells Norma that an incident occurred at Cody Brennan’s home – a fight of some sort – and Cody’s father is dead, with Norman claiming what happened was self-defense. At the station, Norma immediately wants to see Norman, but Romero tells her she has to be patient and wait, that they have to follow procedure. Romero is very good with Norma, and he often has a calming influence on her. As he goes to find out more about the case, he turns around and sees Norma sitting quietly, and then offers her a reassuring look as he closes the door behind him.
Norman is getting processed – his picture taken, his nails clipped, his mouth swabbed, and his bloody t-shirt headed to the lab for analysis. As Norman inquires about the need for such measures to one of the investigating officers, Freddie Highmore’s immense talent is apparent. He does Norman’s “nervous but attempting to seem casual” demeanor expertly, so much so that it makes the viewer feel uneasy right along with his character.
At the docks, Remo wants to know what happened after Dylan left the hospital, telling him it’s pretty obvious that Dylan is sleeping with the boss. Just then Zane stops by with some thugs. Paranoid as ever, though, he refuses to tell Dylan and Remo what the new guys are there to do. But they are planning something, and Dylan later spies on them, asking Zane what’s going on. Zane tells Dylan that he’s aware of his sister’s plan to have Dylan watch him, and he also knows that Dylan and Jodi are sleeping together. He tells Dylan it’s not the first time his sister is sleeping with someone “below her pay grade” and Dylan shouldn’t expect much out of it.
The drug storyline (and Dylan’s participation in it) is not half as interesting as the family drama, and Dylan’s actions are most gripping in relation to Norma and Norman. But the characters’ current dynamics were brought together nicely in this episode, when Emma, after visiting Norma at the police station (and even a distracted Norma notices how helpful Emma always tries to be) goes to Dylan to ask him to be there for his family. But Dylan won’t go, telling Emma, “They only care about each other.” He doesn’t completely believe that, but he just can’t overcome his feelings of being the odd man out right now. That’s not good enough for Emma, though, and before she leaves, she calls Dylan out on his refusal to rise above his anger and resentment.
Back at the station, Norma finally gets in to see Norman, and she asks him, in typical Norma fashion, to tell her everything. Norman explains he was arguing with Cody about her telling Emma about the blackouts, and that Cody’s dad attacked him and Cody. Norma interrupts Norman and warns him not to tell the police about his blackouts. Norman wants to be honest, but Norma insists that if Norman reveals the truth, the police will not believe the whole thing was an accident.
Romero comes to get Norman for questioning, and Norma says she wants to go in with her son. Only, Norman doesn’t want Norma in the room. Norma gets a little panicked yet again, but Romero’s calming influence settles her down, and Romero and Norman disappear into the interrogation room.
Norman tells Romero what happened, and again, Freddie Highmore does a great job of portraying Norman’s quiet turmoil and regret, his silent tears falling while he recounts Mr. Brennan’s face as he fell to his death. Romero, handling Norman with a gentle paternal touch, gives him cocoa and explains what an angry man Cody’s dad was. But Norman isn’t comforted. He knows that had he not been at Cody’s house, her dad would still be alive.
Christine’s brother George learns Norman is in trouble (thanks to the gossip of the town), and he goes to give support to Norma. I like that the show gives reasons for characters’ actions, even for something as simple as George’s arrival. It shows that the writers respect the audience enough to give them explanations.
Norma tells George about Norman’s incident, conveniently leaving out the part about Norman being angry at Cody because of her spilling the beans on his blackouts. She reveals that Cody’s dad started to attack Cody, and Norman jumped in, because “Norman only ever wants to help.” Yes, his heart always seems to be in the right place. It’s his head – or rather his unraveling sanity – that keeps getting in the way.
Later, Norma follows Cody into the restroom, and Vera Farmiga’s spot-on pose against the sink perfectly demonstrates Norma’s determination to get what she wants. Norma wants Cody to keep her mouth shut about Norman’s blackouts, lest the police think the spells had something to do with Mr. Brenner’s death. Cody presses Norma, asking if there is something wrong with Norman. Norma makes a good point that Norman was never violent during his blackouts, so they aren’t relevant to the situation. What she fails to admit, though, is that the blackouts may be a symptom of a larger psychological problem. Regardless, it’s a lot to ask of Cody to keep a secret for Norman under the circumstances, but in the end, she does.
After questioning is finished, Norman and Romero come back into the hallway, just in time to see Norma and George in an embrace (spurred on by Norma’s gratitude at George’s offer to help in any way possible). Norman and Romero’s reactions to the hug are humorously similar – a mixture of suspicion and displeasure.
Romero tells Norma that Norman can go home, as the police are temporarily finished with him. Norma is relieved, but her face as she gazes at Norman says it all: She’s very worried that there may indeed be something seriously wrong with her son.
The next morning, Norma goes into the kitchen and finds Norman cooking in her apron. All seems well, but Norman – in a subtly unstable manner – inquires as to whether or not George thinks he is a murderer. He also accuses Norma of not totally believing in his innocence. Norma insists she does believe Norman’s account of the incident, but Norman knows his mother so well that he can see right through her assertions. And Norma is so aware of her son’s ability to accurately read her thoughts, that she even stops declaring her belief in his innocence.
Despite his annoyance with his mother, Norman and Emma have a nice exchange. He tells Emma he’s no longer mad at her for telling Norma about the blackouts, even thanking her for believing in him. I’ve said it before – Emma brings out the “normal” in Norman – or maybe it’s just the great chemistry of Freddie Highmore and Olivia Cooke. They always look so pleased with each other whenever they’re on screen together.
Cody goes to Norman’s house and waits for him outside. She lets Norman off the hook, telling him her dad was always drunk, angry, and what happened was his own fault, absolving Norman of any blame. Cody is taking off for Indiana (to go live with her aunt), and Norman wants to keep in touch. Cody tells him it’s better to say goodbye right then and there. Before she leaves, though, she tells Norman about Norma’s deep fear of Norman’s blackouts, saying Norma revealed they can make Norman do things. Only Norma didn’t exactly say that. She said Norman isn’t himself when he has blackouts. But since these writers seem very methodical about not only unhinging Norman’s psyche, but in how the dynamics with his mother unfold, I’m guessing Cody’s inaccurate interpretation of Norma’s comments was deliberate.
Later, Romero drives over to the motel and tells Norma that Mr. Brenner’s death was officially ruled an accident. Norma races to the house to tell Norman the good news, but after a quick hug, Norman wants to know what Norma knows about his blackouts. There’s something wrong with him, he says, and Norma is keeping it from him. Norman tells his mother what Cody said, and in this scene, Cody apparently relayed Norma’s statements verbatim: Norman is not himself when he blacks out.
Norma declares her love for Norman, and asks him to trust her judgment. But then she vehemently instructs Norman to never ask those question again. Her reaction doesn’t seem like the best way to handle the situation, but if Norman keeps digging, he will learn the truth about what he did to his own father. And Norma is terrified of what that knowledge might do to her son.
Before we leave the episode, Dylan leaves with Zane and his cronies, though he doesn’t know where they’re headed. For all Dylan knows, they’re going to go kill him. It turns out they have planned a raid on Nick Ford’s warehouse. Zane wants to send the rival drug boss a message, and he asks if Dylan is with them or not. Dylan, seeing the plan as the huge mistake that it is, says no, but then Zane angrily knocks him out with the butt of his gun. Some shouting and gunfire later, Dylan wakes up, crawling into the bushes to escape with his life.
At the end of the episode, Romero receives a phone call from the overeager officer who processed Norman; Seems she also logged his DNA into the computer. Just as Romero is admonishing her for doing so, she tells him the semen sample found in Blair Watson (the one they could never identify) matched Norman’s DNA.
This episode effectively showed us the psychological interiors of Norma, Norman, and to a very small degree, Dylan. Norman and Norma are both filled with fear: Norma at the possibility of what her son might become, and Norman at the truth of what he actually is. Dylan is no longer afraid, as he knows the reality of his conception and birth; his main issue now is reconciling his familial past with the mother he knows today (one who simultaneously pushes him away and yet reaches out to him). The show provides a compelling exploration of these three characters, and to a lesser extent, Romero and Emma as well. Their thought processes play out against the backdrop of several interconnecting storylines, and the result is one very engaging hour of television.