The penultimate episode of Bates Motel dropped Norman, Norma, and Dylan right in the middle of the escalating drug war between the Morgans and Nick Ford, and led to a series of events which culminated in a stunning revelation that Norman has long feared.
The episode opens with a blindfolded Norman being driven by Nick Ford’s cronies to an unknown location, close to Ford’s compound. Once the blindfold comes off, Norman realizes he’s in the woods. He tells his captors they have the wrong person, but they lead him to a small box just above ground. They shove him in, and so begins Norman’s painful journey towards a deeper understanding of himself.
Norma arrives home from her tryst with George, sneaking in the house so as not to wake Norman. But in the morning when she goes to his room, he’s not there. After searching for him in the house and motel office, Norma asks Emma if she has seen Norman. Emma can’t tell Norma anything about Norman’s location, but she’s feeling a bit left out and confronts Norma about the secrecy surrounding what’s going on. Norma won’t say anything, but Emma knows something is up just by looking at the concern in Norma’s face.
Norma continues searching, calling the theatre where Norma is working over the summer and leaving a 15th message on his cell phone. She tells his voice mail that if he doesn’t call her back, she will report him as a missing person, and he’s not going to like it. Ah, Norma. Always threatening (even members of her own family) when she isn’t getting her own way. But Norman won’t hear her threat. He’s stuck in that box, screaming for help and getting increasingly panicked.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero meets an old friend named Declan at a diner. It’s an interesting interaction, because we find out some new information about Romero and his family. Declan is Romero’s dad’s ex-partner. So Romero followed in the footsteps of his father, who was some kind of law enforcement officer. It seems Romero’s dad also worried a lot about how serious Romero always was. This is a small exchange, but it gives the audience some welcome insight into the elusive character of Romero.
Romero wants Declan to perform a polygraph test on Norman, off the record. When Declan tells him how imperfect the law is, Romero says if he went by the letter of the law, the whole town would be boarded up. He just needs to know the truth, in case he sent a guy to jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Once again, it was good to get inside Romero’s head, even just briefly. The conversation revealed that Romero is fully aware of the compromises he’s made as Sheriff by looking the other way during some of the town’s illicit activities, but even so, he still cares about right and wrong.
Norma gets a call at the motel while helping out some tourists, and she literally drops everything to take it. It’s Nick Ford, who tells her he has Norman – who won’t be harmed as long as Dylan does what Ford asked of him. Nick Ford sure is going through a lot of trouble to get to Zane Morgan, and one wonders if involving Norma Bates and her family is the most effective way to do it. It does makes sense in the story, though, because his people did try and take Zane out (when Dylan saved Zane’s life) and failed.
Norma goes to Dylan’s workplace and through a security camera (a clever technique utilized in episode 2.8) we see Norma threaten – yet again – everyone inside. When Dylan opens the door, Norma nervously tells Dylan what is going on with Ford and Norman. Some humor is injected in this scene because Norma is often so technical in what she says (this time clarifying for Dylan that Nick Ford said they had 24 hours to carry out his request and half an hour had already gone by). It’s satisfying as a viewer to see the writers take the time to be consistent with Norma’s characterization, even when she’s faced with extraordinary circumstances. That makes her more real to us.
Norma demands Dylan’s help – after all, she tells him – the whole thing is his fault because Dylan is in the drug business. But Dylan, rightly so, reminds his mother that she’s the one who got involved with Nick Ford. Norma asks Dylan what Ford wanted him to do and Dylan responds he is supposed to kill his boss (and Ford’s rival in the drug business). Norma’s face changes from initial surprise to firm resolve in a blink of the eye as she tells Dylan he has to do it. Norman’s life is at stake. They have to bring him back home, whatever the cost.
After the exchange with Norma, Dylan goes to Jodi’s house to get Zane’s hidden location. He tells her she has to make up her mind about what ultimately happens to Zane. She, like Dylan, is caught in the middle of this drug war that was started by her brother.
Romero goes to the motel office looking for Norman. Emma is there, and she’s getting fed up with people asking her for information but not letting her in on the reasons why they’re asking. Romero sees Norma and follows her up to the house, asking to speak with Norman. Norma lies and says Norman is sick in bed. Romero comes clean about why he’s there, telling Norma about the semen sample found in Blair Watson and how it matched Norman’s DNA. Romero needs Norman to explain how it was that he had sex with Ms. Watson so close to the time she was murdered. We then get some exposition about the polygraph test (and how they’re used by various law enforcement agencies despite being non-admissible in court) which feels awkward, but it’s useful information for the audience to have, and it speaks to Romero’s desire to get to the truth in whatever way possible.
Norma gets Romero to leave temporarily, and when she goes inside the house, she loses it. Norman’s kidnapping, coupled with this terrible news, is too much for her. She falls to the floor, weeping and hyperventilating. She takes out her phone, and leaves Norman a message. She loves him, “more than anything on earth or in heaven.” She just wants him to know, and the display of a mother’s need to reach out to a son who is currently out of her grasp is poignant.
Norman is still trapped in the box, reciting a monologue from the 1941 film Meet John Doe (yes, I had to look that up) in order to keep himself calm. Nick Ford’s guys come out and open the box, bringing Norman food and water. When they get a phone call from Ford, Norman tries to escape, and during the scuffle when they recapture him, Ms. Watson’s pearls and obituary notice fall out of Norman’s pocket.
Meanwhile, Emma finally has had enough and goes to Norma’s to give her two week notice, tearfully citing being excluded from the family as her reason. Norma empathetically tells Emma she’ll be missed and proceeds to close the door in her face. She’s got other things to worry about. But the action proved Emma’s point – she’s left at the door, once again on the outside looking in.
Back at Nick Ford’s compound, the security guy Ben shows Ford his daughter’s pearls and obituary notice. We all know this will not bode well for Norman. The stakes are getting higher now. Norman better get out of that box soon.
Speaking of the box, some bugs crawling on top of it get inside and fall on top of Norman, adding to his anguish and fear. The incident causes him to go into one of his fugue states, where he sees his mother. She talks to him softly, telling him she is always with him and he only has to listen for her voice to find her.
Dylan goes to Zane’s house, but he is met at the door by armed guards. He wants to get close to Zane so he could do what needs to be done – what Nick Ford, Jodi Morgan and Norma all say must be done – but Zane is protected by his men, and so Dylan is unsuccessful. Before he leaves, however, he gets a warning: Dylan had better not pick Jodi over Zane, or bad things will happen.
Back at the motel, George stops by with flowers for Norma. But under the circumstances, Norma isn’t in the mood. George tells Norma he doesn’t understand her behavior, and then Norma unleashes a scathing monologue, telling George he doesn’t know what life is about. He, and people like him, have no real problems. She tops it off by screaming at him to get out, and George furiously drives away, despite Norma’s instantaneous regret of her words. She breaks down, but loyal Emma – who witnessed the scene from her car- runs out and puts her comforting arms around Norma. No matter what, Emma will be there for the Bates Family.
Dylan goes to Nick Ford’s to disclose Zane’s whereabouts. However, Ford is angry that Dylan didn’t get the job done, even though Dylan explained he could not get Zane alone. Ford then pulls a gun on Dylan and wants to take him “outside.” It’s a bit strange that Ford would want to kill Dylan at this point, because then he wouldn’t have an insider who could get close to Zane, but let’s chalk it up to the unpredictability of drug kingpins. Dylan, aware of Ford’s plans, decides to go down swinging, and the two fight until Dylan grabs a fireplace poker and kills Ford with it. The only problem is, now Ford can’t tell him where Norman is.
Luckily, Romero goes to Norma’s house to talk to Norman, this time not willing to take no for an answer. When Norma finally confesses and tells Romero about Nick Ford, he calmly tells her “okay, I’m on it” in true Romero fashion. He can be a BAMF when he wants to be. And it says something that Norma trusts him with Norman’s safety.
So with Romero on the way to find him, Norman’s torment in the box will soon be over. However, a new kind will be only beginning. Because after awakening from his latest blackout, Norman finally remembers what happened the night of Ms. Watson’s murder. Norman had sex with her, then “Norma” appeared, telling Norman what must be done. When we hear Norman’s ear-piercing scream before the credits roll, we don’t know if it’s from the agony of lying in the box, or from Norman’s own horrific realization that he murdered his teacher.
Episode 2.9 tied the separate storylines of Norman’s deteriorating mental state, the Bates’ dysfunctional family dynamics, and the war of rival drug families together in a satisfying way. The audience, like Norman, now knows for sure who Blair Watson’s murderer is. The next big question that surfaces after this episode is – now what? The season-long mystery has been solved, but thanks to great writing and incredible acting performances, the audience is left with a deep desire to know more.