Episode 2.8 “Meltdown” was all about escalation: For Sheriff Romero, it was the growing suspicion about Norman’s involvement with his murdered teacher; For Norman and his mother, it was the rising tension in their relationship due to family secrets; And for Dylan, it was holding the dangerous position of mediator in an increasingly violent drug war.
The episode opens with Norma roaming the house looking for Norman, but he’s made sure to leave for work (in the motel office) before Norma wakes up. Sheriff Romero, in his temporary home in the motel, is debating his next move regarding the new information he’s received about Norman’s DNA. He goes to the office for some coffee, suspiciously eyeing Norman the entire time, but he chooses not to confront him just yet.
When Norma walks in the office, she’s immediately given the cold shoulder by Norman. He doesn’t want the cake she brought, he doesn’t want to chat, and he certainly doesn’t want any mother/son bonding time at the movies that she offered. Norman doesn’t even want to share the same space with Norma right now. He leaves just as Nick Ford comes in the office, shutting the door behind him – which is not a good sign. It seems Ford wants a favor from Norma: She is to tell Dylan to contact Ford for a meeting. Norma is hesitant to agree, citing her recent falling out with Dylan as a reason not to do it, but Nick Ford is insistent. He even has a piece of friendly advice for her – she needs to move past the conflict and reconcile with her son while she has the chance. Nick Ford may be a criminal, but he regrets having lost his daughter while the two were estranged from one another.
The police (including Romero) arrive at the site of the shoot- out at Nick Ford’s warehouse. Dylan regains consciousness from his head trauma (again – the guy just got out of the hospital after being hit by a car!) and runs through the woods so as not to be seen. Romero tells over- eager Officer Lin that he wants Zane Morgan found – but not arrested. He just wants to know where he is. That doesn’t sound ominous at all, now, does it? Meanwhile, Dylan drives back to Jodi Morgan’s house and tells her what her crazy brother did. Zane goes back to his sister’s house, full of justifications for his actions. Zane’s new bright idea is to wear Nick Ford down with more violent acts perpetrated upon his crew until he sells his business to the Morgans. But Jodi and Dylan tell Zane – with all his delusions of grandeur- that it’s best if he just lays low for now.
Norma (resigned to temporarily do Nick Ford’s bidding) can’t reach Dylan by phone, so she enlists the help of Emma to locate where Dylan works. Sadly, it’s the only time Emma will have anything to do in this episode, but given that it’s about circumstances and people spiraling out of control, she doesn’t really fit anyway. Emma is just too well adjusted.
When Norma arrives at the compound, Remo approaches her with his gun drawn, but when he learns who she is, he gladly takes her to Dylan. On the way, Norma is surprised to learn Dylan has an office – and even seems a bit proud of him. As Norma walks through the marijuana-producing premises, the audience sees most of it through security camera views, which provided a unique perspective to the scene.
Dylan is surprised to see his mom, and he gets immediately concerned when she explains her involvement with Nick Ford and the resulting “favor” he now asks of her. This scene with Vera Farmiga and Max Thieriot worked on many levels. It showcased Norma’s maternal side toward Dylan. She’s simultaneously happy to see her son do well in his work, while still not able to hide her concern for the work he’s engaged in. Her gentle manner with him, even touching his face at the site of his new injuries, and wanting to talk things out with him provided evidence of her desire to make things right with her eldest son.
Dylan’s discomfort and inability to move forward with Norma is apparent, evidenced by his quiet uttering of “I can’t” (and Max Thieriot filled those words with palpable emotion) when Norma wants to talk. Even so, Dylan does have a desire to connect with his mom, as we can see when he quietly stands still while Norma softly kisses his cheek while saying goodbye to him. As his mom walks away, Dylan is watching her the entire time, until she is no longer in his line of sight. In the end, though, he won’t meet with Nick Ford. He tells Norma to lie and say she can’t find Dylan, but he also warns his mom to stay away from Ford because he’s dangerous.
In the evening, George stops by the motel with the good news that the bypass is temporarily being halted. He tells Norma that he’s interested in more than friendship with her. Norma is clearly pleased, and agrees to let George cook her dinner at his house.
At the same time, Romero stops Dylan’s car, makes him get out, and asks where Zane is. Dylan really can’t tell him, as Zane’s current whereabouts is known only to his sister, but Romero presses Dylan, pushing him around and threatening him. Romero is dead serious. If Dylan finds out where Zane is hiding out, he better give him up.
Meanwhile, Norman decides to bring some of his stuffed and mounted animals into the house. When Norma suggests maybe they don’t go with the decor, Norman’s reply – and Freddie Highmore’s perfect deadpan delivery – of “That’s the great thing about taxidermy, it goes with everything,” was priceless.
Later, Romero “breaks” the shower curtain rod in his bathroom, and enlists Norman’s help to fix it, taking the opportunity to question Norman about his involvement with Ms. Watson. The claustrophobic scene of Romero’s probing as Norman nervously deflects the questions – as the two of them stand at the shower – was a great shout-out to Hitchcock, and was masterful in its ability to build tension. Finally, Romero just gets to the main point, asking Norman if he slept with his teacher. Norman denies it and literally runs away – basically confirming it for Romero.
Nick Ford pays yet another visit to Norma, but this time it’s not so friendly. Norma tries to tell Ford that she couldn’t find Dylan, but Ford isn’t buying it, and basically lays it all out for Norma. She is beholden to him. He got her the city council seat, and he conveniently got Lee Berman out of the way. Norma demands Ford get out of her house, but as he leaves, he tells Norma what a mistake she’s making. She just doesn’t realize how deep she is in all of this.
Later, Norma goes to the basement where Norman is doing his taxidermy and tells him she’s going to George’s house for dinner. Norman, usually very curious about Norma’s comings and goings (especially with men), acts uninterested. Norma proceeds to pour it on thick as she comments how late she will be home, implying she will be engaging in certain time-consuming activities with George. The fact that Norma uses George to try and make Norman jealous is of course inappropriate, and the piercing stare she gives him when he says he won’t wait up for her was downright disturbing (but Farmiga nailed the moment).
Norma goes to George’s, but his house and lifestyle are too intimidating for her. Coupled with her raw emotional state from Norman’s distant behavior, Norma says she doesn’t belong there. She – surprisingly – blurts out the truth: She didn’t go to college, her husband didn’t have a prestigious job, and her home life was a mess. “I’m nothing,” she tells him. Despite her tendency to be overbearing and controlling, Norma does have a vulnerability about her, and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as insecurity causes her to rush out of George’s house and away from one of the only chances at a normal romantic relationship she’s ever had.
Dylan does call Nick Ford to set up a meeting, probably out of concern for Norma’s involvement with the crime boss. When the two meet, Ford tells Dylan he wants him to take out Zane, clarifying the statement with, “I’m not asking.” When Ford also subtly threatens Dylan’s family, Dylan responds by getting in Ford’s face and telling him to “Stay the hell away from my mother, or I will kill you.” The truth is out: Despite his broken relationship with his mother, he’s still extremely protective over her. He showed that side of himself last season as well, but it was very nice to see it here.
Back at the police station, Officer Lin tells Romero that Kyle Miller was just convicted of Blair Watson’s murder. Given the new developments, she thinks something should be done about Norman Bates. But Romero warns her to keep her mouth shut, or he will burn her for illegally entering Norman’s DNA into the computer database. Romero lives by his own code of conduct. He will get to the bottom of things, but he’ll do it his own way.
Norma goes home (after her non-date) wanting some emotional comfort from Norman, but he is colder than ever toward her. When he walks away from her, things escalate. Norma demands understanding about her secrecy surrounding Norman’s blackouts, but he tells her she changed all the rules. Norman corners Norma on the stairs, and his demeanor is menacing and cold as ice. He questions their love for one another, and then does what he knows will hurt her the most: He locks himself in his room, leaving Norma alone in her anguish. Reaching her breaking point, Norma freaks out, screaming for Norman and banging on his bedroom door. But then she recovers enough to beat Norman at his own game, telling him, “You want to be alone, be alone.” She drives back over to George’s house, letting him know in no uncertain terms she wants to take their relationship further – right then and there.
Realizing his meeting with Nick Ford did not go well, Dylan goes to see Jodi and tells her she has to stop Zane before the escalating situation blows up in everyone’s faces. Jodi initially doesn’t want to hear it, but then she gives Dylan the go ahead to do whatever needs to be done about Zane – and we all know what that means.
At the motel office, Sheriff Romero confronts Norman one more time about Ms. Watson. He tells Norman about the semen sample, urging Norman to come clean about his teacher. Romero, though he plays by his own rules, doesn’t want to convict an innocent man of murder. He does still have a conscience. Norman won’t say anything, and instead runs home, straight to his room, grabbing Ms. Watson’s pearls and newspaper obituary out from under his bed. He calms down, the objects oddly soothing to him. When he hears a noise downstairs, he goes to check who it is. He calls out to his mother, but Mother isn’t there. It’s Nick Ford’s cronies. And in a split second, they take Norman down.
The writers of Bates Motel are always very meticulous about giving explanations for what the characters say and do. It seems to stretch the bounds of believability that Norman and Norma would be so focused on their relationship troubles after Nick Ford blatantly threatened them. You would think they could put their issues aside given the current danger of the situation. But then again, maybe that’s the writers’ point: Norma and Norman are so wrapped up in each other that they’re oblivious to any possible danger that might exist around them. But Norma is successfully running a business, she accepted a dinner date with George, she went to see Dylan, so I don’t buy that she’s so wrapped up in Norman that she doesn’t concern herself with anything else. There should have been at least a mention from either Norman or Norma about the Nick Ford situation.
Otherwise, this episode provided yet another fascinating look into the Bates’ family dynamics. For the most part this season, Bates Motel is firing on all cylinders. The acting, musical score, and visual tone are gripping in every single episode. The writing, though not perfect, consistently delivers high tension, spot-on emotional beats, and connects the storylines (even the less exciting drug business plot) together in a satisfying manner. All in all, Bates Motel knows how to weave together an intense, psychologically-driven narrative that keeps us guessing – and wanting more.